Knoxville Museum of Art Presents ‘Tools as Art: Work & Play’ Exhibition

May 1, 2024 (Knoxville, TN) — The Knoxville Museum of Art is pleased to announce Tools as Art: Work & Play, on view from May 3 through August 4, 2024, with an opening reception that will take place on Friday, May 10, from 5:30-7:30 pm. This free event is open to the public with a cash bar. In addition to the exhibition opening that evening, the museum will host its monthly Soundscapes concert series beginning at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20 for KMA members and $25 for non-members.

Jacob Lawrence, The Builders, 1974, color screenprint on wove paper, photograph by IA&A, © Jacob Lawrence/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Tools as Art: Work & Play features a selection of more than fifty works from the collection of John W. Hechinger which celebrate the transformation of common industrial objects into extraordinary works of art. Hechinger (1920-2004) was a highly respected civic and business leader, most often associated with the chain of do-it-yourself stores that carried his family name. Once ubiquitous in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, the Hechinger Company was founded by John’s father in 1911 and exemplified a twentieth-century success story: the transformation of a neighborhood hardware store into an expansive chain of home-improvement centers. 

Lesser known to the public is that John and his wife June were lifelong philanthropists and art enthusiasts, assembling an impressive collection of artworks that honors the beauty of common tools where form and function are inextricably linked. When Hechinger moved into new corporate headquarters in 1978, he found the building efficient yet sterile: “It struck me that the endless repetition of corridors and cubicles was boring and seemed to rebuke the fantasies that a hardware store inspires. For anyone whose passion is to work with his or her hands, a good hardware store is a spur to the imagination.”

After he hung a suite of Jim Dine prints in his office, Hechinger immediately noted his associates’ enjoyment. Realizing also the thematic resonance with his business, he set out collecting art that championed the company’s very livelihood: “It was the hope that surrounding employees with artistic expressions of the same objects they handled in the tens of thousands would bring a sense of dignity to their jobs.”

Jim Dine, Big Red Wrench in a Landscape, 1973, Color Lithograph, 30” x 22” x 2”, courtesy of International Arts & Artists, copyright 2024.

By tapping into their metaphoric potential, the exhibition explores tools as icons of labor, labor as a component of creativity, and creativity as a form of play. Some treat tools as a stand-in for the self, often assigning them human attributes and honoring their simple efficiency and sheer elegance. The exhibition also features artists who embrace tools as a hallmark of civilization or use tools for humor and social commentary.

Some of the most influential artists of the twentieth century are featured in the exhibition, including Berenice Abbott, Colleen Barry-Wilson, Jim Dine, Georgia Deal, Richard Estes, Ke Francis, Jacob Lawrence, Hans Namuth, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Lucas Samaras, Aaron Siskind, and Wayne Thiebaud.

Also happening at Knoxville Museum of Art in May:

  • Sunday, May 12, 1:00-4:00 pm: Second Sunday Art Activity; Free

Children in grades K-6 are invited to drop in for a hands-on art activity taught by a certified art teacher. This will be a special Second Sunday at the KMA! Kickstand Community Bike Shop will be on hand to lead demonstrations on bicycle maintenance.

  • Sunday, May 12, 2:00-3:00 pm: Second Sunday Docent Tour; Free

Learn from a trained docent about the KMA collection and exhibitions on view.
Meet at the front desk at 1:55 pm.

  • Thursday, May 16, 6:00-8:00 pm: 15th Annual Sarah Jane Hardrath Kramer Lecture; Free

This year’s speaker is Karen LaMonte; an internationally-acclaimed American artist known for her life-sized figurative sculptures in ceramic, bronze, marble, and cast glass. Registration is requested. Reception to follow. Cash bar. 

Colleen Barry, Tool Dictionary, 1987, handmade paper and hardware, 17” x 32” x 3”, courtesy of International Arts & Artists, copyright 2024.

The Knoxville Museum of Art gratefully acknowledges the generous support of McCarty Holsaple McCarty Architects, Inc. and Marsh Made Designs. The Tennessee Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Arts & Culture Alliance provided additional support. Also supported in part by Knox County and the U.S. Department of the Treasury and by the federal award number SLFRP5534 awarded to the State of Tennessee by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

For more information about the Knoxville Museum of Art, upcoming exhibitions, and events, please visit

Tools As Art: Work & Play is organized and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C.

About Brad Jones

Brad is the Owner/Operator of BBB TV 12, and has been with the company since August of 1996. Brad is a 1987 graduate of Coalfield High School and a 1995 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Communications. He won the 1995 broadcast production student of the year award. Brad worked at Shop at Home, Inc. a home shopping network that was located in Knoxville, TN from 1993 - 1995 and then at Via TV (RSTV, Inc.) from 1995 - 1996. After some freelance work in Nashville, Brad joined the BBB Communications staff in August of 1996. A short stint at WVLT TV as a news photographer was in 2001, but he continued to work at BBB TV as well. Brad is married to Nicole Jenkins Jones, a 1990 graduate of Oak Ridge High School, who works at Oak Ridge Gastroenterology and Associates in Oak Ridge. They have 3 kids, Trevor Bogard, 27, Chandler 22, and Naomi 13. On December 12, 2013 they welcomed their first grandchild, Carter Ryan Bogard. Brad is also the assistant boys basketball coach at Coalfield High School for the past 11 years. In 2013-14 the Yellow Jackets won their first district title since 1991 and just the 4th in school history.

Check Also

Oak Ridge Community Band Fall Showcase Concert

Oak Ridge, TN – The Oak Ridge Community Band will host its Fall Showcase Concert …

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.