A Brief History of The Schiele Museum

Bud and Lily Schiele

A young Rudolph “Bud” Schiele walked to class at the University of Pennsylvania, daydreaming about nature, hiking trails, and the beautiful outdoors. If he wasn’t studying, Bud spent his extra time working at the Commercial Museum in Philadelphia as an assistant curator. 

There, Bud developed an interest in photography and taxidermy, skills which he would continue to use throughout his life. Bud did not categorize these jobs as work but as the fulfillment of a dream. Soon after working in Philadelphia, he met a woman named Lily Hobbs. They became husband and wife in 1916 but didn’t have much time to celebrate. World War I beckoned young men to join ranks, and Bud left to serve as a Second Lieutenant in the Army.

 After Bud’s return from the war, he devoted his time to the Boy Scouts of America. He and Lily traveled to Gastonia, North Carolina in 1924 where he worked as a scout executive to unify and expand existing troops in the North Carolina Piedmont. Bud and Lily worked tirelessly to raise enough funds to open “Camp Bud Schiele,” a Boy Scouts camp on the shores of Lake Lanier in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Though they never had children, Lily often said that they parented over 100,000 boys. 

Bud and Lily Schiele

The Schieles with “their boys”

The Schieles at Piedmont Boy Scout Camp

Lily Hobbs Schiele, 1913

Bud and Lily traveled across North America, exploring the natural beauty of different animals, environments, and Indigenous peoples across the continent. Through these travels, the Schiele amassed a collection of minerals, animals, and artifacts. Lily was particularly interested in American Indians. Excursions across the country gave Lily and Bud the opportunity to visit various tribal groups, learn about their culture, and collect items like Navajo rugs, Cherokee baskets, Hopi and Catawba pottery, and southwestern jewelry. Lily was inspired by Indigenous cultures and wanted to bring home examples of their craftsmanship. Bud, on the other hand, was far more intrigued by the minerals and rocks that abounded underfoot. He loved discovering more about his surroundings. His zest for learning about various environments and the wildlife within continued throughout his life and would nurture a desire to share knowledge with others so they too could understand and appreciate the world around them.

At his home, he could fill his hand with sunflower seeds, and the birds would fly right down and eat from his hand,” said David Stultz, a close friend of Bud.

After Bud retired from the Boy Scouts, he and Lily traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains where he worked as a naturalist for the National Park. There, he continued to photograph and film the natural beauty of the wildlife around him. When Bud and Lily left Gastonia in 1959 for the mountains, they still had one dream that hadn’t been fulfilled: to build a museum of natural history.

Bud Schiele at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Schiele's Beginning

Bud and Lily challenged a group of leaders in Gastonia. “If you can persuade the county to build a place to house it, I will offer my entire collection of animals and minerals and provide my services for free,” Bud Schiele said. That promise sparked action, and with funding from Gaston County in 1959, a museum committee was born. Bryce T. Dickson, Sr., Daniel L. LaFar, Jr., and Albert G. Myers, Jr. devised the museum’s Articles of Incorporation in 1960, and the Gaston Museum of Natural History came into being.

True to their word, Bud and Lily donated their collection and expertise to the fledgling museum. The original museum building was a fraction of The Schiele’s size now. Standing at 1,500 square feet, the doors of The Gaston Museum of Natural History opened July 24, 1961, with Bud and Lily giving tours of the museum.

The City of Gastonia became the new stewards of museum operations in 1964 and decided to honor the Schieles for their selfless contributions of collections and time. The Gaston Museum of Natural History was renamed The Schiele Museum of Natural History.

The Schiele Through the Years