Category Archives: North Carolina

Air and Light: The Photography of Bayard Wootten

I was recently in need of a museum day, and so I drove out to Cullowhee, NC to the Mountain Heritage Center.  I was interested in seeing a group of photographs by North Carolina photographer Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten, whose archive is held by the library at UNC Chapel Hill.  Wootten’s is not exactly a household name, not even here in North Carolina, but I’d read enough about her to know I wanted to learn more.

The very short version of her biography is that she was born (1875) and reared in New Bern, NC, was educated at what is now UNC Greensboro, which was at the time a school to train women to be teachers.  She did teach art for a while, and eventually married and had two sons.  Her husband went off to the West, looking for fortune, leaving Bayard and the small boys abandoned.  Back in New Bern she worked as a decorative painter, but realized that there was more money to be made in photography.

She set up a photography studio in 1904, and her biggest money-maker was taking the portraits of guardsmen at nearby Camp Glenn.  Her reputation grew, and in the 1920s she moved her studio to Chapel Hill, where she was the official photographer of Yackety Yack, the UNC yearbook.  But her interest went beyond the studio, and during the 1920s through the 1950s, she traveled the Carolinas documenting people as they lived.  As a result, there is a vast archive of photographs showing the people of the Carolinas.

These top two photos are of Bayard, and were probably taken by her brother, George Moulton, who was her partner in the Chapel Hill studio.  The Wootten Archive contains over 90,000 items.  Unfortunately there was a fire at the studio in the early 1930s, so most of the photos and negatives post-date the fire.  Still, this was the time when Wootten did most of her documentary work.

All the illustrations for this post are my photos of the exhibition, so please pardon the reflections.  All the photos can be enlarged with a click.

Information for each photograph was somewhat limited, and I’m not sure if that is due to curatorial decision or the lack of documentation in the archive.  This photo was labeled Mrs. Wilma McNabb’s Porch, Western North Carolina, 1930s.  I love Wilma’s stylish dress, and the fact that it reputes the idea that mountain women were still in sunbonnets and prairie-style dresses in the twentieth century.

Gossips, [Western North Carolina] 1930s

Wootten was often commissioned to make photos to illustrate books.  This one can be found in Olive Tilford Dargan’s 1941 book, From My Highest Hill: Carolina Mountain Folks.

Weaver at Penland, North Carolina, circa 1934

Wootten also made many photos of crafts people at work at Penland School of Crafts.  Located near Spruce Pine, NC, Penland was founded by a cousin of Wootten’s, Lucy Morgan.  In this case we know that the weaver is Mae Gouge.

This photograph was labeled as being in a Greensboro textile mill, 1940s.  It’s actually earlier, as evidenced by the clothing and hair of the women workers.  They are inspecting the bolts of cloth.

Late 1920s, early 1930s is my estimate.  And even though child labor laws had been enacted, look at how young some of the girls are.  And even though their pay was very small, these young women managed to be somewhat fashionable, even on the job.

This is a textile spinning room, possibly in the same mill as the above one.  By the 1930s, mechanization had reduced the number of workers needed in a spinning room, and the spindle tenders were often very overworked.

This was probably my favorite of all the photographs.  Taken in Crossnore, NC, the surgeons are doctors Mary and Eustice Sloop.  Mary Sloop wrote a book about her experiences as a mountain doctor, and the formation of a school in Crossnore.  The couple preferred to operate outdoors due to the poor lighting in the buildings.  The presence of the three women in street clothing is a bit puzzling.  Maybe they were family members of the man on the table.

The Mountain Heritage Center is part of Western Carolina University.  The exhibits are in temporary quarters in the library, but will be moving to a new visitor’s center when it is completed.  That’s good, because right now the set-up is so limited, being split across two locations in the library.  And there is a quite large collection of artifacts concerning Western North Carolina, most of which are not on display.  There are also thousands of print items, some of which are available for viewing on their website.

All original images are copyright of the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

 

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Filed under Museums, North Carolina, Vintage Photographs

Liberty Antiques Festival, Fall 2016

The late September Liberty Antiques Festival has come and gone, and with it the year’s flea markets are pretty much over.  It’s a sad time but I have plenty of things to show and talk about, and I’m sure it will cheer me up a bit.

Above is a hooked rug, Scottie theme.  I took the photo, and tried to forget about it, but I could not, so hours later I made my way back to the booth, thinking that it had surely sold.  But it was still there, and the vendor even offered a generous discount.  So this one is now in my office.

I love seeing the contraptions that women have worn under their clothing in order to accomplish a fashionable silhouette.  One could sit, but not recline while wearing this bustle.

I thought this late Victorian tennis player was so lovely.  I especially like her hat.

Even if I were to not buy a thing, going to a market like this one is invaluable in the education department.  These old riding boots were way out of my range of knowledge, but it was fun to take a few minutes and study them.

I have to make myself take ten deep breaths when I encounter a nice grouping of vintage sewing patterns, especially when they are as great as these.  My new rule is that if there is no chance I’ll ever make it, then I cannot buy the pattern.  Still, I was so tempted by the 1920s one.

I was also tempted by this grouping of shoes.  It did not matter that I really do not need any 1920s sports shoes.  I stood there and tries to come up with a good reason to spend over $200 for these.  Common sense prevailed.

There are times when I turn down an object based purely on price.  In the 1950s when jet travel became available and people besides the rich leisure class could afford to travel abroad, handbags with travel destinations became popular.  I have several, but would have added this one as well, but I felt that it was over-priced.  These were not high quality items to start with, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put a lot of money into something that is already well represented in my collection.

This is about the oddest Collins of Texas bag I’ve ever seen.  It was made after Enid Collins sold the company to Tandy, so it is probably 1970s.

I loved this uniform, and I had to remind myself that I’m not a uniform collector.  I do think women’s uniforms would make a fabulous collection though.  Anyway, the seller did not have any information about the dress and hat, which were a set.  The hat and one collar have plastic sword pins, and the other collar has a Red Cross pin.  The dress and hat looked post WWII to me, and were in incredible condition.  I’d appreciate any ideas you might have about them.

This 1940s poster really made me want to shop in that store.

And finally, I really do need an aviatrix’s ensemble, don’t you think?

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Filed under North Carolina, Road Trip, Shopping

Mount Airy, NC and The Andy Griffith Museum

Last week we found ourselves with a few hours to waste, and we happened to be near the small town of Mount Airy, NC.  Mount Airy is like thousands of other towns across the USA, except they have a big advantage in that an a celebrity, Andy Griffith, was born and reared there.  In the early 1960s Griffith had a hit TV program, The Andy Griffith Show, in which he starred as a sheriff in the small North Carolina town of Mayberry.

In case you aren’t familiar with the program, it is one of those that continues to live on in reruns, but more than that, it seems to symbolize to fans the small town America that so many people feel has been lost.  As such, the show still has many fans, most of whom seem to be of a certain age.

Of course this small town paradise, though actually based on the town of Mount Airy, was complete fiction.  It was the early and mid 1960s in the South, and most of American television showed few Blacks or other racial minorities, and Mayberry was no exception.  There were Black extras on the streets of Mayberry in many episodes, but not until the near of the end of the show’s run was a black actor actually cast in a guest role.

But what is authentic is that in the early 60s in most small towns in the South there would have been very little interaction between blacks and whites.  Andy would not have had a Black deputy and Black children would not have attended the same school as his son.  (I first attended school with Black children in 1966.) So like many other books, movies, and TV programs from the mid twentieth century, The Andy Griffith Show reflects a reality that most people would not find acceptable today.

It seems like I’ve been watching this show all my life.  I’m old enough that I watched the episodes when they first aired, in their original form.  Today when reruns are shown, the shows are cut so badly that much of what made it great has been lost.  Fans like to go on and on about how the program shows “a simpler time” but that isn’t what made the show great.  And it wasn’t the plots.  It was the tiny little interactions between the actors, and unfortunately, it’s those parts than tend to be replaced by ads for the latest miracle drug.

But back to Mount Airy.  It’s as though there is a complete Andy of Mayberry industry.  The downtown is full of businesses that sell souvenirs and memorabilia about the show.  There are the usual tee shirts and coffee mugs and such, but there are quite a few show-specific things that only a real fan of the show would understand.

This is a poster of a portrait that was in an episode about a haunted house.  That’s Old Man Rimshaw.

Another interesting item was this jar of pickles.  Aunt Bee was notorious for her horrible pickles.

Of course there is an Andy Griffith Museum, and I was quite amazed by some of the objects, even if presentation left a bit to be desired.  Especially interesting were the costumes.  The suit above was Barney Fife’s (as portrayed by actor Don Knotts) best suit, “the old salt and pepper” .  The suit has a label from the Cotroneo Costume Shop with Knott’s name typed on the label.

Andy Griffith almost always wore his sheriff’s uniform that included this shirt.  What a surprise to see that the shirt had a Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors label!

Probably the most interesting thing to me, though concerns two dresses worn by Maggie Peterson who played Charlene Darling in the program.  The dresses and matching shoes were not worn on the program, but were worn by Peterson on a variety show special in which she appeared with Griffith.

The museum also has the original sketches from designer Bob Mackie.  Who would have ever thought there would be Bob Mackie costumes in a small town in North Carolina?

A new exhibit at the museum features items from actress Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou, the girlfriend of Barney Fife.  Among the items she had donated to the museum are a USO uniform , trunk, and pistol she used while touring Asia near the end of WWII.  She was only seventeen when she joined the USO.

The museum was quite entertaining, but it really suffers from being in too small a space.  The walls are completely covered in memorabilia, much of which is redundant.  I’m pretty sure I saw the same photograph of Andy with his classmates in front of his school about three times.  Since visiting we learned that the museum will be in a larger space by the spring of 2017.  I sincerely hope so.

 

 

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A Night in the Cotton Mill

On a recent roadtrip, we decided to spend a night in the Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem, NC.  What made this choice easy to make was that the Brookstown was once the home of the Salem Cotton Manufacturing Company and the Arista Cotton Mill.

The Salem part of Winston-Salem was established in the eighteenth century by the Moravians, a Protestant group  that had settled in Pennsylvania, but then expanded  into North Carolina.  The group prospered and became involved in a number of money-making enterprises, including establishing a cotton mill in 1836.  The primary name in this and the later mill, the Arista, was that of Fries.  One of the thirty investors in Salem Cotton Manufacturing Company was Francis Fries, who became the superintendent of the mill.

It’s interesting that even though much cotton was being grown in the South in the early nineteenth century, the finished products of yarn and cloth were made elsewhere.  Most Southern cotton was sold to manufacturing companies in the Northeast and in Great Britain.  Until the development of the steam engine, it was not viable to try manufacturing in the South because the fall line, which was needed for water power, was far from the centers of population.  Even with steam power, cotton manufacturing was slow to come to the South.  It seems that most people were just satisfied with the system that was in place.

But the Moravians were entrepreneurs, and were willing to take a risk on cotton production.  Unfortunately, the enterprise was not successful.  Francis Fries left the company to form the Salem Woolen Mill, and in 1850, the cotton mill was sold.  It went through a succession of owners, but eventually  the building was converted into a flour mill.

Click to enlarge

In 1880, the son of Francis Fries, also named Francis, decided to take another go at cotton manufacturing.  By that time, cotton mills were springing up all over the South.  The Arista Cotton Mill was a typical vertical operation, with one floor for cleaning and carding the wool, another floor for spinning it into thread, and finally, the last floor was for weaving.  It was built next to the old Salem Cotton Manufacturing building, which was still producing flour.

After the turn of the twentieth century, the two companies merged, with cotton chambray, also known as Salem Jeans, being the primary product.  I couldn’t find a firm date for when cotton production ended, but one source said the 1920s.  By the 1940s the buildings were being used as a tobacco warehouse, and in 1970 the complex was bought by the Lentz Transfer and Storage Company.

In 1976 Lentz was in need of more space, and so a wrecking company was contracted to tear down the old buildings.  Instead, the owner of the wrecking company recognized the historical significance of the buildings and  through a series of negotiations, the buildings were saved.  Adaptive restoration began, and in 1984, the Brookstown Inn opened in the buildings.

The inn has a very nice historical display in the lobby, with old photos and reproductions of newspaper clippings and documents.  You can see a very small part of it above, and for a better look, the inn’s website has posted some pictures of the exhibit.

I, of course, loved the Fries family photos.  This one was taken at Watkins Glen, New York.

You can sort of see how the Salem Mill building has changed over the years, even though my photo was taken from the west, and the old photo shows the building from the east.  Note the lean-to addition in both photos.  I could not take my photo from the east because the Arista building now stands in the way.

There are abandoned textile mills all over the south.  More and more people are seeing the value in these old buildings, and they are being made into shopping spaces, apartments, and inns like the Brookstown.   What I really love about the Brookstown Inn is how they continue to tell the story of the Salem and Arista Mills.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, North Carolina, Road Trip, Southern Textiles

Burlington Industries Employee Magazine, June, 1950

As exciting as it is to find a piece of clothing for my collection, I am just as thrilled when a bit of printed matter concerning the textile industry comes my way.  The Bur-Mil Review was the employee magazine published by Burlington Mills.  It’s a great mixture of official company news and spotlights on the accomplishments of employees.

It was not unusual for companies to publish a magazine that was given out to all employees.  The paper mill in the town where I grew up released a monthly journal called The Log.  I’m sure that most of the attics or basements around here would produce a copy or two, mainly because so many of the employees got their picture in it over the years.  And I bet the same is true in towns that had a Burlington Mills facility.

And there were quite a few towns and cities that had Burlington plants.  It all started in 1923 when Spencer Love re-located some mill equipment he’d inherited to Burlington, NC.  There he opened up a cotton weaving facility, but he had not counted on the competition and the changing times.  But before going bust, Love did some research, and decided that rayon was the wave of the future.  He was right, and Burlington Mills prospered.

The company grew, mainly by buying up other businesses that produced other products.  By 1950 the company was quite diverse, making everything from cotton yarn to rayon ribbon.  They made Galey & Lord printed textiles, and high grade rayon for lingerie and blouses.  They had plants that produced nylon stockings, and in 1950 they were beginning production of a new fiber, Orlon.

I thought it was interesting that there were fashion pages in the magazine, but that was, after all, their business.  I’m sure that many of the employees went to the department stores mentioned in the articles and bought the fruits of their own labor.

This article on Orlon was very interesting.  It talked about all the advantages of the new fiber, and mentioned that it would not go into production until later in the year.  And while Orlon was developed at du Pont, Burlington’s research labs had helped solve the problems associated with dying the fiber.

Click to enlarge.

You might think that anyone working in the textile industry would know all about the day of a weaver, but even in 1950 Burlington was a huge, multi-faceted company.  I’m sure many of the employees were never even near a loom.

Many mills did sponsor special activities like baseball teams and bowling leagues.  Especially interesting were the bits about recent high school graduates in the mill community.  Many had received scholarships and were headed off to college in the fall. Only a generation before there was no hope of a mill worker’s child gaining a higher education.

The Burlington Mills Bur-Mil logo is a familiar one to collectors of vintage lingerie.  On many rayon items from the 1940s and early fifties, you will have the Bur-Mil logo along side the brand name.

Companies that used Bur-Mil fabrics often included this fact in their advertising.  The suit ad above is from May 1950.

Note:  It was a common practice, even through the 1970s, for a clothing manufacturer to collaborate with the fabric maker in their ads.  Contrast that with common practice today, when clothing companies often don’t know a thing about the fabrics they use.

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Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Reynolda House Museum of American Art © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

On a recent trip to Winston-Salem, we took a bit of time to visit Reynolda House.  I’ve been there several times, but there was an exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs that I wanted to see, and Tim had never seen the house.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Reynolda is the story of three women – Katherine Smith Reynolds, her daughter Mary Reynolds Babcock, and granddaughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse.  Even more interesting is that the main character in this story in times past was R.J. Reynolds, Katherine’s husband, and the owner of Reynolds Tobacco.  But this house is so much more than the house of a wealthy industrialist.  It was a home created by the Reynolds women.

To be fair to RJ, he only lived there a very short time before he died.  The house was finished in 1917, and he died in 1918, but it did become the family home in every sense.

In 1905, RJ married his cousin and much-younger secretary, Katherine Smith.  He was pretty much a confirmed bachelor, and I’m sure all of Winston-Salem was a bit taken aback by the wedding.  Smith was an accomplished woman for the times, having not only graduated college and having moved from the family home to the city to work, but she was also an expert seamstress who made much of her trousseau.  Over the next few years she had four children.

The family lived in Winston-Salem, but Katherine bought large tracts of land a few miles north of the city.  That is where Reynolda and its supporting farm and village were built.  As you can see, the exterior of the house was rather plain.

The Reception Hall at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

But as you stepped into the front reception hall, you knew this was no ordinary country home.  This was a house to be lived in, but it was also built for entertaining.

After RJ died, Katherine and their children continued on at Reynolda.  In 1921 she remarried, and unfortunately, she died following the birth of a fifth child in 1924.  At the time her oldest child was only twelve.  Eventually, in 1934, daughter Mary Babcock became the owner of the estate.  Her own children were in part reared in the house, which Mary and her husband updated after moving there in the 1930s.

Art Deco Bar at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

While the main part of the house was left intact, Mary turned the basement into a recreation center, complete with bar, bowling alley, and indoor swimming pool.  Her family lived there through the 1950s, when it was becoming increasingly hard to maintain such a huge house and estate.  In the 1960s the property was made into a non-profit that was to further arts education.

Mary’s daughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse became the next woman to shape Reynolda.  She had become interested in American art in a time when there was not much interest in it, and so she was able to start a collection that became the nucleus of the Reynolda House Museum today.  She had a simple strategy for collecting – to buy the best example she could find of who she considered to be the American masters.

The house opened to the public in 1967, and as a high school junior I visited it in the fall of 1971 as part of a statewide tour my class got to take.  I can remember that we all compared it unfavorably to the Biltmore House in Asheville, but one classmate pointed out that it was more like a home than was the Biltmore.  And he was right.

One thing of interest to the fashion lovers among us is that Katherine Smith Reynolds loved clothes, and she used a big room on the third floor of the house as her huge closet.  Over the years, the other men and women of Reynolda used this area as clothing storage, and in 1972 the room was “rediscovered” and found to be full of the clothing of three generations of the family.  Despite the fact that the room had been used by the children as a source for dress-up play, the clothes were in good condition.  Today, the attic is a display space for a rotating exhibit of the Reynolds family clothing.

After my first visit to the house in 1971, I did not make it there again until 2003.  I went because I’d read that the Reynolds clothing was on exhibit, so I went and spent an entire afternoon sketching the collection.  I can’t remember if there was a photography policy, but at the time I was so into drawing that I probably would not have taken them any way.

On this trip, I did notice the policy (Oh, now Instagram has changed things!) and photos are allowed in only two areas inside the house.  I’m sure this is a compromise to satisfy the selfie generation as the two areas are great photo opps.  Still I found myself wanting to photograph the details of the clothing, as with a husband along, the time for sketching just was not there.

But I was even more surprised later when I reread the list of rules and found that one must have permission before sketching in the house.  I really do not understand why an art museum would want to limit sketching.

I do understand the photography rule though, and like it or not, I will admit that our visit was enhanced by the knowledge that I could not whip out the phone and start snapping.  It was a quiet afternoon at the museum, and we had the little audio tour devices which told not only about the house and the Reynolds family, but about most of the works of art on display.  Still, I’d have loved some detail shots of that Boue Soeurs cape.

Click for more about Reynolda House, including some shots of the clothing.

Sightseeing hint:  As a former teacher, I know that school groups have to be at a site early, and they usually have to return to school before it closes between 2:30 and 3:00 pm.  So late afternoon is a quieter time to visit many museums that are popular with groups of school kids.

 

 

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Ad Campaign – Aberfoyle Fabrics, 1928

Susan at Witness2Fashion sent these ads my way because she noticed that the Aberfoyle mill was located in North Carolina.  I had never heard of Aberfoyle, but as it turns out, they had a mill in Belmont, NC, a small mill town just west of Charlotte.  I’ve been to Belmont plenty of times, mainly because there are several antique places there, one in a repurposed textile mill.  By looking at some photos Susan linked to, I at first thought that the mill I like to visit was the Aberfoyle plant, but on further investigation I realized that Aberfoyle was located down the street outside of town.

On that street, there were at least three textile mills, all of which are now closed.  Even after the factory buildings are torn down, you can often tell were they were located by the presence of lots of similar little houses, lined in neat rows.  These are former mill houses, built by the company as housing for the workers.  There are clusters of mill houses all over Belmont.

The wonderful textilehistory.org site appears to have been down for the past few weeks, which makes learning about these old textile companies a bit more difficult than usual.  I have learned that Aberfoyle began in Chester, PA in 1889, and later opened a mill in Belmont, probably because they were doing business with the other mills in that area, and because production costs were less in the South.  The Chester Mill closed in 1950, but the one in Belmont stayed open at least into the 1960s.

From reading the ads, you can see that Aberfoyle produced what many other Southern mills made – cotton dress goods.  I love how in the ad above you can see snippets of the fabric designs, which are arranged in a very Art Deco manner.

The artist of these is Helen Dryden, who is probably most famous for her beautiful magazine covers of Vogue.  She also did covers for Delineator, where these ads were found.  I can’t help but wonder what the workers at Aberfoyle thought of these stylish ads.  The late 1920s were particularly hard times for textile workers, and I suspect they would not have seen the “story behind their gaiety” that is implied in the ad.

I did learn of a history museum in Belmont that has exhibits on the town’s textile heritage.  I know what I’ll be visiting the next time I’m passing through that area.

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