Category Archives: North Carolina

What Lurks Beneath

I posted a photo of this poster on Instagram, along with a plea for followers to encourage me to buy it. I left it in the antique store where I spotted it, but I could not forget about it. So a month later I decided to go back to the store, and if the poster was still there, I would buy it. And so I did

Not only is this a great piece of sports ephemera, it’s a bit of Asheville history. According to my mother, everyone roller skated in the 1940s, and so the Skateland Rollerdrome was opened in 1946 to capitalize from the fad. The craze faded, and the rink was closed in 1962, The building was converted to a music venue in the late 1960s, first as the Jade Club, and later as the Orange Peel. Both clubs were mainly R & B, and later, Soul, and the clientele came mainly from the nearby Black community. But being the Seventies, the club was not segregated, and White music lovers crowded in to see nationally known acts like The Commodores. By 1980 the (Almighty) Orange Peel had closed, along with everything else in downtown Asheville. But the late 1990s brought a revitalization, and in 2002, the Orange Peel was reborn.

So I bought the poster and brought it home. I knew that antique frame was not the right fit for a mid-century poster. An examination of the poster in the frame showed that it was mounted on some questionable paper, and needed to be removed.

The back showed some interesting mounting, including some tape and corrugated cardboard. It was all going to have to go.

But then came the big surprise.

Between the cardboard and the poster was this early twentieth century portrait. Unfortunately, there was nothing at all written on the back, so I have no clue as to who she might be. What a shame!
At any rate, the portrait is a much better fit for the frame, which has, unfortunately, been painted with blue enamel with a dark overglaze. Still, it’s a lovely portrait which did not deserve to be hidden away. I’ll not be keeping the frame and the portrait. I’m donating them to a local animal rescue group that runs a thrift store with an area for collectibles. I hope she goes to a good home.

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What a Long, Strange Year It’s Been

I’ve been thinking back to how naïve we all were a year ago. I was pretty irritated because I had to cancel a trip for my 65th birthday, and then another trip with my longtime girl gang. I can remember thinking that at least things would be better by the end of April so we could go to my beloved Liberty Antiques Festival. But then that was cancelled, and so it was the thought of going to the Hillsville, Virginia Flea Market and the Liberty show in September that got me through the summer. But then those were cancelled, along with a clothing history symposium I was planning on in October.

In a way, it seems like the longest year ever, but at the same time, it’s almost as if the year didn’t happen. Being retired I was spared the whole work from home thing, but at this stage of my life my main pleasure is getting out in the world, visiting museums and historic sites, and just learning. For most of the past year that was just not going to happen. And even when things began to open up, the world just did not feel like a safe place.

I’m fortunate to live in the Southern Appalachians with National Parks and National Forests. I hiked a lesser known trail in the Great Smokies (not Clingman’s Dome; the parking lot was always full, which means the trail was too crowded) and I visited waterfalls and swam in the cold mountain streams. I slid down Sliding Rock, overcoming a childhood fear of the deep pool at the bottom. I visited local historic sites. And I spent many glorious summer afternoons in my own backyard, enjoying a cold beer, or two.

But still, I have really missed the feeling of freedom to come and go about the world. I feel, and I’ve heard other older people say the same, that I’ve lost a year of my life. Yes, I have gotten things done and have tried new activities. I’ve read – a lot. And I’ve taken advantage of places that allow for distancing.

I’ve often wondered how I’d would react if faced with a real emergency. Well, now I know. I’ve listened to the advice of trained professionals. Mask wearing is now second nature. I’ve had both doses of the covid vaccine. I’ve stayed home for the better part of the year, and I at least have the satisfaction of knowing I have done all I can to stop the spread of this horrible disease.

Even as spring break is causing insanity across the country, there does seem to be light at the end of the corona virus tunnel. As people are looking forward to a more “normal” world, let’s not forget that we all need to be more respectful of others. If we haven’t learned anything from the past year, it’s that it takes all of us to overcome not just covid, but also the social ills that continue to plague us.

I want to go to the beach, but not this beach!

A camping trailer would solve so many of the problems associated with hotels, but it just looks like so much work.

But not as much work as this setup.

Staying in a cabin in the woods might seem heavenly to city dwellers, but this is too similar to my real life.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, North Carolina, Viewpoint, Vintage Photographs

Brunswick Town Historic Site, North Carolina

One thing I’ve learned about historic sites is that the smaller and more obscure places often end up being the most interesting ones. Not that Gettysburg and Mount Vernon and Independence Hall aren’t interesting – they are. But when one visits the “big” sites, one often enters with preconceived notions. On the other hand, when one visits a place barely known, then the tablet is clean, and one is free to learn about the place without the voice of one’s high school history teacher echoing through one’s head.

I did have knowledge of Brunswick. After all, I taught one year of North Carolina history to fourth graders. But in an elementary school study of our state, the story of Brunswick was just a footnote. And now I know that the importance of the site is worth more than a passing nod. And I bet that children in Eastern North Carolina get a better look at Brunswick, just as students in the western part of the state are more likely to study about Thomas Wolfe and the Cherokee Nation.

Spanish Attack on Brunswick,by Claude Howell, 1964-1967

I’m not going to try to tell the entire story of Brunswick here, because my point is actually more generic. In a time when travel is risky, seek out the out of the way places, off the main tourist trail. Brunswick Town State Historic Site is only twenty-two miles from Wilmington, but it’s a bit off the beaten path. The only people there were the few people who sought it out. That made for a great experience both inside the museum and the grounds of the village.

But calling it a village is not really accurate. To see the town of Brunswick you would have to go back in time to around 1770. Today, all that’s left are the excavated foundations of some of the sixty-odd homes that were there in the eighteenth century, plus the walls of St. Philip’s Church. What was once a thriving port on the Cape Fear River was done in by a British attack in 1776. The town was once the winter quarters of the royal governors, and one, Governor Dobbs is buried under the ruined church.

Brunswick was still a thriving port when in 1765 the local merchants staged a revolt against the Stamp Act. Why do students not learn about that in history? It’s always Boston, Boston, Boston!

But upriver Wilmington was gaining in importance, and in 1770, royal governor Tryon moved his quarters to a new “palace” in New Bern. The decline of little Brunswick was sealed when the British burned it in 1776.

The site was abandoned until the Civil War. The port of Wilmington needed protecting, so an earthen fort, Fort Anderson, was built on the bank of the Cape Fear River. It did not fall to the Union until February, 1865. That led to the fall of Wilmington several days later. With its capture, the last important port of the Confederacy was closed.

Today the earthen banks of the fort are still there. It’s easy to see from the position just how important this obscure fort was for the survival of the Confederacy. Between this fort and several others along the river, Wilmington was well protected.

The trail that circles the site of Brunswick and Fort Anderson also includes a bit of a walk by the river and a small adjacent swamp. There’s a sign, “Caution, Be aware of wildlife.” In case you didn’t realize, there are alligators in this part of North Carolina.

And we were lucky to see two babies in the swamp. Look closely! I was just glad that their mama was nowhere around at the time.

Our visit to Brunswick encourages me to see more of out state historic sites. I have a few already in mind. Brunswick was hard hit, first from Hurricane Florence, and then from the coronavirus shutdown. When visiting these small sites, visit the gift shop and spend a few dollars to help out. Books are always a favorite with me.

I felt like the museum could do a better job of telling the story of all of the inhabitants of Brunswick. There is practically no mention of the women, and the people enslaved there were mentioned mainly as being “stolen” during a Spanish raid (seen in the mosaic above} and as workers at Fort Anderson. Of course, this is how history has been interpreted for the past millennia, but let’s hope that money will become available that will allow public funded sites to do a better job of including the stories of all people.

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Asheville Art Museum – Newly Reopened and Better than Ever.

For years I’d not thought about the Asheville Art Museum.  Years ago when the museum had a great program that paired works from their collection with our US history curriculum, I took my fifth graders. The last time I visited was in 2007 when they had an exhibition of the paper dresses made by Mars of Asheville.

But for the most part, a visit to the Asheville Art Museum was just not that exciting. They were limited to a very small space in what was originally the Pack Library (where I spent many hours during my college years in the Sondley Research Library). But several years ago the museum closed for expansion and renovation. They reopened in November and the difference is amazing.

For such an arts-aware city, the old museum felt like an afterthought, especially after visiting the museums in other comparatively-sized cities. The excellent collections at the Greenville County Museum of Art (SC) and that of the Gibbes in Charleston, SC are just two examples.

Not every museum can be the Met or the Louvre, and so it helps when a small city discovers it has a niche to fill. For instance, the Gibbes has a wonderful collection of art from the Charleston Renaissance of the early twentieth century. The Greenville County Museum of Art focuses on South Carolina artists, as well as the Wyeth family.

So what is Asheville’s niche? When a city is located in the middle of “Appalachia” it might be easy to go full on mountain culture, whatever that is. I’m happy to say that what I saw reflects what Asheville and the surrounding area are today.

One of the most beautiful works is not actually in the museum, but is outside in Pack Plaza. This is Reflections on Unity by Henry Richardson. I have to say it is a great addition to the plaza, and seems to be a counterpoint to the obelisk, the Vance Monument. Zeb Vance was North Carolina’s Civil War era governor. (And don’t get me started on that glass and concrete monstrosity in the background, whose construction in the 1980s meant the destruction of a block of historic storefronts.)

I know you all are here for the textiles and clothing, so that’s what I’ll be showing. The inaugural exhibition in the new museum is Appalachia Now! in which all the artists either are from, or work in the area designated as “Appalachia”. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the designation. The area of the Southern Appalachians is too large and too diverse to be defined by a single word. But it’s the word chosen, and I’ll deal with it.

In an exhibition on Appalachia you would expect quilts, but the art quilts of today are a far cry from the Sunbonnet Sue and Double Wedding Rings associated with the craft. The quilt above was made by Kelly Spell, and is titled Spotted Hawkfish. “This particular work was inspired by a fish of the same name…”

What would an exhibition on Appalachia be without an overshot woven coverlet? But this work by Danielle Burke is much smaller and more finely woven than the traditional coverlet. But the design, Carolina Star, is the same.

It is almost impossible to escape the effect of textiles in art exhibitions. These works by Amanda Brazier use her own oil-based pigments from the earth (seen in the little jars) to make paintings that look like weaving patterns.

It might be hard to tell just how small this embroidered work by Amanda Remmen is, so I’ll tell you it is about six inches across. I-81, Winter 2017, is part of a “map” series. The museum has four of these on display.

 

This dress is made of oak leaves dipped in beeswax.  Garment for Remembering the Earth, 2010 -2017 was made by Jennifer L. Hand from leaves she gathered on walks in the woods. The garment is accompanied by a video showing her process.

Sculptor Elizabeth Brim uses traditional blacksmithing techniques to produce metal garments reminiscent of the ones made by her seamstress grandmother. From Italy with Love, 2017.

The area of the museum devoted to the permanent collection is a nice mix of works with regional connections, historical works, and contemporary works. To my delight, there is a section of the work of the teachers and students of Black Mountain College. The sculpture is by Ruth Asawa, and is made of wire. Untitled, circa 1954.

Dorothy Cole Ruddick used thread and embroidery to create the illusion of depth. She studied at Black Mountain in 1945. Untitled; undated.

There is a small section of regional works.  I’ve written about Bayard Wootten and her photographs in the past, and it was good seeing her represented in Asheville’s collection.

Getting a decent photo of this Granny Donaldson Cow Blanket was impossible, but I had to show it as another example of her work.  It’s not as spectacular as the one I recently posted from the Folk Art Center’s collection, nor as detailed as the one in the collection of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, but the charm of her work is readily apparent.

Asheville quilt artist Luke Haynes puts a twist on familiar works by other artists, as you can see here in [The American Context] Christina’s World, 2012. Haynes had friends strike the poses of works like Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World.  The background squares are made of fabrics from old clothing, while the figure is made from new fabrics.

I’m really excited for future exhibitions at the Asheville Art Museum. It’s exactly the cultural asset Asheville needed.

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Fashion Queens – Southeastern Region Symposium in Charlotte, NC

I joined the Costume Society of America way back in 2005, and for a person like me who loves all aspects of fashion and social history, it has been a super learning experience. Once a year there’s an organization-wide symposium where members present their research, and on a smaller scale, there are yearly regional meetings as well.

I like the large symposiums, but I love the regional ones. There’s an intimate atmosphere where even if you do not know  a single person when you arrive, when you leave you have lots of new friends and contacts.

So I was pretty excited to learn that the Southeastern Region was holding this fall’s symposium in Charlotte, only about two and a half hours from me. The theme was Fashion Queens, which gives a nod to Charlotte, the Queen City, and Queen Charlotte for whom the city was named.

I know that sitting in a room with a bunch of history fanatics is not everyone’s cup of tea, to to me it’s an exciting opportunity to learn from the best.  The images above are from the research of Linda Baumgarten on designs of eighteenth century quilted petticoats. Linda is a Curator Emerita at Colonial Williamsburg. She’s the author of  books on the subject, including my favorite, What Clothes Reveal.

For attendees not familiar with quilting terminology, Linda provided clear photos to make her study easier to understand.

The presentation above was really interesting. Dr. Dina Smith of VA Tech studied “the design process of reenactors who create Regency gowns.” To do this she conducted interviews with reenactors attending the Jane Austin Festival in Louisville, Kentucky.

One of my favorite presentations was about the pearl button industry of Muscatine, Iowa. This research was conducted by Jade Papa of Thomas Jefferson University.  Anyone who studies clothing that predates the emergence of plastics has seen lots of  mother of pearl buttons, but do you know where they were made? Well, neither did I until I was enlightened by Jade.

Mussel and clam shells were harvested from the Mississippi River at Muscatine starting in 1891. By the 1920s the seven button companies in Muscatine were producing 37% of the world’s pearl buttons. Above you can see how discs were stamped out from the shells. This was just the beginning of the process, as each disc was handled thirty times before it became a button.

The beginning of the end of the Muscatine button industry came in the 1930s when the Great Depression hit. At the same time plastics were being made into buttons cheaper and easier. And the shells had been over-harvested which led to several species becoming extinct or endangered.  I hope Jade writes a book.

Jean Druesedow, who recently retired as director of the Kent State University Museum, talked about how Kent acquired the clothing of actress Katherine Hepburn. This was really interesting, partly because I have seen the exhibition using Hepburn’s clothing twice. Jean talked about the relationships that Katherine Hepburn developed with the designers of her screen and stage clothing.

After the presentations there’s the chance for the audience to ask questions. What really made this particular symposium so special was the exchange of ideas between professionals like Baumgarten and Druesedow, plus experienced conservators like Colleen Callahan and Margaret Ordonez. And just so you will not think the attendees were just the elders of the profession, there were quite a few college students and masters candidates who attended, and some who even presented. It was a great mix of ideas and experiences.

Another favorite part of CSA symposia are the trips to local museums. In this case we went to the Mint Museum. I’ve visited the Mint numerous times, but there’s always something new to see. Above you have part of a special exhibition from Studio Drift. The piece is Fragile Future 3.5, and it’s made of dandelion fluff attached to tiny lights. There’s a complete circuit of the metal parts.

And here’s my irregularly scheduled reminder that a museum does not have to have actually clothing on display for visitors to see fashion. So much of what we know about fashion history is learned from period art, like this 1857 painting by James Goodlyn Clonney, Offering Baby a Rose.

I would usually be more interested in the mother’s dress, or the hound observer, but in this case, it’s the father’s robe or banyan that caught my eye.

A big thanks to the Department of Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and especially to Aly Amidei, for hosting the symposium.

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Folk Art Center of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway as one is traveling south into Asheville, is the Folk Art Center. It’s mainly a crafts store that sells the products of craftspeople who are members of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, which has been around, officially, since 1930. It was born from the Crafts Revival Movement, which was the rural twin of the Settlement House movement made famous by Jane Addams in Chicago.

I’ve written quite a bit about the Crafts Revival Movement, and I’ll link to some of those articles at the end of this post. For the most part, it was driven by a desire of middle class and wealthy women to help women in poverty through the production of traditional crafts.  Remarkably, some of the efforts of these women still survive, as in the case of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild.

And while I find some of the ideas of one hundred years ago to be more than a bit patronizing toward the people of Appalachia, the efforts were sincere, and did actually lead to women in the Southern Mountains being able to make and market crafts, and thus to bring in badly needed cash to their families. It also helped establish a strong renewal of craft traditions in the Appalachians.

The Southern Highlands Craft Guild is also in possession of a nice collection of crafts and other artifacts from the early days of the Guild. Upstairs at the Folk Arts Center is a small, but interesting museum of some of the items in the collection.

Besides textiles, there are baskets and other woven items, like the late 1930s or early 40s tilt hat seen above. It was made by Alice Pratt of Asheville from braided cornhusks, lined in silk.

This 1930s handbag was also made from cornhusks, backed with burlap. The maker was Isadora Williams of Knoxville, Tennessee.

This is the coverlet that pretty much started the crafts revival. In 1894 it was given to a missionary, Frances Goodrich, who was working in the area north and west of Asheville and she was so taken with it that she thought it might be a way for the local women to make money. Unfortunately the coverlet was around forty years old at the time of the gift, and most women, even deep in the Appalachian Mountains had given up weaving due to the availability of cheap mass-produced textiles.

But Goodrich was persistent, and soon old disassembled looms were located and reassembled. Women who had given up the labor of weaving returned to the loom as Goodrich and others started co-ops in which to sell the coverlets and other crafts.

There are other coverlets on display, like these three from North Carolina, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

Here is a very rare survivor, a dress made for handwoven linsey-woolsey. The museum was a bit short on details, but dated the dress to around 1900. There are a few mended spots, but otherwise the dress seems to be in wonderful condition.

People who follow me on Instagram have already seen this piece, but it is just too special not to share here as well. This is a “cow blanket” though that is most likely a misnomer. It was made by Kate “Granny” Clayton Donaldson. Donaldson lived in Marble, NC, and sometime in the 1920s or early 30s she started crocheting figures and animals from her homespun and dyed wool. The story is a bit sketchy, but through an association with the nearby John C. Campbell Folk School (founded by another woman, Olive Dame Campbell} she began attaching the figures to pieces of fabric to make a decorative blanket or hanging.

Quite a few of Kate Donaldson’s blankets survive. They are in the collections of art and folk museums, and occasionally one comes up for sale.

A personal note – my father was born in Marble in 1927. It’s very likely that his family knew Kate, as Marble is a tiny place, where everybody knows everybody else.

Biltmore Industries

Fireside Industries, Berea

Penland School of Crafts

Crossnore Weavers

 

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When Great Things Happen to Mediocre Museums

In 2016 I wrote about a visit to the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, NC.  At the time I thought the museum was a fairly average small town attempt to acknowledge a local guy who did good in the big world beyond Mount Airy. You can read my post about it, but the truth is the museum left a lot to be desired with clothing on hangers and improperly mounted, a jumbled up narrative, and redundancies galore. At the time we were told that an update was in the works so that made me feel somewhat better about the experience.

If you aren’t familiar with Andy Griffith and his TV show from the 1960s, it was based on a small town sheriff in the town of Mayberry, which was based on Griffith’s home town of Mount Airy. Today there is an entire industry built around the TV show, with local businesses taking on the persona of the TV equivalent.  It’s a bit of an Andy Griffith theme park, but it is working for Mount Airy. All the shop fronts are filled with local businesses, and there are plenty of visitors, looking for the Mayberry experience.

I am happy to say that the museum has been completely renovated and reimagined. It’s no longer a haphazard bunch of stuff, but today tells a coherent story of the man and the TV show that put his hometown on the map.

Above you can see one of the shirts Andy wore as the sheriff of Mayberry. previously this shirt was on a clothes hanger in a space so small that the bottom of the shirt wadded up on the bottom of the case.The only good thing was that the label could be seen. It’s now hidden, but the exhibit notes tell the visitor that the shirt was made by the famous Nudie Cohn of Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors in North Hollywood.

The first part of the museum tells about Andy’s childhood in Mount Airy. The setting for this area consist of reproductions of some of the local landmarks. The Snappy lunch is located on Main Street and was mentioned in episodes of the TV show.

You can still eat lunch there today.

One of the best things about the renovation is the excellent exhibit notes. Artifacts are clearly explained along with photos from the show. The two tweed suits above were made for actor Don Knotts in his role of Deputy Barney Fife. The one on the left is from the original series and first appeared on screen in 1960. The one on the right was made for a Mayberry reunion movie.

This pinstriped brown suit was based on one first worn by Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle. After he left the show in 1964 the suit was altered to fit his replacement, George Lindsey as Cousin Goober Pyle. Goober wore the suit so much that it became quite worn, and so the Western Costume Company took apart the original to make this replacement.

Even in 1960 the suit was terribly out of style, but Goober kept wearing it until Mayberry RFD, the successor to The Andy Griffith Show, ceased production in 1971.

Goober was usually dressed for his job as an auto mechanic. I have often wondered how he kept his pants waist so high above his waist. The outfit is actually one piece, with the pants sewn to the shirt.

The Mary Maxim type sweater on the right was a gift from Andy to childhood friend Emmett Forrest. It was Forrest’s collection that forms the foundation of the museum’s collection.

Hal Smith played the town drunk, Otis Campbell. He was usually seen in the town jail, and so his costume is surrounded by bars.

This mockup of Andy’s office in the Mayberry Courthouse contains many of the original items from the set. There were screens set up around the museum showing scenes from the show and interviews with the actors.

One of my favorite displays is this one that features two dresses from actress Maggie Peterson. Maggie was Charlene Darling on the show, but these dresses were worn in a 1967 variety show in which some of the show’s actors reunited with Griffith.  Maggie’s dresses were designed by Bob Mackie, and she donated them to the museum along with the original Mackie illustrations.

The museum continues in the basement of an adjoining building. There is a nice display devoted to actress Betty Lynn who portrayed Thelma Lou, Barney’s girl friend, in the show. At the age of seventeen, Betty Lynn joined the USO and was sent to the Pacific theater. That’s her gun that was given to her, just in case.

This is a hand mirror that was a gift from Don Knotts. Betty Lynn is now in her nineties, and she actually lives in Mount Airy. She relocated there in 2006 after a public appearance there.

Outside the museum they have an old motorcycle sidecar for kids visiting to climb into for a photo. I couldn’t resist.

 

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