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New Exhibit:

From an Artistic Eye: Kenny Hooker's North Carolina

3rd Floor

Upcoming Events

Thu May 05 @ 3:30PM - 04:30PM
Tar Heel Junior Historians Meeting
Wed May 11 @12:00PM -
Plaid Cloth Literary Society
Sun May 15 @ 2:00PM - 03:30PM
History Talks: Shape Note Singing: History and Tradition

Who We Are

 

Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

museum001 Ours is an all American story - typical of how communities grew up all across our great nation. While our story takes place in the back country of northwestern North Carolina at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is likely to bear many similarities to the development of crossroads, towns, and cities throughout America.

It had taken little more than 100 years for the corridors along the coastline of this still-new continent to overflow. As tensions grew and conflicts flared, the pioneer spirit set in. Families literally packed up everything they owned and headed into the unknown-searching for the "promised land."

Mission Statement:

The Purpose of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is to  Collect, Preserve and Interpret the Natural, Historic, and Artistic Heritage of the Region

                                                                      Adopted by the Board of Directors   October 9, 1995


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Mount Airy Museum Of Regional History

Historian in the making

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Anyone who thinks history is a dry topic needs to listen to Taylor Osborne talk about it.  When describing the three battles of the American Revolution that interest him most, the 19-year-old college student sounds like a sports broadcaster announcing a championship game, offering both play-by-play and color commentary that conveys the drama, intrigue and the stakes.  Osborne, of State Road, researched the southern campaign of the American Revolution for his Elkin High School senior project, building three dioramas that represent scenes from the battles of Camden, Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown.  At the time, the work was noteworthy in its scope and for his effort: he well exceeded the 15 hours of work required for the project, charting about 100 hours while actually putting in about 1,000 hours.  He researched, designed and built each diorama from scratch, hand painting each tiny soldier.  A year later, the project is on exhibit at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.  The Surry Community College freshman reached out to the museum when looking for different places to display it.  “We thought it would fit,” said Amy Snyder, museum curator, because the museum’s April history talk focused on events from a similar time period.

The materials now on display in the third floor of the museum reflect a year’s worth of Osborne’s continued attention to the project.  He repainted some soldiers for accuracy, and added collectibles, pictures and items that flesh out the dioramas for a full exhibition.  Flags from various contingents hang on the wall behind.  Within the dioramas, Osborne based the “frozen” action on famous paintings and details from history he thought were important.  An officer, or as Osborne calls him, the coward, fleeing from the battle on horseback.  Blood on the sword of another officer known for his brutality. A dismembered arm lying amid the soldiers.  General George Washington, depicted with brown hair. (It hadn’t yet turned white, Osborne explained.)  “They’re an excellent example of these battles,” Snyder said. “They’re very detailed and intricate.”  The curator said her favorite detail is a small picture of a General’s wife on his desk inside a tent.  “It’s just amazing.”  The project will be housed at the museum through mid-May, Snyder said.

History of a historian

Osborne said he initially planned to focus the project on the Battle of Yorktown, but his teacher encouraged him to address the “entire southern campaign of the American Revolution.”  Lexington, Concord, (the first battles of the war) Saratoga (where the British surrender 5,700 troops) — those battles are well known, Osborne said. “From Saratoga they drop off.”  The Battle of Yorktown had been special to Osborne since visiting the historical site in Yorktown, Virginia, on an eighth-grade field trip.  “That’s what got me into the Revolution,” he said.  “I was fascinated. Here’s a bunch of colonist farmers who say, ‘Hey, we’re going to take on the strongest army in the world.’ That kind of underdog story was fascinating to me.”  The southern campaign that interests Osborne is an underdog story itself, both in that it is under-reported in the history books and in the battles of which it consists.  At the October 1777 Battle of Saratoga, the British surrendered about 5,700 troops to Major General Horatio Gates.  However, the British didn’t authorize peace negotiations until months after the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, where Cornwallis surrendered.  Before that, the battles of Camden and Guilford Courthouse were both British victories, yet uniquely positioned the British army for the crucial defeat in Yorktown.  He said he wanted to take on the southern strategy because, “just the fact that it’s a part of the war no one’s ever heard of,” he said. “A lot of the southern battles are completely forgotten.” 

Moving forward

Osborne seems to have as good a handle on the future as he does on the past.  He’s gobbling up history classes at Surry Community College and plans on transferring next year to UNC Greensboro to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history.  After that, Osborne would like to teach history at either the high school or college level while he earns his PhD.  In the meantime, he doesn’t draw a line between work and fun.  Osborne became involved in reenactments a couple of years ago, and while that’s not especially shocking for a history buff, Osborne said he had no interest in the activity until attending one for the first time in 2014.  “Some of my teachers would say ‘you’re going to be a re-enactor,” he recalled. “I said, ‘I’d rather just stay here and read about it.’”  After witnessing the drama first hand, Osborne and his dad, Lauren Osborne, decided to give it a shot.  Now, they’re both hooked.  “It’s like you’re right in the middle of the battle,” Taylor Osborne said, with smoke everywhere, chaos, and with even a scripted battle, things not going according to plan.  “That’s how it was in real life.

Museum volunteers honored at social.

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Angela Yacano’s reasons for volunteering at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History are pretty simple.  “I have a great time in here,” she said, as if admitting to a guilty pleasure.  Yacano, who works the museum front desk one or two afternoons a month, has been a museum volunteer for several years.  “I just like to talk to the people,” she said. “I like the chance to meet people who come from all over the world. Their reasons for visiting Mount Airy are really different.”  Whatever their reasons for passing through, Yacano said she always sends them up to the museum tower to check out the view.  “I call the tower Mount Airy’s answer to the Empire State Building,” she said. “That always gets a chuckle.”

Museum staffers Nancy Davis, guest services manager, and Matthew Edwards, executive director, have discovered that most volunteers get a lot out of the social opportunities volunteering provides.  To thank the people who donate their time and energy, a “Volunteer Appreciation Social” was held on April 14. Davis said the museum annually hosts a program during National Volunteer Week, which in 2016 ran from April 10 to April 16. This year they changed the format of the appreciation from a program with guest speakers to simply a social hour where volunteers could mingle and munch on catered heavy hors d’oeuvres. The following long term volunteers were honored with service pins.

For five years – Mark Brown, Anita Hoisington, Rodney Pell.

For 10 years – Barbara Fields, Doris Surratt.

Twenty-year volunteer Ruth Richards was unable to attend the social but will be pinned when she shows up for work at the museum on Tuesday.  “Ruth has been a steadfast supporter and volunteer almost since the museum opened to the public,” Edwards said. “Her warm smile and welcoming personality have greeted visitors to the museum for 20 years now. It’s rare to find that kind of dedication these days and we’re honored to have her as a part of our museum family.”  Davis added that five volunteers who have been with the museum for 19 years are on deck for the pin for next year.

Additional volunteers sought

While the staffers are thankful for their core group of about 65 volunteers, recruiting and maintaining a full volunteer staff of ideally about 100 is a “constant struggle,” Davis said. Folks want to do too much, too soon, and burn out. Others are just too busy for a consistent commitment.  “There are a lot of organizations we compete with for volunteers,” Edwards said. “A ton of great organizations.”  The director noted that human services organizations sometimes have a more obvious connection to serving the community that draws volunteers, but that the museum also serves a critical function.  “Our mission is to preserve our collective experience of living in this place and time. It’s part of being part of something bigger than ourselves, something more influential,” he said. “What we do is just as important to the overall health of the community.”  Davis recalled one docent who compares the museum to an individual who might keep a box of important memories and treasures.  “She says ‘consider the museum our box and these are the treasures we want to keep.’”

Edwards said the broad strokes for a regional history museum are similar to other regions, that every community had their industries, their “big fire,” their powerful families.  “Our job is to tell our story and what makes us different,” he said, and volunteers are crucial to doing that job well.  “It frees up paid staff to be working behind the scenes on the big picture things,” he said.  Edwards said their greatest volunteer needs are for front desk volunteers, who run the cash register and more importantly “are our first interaction with the visiting public,” Edwards said.  “That’s the hardest to fill because of the sheer number of shifts.” 

The museum is also in need of docents, who must be available on demand to give tours and attend training.  But the director noted that “there are a lot of jobs people don’t think about,” he said. “We’ll find a way to work with anyone with an interest in the museum.”  He also noted that volunteers don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of time at the actual museum in situations where getting out of the home is a barrier.  Edwards used his wife, Glenda Edwards, as an example. As leader of the Junior Historians, she spends about eight to 10 hours at home prepping for what ends up as only about an hour and a half at the museum.  “If they’ve got an interest we want to give them an outlet,” he said.  Anyone interested in volunteering at the museum should contact Nancy Davis at (336) 786-4478 ext. 229.

Easter parade persists indoors at Mount Airy museum

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Ten-year-old Samantha King put her newly created Easter bonnet to good use at a Mount Airy Museum of Regional History event Saturday, donning it to parade through the museum before flipping it over to collect eggs during a hunt.  Regina King had brought her daughter to the same event years ago, when she still needed help gluing decorations to the hat. “I thought we’d come out for a little mommy-daughter time,” Regina King said. “It’s just a fun way to come out to the museum, especially since it’s dreary out.” The Easter bonnet/hat workshop, parade and hunt are an annual favorite, said Nancy Davis, guest services manager who led the workshop. “We try to do what New York City used to do,” she said.  For more than a 100 years in New York City, portions of Fifth Avenue are closed off for an informal, strolling parade filled with folks dressed fashionably — or outrageously — with elaborate Easter bonnets the featured accessory.  “Traditionally it’s the first sign of spring,” said Amy Snyder, curator.

Davis said the youngsters typically gather at the museum to craft their bonnets then parade up Main Street (Mount Airy’s Fitfth Avenue) to an Easter egg hunt at the Blue House.  “The Easter bunny sits in the gazebo and the children get their pictures made,” Davis said.  This year, the rain drove the parade indoors, where the museum made a cozy (warm, dry) venue.  “They have fun every year,” Davis said of the children. “It’s special for these kids because they wouldn’t typically have an Easter bonnet.”  The group assembled their Easter bonnets in the museum’s second-floor classroom. They could choose from an assortment of hats, from straw fedoras to plastic adventure helmets.  Decorations included flowers and ribbon that typify the New York-esque bonnet but also many kid-friendly options.  “We’ve got sea creatures, dinosaurs, bugs, airplanes,” Davis said. Adults help the children hot glue their chosen decorations to the hats.  “We decorate our hats and then the Easter bunny comes,” said Davis. “The rain said no so we paraded through the museum.”

After the parade the children hunted for eggs in the third floor youth area, finding the ovoid treasures amid the exhibits.  Volunteers from the Woman’s League of Mount Airy provides, fills and hides the eggs for the event.  Near the end of the hunt, museum staffer Crystal Bowman sang a lovely, impromptu rendition of “Eggbert the Easter Egg,” a children’s song she said she learned as a Mount Airy elementary school student.  The Easter bunny danced along with the music before hopping off to its next event.  

Ancient spring tradition relived in Mount Airy with Ukranian egg workshop

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Instructor Maria Skaskiw couldn’t quite put her finger on why the art of the decorated Ukrainian egg, the pysanka, is so special to her, or why the ancient tradition continues to enthrall.  “They have a magic attraction for me,” she said while teaching a workshop at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History on Saturday.  And that’s the thing about magic, it’s by definition indescribable.  “They have a hold on me,” she said. “I don’t consider them my creations. They just take over.”

Skaskiw, who has taught typically two workshops per year at the museum for about five years, learned the pysanka art as a child growing up in a Ukrainain community in New York City.  “Everyone was doing it,” she said, explaining that the ancient art was forbidden while the Soviets ruled the country, but flourished in the United States where immigrants had fled.  The craft remains popular with supplies readily available online, so much so that Skaskiw said she recently sent supplies from the United States to her daughter-in-law in the Ukraine.  “The first time we did the workshop we didn’t realize there would be such an interest,” she said. “I just enjoy it so much. I like to see people get excited about it, and I like to see my culture getting out there.”  With the wax-resist, or batik, process used to decorate the eggs, patterns are drawn on the egg with a stylus that applies melted beeswax.  The wax preserves the color underneath when the egg is dipped in a subsequent layer of dye.  After each dip, more wax is drawn on to preserve designs in each layer of color.  At the end of the process, the artist melts off all the wax, revealing the mutli-colored pattern beneath.

  “It’s fun,” said Cynthia Tunis. “It’s very soothing.”  Tunis, attending her first workshop, noted that her grandfather was of Polish/Ukrainain descent.  “My mother did it, but I never got to,” she said 0f the art. “We marveled over her eggs.”  ren Nealis, museum administrator who oversees the annual workshop, also participated.  She said, “I have a Ukrainian background; that’s why I want to learn the ancient way of doing it.”  “Me too,” said Jeannie Studnicki.  “It brings us together,” said Nealis, who grew up in a Greek Orthodox church.  She said the Orthodox church celebrates Easter slightly later than many western churches and recalled taking the decorated eggs to church to be blessed.  Kimberly Berrier, there on a day out with her daughter, Kendra Berrier, said, “I think it’s cool to learn the history of it.” 

The art originated in pre-Christian times when Ukrainians worshiped a sun god and decorating the eggs became a powerful spring good-luck ritual.  The eggs, considered a magical object, a source of life, were decorated with nature symbols celebrating the rebirth of the earth after winter.  After Christianity arrived, religious symbols were incorporated.  “It was the sun god waking up in spring, then became the son of god coming back to life,” Berrier said. “The son god became the son of god. Which is pretty cool.”  Laura Hinkley attended her first workshop on Saturday and was hooked.  “It’s so much better than paper mâché or the other ways of doing eggs,” Hinkley said. “It’s beautiful.”  Hearing her, Skaskiw smiled. “That’s what I like,” she said.

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