Mount Airy News

New Look, New Products

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Organizers say recent renovations at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History have one goal: To make people look at the local museum as not only a place to revisit history, but a great shopping destination as well.

Museum Director Matt Edwards said much of the summer was spent renovating the shop with the help of Andrew Pearson Design and Interlam, who worked to provide products and services to renovate the space.

For Edwards, it is about perception. "This renovation is part of a plan to make the museum more welcoming and inviting, and to really make the retail component of the museum a more vital part of the downtown business district,” he said. “People sometimes forget that while we’re a museum, we also have a store here that’s home to a great many products and resources.”

Edwards said the renovations also allowed him to expand on the store’s offerings. “We wanted to be able to revamp the space and increase both the quality and quantity available through the shop,” he said.

In the near future, shoppers will even be able to purchase locally-made artwork. “We’ve been working with a number of local artisans to bring more local artwork into the space, which not only allows shoppers to pick up one-of-a-kind artwork, but gives the artists another venue to market their work,” he said.

In addition, Edwards said the renovations have allowed him to expand the book and music offerings “pretty substantially.”

Shoppers can even purchase hard-to-find recordings at the store. “To my knowledge, we’re the only outlet in town that’s carrying the Old Blue Records label, which offers a wide variety of old-time and bluegrass music, much of it recorded in this area,” he said. “We have a pretty expansive catalog here in the store.”

With the holidays on the horizon, Edwards said it’s time to get the word out. “For us, this is a way, particularly moving into the holidays, for people to support the museum in a little different way,” he said. “People may not think about coming to a museum to shop for the holidays, but we want people to recognize that our retail store is a place they can come for unique, quality products they may not be able to get elsewhere in the community.”

Visitors to the museum may notice “a change or two,” Edwards said with a sly grin. "People will see a completely different space,” he said. “If you’ve been here in the past and look at the new shop, it’s been completely renovated. It’s much more open compared to the traditional space that was there before."

“The size increased a little bit, but the big change was in dealing with the layout and flow for shoppers,” Edwards added. “We may have added 100 square feet, but it feels much, much bigger and it flows much better for the visitor and shopper.”  Edwards said the retail store now stocks around 600 different items.

“And we’re still in the process of expanding those offerings, and will be bringing in more merchandise as we move forward next year,” he said.

Cigar box guitar workshop set Saturday

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Consider it something of an encore for the “seegar geetar.”

Because of its success last year, officials at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History are bringing back a program designed to help preserve the musical heritage of the region — the cigar box guitar workshop.

This year’s second annual event, which will see attendees leave with their very own hand-crafted musical instrument, is set for Saturday, Nov. 15, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Registration is $100 for the general public and $75 for museum members, according to museum director Matt Edwards.

“The registration fee includes everything,” he said. “It includes all the materials, instruction, coursework and even lessons in how to play to wrap up the day.”

Last year, the museum hosted the workshop as a way to complement its Luthier’s Craft exhibit, which closed in the spring.

But the workshop’s success led Edwards to try it a second time.

“Last year’s event was fantastic,” he said. “We sold out the number of spaces available. Because it’s such a hands-on activity, we have to limit the class size to 10. It sold out last year and everyone had a fantastic time. I suspect some of the attendees last year will be back this time.”

Edwards said he is trying to create more annual programs at the museum.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been trying to add in more recurring programming,” he said. “This one has been very successful, and the other we’ve continued is the Batik egg workshop we host around Easter.”

The museum director said the current focus on traditional music makes the workshop a must-attend for music lovers.

“If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to experiment with the traditional music movement going on these days, this is a great first step,” he said, “and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than going out and buying an instrument, plus, you get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve built your instrument yourself.”

The cigar box guitar came about out of necessity, according to the museum director.

“The cigar box instrument is a fairly old tradition,” he said. “People who couldn’t afford to purchase commercially-made instruments actually went out and made their own, and the cigar box made an easy conduit to build the body of these instruments. It was a ready-made component that many people had around.”

Edwards called the cigar box guitar a “gateway instrument.”

“Many of the luthiers we worked with for last year’s Luthier’s Craft exhibit actually started by building cigar box instruments,” he said. “This is a pretty common gateway craft that leads to the more refined instruments they’re building now as professionals.”

And in today’s breakneck world, many craftsmen are returning to their roots.

“Today, there has been a revival of interest in cigar box instrument making, and there are blues musicians out there who are playing them,” he said. “They’re really fascinating pieces of functional art.

“Cigar box guitars can even be fitted with pick-ups that will allow them to be played both electronic and acoustically,” Edwards said. “And one of the great things about them is they’re made with a minimal number of specialty parts. Other than the tuning keys and corner braces, pretty much everything you need to build one is readily available at the local hardware store.”

The workshop will be conducted by Mike Lowe, whom Edwards describes as a “local folklorist, musician and artist.”

“He’s the perfect person to instruct this workshop,” Edwards said.

Limited space is available, so Edwards said advance registration is encouraged.

For more information call the museum at 336-786-4478.

History talk opens new museum law enforcement exhibit

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The Surry County Law Enforcement History Exhibit opened at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History Saturday with a history talk titled “Countdown to Tragedy? 1972 Surry County Sheriff’s Department Hostage Standoff.” The event was an example of history shared is history remembered.

The talk included first-hand accounts of the standoff, which was featured by national news media. Hostages and officers in attendance were David Beal, C.R. “Ronnie” Davis, Mike Hensley, Wallace Creed, Mitchell Davis, Ila White and C.R. “Pete” Gillespie. Justin Stirewalt served as moderator for the history talk.

Museum Executive Director Matthew Edwards credited the work of Stirewalt’s own personal collection of law enforcement memorabilia for forming the bulk of the exhibit.

“Historically, a lot of the gear for law enforcement had to be purchased by the officers themselves,” said Stirewalt. “Up until the mid-1970s sheriff’s deputy’s had to buy their own cars. You’d be surprised what turns up in people’s closets.  Some departments have been holding on to items, but a great deal of the early history has been lost. What is here is a snapshot of the profession from the 1950s to late 1980s.”

He said law enforcement training early on was mostly what officers could learn on the street compared to training standards today. Stirewalt said Basic Law Enforcement Training now involves 600 hours of training. He opened the talk by thanking the packed room for “coming out to see what was in your closets.”

Panelists White, Davis, Creed and Hensley were hostages in the incident which occurred in October of 1972. Roy Duncan had returned to the office after filing a missing persons report for his wife, Faye.

White said he returned, casually carrying a shotgun as if he was going to register the weapon, which was a common practice then. She said Duncan pointed the gun at her and demanded help finding his wife. Staffer Karen Allen, who was also on duty, calmly pushed the alarm pedal. Creed heard the alarm dispatched and responded to the call, entering the office through a side door.

“He was sitting behind the desk with a shotgun when I came in,” recalled Creed. “He told me to give him my pistol and there was nothing else I could do.” Davis was the next deputy to arrive. Davis explained how Duncan later ordered him to “go get a pill to keep him awake” and then, suspecting a trick, made him take half the capsule with scalding hot coffee.

Frustration was evident as Davis recalled how he was powerless to help his partner, who later left and came back with balloons to comfort a 4-year-old girl who accompanied Duncan and made everyone nervous by playing with the cocked shotgun Duncan held. All agreed they were certain someone was going to be shot accidentally. Creed had been given another pistol he concealed in his back pocket.

Meanwhile, the area around the office filled with crowds, media, sharpshooters and officers from surrounding departments. Eventually, some hostages were released. Faye Duncan was located and brought to the scene. Prior to this Beal, who was a State Bureau of Investigation agent, heard the call and helped officers with his knowledge of Mount Airy to help direct the overall strategy.

Officers who had brought Faye Duncan from High Point arrived and in short order Duncan agreed to give up pistols and the shotgun. The two were allowed to talk and reportedly at 1:52 that afternoon, Duncan was escorted out to the patrol car and the standoff was over.

The exhibit includes items from Surry County Sheriff’s Office, Surry County Constable, Mount Airy Police Department, Elkin Police Department, Pilot Mountain Police Department, Dobson Police Department, Surry County E-911 Communications, Surry Community College Campus Police, Surry County Animal Control, and Boggs Patrol Service.

Thsi exhibit will run through mid February 2015. Interested persons may visit for museum hours.

Bringing History to Life-Junior historians club kicks off today

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Without looking at the past, it’s sometimes hard to understand the present, and the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History hopes to instill a love of the past in the area’s young people.

“What we want to do is get kids involved with and excited about our community’s history,” said museum Director Matt Edwards.

In an effort to accomplish that goal, the museum is kicking off this year’s season of the Jesse Franklin Pioneers, a chapter of the state’s Junior Historian Association. The club started up again for the school year this week, with an informational meeting for parents and interested young people.

Edwards said the local club has been in existence since 2005, and has already garnered the attention of other clubs in the state.  “The club is an extremely active part of our educational and outreach program here at the museum, and they’re very good at what they do,” he said. “We have twice been named the chapter of the year, and were the rookie chapter of the year the year it was founded.“From a track record of success standpoint, this club has been very successful in competing with other chapters in the state, and each year we participate in an annual conference in Raleigh,” Edwards added. “We’ve had either individual or group winners every year the club has been in existence.”

This year, the club’s activities will focus on a theme.  “For the past several years we’ve picked a theme that has ranged from cemetery history to old time radio,” he said. “This year we’re going with architectural history and how that ties into community development and the social growth of the community. It sounds very complicated, but it’s a great way for us to teach local history in the context of the buildings kids see every day and what was happening when they were being built.”

Club participants will also get the benefit of another first this year, Edwards said. “We’ve been able to bring in a community sponsor for the club,” he said. “Chick-Fil-A is going to be sponsoring the club this year, and I’m hoping that partnership will let us ratchet up the quality of the program even more than in the past.”

For the museum director, the club is just another way to share his love for community and its history.  “Part of my job is to share the passion that I have for local history and to find ways to make it fun and exciting for kids during their daily lives,” he said. “That’s what this is about. It’s about finding a kid and connecting them with a nugget of local history and getting them fired up about it.”  He smiled.“Engaging history and helping it come alive,” he said. “That was the goal from the beginning.”

For more information, contact Edwards or Amy Snyder at the museum at 336-786-4478.

Bringing History to Life: Museum to Screen WPAQ Documentary

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Next week’s History Talks event at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History promises to be one for the record books.  “This isn’t going to be your average program,” said museum Executive Director Matt Edwards. ‘This one will be a little more special.”

Saturday’s program, which gets under way at 2 p.m. on September 13 in the third floor meeting space at the museum, will feature Jordan Nance, a documentary film-maker who will be screening his well-received film “Broadcast: A Man and His Dream.”

The film should have special meaning for Surry County residents, Edwards said.  “This is about the early days of WPAQ radio and its impact on the historic music of the region,” he said.  Edwards said Nance’s documentary is even more impressive due to his physical challenges.  “What’s interesting about this program is not neessarily our typical History Talks speaker,” he said. “He suffers from cerebral palsy, and the form he has makes him wheelchair-bound and he has to speak through a computerized voice mechanism much like Stephen Hawking.”

In Nance’s teenage years, Edwards said, he became fascinated with the music of the region, listening often to WPAQ.  “He would listen from his home in Reidsville and developed a real affinity for old-time music,” he said.

That devotion to the region’s musical heritage planted the seeds for decades of work, according to Edwards.  “He has spent the better part of the last 10-12 years documenting the early history of the station, and he became close friends with the late Ralph Epperson,” Edwards said. “In fact, he was able to interview him about six weeks before (Epperson) passed away in 2005.”

All told, Nance interviewed more than 60 musicians and former employees affiliated with the radio station, many of whom were on hand during the station’s developmental years in the 1950s and 1960s, he added.  “Kelly Epperson, who owns the station today, will tell you Jordan knows more about that radio station than anyone else alive, including himself,” Edwards said.

In addition to the documentary screening, Edwards said additional programming will include performances by some of the station’s early musicians including Mac Snow and the Round Peak Ramblers.

“As an added bonus, the museum will be unveiling the original WPAQ call letters which hung on the outside of the station since 1948,” Edwards said. “When they were taken down, we were very fortunate to be able to have them repaired, and we will be placing them in our permanent exhibit.” 

Edwards said he encourages the public to attend the free event.  “From a historic standpoint, what Nance has done not only helps us to document a very important piece of our regional musical history, but he’s also bee able to find tremendous resources that no one new were out there,” he said. “He has images from people’s private collections that no one knew existed.”  “It’s just a treasure trove for us,” Edwards said.

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