Mount Airy News

New Twist on Old Artifacts

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Artifacts originating in the area that typically hide in storage away from the public eye have now obtained a new lease on life by inspiring art and being a part of their own exhibit.  Beginning Jan. 21, the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is hosting a special exhibit entitled Art-I-Fact. The purpose of Art-I-Fact is to allow local artists to create works inspired by the museum’s artifacts that aren’t usually on display. Though the pieces and the art they have influenced can be viewed by the public until Feb. 11, the artists were present to show off their work and demonstrate their art on the day of the exhibit’s opening.  In Martin’s opinion, the new exhibit is a great way for the museum to reach out to the community, adding “I love the fact that pieces are being shown that aren’t normally shown and that we can get people to the museum to be inspired by art.” 

Present with her work inspired by a plow, saw, and a photo of a train that once ran through Mount Airy was stained glass artist Gwen Jolley.  For the exhibit, Jolley devoted her talents to creating two pieces, one focused on a plow, and the other focused on a saw mill and the train.  Jolley has been making stained glass for around 20 years. Each creation takes her roughly ten hours. “It’s like a puzzle, but you know where the pieces go,” she joked.  Jolley said before she began working to create art inspired by the artifacts, she had no idea about the significance of the train in Mount Airy’s history. She hopes the new exhibit draws more people to the museum to learn about the city’s history through art, just as she did.

Also lending her talents to the Art-I-Fact exhibit was Glenda Edwards, a beadwork artist.  As stated by Edwards, she has been doing art with beads for about 20 years after picking up the skill from Choctaw Native Americans. Edwards created a necklace by using the Cellini spiral pattern that mimics the curl of an auger found in the museum’s storage.  Inspired by an empty frame, Edwards also fashioned a beaded portrait of a gentlemen which hung in a similar frame. “At some point in the past that frame would have held probably the only picture of someone’s family member, so to me, the frame was just as important as any artifact,” Edwards reflected.

Joe Allen, a practicing blacksmith for close to ten years, focused his skills toward creating a tripod for a kettle found in museum storage and the metal outline of a horse to go along with an antique x-ray machine used for veterinary purposes. “I hope to show that there’s still artists around; a lot is dying art. What I do is dying art,” explained Allen, optimistic the event will be an educational experience for all members of the community, especially local children, and that it will inspire them to participate in art themselves. “Everyone has an artist in them, they just have to find it,” he added.

The work of Aaron Blackwelder, who has been working with pottery since 2000, was also present. He crafted yellow dishes to complement antique kitchen furniture. The exhibit is complete with a station for kids and adults alike to make their own works of art inspired by additional artifacts there.

According to Matthew Edwards, executive director of the museum, the idea for Art-I-Fact came from a similar program held at a South Carolina museum where he worked in the past. “As with all exhibits, the goal [of Art-I-Fact] is to find new and innovative ways to capture people’s imaginations and teach them about history,” Edwards stated. The grant for the exhibit came from the North Carolina Arts Council through the Surry Arts Council, according to Amy Snyder, who serves as the museum’s curator of collections. Edwards is hopeful the museum will be able to add and expand to the program for next year. Though Jan. 21 was the last day all artists would be present together at the exhibit, each artist will be at the museum in weekends following until May to host workshops on the art of their expertise. For more information on the Art-I-Fact exhibit or the workshops hosted by the artists, call (336) 786-4478 or visit

Local residents honored in the spirit of MLK

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A former city employee was honored at a service in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday.  At an annual event at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History on Saturday, Anise Hickman, who spent for 26 years in human resources for the city, received the 2017 Dreamer Award for the Mount Airy-Surry County branch of the National Association of University Women.  Past recipients of the award include Jimmy Stockton, who founded God’s Helping Hands free store, Faye Carter, the long-time president of the local NAACP chapter, and Melva Houston Tucker, who organized a decades-long tradition of serving a community Thanksgiving meal.  Hickman was also named an “In the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” honoree for leadership.  According to Cheryl Yellow Fawn Scott, who made one of the two presentations, Hickman was in charge of employee benefits for the city. She earned multiple degrees and certifications prior to and throughout her time with the city, and she managed to stay heavily involved with the Surry County branch of the NAACP throughout it all.  “I have to thank God first,” said Hickman. “He is the center of my life and the center of my joy.”  Hickman went on to thank her children, other family members and friends for their support throughout her life’s journey.  “They have always supported me,” said Hickman, recalling her days earning a degree while balancing school with a full-time job and a family.

Others in the community also were recognized.  Clinton Brim was recognized for the unity he has shown throughout his life. In Brim’s statement he recalled going into the U.S. Army during Vietnam. It was the Patrick County, Virginia, native’s first experience with racial integration.  After serving alongside black and white soldiers alike, Brim returned home to segregation, where, as he recalled, black people entered local establishments through the side or back door. That is, until one day, when some black men wanted “a cold one” and walked through the front door of a local bar.  Though some weren’t happy, according to Brim, that bar was no longer segregated. 

Vera Smith Reynolds, who recently made a run for a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives, was the first African-American to graduate from Blue Ridge High School in Patrick County. Her life-long career in education led the group to name her an honoree in the area of mentorship.  In the area of character,

Ron Snow was recognized by the group. Snow, another army veteran, started the Meter Masters Track Club in Mount Airy and once served as NAACP president.  In Snow’s statement, he recalled attending the second march Dr. King led on Washington D.C. 

Clint Carter entered into the service of his country during the Korean War. He also served tours in Vietnam throughout his 23-year army career. The Purple Heart recipient was the group’s honoree in the area of sacrifice.

Scott called Dr. Carolyn Watkins a foundation builder as she announced the educator as an honoree. Watkins started Bright Beginnings Preschools, taught in the Surry County Schools and was a professor at Winston-Salem State University and Surry Community College.  Watkins recalled how unequal the theory of “separate but equal” was in education, noting at the black school she attended that students lacked appropriate supplies and studied from used, outdated books. However, innovative and concerned teachers at that school built a foundation for Watkins, allowing her to go out into the world and build foundations for youngsters in Surry County and the surrounding area.

Jackie Snow was named an “In the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” honoree for the perseverance he has shown throughout his lifetime. He, too, served in Vietnam; his clerical skills earned him an office position instead of being placed in the infantry.  He went on to work desk jobs throughout his civilian career, and he became the first African-American claims auditor at an insurance company in Columbia, South Carolina.  Snow said he once had a teacher who told him, “Never put yourself in a position where you’ll have to use the ignorance stick.” He took that advice, and rather than dig ditches, he armed himself with education throughout his life and advanced in his career.

“Bishop Tony Carter is the absolute finest man I know,” said Bill Hall as he presented the bishop’s award in the area of faith.  Hall said Carter has spent a lifetime in the service of others, and that’s exactly what he was doing on Saturday.  “Bishop Carter is attending to a friend in need,” said Hall as Eric Strickland accepted the award on Carter’s behalf.

The group also recognized the work of some youngsters. The group called attention to William and Sadiq Pilson’s work in the area of faith at their church and Dante Watson’s educational accomplishments. Those in attendance paid tribute to Keyshawn and Kendrick Oliver for their annual work at a community Thanksgiving dinner.

Scott drew inspiration from King as she explained the work of so many in civil rights.  “He (King) always prayed for the pilots when he was traveling,” said Scott. “He also said a prayer for the ground crew.”  Scott said there are a lot of members of the ground crew in the civil rights movement. While there work is important, they often go unrecognized.  While the accomplishments of locals were honored at the 12th-annual program, the 100 or so in attendance gathered to honor and celebrate the spirit of King. Brack Llewellyn provided a little history of the civil rights movement and King.  Llewellyn said King worked a farm job as a teenager in Connecticut. He was astonished to find a world, as King wrote, without racism north of Washington D.C. Many years later, the Montgomery bus boycott would jettison King into the spotlight, and he would eventually become one of the great faces associated with the civil rights movement in America.

The program also featured musical selections from multiple performers. Some selections were somber, and others moved the entire room to clap along.  Scott said in the past there has been more music at the annual event. However, the 2017 event featured more honorees, a trade-off Scott was happy to make in order to recognize more people making accomplishments in the local community.  A candle was lit for both Christ and in King’s honor. Refreshments followed the event, which was about two and a half hours in duration.

Museum event to honor spirit of Dr. King

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream for America, and an annual event Saturday night at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History will illustrate how it’s been realized in Surry County.   The theme for this year’s program featuring musical and other activities — scheduled from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on the third-floor meeting room of the museum — is “In the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Surry Countians Continuing the Dream.”

“It has something for everybody,” Cheryl Yellow Fawn Scott said of the multi-faceted and entertaining event she will emcee with LaDonna McCarther. The event is free and open to the public. It is co-sponsored by the museum and the Mount Airy/Surry County Branch of the National Association of University Women (NAUW), of which Scott is president.  “This is actually our 13th one,” Scott said of the museum event honoring King which was snowed out one year. But a common denominator throughout that period has been heavy attendance by local residents.  “Last year it was literally standing room only,” Scott added of the program that tends to attract around 125 people.  It is designed to be one of healing which focuses on the sacrifices, love, learning, service, perseverance and hope of the African-American community of Surry County.  “It’s supported well by the community and it’s a wonderful evening,” Scott said.

Dream lives

Modern tributes to Dr. King, who died in 1968 and whose birthday will be celebrated nationwide on Monday, usually focus on his many famous quotes and King’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.  Saturday night’s gathering at the museum will include plenty of remembrances of his historic life and shows of gratitude for the lessons learned from King. But it will be just as focused on the here and now in terms of how his work is still under way through others, Scott said in reference to the program theme that stresses moving forward together.  “It’s also an opportunity to get to know people in Mount Airy who are living out that dream,” she said of King’s unifying message of education, inclusion and equal opportunity for all citizens to better themselves and succeed.  Eight local residents will be recognized Saturday night for exemplifying those lessons in their daily lives: Dr. Carolyn McCarther Watkins, Ron Snow, Bishop Tony Carter, Jackie Snow, Clinton Brim, Vera Reynolds, Clinton Carter and Anise Hickman.  One of the eight will receive the 2017 Martin Luther King Dreamer’s Award, which is based on the “I Have a Dream” speech King delivered in 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The accomplishments of Surry youths in such fields as education, church activities and sports also will be recognized during Saturday night’s program.

Music and more

There is also an entertainment aspect of the MLK event which has proven popular over the years.  “It’s an opportunity to come together and it’s a community event — it’s one that’s filled with music and different types of performances,” Scott explained.  The program typically features dance, readings of poetry from Maya Angelou and others and songs including the national anthem.  A new attraction this year will be a performance by local theatrical figure Brack Llewellyn, whose is expected to illuminate a side of Martin Luther King Jr. people don’t know about.  The program further will include special singing by the Chestnut Ridge Primitive Progressive Baptist Church choir, storytelling, prayer and a candle-lighting ceremony honoring King.  Light refreshments are to be served after it concludes.  While admission to the event is free, donations will be accepted.

Fargo Greets Fans

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She became a celebrity after moving from Mount Airy, but Donna Fargo can still find her way around town.  The Grammy-winning country music artist, who was born Yvonne Vaughn in Mount Airy, made multiple appearances in the Granite City after carrying out her duties as grand marshal in Saturday’s Christmas Parade.  Following the parade in the morning, Fargo stopped by the Earle Theatre where she spoke with WPAQ’s Kelly Epperson.  After that she headed to the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, where a Hometown Hero exhibit tells Fargo’s story. She held a meet-and-greet and autograph signing there before moving further down Main Street for an appearance at Pages Bookstore.

At the museum Fargo met up with her old friend Pete Ballard (an artist and costume designer from West Virginia who has local ties) prior to meeting with fans, who assembled in a long line on the second floor of the museum to await their turn to meet Fargo.  She was also interviewed by two students. Fifth-grader Savannah Allen interviewed Fargo for her project with the Jesse Franklin Pioneers Club of the Tar Heel Junior Historians; and 19-year-0ld UNC Chapel Hill journalism student Sara Pequeno interviewed Fargo for a final paper in one of her classes.  In answering one of Savannah’s questions, Fargo called singing “my little secret wish,” noting it was a dream she had always hoped to attain. The star sang at Slate Mountain Baptist Church as a child and in college for sorority events.  Fargo said singing in front of large crowds didn’t come easy, however, as she was a little nervous. She even fainted once when her brother set her up to sing without her knowledge of the plans.  She noted she draws inspiration for her songs from her childhood here and from her fans.

“My life in Mount Airy influenced me greatly,” said Fargo, noting she attended school in Flat Rock and at Mount Airy High. “The people of Mount Airy are wonderful people. They encourage you just because they love you.”  Fargo, who now lives in Tennessee, said she doesn’t regularly travel back home to Mount Airy. Instead, she makes occasional appearances for book signings, parades and other events.  She has an affectionate place in her heart for her old hometown.  “Visiting is a great opportunity to meet people who are new to Mount Airy, and I also get to see people I grew up with,” said Fargo. “It feels good to be home.”  She said the life experiences she gained in Mount Airy helped in her music career, and she was inspired to become a teacher by her own teachers in Mount Airy.  “It’s important we never lose sight of where we came from,” explained Fargo. “I’m a better songwriter and writer because I grew up here.”

According to many in town, Fargo breaks the mold when it comes to celebrities. She never forgot the town from which she came and adores her fans as much as they love her.  After graduating from then-High Point College in the 1960s, Fargo headed west to California, where she began teaching, according to a Fargo biography.  However, she saw her career in singing and writing take off when Dot Records picked up what would become her hit single, The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA, in 1972. That debut song hit number one in country music and also broke into the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart in the same year.  Taylor Swift would be the next artist to accomplish that feat more than 30 years after Fargo did it.  Fargo has done much since her breakthrough, including recording multiple albums and writing many songs.  She also began work on her autobiography in 1992 and has a line of greeting cards. In 2010, she released her fourth book, I Thanked God for You Today. Prior to that, she had released three poetry books.  On Saturday she noted she has written seven total books.

Donna Fargo itinerary for Mount Airy visit announced

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Fans will have several opportunities to interact with local celebrity Donna Fargo over the weekend.  The Grammy-winning country music/pop singer will serve as grand marshal Saturday in the Mount Airy Christmas Parade, which kicks off at 9 a.m. After the parade travels up Main Street and concludes at the Southern end of the Main Street business district, Fargo will stop by the Earle Theatre for a brief noon appearance with Kelly Epperson of WPAQ.  The singer will next be whisked off to the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History for a meet-and-greet and autograph signing slated to begin about 12:30 p.m.  On Sunday, Nov. 27, a book signing will begin at Pages Book Store on Main Street at 2 p.m. until closing.  Representatives from the bookstore indicated that Fargo will be releasing a new book but did not provide any additional details.

“I think you will not find a famous person with more affinity for her fans than she has,” said Matt Edwards, museum director. “She loves her fans as much as they love her.”  Edwards noted that he grew up “functionally post-Donna Fargo,” and that his appreciation for Fargo was developed after he began work at the museum.  “I didn’t have a clue,” he said, but became familiar with Fargo’s historical significance while developing her exhibit at the museum.  “Working with her, she’s a great lady,” he said. “I cannot say enough good things.”

Fargo is best known for her music career, during which she released hits such as “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” in the 1970s.  But a lesser-known detail impressed Edwards as far as her historical contribution.  “She was the first woman to host her own TV variety show,” he said. “That’s pretty impressive. Everybody remembers Barbara Mandrell because her show ran for several years, but Donna’s show preceded that.”  The show, which was produced by the Osmond Brothers, ran for a year beginning in 1978 and ended so Fargo could address serious health concerns.  “It wasn’t because it wasn’t popular enough and it wasn’t because people didn’t love it,’ Edwards said. “She made the decision to step away.” 

Though the museum meet-and-greet is scheduled to continue until 5 p.m., the director said fans won’t be turned away.  “She will stay until everybody gets the opportunity to do so,” he said. “In many cases it’s really an old home feeling,” he said, a reunion of sorts for those who knew Fargo back in the day.  Edwards said, “Even if you aren’t one of those people, she treats you like you are.”

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