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The Museum is open from 10am - 5pm Monday through Saturday, Sunday 1-4pm

Changing Exhibits

I've Endured: Women in Old-Time Music  May 17 - August 17 2024 

Upcoming Events

Thu Jun 13 @ 9:00am - 01:00pm
Imagineering Camp for ages 6-9
Fri Jun 14 @ 8:00pm - 09:30pm
Historic Downtown Mount Airy Ghost Tours
Wed Jun 19 @ 4:00pm - 07:00pm
Juneteenth Celebration

Who We Are


Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

IMG_8201_-_Copy_606x640 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

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.

Museum concert launches expanded luthier exhibit

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Two instruments commissioned for “The Luthier’s Craft” exhibit at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History will be unveiled Sunday at a concert and meet-and-greet.  Wayne Henderson and The Virginia Luthiers will perform at the event, which begins at 3 p.m. at the museum.  “This concert really is a celebration,” said Matthew Edwards, museum director. “It’s a lineage of really amazing artists and instrument builders in our community.”  The museum began documenting that lineage with a traveling exhibit that opened locally in 2013, of which a Henderson guitar was a primary component.  “Wayne has been a rock star in the guitar building world for 30, 40 years,” Edwards said of the world renowned luthier, who is based in Rugby, Virginia. “He’s probably most well known for telling Eric Clapton to get in line with everyone else.”  Henderson, a recipient of a 1995 National Heritage Award presented by the National Endowment for the Arts, is also known for his top-notch finger-picking and has performed at Carnegie Hall.  The current exhibit also features Johnny Gentry, a banjo craftsman from the Mountain Park area, and fiddle makers Chris Testerman and Audrey Ham Hash.  It’s been been successful since its launch, having been housed in locations such as the Earle Scruggs Center in Shelby, and will be on display in High Point during the National Folk Festival this spring.

About a year ago, the museum commissioned a guitar from Ken Hooper, of Elkin, and a mandolin from Spencer Strickland, of Lambsburg, Virginia.  “The museum is working to document and record instrument builders in our area,” Edwards said. The added pieces will allow for the establishment of a permanent exhibit here in Mount Airy while a component can still travel to other locations.  “It’s the next step in a long-term project for us,” Edwards said.  “Not only do we collect from the past, we collect for the future. We think this is one of those stories we’ll want to tell down the line.”  Both craftsmen carry on the Henderson tradition. “My primary influence has been Wayne,” Hooper said. “He’s kind of the fountain around here. We’ve all kind of spawned from him.”  Strickland met Henderson and his apprentice, Gerald Anderson, at the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention when he was 12 years old. His father arranged for Anderson to build him a mandolin, and the more experienced musicians asked Strickland to play with them on stage.  Their musical relationship continued and Strickland eventually apprenticed and formed a business partnership with Anderson.  He set up shop by himself after moving back home to Lambsburg and still plays music with Henderson in The Virginia Luthiers group.  Strickland and Hooper both noted that attention to pre-war quality craftsmanship are part of what make the region’s luthier tradition unique.  “I build pre-war style guitars patterned after the old Martin and old Gibsons,” said Hooper, calling the instruments produced by C.F. Martin & Company in the decades before World War II “pretty much the gold standard.”  “They were built lighter and the bracing was a bit different,” which was hand-crafted and hand shaped. The instrument tops were thinner and “voiced to maximize the sound.”  The sound from factory-produced guitars just can’t compare.

Hooper, who has been building instruments for about 20 years and full-time for the past four, works from pre-war Martin blueprints and has poured over Henderson’s pre-war style designs as well.  “There’s a lot of things you can’t get today in a factory-built guitar,” such as the use of hide glue, he said. “A lot of folks think that makes a difference. No factories really do that anymore.”  The guitar Hooper crafted for the museum was topped with red spruce wood sourced from the Maggie Valley.  It features a “sunburst” colored top, where lighter colored wood near the center of the instrument gradually darkens towards the edges.  Though he didn’t invent the style, Hooper said he uses it frequently, and so the museum piece will bear his fingerprint in that way.  The mandolin Strickland built for the exhibit was also built from red spruce and curly maple.  “All those trees grow within an hour and a half of Mount Airy,” said the craftsman, who designed the museum piece after a pre-war Gibson A-5 style mandolin.  Those instruments, which feature a teardrop shape as opposed to the curling “scroll” style, built in the 1920s and 1930s, “were the best there ever has been,” Strickland said.  The luthiers noted that the deep musical roots of the region have helped form the local craft.  “Most builders were musicians to begin with,” Strickland said. “Most couldn’t afford a high-end guitar but were pretty skilled with their hands, so they started building their own instruments. I know that’s how Wayne got his start.”  He noted that two of the area’s most recognizable features are music and furniture making.  “People played a lot of music and did a lot of work with their hands,” he said. “Making instruments is just as good a compromise between the two as you could have.”  Hooper said the prevalence of musicians also bolsters the craft.  “They understand what good instruments are,” he said. “That’s our challenge as builders, to try to meet that demand.”  Both instruments will be played during the concert Sunday.  “It’s an opportunity for folks to come out and meet the luthiers helping to carry on the tradition for future generations,” Edwards said.  “There really is so much history in this area, most of it verbally passed down through the years. You know how that goes. Things get forgotten,” Strickland said. “For the museum to capture this for generations to come is a wonderful thing.”  For more information or to purchase tickets call the museum at 786-4478.

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