Mount Airy News

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.

Beginning Genealogy Class offered by Museum in Mt. Airy and Dobson

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Genealogy was so important in biblical times that people never left home without carrying a copy of their family tree.  “It was like their social security card,” said Esther Johnson, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, adding that researching one’s ancestry has endured as a popular hobby.  “People have always wanted to know who they are and where they come from.”

Johnson will be teaching a series of beginning genealogy classes in February and March for anyone with those same questions.  Students will learn how to read and fill out a family tree using correct notation and how to use various resources in the community to do research.  The program is run through the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, where the first class was held Tuesday.  Spaces are still available in the remaining four classes, which will be held Feb. 16, 23, March 1 and 8 from 6 to 8 p.m.  Anyone interested may register for any or all of the classes.  The location of the classes — which are free for museum members and $5 per class for non-members — depends on the topics covered that day.  The Feb. 16 and March 8 class will be held in the museum’s second floor classroom.  The Feb. 23 class will be held at the Surry County Register of Deeds office at 201 East Kapp St. in Dobson.  The March 1 class will be held at the Carlos Surratt Genealogy Room at Surry Community College.

Johnson said many beginners have a family tree in their possession but often don’t know how to “read” it or fill one out.  “They need to know themselves how to put down names and dates,” Johnson said, which helps even when using computer programs such as Ancestry.com.  It makes them more adept at understanding what they might find while researching.  “They need to know what is a real source,” from an unreliable one, and how to correctly document sources, Johnson said. “People will tell you anything.”  Students emerge from the class better equipped to unlock secrets from their family’s past — the fun part.  The teacher recalled an instance from her own genealogical research.  Her great-grandfather had been identified as a military deserter in a book about the Civil War.  Johnson obtained a war record from Richmond, Virginia, that on the back side listed details of her ancestor’s capture and release. He was no deserter.  “He was released on his birthday,” she said.  “It’s just those mysteries people love.” 

Although it’s not required, those who want to use the class time to actively research their ancestry may bring laptops.  Family tree forms will be provided to students.  “We always have the best time,” Johnson said. “You will never be depressed. It’s just educational and is really interesting. (Genealogy) keeps you busy, keeps your mind going, it keeps you young.”  For more information or to register, call Amy Snyder at 786-4478 ext. 227 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Annual memberships to the museum can be purchased for $25 for seniors and students or $40 for an individual.

Grant Received From Duke Energy

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PRESS RELEASE

Contact: Matt Edwards, Mount Airy Museum of Regional History Executive Director

336-786-4478, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

February 3, 2016

The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History has been awarded a $3,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation in support of the annual changing exhibits program.

Each year the museum develops and displays three to four changing exhibits on topics relevant to our area’s history, art or culture. During 2016, the museum will be hosting local photographer Kenny Hooker, the traveling exhibit “We are the Music Makers,” and museum curated exhibits on Surry County Quilting Traditions and Technology Advances of the Farm and Home from 1860-1960.

“The changing exhibit program is an important part of our mission to collect, preserve and interpret our shared history” says the museum’s Executive Director Matt Edwards. “These exhibits give us a chance to delve into parts of our collection that aren’t normally on display and to work with local collectors to tell unique and interesting stories from the past” he adds.

Duke Energy is a long-time supporter of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History with capital, program and operating support dating back to the museum’s establishment in 1993. “Duke Energy is proud to be a supporter of the Mt Airy Museum for Regional History and to help enable new exhibits. It’s important to understand the history of our region. The museum is an important part of the community, providing an educational experience for both young and old,” said Jimmy Flythe, Director - West Region, Government and Community Relations of Duke Energy Carolinas.

The Duke Energy Foundation actively works to improve the quality of life in its communities, lending expertise in the form of leadership and philanthropic support to charitable organizations. Duke Energy has long been committed to building and supporting the communities in which its customers and employees live and work.

For more information about the museum’s upcoming exhibit and programs visit the website at www.northcarolinamuseum.org.

Museum to host genealogy swap meet

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To those seeking a productive way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the dead of winter, the Surry County Genealogy Association has a suggestion:

Attend a free family history and genealogy swap meet scheduled Saturday at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the third floor of the museum on North Main Street.

After being held sporadically over the years, the genealogy swap meet was conducted in 2015. It now is planned for the second year in a row on the final Saturday in January, after a big turnout the last time — apparently fueled by a renewed interest among the public in family history.

“Last year, we had so many people there,” Esther Johnson, president of the Surry County Genealogy Association, said of the bustling activity at the museum. Tables were set up all over the third floor, filled with published family histories, laptop computers and more.

As was the case last year, Don Edmonds, a member of the group, will have a computer there offering free access to the Ancestry.com Internet site, a key source for genealogical information.

A copying machine will be available on-site.

“But the big thing is, everybody is invited,” Johnson said. “This is a fun time for everyone.”

Novice? No problem

The event is geared both toward those who’ve never even gotten started researching their roots and veteran genealogists who might be seeking a key bit of information to connect a family line.

In addition to the hard-copy and digital resources available, many at last year’s family history and genealogy swap meet said they appreciated the opportunity it offered to interact with others and exchange information. In at least one case, two strangers there realized they were related.

Anyone connected with a history or genealogy group is invited to come and set up for the swap meet and advertise their group. They may sell books, maps and other materials from those groups.

Authors also are invited to come and put out their books to sell.

Those attending are asked to bring and display their genealogy information so everyone can make connections and find new family facts, Johnson added.

“If you have never done genealogy, don’t worry — come and see if someone else has done the research of your family.”

Such an event is important to the mission of the Surry County Genealogy Association, according to Johnson, a charter member of the group that will celebrate its 35th birthday in May.

The association was formed in 1981 with the help of Carlos Surratt, a late longtime official of Surry Community College and noted local historian, to help people trace their family roots and learn about ancestors, preserve records and gain knowledge about the history of this area.

“It is up to us to know and write and tell the truth about our families,” Johnson said.

Community members, youth honored at MLK tribute

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Near the beginning of a ceremony honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Saturday night, event organizer Cheryl Yellow Fawn Scott asked each half of the audience to stand and thank the people in the other half.  The crowd of more than 100, filling the third floor of the Mount Airy Museum of Modern History and divided only by the center aisle, happily complied.  The gesture set the tone for the evening, a lesson in brotherhood and a reminder of how the civil rights icon changed lives in big ways and small. Now in its 12th year, the program titled, “In The Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Surry Countians Continuing the Dream,” serves as a bridge between past, present and future.

Through musical performances, poetry, storytelling and speakers sharing excerpts from some of King’s most poigniant speeches and writings, the civil rights icon and other influential figures were honored and remembered. Chrissie Watkins’ dynamic reading of the poem “Go Down, Death (A Funeral Sermon)” by James Weldon Johnson drew one of many standing ovations.  Other performances at the gathering included Marie Nicholson’s creative interpretation of “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” sung by soloist Revetta King, and storyteller Terri Ingalls’ story of Robert Small’s “pivotal moment.”  A rendition of Jesus, My Rock by the Triumphant Pentecostal Church Choir had most people’s hands clapping and feet stomping. 

With an eye toward the present, several individuals were recognized at intervals throughout the program for their work embodying different aspects of King’s teaching: E.J. Spencer, self-reliance, Karl Allen, leadership; Edward Spencer, perseverance; and Donnie Nicholson, service.  “I love people,” Spencer said to the audience, noting a simple philosophy that drove him: “Treat people like you want to be treated.”  Many responded to that with an emphatic “Amen.”  The program culminated with the presentation of the annual Martin Luther King Dreamer’s Award — named for King’s most famous speech — which was given to Jimmy Stockton.  Scott said that the most important group highlighted in the program is that who represent the future.  Four young people were recognized for their activism and contributions to church and community: Cheyenne Allen, Iyana Hughes, Shapell Hughes and Braxton Easter.  “We look at the youth who are in different ways embodying the life and ways of Dr. King,” Scott said. “We honor and recognize them for the work that they do.” 

Matthew Edwards, museum director, said the event is one he looks forward to bringing his children to every year.  “This is always one of our best attended programs,” he said. “We’re just the host venue, and we’re grateful to be beneficiaries to this event.”  “It’s like old home week here,” Edwards told the crowd of more than 100. “A lot of the folks have been coming here for years. It’s great to have them here at the museum.”

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