Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts


The museum is one of the museums of Old Salem, Inc., the restored community established by German Moravians in the eighteenth century at what is now Winston-Salem, NorthCarolina. Founded in 1965 by Frank Horton (who, along with his mother Theo L. Taliaferro, assembled a comprehensive collection of Southern art that served as thecore of the museum’s collection), MESDA interprets the pre-1820 material culture and social history of the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee, andVirginia. The collections include ceramics, furniture, metalwork, paintings, silver, textiles, and period room interiors. MESDA organizes exhibitions and annual seminars,and maintains the most comprehensive research archive on the arts of the early South, the basis of which is its unique inventory of Southern material culture and primaryresearch materials. The museum’s publications include a journal and a scholarly book devoted to specific Southern decorative arts topics.MESDA’s folk art collection includes the products of artisans who worked in urban centers, such as the Baltimore portraitist Joshua Johnson (1767-c. 1820s), butthe majority of works originated in the backcountry, or the vast areas located west of the Southern coastal settlements. It was there that people of German, Swiss,Welsh, African American, and Scots-Irish origins settled and continued their traditional cultures. These cultures ultimately co-mingled, to an extent, resulting indistinctive interpretations of decorative arts that are an important feature of the back-country’s material culture. In addition to paintings, quilts, needlework, anddecorated long rifles, MESDA has important holdings of German American fraktur from Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, including several examples producedin North Carolina by the unidentified painter known as the Ehre Vater Artist.Painted and inlaid furniture ornamented with traditional folk motifs made in German communities in Maryland, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Wythe County inTennessee, and North Carolina are represented in the MESDA collection. Of particular interest are eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century pieces made by ruralcabinetmakers who provided clients with fashionable, urban-inspired forms that, nonetheless, reflected local taste by incorporating traditional folk designs, such ashearts, pinwheels, and tulips.The extensive utilitarian and decorative pottery collections at MESDA include examples made throughout the South, but among the most significant examples are thelarge lion doorstop by the Virginia potter, Solomon Bell (1817–1882), as well as vessels from Salem, North Carolina, made by master potter Rudolph Christ (1750–1833).

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