By: Terry Rader
What do you do the day after Christmas when you’ve had your fill of shopping malls, and everyone is tired of being stuck inside watching T.V.? Old Salem Museums & Gardens will have its first-ever Winter Fair, with something for everyone to enjoy for four days from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. This interactive fair encourages attendees to step back in time where things were simpler and when making functional art was an everyday affair.
OSMG president and CEO Frank Vagnone described the fair as a “palate cleanser” for coming out of the holiday season. He said the Winter Fair provides opportunities for a full spectrum of all ages of a family.
Attendees can enjoy free daily explorations of children’s toy making, paper chain garlands, quill pen writing, quilt making and more. Watch live demo chainsaw art with Mountain Mike and go on architectural walking tours of interpretive environments, including Salem Waterworks and the new geothermal system at the Boys’ School. Experience hands-on, fee-based workshops that include pottery (slip trail decorating), redwork (19th-century embroidery), organ and keyboard ramble, silver bells, broom making and more.
For those who love to listen and learn, there are master lecture classes, an informal clavichord and piano concert at the Boys’ School, the 1798 Tannenberg organ concert at the Single Brothers House, as well as roaming folk musicians, and informal fiddle and banjo tunes from Northwest North Carolina.
Wake the Parson, an acoustic tradition folk trio with hammered dulcimer, cello and guitar will have your toes tapping.
“Music is a significant part of the Winter Fair,” said OSMG president’s office liaison Karen Walter. “Normally, we feature brass bands, choral singing and organ concerts. For the fair, we are expanding our music boundaries to include the folk music that surrounded the town of Salem.”
Vagnone and his staff along with the board of directors have been making a lot of big changes in the last two years. He heralds his more-inclusive, visitor-centered museum paradigm to the Triad from his experience handling all five boroughs in New York, introducing a whole new total immersion experience in Old Salem.
“Traditional [historical] museum visits are like going to a friend’s house for dinner, and they keep you in the hallway on the other side of a rope after asking you not to touch anything while they tell you about the wonderful dinner they have prepared, but never invite you to sit down and eat,” Vagnone said. “With an understanding of successful international museum trends, we created a new vision of what Old Salem could be.”
In the past two years, Vagnone said they have completely reinterpreted all of the buildings. The chains and ropes have been taken down. At The Vogler House, 14 chairs surround a quilting table where participants can sit and sew the quilts that are donated to nonprofits. He said that everyone, including middle school boys, has enjoyed this tactile experience and once in the midst of it, an interpreter can share the history of quilt-making more inclusively.
Vagnone said that most people don’t realize that Old Salem’s Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) is an internationally recognized museum of the highest caliber of pre-Civil War, Southern decorative arts collections. This year’s fair will include collections brought out of storage with some curious pieces that have never been on exhibit before.
As a young girl, I used to go to Old Salem every Saturday morning with my best friend when her mother left for work very early. We got to experience pre-dawn freshly baked cookies and sugar cake right out of the oven. I’ll always remember the glowing coals and warmth of that beehive brick oven and the sweet-smelling tasty treats it produced.
Vagnone said that is the kind of personal experience they are bringing back with the Old Salem Winter Fair. Up until two years ago, the coals had already gone cold by 9:30 a.m., but now, the beehive brick oven is fired at 10 a.m. every week so you not only get close enough to see it and smell it, you can feel the warmth of the oven on your face. You can help make the cookies and come back later and purchase baked goods to take home. There is a second beehive brick oven outside the Miksch House where Sister Hillary demonstrates how Sister Henrietta Miksch baked the gingerbread she sold for 30 years.
Vagnone hopes the Old Salem Winter Fair takes off in its pilot year and five years from now, it will be the thing-to-do after Christmas.
“I think it will catch on once people realize it’s more than just an event and they get to be a part of the show instead of just observing it,” he said. “It’s a showcase of history that communicates tactile fun and is immersive and engaging so that they walk away with an experience to remember and share.”
TERRY RADER is a freelance writer/editorial/content/copy, poet and songwriter, certified herbalist and flower essences practitioner and pet/house sitter, formerly an ad agency creative director, copywriter, branding strategist and Earth Harmony columnist, a storyteller on a mission to raise awareness for creative people, grassroots, sustainability, holistic wellness and underground happenings in our community.
Wanna go? 12/26, 12/27, 12/28, 12/29, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Old Salem Museums & Gardens’ visitor center (336) 721.7300 is located at 900 Old Salem Rd., Winston-Salem. To see the schedule of events: www.oldsalem.org/calendar-programs/winter-fair-2018/. Purchase tickets good for two consecutive days, adults $35, students, $16, children 0-3 are free and sign up for special classes, and hands-on workshops ($50) as space is limited at www.oldsalem.org.