Beyond moonlight and magnolias

The centerpiece of MESDA's new initiative for scholars is the Anne P. and Thomas A. Gray Library and MESDA Research Center, which opens in May 2013 in space that formerly housed the Old Salem Toy Museum, whose contents were auctioned in 2010. The Winterthur-trained collector Tom Gray is funding the project, named in part after his mother."I'm fulfilling Frank's last wish for a research library," says Gray, who is working with the specialist dealers William Reese, Clarence Wolf, Catherine Barnes, and Joseph Rubinfine to assemble a collection of NorthCarolina books, manuscripts, autographs, and colonial currency dating from 1590 to 1865. The collection's secondary focus is rare books and manuscripts from Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. Gray's collection will eventually join Old Salem's unrivaled archives on the history of North Carolina Moravians in the new facility.

Since 2007 MESDA has staked out uncharted territory, pursuing new initiatives in collecting, research, interpretation, presentation, and publication that are stimulating the larger fields of American decorative arts and material culture. But where does the study of the South ultimately end? "Personally, I would take the vision all the way," Robert Hicks says. "It wasn't easy to see beyond Frank Horton's original mission, but MESDA should encompass the entire South up to the Civil War, all the way west to Indian Territory, New Mexico, and Arizona," he adds, fixing his gaze on the frontier, to the place where East meets West and the nation's outline as a whole begins to take shape. "The new goal for southern decorative arts is not to prove that we made beautiful things. That battle has been won. The goal is to see that southern Decorative arts are integrated into the bigger history of American art. We're working on it," Couch adds.

1 A report on the first Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum published in The Magazine ANT IQU ES, April 1949, noted that several speakers called attention to the "lack of information about craftsmanship in the south" and concluded, "It seems clear that we don't yet know the whole story." Horton's life is chronicled by Penelope Niven in "Frank Horton and The Roads to MESDA," Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts, vol. 27, no. 1 (Summer 2001), pp. 1-150; and in Luke Beckerdite, "The Life and Legacy of Frank L. Horton: A Personal Recollection," American Furniture 2006, pp. 2-27. 2 See Daniel Kurt Ackermann, "60 Years Later: Furniture of the Old South," Old Salem Museum and Gardens Biannual Magazine, Winter-Spring 2012, pp. 17-21, for a discussion of Furniture of the Old South: 1640-1820 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, January 17 to March 2, 1952, and for insight into the collecting activities and influence of Ralph P. Hanes. 3 Bradford L. Rauschenberg describes the genesis of MESDA's field research program in his introduction to Rauschenberg and John Bivins Jr., The Furniture of Charleston, 1680-1820 (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, N. C., 2003), vol. 1, pp. xxxi-xxxiv.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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