The Historic Town of Salem collection is the finest and best-documented collection of Moravian decorative arts in the South. Many of the Moravians who settled in the North Carolina Moravian communities were talented artisans, and it is the products of their shops coupled with other locally used objects that make the Historic Town of Salem collection so distinctive. That these locally made and used artifacts are exhibited in houses and shops once occupied by the Moravians who settled Salem makes them all the more exciting and interesting to see!
The Moravian Decorative Arts can be set apart in the realm of American decorative arts in many ways. A glimpse into the scope of the production of the Moravian craftsmen provides insight into what can be called a “Moravian aesthetic” which includes both typical objects and extraordinary ones. These objects are the products of excellent immigrant craftsmen who were continuing to work in traditions that were familiar to them. They incorporated new styles where they wished and adapted their abilities to the expression of local tastes and available materials.
One of the strengths of this collection is the high concentration of locally made objects. Not only are they irrefutable documents in themselves, but coupled with the comprehensive records kept by the Moravians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they offer unique insight into the lives of the Moravians who lived in Salem at this time.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the Single Brothers of Salem who began collecting objects which held special significance for them and storing them in a cupboard or schrank in the Single Brother’s House. The Young Men’s Missionary Society continued this tradition with objects from the Moravian mission fields. This group started the first museum in Salem in 1844. By 1894, there was enough interest in the growing collection to form the Wachovia Historical Society, which was organized officially in 1897. In 1952, shortly after Old Salem was chartered, the Wachovia Historical Society agreed to place its collection on loan to Old Salem. Since 1950 Old Salem has been the agency actively collecting and exhibiting decorative arts appropriate to the historic houses and shops that make up Old Salem Museums and Gardens. These two collections together form what is the most comprehensive collection of southern Moravian decorative arts in America.
The collection of Old Salem Museums & Gardens includes furniture, ceramics, textiles, metalwares, household objects, tools, and prints and paintings. Enjoy a sampling of the many objects on exhibit at Old Salem Museums and Gardens.