MESDA has slowly been transforming physical space

Winston-Salem Journal

Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2015 12:15 am

Anna Keller/Special Correspondent

Because the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts is located in Old Salem, many Winston-Salem residents assume it’s merely part of the historic district.MESDA is part of Old Salem, but it is also something much more extensive: It houses a collection and archived database representative of decorative arts and the artists behind them from seven Southeastern states — North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

The museum has extensive databases chronicling the artists and works behind 127 different trades — including decorative arts such as furniture, ceramics, silver, paintings, textiles and more — but it is also a collection of 30 rooms, each arranged to display decorative elements in themes or showcase how a certain room would have looked during a given time period.

And now the museum, which was built where an old Kroger grocery store had been in the mid-1960s, is undergoing an extensive renovation, with a goal for the updates to be complete by October.

In 2008 — four years after the death of Frank Horton, MESDA’s founder — the museum started to envision the future of MESDA. They gathered experts from such places as Winterthur and Colonial Williamsburg and created a plan to evolve MESDA.

They started with their research, transferring their paper files to digital versions. This digital archive has allowed MESDA’s overall presence to grow, as people anywhere in the world can now easily access its extensive database.

Robert Leath is chief curator and vice president of collections and research at MESDA.

“In 2009, we launched a campaign to raise money because MESDA needed a facelift,” Leath said. “We needed to bring the galleries into the 21st century. They had become physically tired. Just as we were trying to bring the research into the 21st century with technology, we needed to update the galleries.”

To start the process, MESDA, repainted the galleries so they were historically accurate, and they installed a new lighting system.
“We’ve treated our architectural collection with the same level of scholarly attention that we would give any other object in the museum,” said Daniel Ackermann, MESDA’s associate curator. “We enlisted the nation’s leading paint analyst, Dr. Susan Buck, to carefully analyze the surviving traces of original paint in each room and then used her findings to mix paint using 18th- and 19th-century materials.”

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