GRANVILLE MUSEUM HIGHLIGHTED AT TYRON PALACE
The Duffy Exhibition Gallery which is located in the N.C. History Center at the entrance to Tryon Palace, New Bern, N.C. opened in 2010. It offers permanent and traveling exhibits.
Curators Hiram Perkinson, III and Mark Wenger were hired by the Center to design a new exhibit which they titled “Uncommon Chairs”. Their goal was to bring together the most beautiful examples of early craftsmanship ladder back, or “common” chairs from the Tar-Roanoke River region of N.C., most of them built between 1800-1925. Those chosen for the exhibit illustrate the distinct chair-making traditions found in the counties clustered around the N.C.-Virginia state line. The curators have grouped the chairs by county of origin or by a shared defining feature.
Once found in households in every economic bracket, common chairs were relegated to working class households over the course of the 19th century. This exhibit highlights how simple things like wood choices and turning patterns illuminate how these chairs were used in courtrooms, kitchens, parlors and porches. They are a legacy of craftsmanship to be enjoyed by every North Carolinian.
The curators heard that the Granville Museum has quite a collection of what are known by collectors as “Rowe” chairs. Willis Rowe was born in 1840 and resided near Mayfield Mt. (Wilton vicinity) on Flat Rock Road. It is not known when he began to make these chairs (he may have been taught by his father) and his son Pete (b.1861) followed in his footsteps. There was another brother and sister but none of his children ever married and could have possibly contributed to this family business. Rowe’s “shop” was a three sided shed in back of his house.
The Rowe chairs have distinct characteristics. Some people call them “mulberry” chairs as many were made from the mulberry trees but some were made from maple, walnut or a combination of woods. The finials are ball-shaped with a flat “cone” on top and then tapered down to medial turnings on the stile (the vertical part of the chair back) and on the front legs. Most of the chairs also had twisted mulberry bark seats.
The Museum has been buying or collecting these Granville County chairs for years. Some were donated as they were quite prevalent, especially around the Wilton vicinity, such as the occupants of the John P. Lawrence Plantation who ordered fifty chairs at one time.
The curators chose five of the museum’s chairs and were especially excited by a rocker that the museum purchased at auction which is an unusual and fine example of the “Rowe” chair. A special preview of this exhibit was held for donors on Friday, June 9th. Pam Thornton, Executive Director of the museum and her husband, Tom, attended this opening representing the museum. This exhibit will be available until September 10th and hours are 9:00 am- 5:00 pm.
If you are headed to the coast or making New Bern a destination, please be sure to go by the History Center to see this exhibit and their permanent exhibits. Tryon Palace is an interesting and educational tour of the reconstructed mansion of William Tryon. He was the first governor of the Province of N.C. in 1770. The reconstructed palace and its grounds were opened 1959.
The Granville Museums are administered by the Granville County Historical Society, Inc. The Society opened the first museum in the 1860 jail (now known as the Granville History Museum) in June 1996. The Harris Exhibit Hall which is adjacent opened in May 2000. The museum has thousands of artifacts which include furniture, historical artifacts, photographs, literature, scrapbooks and many other items some of which are not county-related but historical in nature. The museums are a 501-C3 non-profit organization relying on donations, memorials and grants, when available. During the 21 years in operation as a museum, many different exhibits have been offered free to the public covering many facets of history, science, technology, children’s programs, authors and speakers on various subjects. Exhibits on the Civil War, WWII, Korea and Vietnam wars have presented an opportunity to obtain as many photographs of county veterans that are available for viewing in the History Museum. This is an ongoing project which encourages relatives or veterans to add their photographs and information to the collection for future generations.
All items are recorded in a museum software program and each are stored in archival boxes when necessary. The attic of the Harris Hall is an additional storage place for items which are not affected by temperatures. The Museum appreciates any donation monetarily or an artifact(s) to add to the collection. All donations are tax-deductible.