Rowan Museum celebrates diamond anniversary
About 250 people gathered last Thursday evening to honor one of the gems in Salisbury’s crown.
Rowan Museum celebrated its 60th anniversary with a gala dinner and patron’s party, all rolled into one dazzling occasion.
Typically, the patron’s party takes place the evening before the museum’s annual antiques show and sale, which was Friday and Saturday.
The anniversary event made the evening even more special.
“Tonight, we celebrate 60 years of preserving history, and offering the best of history to the wonderful county of Rowan,” said Margaret Basinger, president of the museum’s board of directors. “The museum is the gem of Salisbury, and tonight we observe its diamond anniversary.”
The gala had a festive air, with dinner served in an enormous white tent in the parking lot of the Salisbury Civic Center.
As usual, nineteen vendors were set up inside the center, so patrons moved back and forth during the evening.
Hors d’oeuvres and desserts were passed among the aisles, so patrons still got their usual sneak peak of the show.
Kathy Rusher, attending with husband Bobby, had her eye on some majolica plates. She’d recently broken one at home.
About 16 years ago, Rusher started volunteering with the group that chops celery for the chicken salad served during the two-day show. She’s since been promoted to scheduling hostesses.
“Once you’re in, you’re locked in,” she said, although she admitted this was the first time that she and her husband had attended the patron’s party.
The two loved shopping for antiques before their three children were born.
Perhaps the one person who does not have pleasant memories of the antiques show is John Henderlite.
As a boy, his mom Hazel, an original committee member, often dragged her young son to shows.
“It was not something a 6-year-old wanted to do,” he said.
But because of his mother’s early involvement, Henderlite was urged to come to the celebration. He was glad he did.
A popular stop for patrons was at the glittering cases of D.R. Grissom Collection of estate jewelry. The vendor, from Mount Pleasant, S.C., is a longtime show participant.
Beth Poindexter, owner of Beth Poindexter Antiques in Greensboro, has participated in the show for the past two years.
“People here are lovely,” said Poindexter, who brought estate jewelry, as well as vintage handbags and scarves.
Martha Lou Gascoigne has participated in the show so many years she’s forgotten just how many.
“But it’s not 60!” she said, laughing.
She and her daughter, Lillian, represented Lillian’s Library, a Salisbury mecca for antiques lovers.
They showed their usual eclectic collection of silver, small accessories, crystal and other treasures.
One of the evening’s special guests was Esther Lusk of Lake Lure, the granddaughter of Alice Guille, fondly referred to as the first lady of Rowan Museum.
Guille and a group of her friends came up with the idea of the antiques show and sale.
“I knew that the Rowan Museum was her crowning achievement,” said Lusk, who remembers visiting the museum with her grandmother when it was housed in the Utzman-Chambers House on South Jackson Street. In that house, there was an ivory plug in a newel post, in which could be stored important papers.
“I always wanted to see what was in there,” Lusk said, “but my grandmother said no, it would ruin the mystery. She loved history and she loved Salisbury.
“The museum was a perfect marriage of her passions.”
Lusk asked jokingly if chicken salad and vegetable soup were still served during the show, just like she remembered, and was amazed and thrilled to find out they were.
Two other special guests were Ed Norvell and Lib Taylor.
Taylor was a longtime president of the museum, as was her father, Ernest Hardin.
Hardin was instrumental in restoring the Old Stone House, where countless school children have visited over the years, his daughter noted.
Norvell took the reins of the museum’s presidency from Taylor, guiding the museum through an exciting time of growth during which it moved to its current location at 202 N. Main St.
He also presided over an addition to the building, including the installation of its elevator.
For years, Norvell had been involved with the Historic Salisbury Foundation. Then museum supporter Carolyn Hurley visited him about becoming involved with the museum.
“It’s hard to say no to Carolyn,” Norvell admitted with a smile.
While patrons enjoyed the gala celebration, the heart of the evening still lay within the antiques show and sale, said Virginia Robertson, who led the gala committee.
“This event is still about being a preview of our show, a sneak-peek, if you will,” Robertson said. “We want it to be a celebration of the rich history of this museum.
Basinger also praised the museum’s executive director, Kaye Brown Hirst, who came aboard as a full-time staff member during Norvell’s tenure as president.
“Kaye is the heart and soul of Rowan Museum,” Basinger said. “Because of her energy and enthusiasm, Rowan Museum is one of the finest museums of its kind in the southeast.”
Hirst, too, was lavish in her praise of the museum’s board of directors, which quietly goes about its work year-round, as well as the myriad volunteers who come together to make the show and sale a reality every November.
“This has been a wonderful event,” Hirst said, as the evening wound down. “Virginia and her committee have been super. Our antiques show has many committees, as did this event.
“This show keeps the museum alive.”
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.