Polk’s America | Johanna Brown

Johanna Brown | Neat and Simple Elegance: Moravian Decorative Arts in North Carolina 1753-1850

Dish, probably made during Gottfried Aust’s tenure as master of the pottery at Salem, North Carolina, 1775–1785. Lead-glazed earthenware. Diam. 13-3/4 in. Collection of Old Salem Museums & Gardens; photography by Gavin Ashworth.

July 27, 2021 | 7PM Central

Eighteenth and nineteenth century visitors to the Moravian town of Salem, North Carolina, often remarked on the physical and cultural distinctiveness of this isolated backcountry community.  The industry of the residents, the operation of a pseudo-guild system within the congregation town, and the deeply religious nature of the settlers fascinated outsiders who were allowed to visit and shop –but not live or work—within the carefully controlled theocracy. The governing boards of the Church certainly influenced the ways artisans worked, the setting of prices and wages,  and the interaction of tradesmen with outsiders. Yet,  these boards did not dictate style. Moravian artists and artisans in North Carolina produced furniture, pottery, silver, textiles, paintings, and countless other decorative objects. This material reflects the cultural backgrounds of the Moravian settlers and their ultimate assimilation within the backcountry South giving rise to a distinct aesthetic marked by “neat and simple elegance.”

In 1804 this carefully managed community opened a boarding school for girls.  In June 1817 Sarah Childress and her sister Susanna arrived from Murfreesburough, Tennessee, in the care of their older brother, Anderson.

Johanna will focus on the history and decorative arts of the Moravians who settled in North Carolina and illuminate Sarah Childress’s time in the community.

This edition of Polk’s America will be presented virtually, with a live Q&A component after the lecture.

Johanna Metzgar Brown is the Curator of Moravian Decorative Arts at and Director of Collections at Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has a BA in American Studies and Anthropology from Salem College and an MA in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Cooperstown, New York.  In 1991, after completing her MA, Johanna began working at Old Salem where she has served in various collections management and curatorial positions. Although her primary research focus is the Moravian decorative arts collection at Historic Old Salem, Johanna also works with the collections the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA).  She has written for a variety of publications including  Ceramics in America, The Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts, The Magazine Antiques, and Antiques and Fine Art and lectures regularly on Moravian and southern material culture including textiles made and used by Moravians living in the North Carolina Moravian communities.

Johanna co-curated  Art in Clay: Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware with Luke Beckerdite and Robert Hunter. The exhibit was cosponsored by Old Salem Museums and Gardens, the Chipstone Foundation, and the Caxambas Foundation.  More recently, Johanna curated the Dianne Furr Moravian Decorative Arts Gallery in the Horton Museum Center at Old Salem which highlights the pottery, prints, paintings, furniture, metals, and textiles made by Moravian artisans and artists living in the North Carolina Moravian communities.

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© 2021 President James K. Polk Home and Museum

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