Vacationers, fed up with roads that feel like parking lots, over-priced hotels, expensive-but-mediocre meals, and crowds everywhere, are looking for "secondary cities." Winston-Salem, NC, is just right.
“Winston-Salem, NC, isn’t too big, it isn’t too small, it’s just right,” says Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, board president of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company.
We call it the Goldilocks approach to travel. Vacationers, fed up with roads that feel like parking lots, over-priced hotels, expensive-but-mediocre meals, and crowds everywhere, are looking for “secondary cities.” These walkable urban centers offer manageable traffic, affordable hotels, good restaurants, and interesting cultural attractions. Winston-Salem, population 240,000, qualifies on all levels.
Calling itself the “city of arts and innovation,” Winston-Salem’s appreciation of art and craft goes back centuries to its founders the Moravians and continues with the town’s multiple artistic venues that include the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the US’s first state-supported arts school and conservatory, as well as the city’s museums.
Here are some arts and crafts finds not to miss.
Stroll the streets of Old Salem, an area settled in 1766 by the Moravians. Although smaller in scope than Colonial Williamsburg, “Old Salem’s original buildings far outnumber the reconstructed properties in Williamsburg,” says an Old Salem spokesperson.
In the 20-some buildings, interpreters in period attire demonstrate 18th century skills. In the Single Brothers’ House we meet a furniture maker crafting a cabinet and in the Miksch House a woman shows us how she cooks beets from her garden. In God’s Acre, the Moravian graveyard, simple stones mark all the graves and the dead lie buried with their choirs, the groups to which they belong—Married Sisters, Widowers, Little Boys—and not with their families.
On a Christmas Candlelight tour, you explore the historic area by lantern light. Learn about 18th century Moravian Lovefeast at the Miksch House, listen to music and play dominoes at the Tavern, and hear carols and sip hot cider at the Vogler House. Tours available on select dates starting November 13. Visitor Center: 336-721-7300
The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA)
Located in Old Salem, MESDA showcases hand-crafted furniture, pottery, silver, and paintings that pre-date the Civil War and were crafted in seven southern states and regions. Among the 30 small galleries, we find a 17th century yellow pine Jamestown cupboard, an 1846 sunburst quilt, a mahogany tea table from Charleston, chairs by Thomas Chippendale, and other treasures. 336-721-7360
Reynolda House Museum of American Art
A house museum, Reynolda, the former manor of tobacco king R.J. Reynolds, juxtaposes the stylish but understated family furniture with the world-class art acquired by a foundation established by Barbara Babcock Millhouse, the Reynolds’ granddaughter. About 50 works from the 300+ collection are displayed at any one time.
It is remarkable to walk through the tasteful, but unpretentious dining room and see portraits by John Singer Sargent and Gilbert Stuart on the walls; to stroll a hallway alive with a dramatic landscape by Albert Bierstadt; and to pass an Alexander Calder mobile in an enclosed sleeping porch.
The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920, explores Impressionism by focusing on the growing popularity of gardening. Through Jan. 3, 2016. 888-663-1149
Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA)
SECCA, housed in the former residence of textile industrialist James Hanes, showcases contemporary art amid a lush 32-acre setting. The parlor with its Steinway piano and Swarovski crystal chandelier attests to the gracious life of the Hanes family.
The art is often edgier. According to SECCA’s mission statement, the facility “bridges art, technology and engagement to enhance perspectives…” With no permanent collection, the museum’s two galleries open exhibits every few months. The Overlook, a hands-on space, features computers and an interactive drawing wall.
Point & Counterpoint: NC Art Council Fellows 2014-2015 celebrates the work of North Carolina artists, presenting their sculptures, fiber art, films, woodwork, drawings, paintings and performances. Through Jan. 17, 2016. 336-725-1904
52nd Piedmont Craftsmen’s Fair
More than 120 craftspeople from across the US showcase their work at the juried show. Browse scarves, hats, jackets, and leather items as well as glass vessels, paintings, prints, photography, woodwork, and other finely made decorative and functional items. Not as overwhelming as some of the mega-shows in Baltimore, New York or Chicago, the Piedmont Craftsmen’s Fair presents a diverse selection of quality items that are sometimes less costly than similar pieces at big city shows.
The fair takes place Nov. 21-22 at the Benton Convention Center. The entrance fee is $7 for adults. 336-725-1516
The Art of Food
Sweet Potatoes serves what the chef and owners call “unique, southern inspired uptown, down-home cooking.” Dine on barbecued duck, drunken pork chops, and fried chicken. Leave room for the sweet potato biscuits at brunch and the sweet potato pie, sweet potato cheesecake, or sweet potato bread pudding for dessert. 336-727-4844
Spring House Restaurant, says Chef Timothy Grandinetti, features “honest and responsible New American cooking.” Entrees include salmon with Savannah red rice and lobster sauce with bacon and corn; filet mignon; and mahi with mustard, spiced shrimp and seafood beignet. 336-293-4797
Mary’s Gourmet Diner, a breakfast tradition in Winston-Salem, features murals, cartoons, and a sign by local artists. While taking in the art, fortify yourself with sausage biscuits, cinnamon-swirl French toast, eggs, pancakes, or a grilled cheese sandwich. 336-723-7329
Graylyn, the former estate of tobacco executive Bowman Gray and now part of Wake Forest University, is open to the public. Anchored by 55 acres, Graylyn offers accommodations in the Manor House with its period furnishings and antiques, the Mews with its contemporary décor (a favorite lodging of Oprah Winfrey’s), as well as in three cottages. 336-758-2600
Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, located in the former RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company headquarters, is slated to open in February 2016.
For more information, contact Visit Winston-Salem.