A Mt. Airy Museum of Regional History (MAMRH) traveling exhibit, The Luthier’s Craft: Instrument Making Traditions of the Blue Ridge, sponsored by the Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA), will be on display through September at the Smith- McDowell House Museum. The exhibit offers an interactive exploration of the history of the traditional craft of stringed instrument making, featuring guitar-maker Wayne Henderson, fiddle-makers Audrey Hash Ham and Chris Testerman, and banjomaker Johnny Gentry.
“This exhibit was inspired by the Smithsonian traveling exhibit New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots, which we hosted in 2010,” says Matt Edwards, executive director of MAMRH. “The public response was fantastic and we wanted to make that model even more accessible to small museums.”
Visitors can participate in assembling and disassembling a Boucher-style banjo and playing a cigar-box guitar. Video and sound recordings provide opportunities to watch crafters build instruments and hear skilled musicians play them. Visitors can also learn about the lives of the featured luthiers and how the instrument-making tradition is passed down from person to person. The story of Wayne Henderson and his daughter and apprentice, Jayne Henderson, is one of those told through the exhibit.
“I’ve spent my life watching my dad make these incredible instruments,” says Jayne Henderson. “He was kind enough to teach me everything I need to know to do the same, so I want to honor that.”
The Smith-McDowell House Museum is located at 283 Victoria Road on the A-B Tech campus. Admission is $9 for adults, $5 for children, and free for WNCHA members. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Learn more at wnchistory.org.