The Winston-Salem, North Carolina, art trail weaves together a tale of tobacco, textiles and three historic houses: Reynolda, the former manor of R. J. Reynolds; the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), once the residence of textile industrialist James Hanes, and Graylyn, the estate built by tobacco executive Bowman Gray.
At Reynolda and SECCA, you get up-close to art, enjoying the pieces without having to elbow through big city crowds. At Graylyn, a hotel, you can live like Gray and his wife Nathalie, butlers included.
A visit to all three properties comes with acres of pastoral grounds to stroll.
The magic of Reynolda, a house museum set on 19-acres, comes from the juxtaposition of the stylish, but understated family furniture purchased from Philadelphia’s Wanamaker’s department store, with the world-class art acquired by a foundation established by Barbara Babcock Millhouse, the Reynolds’ granddaughter. By 1967, the mansion morphed into Reynolda House, Museum of American Art, formally affiliating with Wake Forest University in 2002.
At any one time, about 50 works from the 300+ collection are displayed, always as part of the home. 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.
Reynolda’s gallery hosts special exhibitions. A clever show about chairs, “Art of Seating, 200 years of American Design,” closes December 31. “George Catlin’s American Buffalo,” on view from February 13 through May 3, 2015, features 40 works by the master artist.The nearby Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) is a surprise. The 1929 English style stone manor showcases contemporary art amid a lush 32-acre setting. The Steinway piano and Swarovski crystal chandelier in the parlor where Dwight D. Eisenhower was entertained, and the ballroom and bedroom-sized wine cellar in the basement attest 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. Emil Salto’s “Light Forms,” (ending Jan. 3, 2015), employs light and shadow to create art. With no explanations, it’s easy to miss Salto’s shadow wall, a fun component. That’s why you should go on a guided tour.
The Overlook, a new hands-on space, features computers, an interactive drawing wall, and, soon, a printer that turns two-dimensional work into three-dimensional objects. “Nicola L: Exquisite Corpus,” Dec. 16 through March 10, 2015, focuses on her performance art, including her “Blue Cape,” a costume for 12 people.
Part of Wake Forest University, but open to the public, Graylyn, anchored by 55-acres, offers accommodations in the Manor House, with its period furnishings and antiques, the Mews with its contemporary décor, a favorite lodging of Oprah’s, as well as in three cottages.
The art at Graylyn is in how the Gray’s lived. On travels Nathalie collected items that pleased her, transporting them across continents and oceans for her home. You can enjoy dinner in the Persian card room whose hand carved, gessoed and gilded wood paneling came from a mosque in Constantinople (now Istanbul), admire the 17th century English long table in the Great Hall, and view the real porthole windows taken from a ship to decorate the indoor pool area.
Estate lodging plus historic houses that showcase memorable works in relatively intimate settings make Winston-Salem a great art-lover’s getaway. And we haven’t even touched on the city’s tasty food.