Until October 2, Belle Grove Plantation will host North Carolina furniture maker, Jerome Bias, as an artist-in-residence.
Mr. Bias has been making period furnishings and studying southern decorative arts for more than 20 years. He was a joiner for Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and has been a presenter at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, and with the Slave Dwelling Project.
His interest in working at Belle Grove, and at other sites of enslavement like it, is to bring attention to the skilled and talented craftspersons who had significant roles in shaping Southern decorative traditions. These furniture pieces represent the local areas in which they were made, and became a way for the makers, though enslaved, to survive and thrive. Learning and demonstrating these furniture making techniques and skills has been a way for Mr. Bias to connect with his enslaved ancestors, get a glimpse at the pain, trauma, and joys that they experienced, and begin a process of healing. His current project is reproducing pieces of furniture from six areas of the United States in which his family was enslaved, including a buffet from South Carolina, and a china press from Louisville, Kentucky.
While at Belle Grove, Mr. Bias will have both indoor and outdoor workshop spaces where visitors can learn about the pieces he is making, their history, and the history of the craftspersons who inspire him. He will work Wednesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sundays 1-5 p.m. until October 2. This schedule may be adjusted, so please call check www.bellegrove.org
or call 540-896-2028 to confirm.
Access to these demonstrations will be free of charge.
Another way Mr. Bias has connected with experiences of his ancestors is learning about the foodways of enslaved communities. He will share his experience and talents with hearth cooking during a free program by the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Park Ranger Shannon Moeck, “Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse into the Life of the Enslaved Cook Judah.” It is Sunday, September 4, at 2:30 p.m. in the historic kitchen of the Belle Grove Manor House. Attendees of the program will see first-hand the wide variety of skills, intense labor, and personality characteristics that Judah had to have in order to be the head cook.
Support for Mr. Bias’s residency has been provided through the Interpretation and Education Grants of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Belle Grove is actively researching and interpreting the African American history of the site and honoring the lives of those enslaved and free. Some of the stories of the people enslaved at Belle Grove are featured in a monthly newsletter found at virtual.bellegrove.org.