September 15, 2020


How much do you know about Old Salem’s Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA)? Maybe a little or nothing at all. While you may have walked across the Old Salem covered bridge and visited MESDA’s self-guided galleries, there are always new things to learn about this local gem and all it has to offer. We’ve asked the curatorial team at MESDA to share their takeaways about their favorite museum in Old Salem. So if you weren’t familiar with MESDA before, get ready to plan your next trip to Winston-Salem because this is one museum that speaks to historians, artists, and designers alike.  

Located in historic Old Salem Museums & Gardens, MESDA houses the most significant collection of antebellum objects made and used in the South. Galleries throughout include intricately inlaid furniture, glittering silver, richly-hued paintings, and glazed ceramics dating as far back as the sixteenth century.  

Book a specialized tour for an in-depth look at MESDA objects.

Exclusive white-glove behind-the-scenes tours of MESDA’s thirty study galleries are offered twice per day. For as little as $20, you can spend an hour with a highly-trained guide who will explain how early southern craftsmen and craftswomen turned raw materials into cherished artifacts. You will learn about art, history, and craftsmanship in this unique museum experience. There are some objects you can hold, and some objects you can even take apart!

MESDA regularly hosts fascinating and scholarly seminars.

Internationally renowned experts lecture on everything from furniture history and painting conservation to current trends in architecture and design. The annual Design Seminar, held in May, features well-known national and international designers who share their personal sources of inspiration and views of current trends in interior, architectural, garden, and landscape design. The 2021 program will feature three distinguished speakers who will discuss Southern design with an emphasis on dining and entertainment.

You can read MESDA published research for free online.

The MESDA Journal is a scholarly, refereed e-journal presenting the latest findings of the decorative arts and material culture of the early American South. New articles are published throughout the year and are always available online free of charge. In fact, MESDA maintains many research resources through its website, Its Craftsman Database contains primary source information on over 90,000 artisans and its Object Database contains descriptions and images of nearly 200,000 objects that were made in the early South. The information contained in these databases has been continuously gathered by research associates since the 1960s. Now MESDA is proud to be a leader in digital museum scholarship.


MESDA houses a full library.

The Anne P. and Thomas A. Gray Library is open to the public Tuesday-Friday. The library’s 20,000+ cataloged volumes on southern decorative arts, material culture, the social history of the antebellum South, and Moravian history, is an unsurpassed resource for all researchers, scholars, students, history buffs, and enthusiasts. 

And did you know that…tucked at the back of the library is the Thomas A. Gray Rare Book Room and Manuscript Collection – an intimate space housing important books and documents about the early American South. It is an ideal place to work and find inspiration from being in close proximity to historic materials.

MESDA’s collections are actually held in a former Kroger grocery store!

The building that is now the Frank L. Horton Museum Center started its life as a supermarket in the 1940s. In 1960 a generous donation allowed for the purchase of the building at the south end of Main Street. Frank Horton, MESDA’s founder, and Theo Taliferro, his mother, donated their personal collections to the museum. MESDA opened to the public in 1965 and has become nationally recognized for the significance of its collection and its leadership in material culture and decorative arts research.


MESDA has an iconic “mascot."

MESDA’s iconic Winchester the Lion is somewhat like a 19th-century stuffed animal. The ceramic lion figure was made by Shenandoah Valley potter Solomon Bell for his niece. Everything about this delightful figure, from his curly mane to his emerald-green eyes to his broad smile, was meant to amuse and charm. Today, this object goes by the name “Winchester,” after the Shenandoah Valley town where he was created. He now serves as MESDA’s unofficial mascot and spends his days swirling on a platform at child-eye level in the William C. and Susan S. Mariner Southern Ceramics Gallery.

Ready to explore MESDA for yourself, along with the rest of Old Salem Museums & Gardens? Book a hotel package to Winston-Salem here, or buy your all-in-one admission directly from Old Salem online at