The Swannanoa Valley Museum seeks volunteers and docents

Press release from the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center: 

Who: Swannanoa Valley Museum

What: Swannanoa Valley Museum seeks volunteers for the 2019 open season, May thru October 2019.

When: Current until November 1st

Where: Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center, 223 West State Street, Black Mountain, NC

Why: Seeking volunteers and docents for open season

Volunteers are quintessential to the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center, which reopened for the season on Saturday, April 13th with a special temporary exhibition entitled, “Beacon Blankets: The Mill.” In conjunction with the opening, the museum is recruiting new volunteer docents to serve 3.5-hour shifts during the museum’s open hours.

From April through the beginning of November of this year, the museum is featuring the Beacon Blanket exhibit on the ground floor.

The Beacon Blanket mill was once billed as the “largest blanket manufacturer in the world.” Originally located in New Bedford, MA, Beacon Blankets moved its entire operations to Swannanoa in the midst of the Depression under the guidance of the company’s owner Charles D. Owen II. While some derisively referred to this move as “Owen’s Folly,” the company prospered in coming decades. Beacon came to be famous for its use of vibrant colors and the Ombre design process, which added shades of the same color to blanket patterns.

The success of the company was reflected in its high employment of Swannanoa Valley residents. At one point employing as many as 2,200 workers, Beacon transformed Swannanoa into a mill town with company-owned houses and company-sponsored entertainment and sports teams. Many generations of Swannanoa Valley residents worked at the mill until its closure in 2002.

The exhibit highlights several aspects of Beacon’s history, including its controversial use of the term “Indian Design” when advertising its blankets, workers’ striking and union efforts, and the lives and culture of Beacon’s Swannanoa community. The museum also features a permanent second-floor installation titled “Pathways from the Past: The Swannanoa Valley through Time,” which showcases the museum’s extensive collection – ranging from Native American artifacts to mid-century memorabilia.

The museum, with its engaging exhibits and dynamic programming, is part of the cultural heart of downtown Black Mountain. With its small staff, the museum relies upon volunteers, and during the open season, the museum is almost entirely staffed by docents.

As museum director Anne Chesky Smith, commented, “The museum has been able to continue to operate in the black every year due to the dedication of our volunteers. Our docents, who staff the museum on a daily basis, truly are the face of our museum.” Docents greet visitors, introduce the history of the Valley to visitors, track attendance, interpret exhibits, sell gift shop merchandise, and open and close the museum daily. Docents also help with special events, such as school field trips, book signings, or demonstrations held at the museum.

As Chesky Smith affirms, “Each and every volunteer is an ambassador of history for visitors and locals alike.” While some docents are native Western North Carolinians, many are newcomers to the region. Many docents serve the museum on a consistent weekly basis, and docent shifts run from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm and 1:30 to 5:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Each new docent receives on-the-job training their first day of service.

Volunteering with the museum allows docents to learn about Black Mountain and the surrounding region while serving the community and forging connections with fellow community members. Docents also have the opportunity to participate in museum-led field trips to regional historic sites throughout the year.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum opened for its 2019 season on Saturday, April 13th. Those interested in volunteering as docents are encouraged to e-mail or call (828) 669-9566.

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