University Galleries, Museum of History to Host “Thomas Day: African American Furniture Maker and His Artistry” Exhibition

03/24/2022 College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (March 24, 2022)The University Galleries at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, in partnership with the North Carolina Museum of History, will host the exhibition, “Thomas Day: African American Furniture Maker and His Artistry.”

The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, will run March 30 through Aug. 30, 2022. It will showcase 12 of Day’s furniture pieces spanning the 1830s to the 1850s from the permanent collections of the University Galleries and the North Carolina Museum of History.

Born in 1801 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, Thomas Day was an African American furniture craftsman and cabinet maker in Milton, North Carolina. Day moved to North Carolina in 1817 and became a highly successful businessman, boasting the largest and most productive furniture workshop in the state by the 1850s. 

“This exhibition will give the viewer a glimpse of an artisan of color over a century and a half ago and how he used his talents as an artist and craftsman for success,” said Paul Baker, Ph.D., director of the University Galleries.

Exhibit visitors will learn that Day’s life was centered on his artistic skill, but was also challenged with obstacles as a free man of color in the South. The son of affluent free parents, John and Mourning Day, Thomas Day received a private education. He learned the skill of furniture making along with his brother John Jr. from their father, who also ran a successful furniture business. 

Day used his talents to overcome racial barriers in the early 19th century to become a successful artisan and entrepreneur. Many who owned Day’s furniture during that time saw it as a sign of wealth and prestige. He took popular Federal and Empire design styles of the time period and added his own motifs, creating unique and highly desirable pieces of furniture. Day’s workshop produced practical furniture pieces such as tables, beds and wardrobes but also produced architectural woodwork for wealthy homes and coffins and pews.

In 1847, Day won a contract with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to create furniture for the Philanthropic and Dialectic Societies. In 1856, he won an award at the North Carolina State Fair for his furniture.

As a complement to the exhibit, the gallery will also host an in-person program on the “History of African American Furniture Making and Design” on Wednesday, March 30, at noon. The discussion will feature renowned artist and furniture maker Jerome Bias and will delve into the work of African American artisans and how their talent has impacted history and design. 

A sampling of the pieces in the “Thomas Day: African American Furniture Maker and His Artistry” exhibit includes an upholstered rocking chair made around 1855 for Gov. David Settle Reid, a blanket chest with Moravian influences made around 1840 and an ornate parlor table made around 1840.

The University Galleries are a part of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and play an integral role in supporting its mission of providing cultural exposure to the art of the African Diaspora. As part of the university and surrounding communities, the University Galleries are committed to increasing cultural competency and intellectual dialogue about the art and culture of people from the African diaspora through the exhibition of art, artifacts and material culture.

The University Galleries are located in the Dudley Building, 202 University Circle, off East Market Street. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and Saturday by appointment. Exhibits are free and open to the public.

Media Contact Information: uncomm@ncat.edu

All News, Headlines, College News