After spending more than 30 years in an airport hangar in Pikeville a rare piece of Pilot Mountain history has finally made its way back to the area and an effort is under way to find a permanent way that it can be enjoyed by both locals and visitors.
The rare piece of history is what is known as The Flinchum Room and is most notably known for its artistic display of the work of an itinerate painter, who presumably traveled the state during the 19th century, painting vibrantly detailed works for which he received room and board.
Marion Venable, of the Surry County Historical Society, said that paintings such as these were time consuming, with the artist having to manually mix the paints in order to obtain the bright colors. In addition, Venable noted that works such as these were ways for people who lived in rural areas to provide a degree of sophistication to their residence, dressing up the ordinary pine and poplar woods.
The extraordinary aspect of the room, Venable noted, is the fact that throughout all of the years since the unidentified painter left his mark on the room, no one ever painted over the walls or applied wallpaper, leaving the painted walls fully intact.
The room was originally discovered by Laura Phillips who was employed to work as an architectural historian, creating an inventory of 638 properties throughout the Surry County.
“It says something about the people doing these types of paintings and the people who are paying to have the paintings done,” Phillips said of the room. “I’m very happy that it’s coming back, it’s a very important room both artistically and culturally.”
Having originally been located off of Whitaker Chapel Church Road, just west of Pilot Mountain, the room was separated from the rest of the old farm house in 1985 due to the fact that a young couple had planned to demolish the structure, which dated back to the 1850s, and build a new house on the property.
Venable said that despite the fact that the room was originally transported from its original location to Raleigh under the assumption that it was going to be added to the displays at the North Carolina Museum of History, the project was derailed by the fact that the space designated for the display was too small to accommodate the room.
Venable was instrumental in securing the room’s safe return to Pilot Mountain. Venable said that in 2012, the North Carolina Museum of History made the decision to deaccession the room due to the fact that it was selling the storage facility that the room was being housed in. Upon making the decision, the museum starting searching for a new home for the room and the news made its way back to Venable, who was thrilled and leaped into action.
Venable said that there was interest from another organization, but after enlisting the assistance of the Surry County Historical Society Board of Directors and Judy Flinchum Rees, a descendent of the Flinchum family, the room’s return to the area was secured.
“Talking about something is great, but seeing something is huge and I think just for people to be able to see this artistic relic is really going to be exciting for a lot of folks,” Venable said of her insistence that The Flinchum Room be accessible to the community.
Over the course of two days, March 29 and 30, employees of Rees’ High Point business brought back two walls of the room at a time on a trailer, a feat which Venable said was no small task, considering the wall’s massive size.
With the assistance of Pinnacle Movers and WSC Crane Service, the walls were removed from the trailer and placed inside a storage facility that is owned by the town of Pilot Mountain. The walls will remain in the storage facility until a suitable location is established for the room to be reconstructed, a place which Venable noted needs to be accessible to the whole community.
Venable said that for the moment, everyone involved with the project is both enjoying a deep breath and excited to have the assurance that the room has finally returned home.
Venable detailed the difference between early North American and European structures, citing that structures in North America were generally made out of logs, whereas early European structures were made out of much more durable stone.
“That’s the real value of efforts like this, you take a place in time and record it,” Venable said of effort to preserve The Flinchum Room.
One concern Venable has about putting the room on display is whether or not the resin-backed plastic sheet protective cover will be able to be removed or not, having originally been placed on the walls before the room was separated from the rest of the house. She explained that removing the protective cover would allow for a richer viewing experience, allowing the colors to come to life, but insisted that if removing the cover after all this time would damage the walls in anyway, the covers would remain in place.
“It would have been lost, completely lost if we had not stepped up. It was going to go to the landfill, that’s just what was going to happen,” Venable said. “I’m just so happy that it’s back in Surry County, where it belongs and because we have such a strong heritage of this kind of work in the county, that we’re going to be able to have it on public display and people are going to be able to enjoy it for a long time.”
Venable asked that if anyone has suggestions of possible locations for the room that they contact her either by email: [email protected] or by phone: (336)374-2353.