Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color

On Saturday, May 22, the University of North Carolina Press will release the book Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color. Co-authors Patricia Phillips Marshall and Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll explore the life and legacy of this accomplished artisan and entrepreneur from Milton, Caswell County. Day owned and operated one of North Carolina’s largest cabinet shops prior to the Civil War, and his surviving furniture and architectural woodwork still represent the best of 19th-century craftsmanship and aesthetics.

Marshall, curator of decorative arts for the N.C. Museum of History and the Executive Mansion, and Leimenstoll, professor of interior architecture at UNC-Greensboro, show how Day carefully charted a course for success in antebellum southern society. Beginning in the 1820s, he produced fine furniture for leading citizens, the movers and shakers of the Dan River region in North Carolina and Virginia. In the 1840s and 1850s, he diversified his offerings to produce newel posts, stair brackets and distinctive mantels for many of the same clients. As demand for his services increased, the technological improvements Day incorporated into his shop in Milton contributed to the complexity of his designs.

“Although the book’s official release date is May 22, we are already seeing strong advance sales for this gorgeously designed book that finally gives Thomas Day his due,” says Gina Mahalek, Director of Publicity at the University of North Carolina Press.

The book Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color will be released by the University of North Carolina Press on May 22. Co-authors Patricia Phillips Marshall and Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll explore the life and legacy of this accomplished artisan and entrepreneur from Milton, Caswell County.

Day’s style, characterized by undulating shapes, fluid lines and spiraling forms, melded his own unique motifs with popular design forms, resulting in a distinctive interpretation readily identified to his shop. The 320-page book documents furniture in public and private collections, as well as architectural woodwork from private homes not previously associated with Day. The book provides information on more than 160 pieces of furniture and architectural woodwork that Day produced for 80 structures between 1835 and 1861.

Through in-depth analysis and hundreds of photographs and illustrations, Marshall and Leimenstoll provide a comprehensive perspective on and a new understanding of the powerful sense of aesthetics and design that mark Day’s legacy.

Signed copies of Thomas Day will be available in the Museum Shop at the Museum of History. Prior to the book’s release date, you can preorder a signed copy at the Museum Shop or online at For more information about Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color, go to


Two major events will take place in conjunction with the exhibit Behind the Veneer: Thomas Day, Master Cabinetmaker at the N.C. Museum of History. Both events are free.

Panelists Dr. Timothy B. Tyson, Dr. Reginald F. Hildebrand, and Dr. Blair LM Kelley will participate in a lively discussion about turning points in African American history on Saturday, May 22, the opening day of the exhibit. The program is part of the larger “Celebrate North Carolina” initiative of First Gentleman Bob Eaves.

Don’t miss the Ninth Annual African American Cultural Celebration on Saturday, June 5. More than 50 presenters from across North Carolina will share their history and culture during this large festival.

Celebrate North Carolina: Turning Points in African American History

Saturday, May 22
9:30-11:15 a.m. At 9 a.m. coffee and doughnuts will be available.
During this panel discussion, Dr. Tyson will center on the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, Dr. Hildebrand will discuss the impact of the Civil War on African Americans in North Carolina, and Dr. Kelley will focus on the Civil Rights movement. Dr. Jeffrey J. Crow, Deputy Secretary, N.C. Office of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, will serve as moderator.

Information about each panelist is below.

  • Dr. Timothy B. Tyson, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and Visiting Professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture, Duke Divinity School. Tyson is the author of Blood Done Sign My Name, which was recently released as a motion picture.
  • Dr. Reginald F. Hildebrand, Associate Professor, Department of African and Afro-American Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill.
  • Dr. Blair LM Kelley, Assistant Professor, Department of History, N.C. State University.

Ninth Annual African American Cultural Celebration

Saturday, June 5
11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Bring the family to this fun and educational event with loads of hands-on activities for all ages. Truly a celebration, the variety of dancers, musicians, actors, authors, storytellers, artists, craftspeople and others will bring to life the rich heritage of the state’s African Americans, past and present.

See video “portraits” that highlight aspects of Thomas Day’s life and the antebellum period. Watch scenes from the play “Phillis Wheatley and Friends,” and learn about the George Eastman School in northeastern North Carolina.

Hear music performed by legendary bluesman Big Ron Hunter and nationally acclaimed musician Grenaldo Frazier, composer of the gospel off-Broadway musical “Mama, I Want to Sing.” Modern dance company Cyrus Art Productions will perform and teach dance moves, and storytellers from the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers will captivate both young and old.

For a complete schedule of events, go to or call 919-807-7900. The African American Cultural Celebration is supported by AT&T and the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, with funds from the United Arts campaign as well as the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes a great nation deserves great art.

For more information about the N.C. Museum of History, call 919-807-7900 or access or Facebook®. The museum is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol. Parking is available in the lot across Wilmington Street.

The N.C. Museum of History’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. The department’s Web site is

By Triangle A&E

Bob has over thirty years experience as Creative Director at notable advertising and marketing agencies in Manhattan and Raleigh. Bob's creative has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, Packaging Design Council, Magazine Design, NY Art Directors Club. In addition, Bob has been published in Graphic Design USA, American Design, and the Creativity Annual. In 2008, Bob was honored to Judge the International Association of Visual Artists "Davey Awards" for interactive and web design. Bob's passion for the arts has led him to utilize his talent and experience in support of the arts here in the Triangle by creating Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

1 comment

  1. As a follow up to Saturday’s museum exhibit opening, fans of artful architecture may enjoy a Sunday outing to see, touch and experience the work of Thomas Day in his hometown of Milton, NC.

    On May 23, 3-5 p.m, Preservation NC will celebrate the release of “Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color” at Union Tavern, Day’s historic home. Visitors may also see Day’s work in its original settings at Milton Presbyterian Church and homes in the area.

    No charge for the event, which is co-sponsored by Union Tavern/Thomas Day House Restoration Foundation and the NC History Museum. Union Tavern/Thomas Day House located on Broad Street, Milton NC 27305

    This will be a great opportunity to purchase a copy of this very special book and meet authors Jo Leimenstoll and Pat Marshall, who will be on hand to sign.

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