Published: August 28, 2001
WINSTON-SALEM, NC -Old Salem Inc. reports the death of John Bivins, Jr., who died August 16th in Manchester, VT, after a long illness. He was 60. John served as director of restoration and curator for Old Salem from 1968 to 1975 and then as director of publications from 1980 to 1990.
Author, lecturer, and architectural historian, John was also a talented gunmaker and carver who specialized in eighteenth-century interiors. A skilled craftsman in many areas, John was as comfortable engraving a pewter bowl or drawing house plans as he was carving a gunstock. He could oversee an archaeological dig (which he did at Old Salem and Bethabara) as well as the restoration of a building (he supervised the restoration of the Potter’s House in Bethabara). His mastery of wood is evident in the architectural carving in the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts’ Charleston parlor and bedroom, which John completed and installed in 1984.
After resigning his post at Old Salem, John became a highly sought-after lecturer and decorative arts consultant. He also served as an adjunct staff member at Old Salem/MESDA, aiding the museum by lecturing and teaching in many of its educational and lecture programs. After leaving Old Salem, John relocated to Wilmington, NC, and then Charleston, SC. He and his wife, Anne McPherson, also had a home in Vermont, where they were residing when John died.
A native of High Point, NC, John was educated at Duke University and received a bachelor’s degree in English from Guilford College in 1964 with a minor in history. Prior to being named director of restoration and curator at Old Salem, he worked as the museum’s curator of crafts. He left Old Salem in 1975 to pursue gunsmithing full time, a trade that he had pursued as a part-time hobby since 1964. In 1975 he was awarded a three-year contract by the Bicentennial Commission of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to make flintlock rifles.
He returned to Old Salem five years later to take on the publishing program at MESDA as its first director of publications. Overseeing the publication of the award-winning Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts and establishing The Luminary, a newsletter for Members of MESDA, John also initiated what became the Frank L. Horton Series of decorative arts monographs. John authored and, in 1987, published the first book in the series, The Furniture of Coastal North Carolina. His other writing credits include The Moravian Potters in North Carolina (1972, which was awarded the Mayflower Cup for being the best non-fiction book published in the state that year), Moravian Decorative Arts in North Carolina (1981, with Paula Welshimer), The Regional Arts of the Early South (1991, with Forsyth Alexander), Long Rifles in North Carolina (1968), The Art of the Firelock Rifle (Volumes I-III, 1988 and 1995), and numerous articles on the decorative arts.
John was near completion of the manuscript for The Furniture of Charleston, 1680-1820 when he died. His co-author, Bradford Rauschenberg, and editor, Gary Albert, will finish the manuscript. The book is the fourth title in the Horton Series, to be published in winter 2002-03.
John is survived by his wife Anne McPherson and two sons, Matthew and Evan. A memorial service for family and close friends will be held Vermont and a larger service has been planned for friends and colleagues in Charleston on September 8th at 2:00 p.m. at St. Michael’s Church. The family has requested that donations and gifts in memory of John Bivins, Jr. be given to MESDA (336-721-7360).
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