Gray, Thomas A.

A Lowestoft porcelain miniature tea service, three piece, circa 1772 to 1775

p4A ItemID D9680594
Thomas Commeraw stoneware jar with cobalt swag and tassel decoration, from New York

p4A ItemID E8998792
A Staffordshire yellowware child's mug, Honor Thy Father and Mother, red transferware printed, circa 1815 to 1825

p4A ItemID E8943054
Six-gallon stoneware salt-glazed pottery water cooler with profuse incised decoration of birds feeding in a flowering tree, signed "Morgan Maker / Balt," William Morgan, Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1822 to 1827

p4A ItemID E8916091

Thomas A. Gray

Tom Gray of Old Salem, North Carolina is an heir of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company family fortune. A graduate of the Winterthur program in Early American Culture, Tom curated the corporate collection of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. He partnered with his mother, Anne Pepper Gray, to found the Old Salem Toy Museum. Gray has a long association with the Old Salem Inc. historic restoration, including vice president for fund-raising, member of the board of trustees and chairman of trustees from 1994 to 1997. He reconstructed the 1787 Traugott Bagge house in Old Salem as his personal residence and showcase for his collection of Americana and early Southern decorative art.

Biographical note by p4A editorial staff 2010.

The following courtesy of Brunk Auctions-

Winston-Salem native Tom Gray (b. 1948) is the consummate collector. With elegant wit and a memory that any scholar would envy, he can recount not only the circumstances of his acquiring an object, but also stories about the objects themselves. He has been honing those skills since the age of eight when he acquired his first piece. Over the years, his wide-ranging collecting interests have included American furniture, British and Continental ceramics, hooked and shirred rugs, pewter and brass, children’s toys, and R. J. Reynolds Tobacco memorabilia.

Born into a family whose service and appreciation of museum and historic preservation was not just encouraged but expected, Tom has also dedicated his adult life to non-profit causes. This path began with his undergraduate degree in art history from Duke University in 1970 and completion of a master’s degree in 1974 from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, University of Delaware. He, along with his mother, Anne P. Gray (1921-2003), was also inspired to enter the museum field by his cousins Theo Taliaferro and Frank L. Horton, founder of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA). He subsequently was employed by Old Salem Inc., in Winston-Salem, where he served as vice president of development and later, director of MESDA. He was a member of the board of trustees of Old Salem Inc., for almost two decades and chairman, 1994-1997.

Outside of the Old Salem Museum complex, Tom has served as president, Historic Preservation Society of North Carolina; president and founder of the Historic Preservation Fund of North Carolina; trustee, North Carolina Art Society; trustee and chairman of the Works of Art Committee, North Carolina Museum of Art; and board member, The American Decorative Arts Trust. In 1983, he was awarded the Ruth Coltrane Cannon Award, the state’s highest award in historic preservation. His collecting endeavors were honored in 2008 by induction into the prestigious Walpole Society.

In November 2002, Tom co-founded with his mother the Old Salem Toy Museum. This survey toy collection spans 1700 years, A.D. 225 to 1925 and complements the impressive group of Old Salem’s imported German and locally-made toys owned by early Moravians. Open in MESDA’s Frank L. Horton Museum Center, the Old Salem Toy Museum is regarded as one of the most important collections of its type in the world, with acclaimed holdings of Romano-British artifacts, children’s tea and dinner ceramics from the eighteenth century, doll houses, as well as circus, zoological, parlor, and early transportation toys. In 2002, following the gift of the Old Salem Toy Museum, the Governor of North Carolina awarded Tom with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. In 2005, Tom established a publication series on the collection, beginning with his own introductory book, entitled The Old Salem Toy Museum.

Tom has shared his collecting passions with hosts of students, collectors, and museum professionals at his home in Old Salem’s historic district. Any visit is bound to be an anecdotal-filled adventure. As he describes it, “entertaining ‘visiting firemen’ from other museums has been a constant joy,” because he himself has been “so beautifully entertained by so many of his guests at one time or another.” Those who have been to Tom’s house will recognize in the pages that follow the flow of objects from one room to another. For the rest of us, images of Tom’s room settings help set the ambience of Tom’s warm southern hospitality.


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