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JCVB Blog

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Ava’s London Comes to Smithfield in New Exhibit

Ava’s London Comes to Smithfield in New Exhibit


The Ava Gardner Museum in Downtown Smithfield, NC unveiled a new exhibit on the 10th of December last week. The museum has displays that change annually so that visitors to the museum can see new items from the vast collection the museum curates of Ava’s clothes, costumes, photos, personal mementos, art, letters, and props. This year’s exhibit is called Ava Living in London and highlights Ava’s life in London from the movies she filmed there to her time as a permanent resident starting in 1968 up to her death in 1990. Ava Living in London exhibit

Close to 100 people attended the unveiling and ribbon-cutting ceremony including Ava’s great-niece Ava Carol Thompson and family, Ava’s niece Mary Edna Grantham, Smithfield Mayor Andy Moore, Smithfield Town Manager Mike Scott, Executive Director of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau Donna Bailey-Taylor, as well as Teresa Grant from the Johnston County Board of Education. Many of these people assisted in cutting the ribbon to officially unveil the exhibit. During the ceremony, Ava Gardner Estate Trustee and Museum Director Deanna Brandenberger presented a framed photo of Ava, gifted to the estate from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences in London, to Ava Gardner Museum Board Chairman Rick Lotz in honor of this year’s international success. This aforementioned success stems from the recent honor Ava received as an English Heritage Blue Plaque recipient with multiple events in London surrounding the honor, which the Ava Gardner Trust and family members of Ava’s attended.


Ava Loved London and London Loved Her


Deanna Brandenberger, Director of the Ava Gardner Museum, states that, “The Ava Living in London exhibit is the grand finale of nearly three years of work to have Ava honored in London, to make connections in international communities, and to portray a side to her that people have rarely seen, because it was the most private time in her life. I am very grateful to have the chance to draw attention not only to Ava Gardner’s Museum & Estate, but also to the charities she still supports, and the communities of Smithfield, Johnston County, and North Carolina that she continues to promote as an ambassador of unique history and culture.”

The unveiling event even had a proper English tea, provided by local coffee shop Grapes & Grounds. The Ava Living in London exhibit is an avant-garde tableau which demonstrates digitally Ava’s prowess on the screen, but also portrays her at home and “out-and-about” in the city she loved so greatly! The museum has a great many items on loan just for this exhibit including a stunning evening gown from Harrod’s, personal make-up, and everyday items that carry the capricious charm with which Ava was recognized. Visitors to the Ava Gardner Museum will have the opportunity to view the Ava Living in London exhibit, included in the cost of admission, for the next year. 

Exterior to the Ava Gardner Museum
Johnston County Charm Meets London Chic


The new exhibit is the finishing touch on a whirl-wind Fall for Ava, her estate, and her museum. The trip to London involved events beyond the blue plaque dedication, including a collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum Clothworkers’ Centre to view their facility and the gifts Ava donated to them from her own collection – pieces that will more than likely be on display during the V&A museum’s 2017 fashion exhibit. Representatives of Ava’s trust also attended an evening banquet hosted by the state tourism team Visit North Carolina in downtown London and got to meet members of the film-making and tourism industry while representing Ava and North Carolina.

All these events created buzz for the opening of the exhibit, which Brandenberger said was apparent in the attendance at the unveiling, “The premiere exhibit had a wonderful turnout by our community. It was great to see people from different organizations, fans, partners in the business community, and people who work every day to bring Ava to life with their love and hard work come together for the event. We do it in the hopes that our visitors may continue to enjoy Ava for generations to come.”

Learn more about Ava and how to visit her museum at www.avagardner.org.  Make sure to follow the museum on Facebook and Twitter for current news.

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Honoring the Legend and the Lady that was Ava Gardner

Honoring the Legend and the Lady that was Ava Gardner

This morning I stood by the side of the road on the sloping lawns of Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery to bear witness with around 2 dozen other people. I stood in the cold sunshine and watched as the historical marker of Ava Gardner was revealed by her remaining friends and family. It was a beautiful ceremony in which the Director of the Ava Gardner Museum, Ava's great niece, and Ava's nephew all offered words on who Ava was and what she meHistoric Markerans to her home county of Johnston.

For those of you who don't know, public figures of historical significance must be deceased for 25 years before the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources will erect a roadside plaque in their honor. Ava passed away in 1990, exactly 25 years ago. But she would be 93 today; her birthday is in fact Christmas Eve. Ava's marker, as you can see from the picture, rests 100 yards away from her gravestone.

This week there have been 2 events related to the dedication of this historic marker. Both involving the Ava Gardner Museum, Ava's family, and also Ava's long-time companion and housekeeper Carmen Vargas. A private dedication took place at The Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC on Wednesday the 18th of November. Following his performance at the theatre that night, Ava's step-son Frank Sinatra Jr. was kind enough to join guests in honoring Ava and to say a few kind and passionate words. By his own admission he interacted with Ava very rarely, but she once showed him a great kindness at a difficult time in his life; something she did not have to do and something he reminisced he will never forget.

I thought about Frank Sinatra Jr.'s words as I stood in front of the marker this morning at the public dedication ceremony listening to those friends and family members who knew Ava discuss their memories of her. It seems to me that every time I hear somebody talk about Ava Gardner, someoAva Posed in a Field ne who knew her, it is never about how big of a star she was... it is always about how big of a person she was. Her genuineness. Her love for her corgis. Her zest for life. Her early and passionate involvement in civil rights.

On paper Ava Gardner is still one of the biggest stars Hollywood has ever known. She remains ranked by the American Film Institute as the 25th most popular screen actress of all time. She is Johnston County's Cinderella story. A girl from Grabtown that became a star. Her legacy remains alive in Smithfield, NC where her museum brings in people from all around the world and where a plaque now marks her final resting place so that fans (old and new) can pay their respects.

But Ava Gardner was more than a star. She is more than her story. Being present at both dedication ceremonies was like watching Ava come off the paper, like watching her come alive again. To be able to see Ava through the eyes of the people who love her, who spent time with her, who knew first-hand her kindness and humor and spirit. It was an honor. To understand how humble she was. How fierce and feisty. To be awed by the unapologetic way she lived her life. It makes her seem all the more real. Because she was a real person.

In the years and decades to come there will pass a time when no one will be here to speak for her. To recount first-hand who she was. How proudly southern and proudly JoCo she was. All we will have is the historic marker and the Ava Gardner Museum. They will remain her legacy. A legacy worth protecting to anyone else who calls themselves a lover of Johnston County, a fan of Ava Gardner, or a believer in unapologetic living and southern hospitality.

I encourage you to visit Ava's museum. To go by her grave and her brand new historic marker. Spend some time with one of the most beautiful women the world has ever seen. Who soared to great heights, and kept her (bare)feet firmly planted in the Johnston County soil.

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Frank Creech Art Gallery Debuts On JCC Campus

Johnston Community College has officially opened The Frank Creech Art Gallery. The new gallery, located in the Arts Building on the JCC campus, is a collaborative project between the College Foundation, the Johnston County Arts Council, and the College’s Fine Art and Graphic Design faculty to recognize the late Creech’s significant contributions to the visual arts community.

Frank and Friends, the gallery’s inaugural exhibit, will include 20 pieces of Creech’s collection from various periods in his career as well as well as other art of his colleagues and students.

An open house to introduce the museum-quality exhibition space to the college and larger community is planned from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 3. A private dedication ceremony will be held Thursday evening, Dec. 2.

JCC President David Johnson said the College is honored to house the art gallery in Creech’s name. The gallery will serve as an integral education component for JCC’s art students as well as a source of cultural enrichment for the Johnston County community.

“Frank was a unique individual who loved JCC, his community, and the expression of life through his art,” Johnson said. “It is fitting to have a specific facility on campus which memorializes his contributions as faculty member and artist. We are extremely grateful for all of Frank’s friends and family who have had a part in making this opening a reality.”

A graduate of Duke and Florida State universities, Creech was admired for his distinct collection of sculptures and paintings that reflected his passion for visual expression. Creech taught and later led the Art Department at JCC. His artwork is in private and public collections and in museums throughout the United States. His cast bronze and aluminum sculptures are displayed on the campuses of Duke, Yale, Delaware, Penn State and Francis Marion universities. Other public commissioned works include “The Story Teller” at the Gaston County Public Library and “The Reader” at the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield. Creech’s “The Rescue” is at the entrance of the Paul A. Johnson Auditorium on the JCC campus. In 2005, he was named to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest civilian honor.

The 1,500-square-foot gallery contains state-of-the-art exhibition space as well as a 750-foot reception area to eventually be used for the public sale of artwork. The gallery interior is equipped with museum-quality lighting, climate control, hanging and security systems. With its grey, hand-finished concrete floors, contemporary white walls, and distinct crown molding, the exhibition space balances a modern feel with traditional Southern architecture.

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

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Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.

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Meeting Planners

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Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?

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Group Tour Operators

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Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.

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Hotel Packages

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We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.

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