Rock’n’roll, cocktails and ambrosia – Cape Fear Museum is throwing a ‘Patio Party’

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Kitty Yerkes, donor relations director, and Sheryl Mays, museum director, with a pink metal flamingo, on loan from the Stone Garden lawn and garden store in Wilmington, NC. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
Kitty Yerkes, donor relations director, and Sheryl Mays, museum director, with a pink metal flamingo, on loan from the Stone Garden lawn and garden store in Wilmington. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON – Pink flamingos, manicured lawns, whiskey cocktails – and, yes, ambrosia salad – are coming to the Cape Fear Museum this week.

The museum will host its “Patio Party” to celebrate the opening of “Pools, Patios and the Invention of the American Backyard,” a traveling exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian Institute. The exhibit centers around the post-war period in America that saw the expansion of suburban development. The time period also saw the development of modern “outdoor living,” according to Kitty Yerkes, donor relations director for the museum.

“The idea was to have the perfect lawn, the perfect furniture, as the setting for the perfect family – perfect wife, perfect children,” Yerkes said.

The exhibit shows a culture reveling in the prosperity and new technology of post-war America, Yerkes said.

“This is the age of plastic, of aluminum,” Yerkes said. “Technology developed in World War II, but was used for things like outdoor furniture and lawn ornaments. It’s also the era of chemicals, things like bug repellents and DDT, used in search of the perfect lawn. So, in a way, it’s also the beginning of the environmental movement.”

The technological leaps and bounds made during and after World War II made many tasks easier and cheaper, but it also poised some serious risks. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
The technological leaps and bounds made during and after World War II made many tasks easier and cheaper, but it also posed some serious risks. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)

While the exhibit doesn’t shy away from the darker side of 1950s life, including a section on Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” the Patio Party will focus on a celebrated time when the quality of life for millions of Americans dramatically increased after decades of depression and war.

Honoring the food of the era – which saw outdoor grilling domesticated from its frontier and peasant roots – the Patio Party will feature hot dogs from Sam’s Hot Dogs and modernized versions of 1950s food from Pine Valley Market.

Yerkes said, “some of the food of the era was very, interesting. Mayonnaise and potato chip sandwiches. Pine Valley Market will be serving the food of the times, but updated, to be the kind of things you’d want to eat.”

The Patio Party will also feature that other symbol of the growing middle class of the mid-century: the cocktail, Yerkes said.

“We didn’t want to do Martinis,” she said, “because we were afraid of the glasses getting knocked over. But I think we will be doing whiskey sours.”

The party will also feature 1950s rock’n’roll, like that of recently deceased rock pioneer Chuck Berry. The School Boys, self-described “unofficial faculty rock band of UNCW,” composed of five professors from University of North Carolina Wilmington, will perform classic hits from the era at the event.

With the rise of outdoor living – and outdoor cooking – commercial BBQing charcoal hit the market, including some manufactured at Orton Plantation in Wilmington. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)

And ambrosia salad? The 1950s staple dessert, made from whipped cream and canned fruit, will also be served. Said Yerkes, “I think it will be a lot of fun.”

The event will be held at the Cape Fear Museum, located at 814 Market St. from 5 to 8 p.m., Thursday, March 23. Tickets are $15 for members or $30 for non-members and can be purchased on the museum’s website. The “Pools, Patios and the Invention of the American Backyard” exhibit runs now through August 27.