Gilda McDaniel shares her passion for art with the community by establishing events to showcase Chatham’s creators
By Megan Tillotson | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Gilda McDaniel’s lifelong career at Fearrington Village began as a “happy accident.”
“It’s just for three weeks,” Gilda told herself when she began working on the garden staff at Fearrington after graduating from UNC in the 1980s. One thing led to another, and a new community opened up to her over 33 years.
For 25 of those years, Gilda has spent nearly every weekend as an event planner specializing in weddings. “The crew at Fearrington is a tightknit team, and I really appreciate that I get to come and work here every day,” Gilda says. “A lot of my work is cyclical. I’m booking people now for weddings that will be coming around in 18, 19 months. So you just keep going, which is great.”
Born in Sweden, Gilda grew up in Asheville and studied English and history in college. She discovered her love for art and stayed an extra year to complete a major in art history in 1989. “I realized that was what I went to school for,” Gilda says.
Her enthusiasm for the arts is ever-present and led her to establish the Fearrington Folk Art Show, an annual event since 2004 that features the work of self-taught artists from all over the county and country. “There’s such a closeness in the [folk art] community and such a camaraderie and interest in one another’s work,” she says.
Gilda has been involved extensively with the Arts North Carolina board and has served as board president for the Small Museum of Folk Art and Chatham Arts Council. Through her time spent with the latter, Gilda was able to help make ClydeFEST in Bynum what it is today.
“This thing we’ve created with ClydeFEST is such a special thing that you’re not going to find anywhere else,” she says. “We created this community event that kids from Chatham have been coming to for 20 years now.”
Community is everything to Gilda. “It’s a small town with a lot of passion, commitment and generosity,” Gilda says about Pittsboro. Gilda built her home in 1999 off Jay Shambley Road in view of a pin oak tree recognized as “meritorious” by the Grand Trees of Chatham. She lives there with her partner, Stephan Meyers, rescue dog, Shiloh, and stray calico cat, Matty the Catty, and has seen the county grow by leaps and bounds over the decades.
“I think that [the development] has made people who care about the identity [of Chatham] more proactive about maintaining it, and that’s where I think some of this community commitment gets even deeper and richer,” Gilda says. “Even though we’re growing, there’s a lot of good stuff coming with this growth.”
Through the years, Gilda has held many titles, but she keeps a singular focus on her passion for art, even through her wedding and event planning. She hopes her work has provoked the community to come together and appreciate art in many forms.
“I am so lucky to have been a part of this community to appreciate the small-town feel of Chatham and to be involved in different organizations and activities, knowing there are special people that have so much heart,” Gilda says.