About 160 miles southeast of Raleigh, not too far from Holden Beach in Brunswick County, is a vision of glass and baby dolls.
There live Mary Paulsen and her Mary’s Gone Wild Museum Folk Art & Baby Doll Museum.
Paulsen is not exactly unknown – her visionary artwork has been the subject of a book, “Doing the Vision,” and a short documentary, “Mary’s Gone Wild,” that aired on UNC Public TV and, about a decade ago, at Durham’s Full Frame Festival. Still, there are plenty of people who never take the time to stop at her place on their way to the beach – though how someone can resist a house made out of some 8,000 bottles is hard to imagine.
You can change that on Saturday, April 16, by trekking to Paulsen’s place to celebrate Obscura Day.
The event, in its fifth year, encourages people to explore the hidden treasures in their hometowns and beyond. Obscura Day was started by the New York-based online media company Atlas Obscura, which calls itself “the definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places,” and states on its website these beliefs: “There is something new under the sun” and “Around the corner is something that will surprise the hell out of you.”
Last year Obscura Day drew 4,000 participants to 160 events, according to the Atlas Obscura website (nando.com/3p3). This year there are some 200 excursions in more than 30 states and 25 countries, including behind-the-scenes tours of museums, underground tombs and cemeteries, guided walks through lesser-known natural wonders and visits with experts on a variety of odd matters. (For those who can afford a quick flight to France, consider a visit with vampire expert Jacques Sirgent at the Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creatures.)
In North Carolina, there are two events (more could be added, so check back at Atlas Obscura’s website): Paulsen will lead a tour of her wondrous creations, and in Elkin, Anne and Paul Gulley will do the same for their Cabinet of Curiosity – the library in their home filled with skulls, wings (butterfly and vulture), rocks and stuffed dead animals, including the family’s pet hamster.
The Gulleys, by the way, have participated in Obscura Day since it started in 2010.
Paulsen is new to the event, but her bottle house is only one of the draws for those who might want to explore. Her art is the other. Paulsen says that in 1998, God told her to paint and gave her the visions that she painted on the reserve side of old windows. She has painted ever since – on windows, gourds, old skillets, basically whatever people haul to her home rather than to the dump.
Two years before, she says, God told her to build a village for her collection of 6,000 dolls and help feed hungry children. She ended up with a chapel, a schoolhouse, a soda shop, a train depot, a library and a general store.
There is no admission charge at the Gulleys’ library or at Paulsen’s museum, but both require RSVPs. Paulsen also accepts donations, which go toward Feed the Children.
Obscura Day in North Carolina
Mary’s Gone Wild Folk Art & Baby Doll Museum
What: Tour led by Mary Paulsen*
When: 1-2 p.m., Saturday, April 16
Where: 2341 Holden Beach Road SW, Supply
Cost: Free; but RSVP is encouraged (*Note: The museum is open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., but a visit with Paulsen is not always guaranteed.)
Elkin Cabinet of Curiosities
When: 2-5 p.m., Saturday, April 16
Where: 332 West Main St., Elkin
Cost: Free, but capacity is limited. RSVP required.
Edgar Allan Poe Museum
What: Curator Chris Semtner will give guests a tour of some of the hidden curiosities in the museum’s special collections, including items that aren’t on display to the public. Among the highlights: Poe family oddities and Poe hair art.
When: 11 a.m.-noon, Saturday, April 16
Where: 1914 E. Main St., Richmond, Va.
Legends of the Octagon House
What: Curated tour from house manager Teresa Martinez that includes parts of the six-sided home, which was a temporary residence for President James Madison and his wife, Dolly, after the British burned Washington in 1814 (the house was one of the few that survived).
When: 9:30-11 a.m., Saturday, April 16
Where: 1799 New York Ave. Northwest, Washington, D.C.
Details: For more information on Obscura Day and a full list of events, go to www.atlasobscura.com.