Derby Day party supports training shop for handicapped

They call it the fastest two minutes in sports, although Secretariat would beg to differ. It’s a classic American tradition steeped in the mystique of Southern culture and the wealthy. It is also the first jewel in the coveted Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing.

It’s the Kentucky Derby, with its nutty haberdashery and big money winner’s circle.

Only 11 horses have won the three-tiered racing title in the events in more than 100 years, and only one — the formidable Secretariat — ran the 1.25 miles in faster than two minutes. It’s over in less than five minutes, but the party doesn’t stop there. Louisville, Ky., is the center of the wealthy world for one day a year. Last year, even Queen Elizabeth attended.

For those who can’t make the trip to Bluegrass Country, the Augusta Museum of History will host the annual Derby Day party to benefit the Augusta Restoration Shop.

Executive Director Audrey Murell laughs when she thinks back on previous parties. The hat contest and the traditional foods like mint juleps and Kentucky Derby pies capture the feel of being at Churchill Downs for the run for the roses.

Bet on your favorite horse for a chance to win cash prizes. Compete in the ladies’ hat contest, bid on silent auction items including hand-built furniture and artwork. Enjoy catering from Wife Saver, which will be offering a barbecue spread, and dance to live music from Air Apparent.

“If you’re an equestrian fan, it’s something you need to be at,” she stressed. “It’s very tough to get a ticket to Churchill Downs.”

As a result of an exclusivity that rivals Augusta’s well-known golf tourney, a who’s-who of Augusta society mingle between chairs and auction tables to support a local agency that trains and employs adults who are physically and mentally handicapped.

The Augusta Restoration Shop teaches the kind of services that artisans of old offered to the wealthy: furniture making, household repairs and antique restoration. By keeping old techniques and traditions alive, it ensures the future both of artistic techniques and adults who may otherwise find themselves without employment enough to sustain them.

Because of the rare specialties, Murell said that she draws clients from all over the Southeast who come searching for delicate repairs to valuable period pieces, unique vintage furniture and family heirlooms.

“I have customers from Atlanta, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. I have customers that search for our services and they can’t find them anywhere — especially the hand-caning and the rush work,” Murell said.

Caning and rush work are types of weaving found on the seats and backs of chairs and repairs to wicker work and other fibrous lacing. It’s time-consuming, sometimes back-breaking and requires an ability to focus and plan.

The Derby Day party goes to support the education, training and financing of this artistry.

“We are not nationwide,” Murell said. “We are here, locally, making an impact.”

Derby Day Party
Augusta Museum of History
Saturday, May 3
5-9 p.m


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