Missy n’ Mammy: The complexities found in Anna Ernberg’s intentions regarding the Appalachian Craft Revival

Weatherford Hammond Award Winning Paper by Takudzwa Madvuta 


While breadlines elongated perpetually during the 1930s, the proliferation of the Mammy stereotypes and the Appalachian Craft Revival were at their peaks. The production of Missy n’ Mammy by the Fireside industries under the leadership of Anna Ernberg, circa the late 1930s, represents these peaks (Figure 1).[1] The first time I saw Missy n’ Mammy was at an exhibit by the Appalachian Studies’ Collection Center with a group of weavers. When everyone saw the doll, a plethora of vulgar comments came out from the weavers, complaining about how insensitive this rag doll was to the African American population.

Despite feeling those emotions as well, I wondered if I would react the same had I been steeped in the visual culture of the 1930s. I also wondered if I would have succumbed to the visual culture that demanded derogatory images like Missy n’ Mammy. In this paper, I argue that Anna Ernberg’s Swedish background, Appalachian Craft Revival, and visual culture influenced Ernberg’s production of Missy n’ Mammy during the 1930s, challenging her feminist efforts. To progress this argument, I asked the following questions. What did the Mammy-stereotyped doll mean for black and white female bodies, and did the production of the Miss n’ Mammy monumentalize this meaning? How influential were the demands of the Appalachian Craft Revival and visual culture on Ernberg’s production of Missy n’ Mammy, did it also represent the influence of her peers?

At first glance, the production of the Missy n’ Mammy confirmed the efforts of the Appalachian Craft Revival, which sought to promote the restoration of lost colonial art, while increasing the self-efficacy of the craft artists who made these artworks. It was a lament from Lost Cause preservers who feared that the culture of the second wave of western Europeans would taint lost colonial art. [2] The Lost Cause was a belief adopted after the civil war, painting the Confederates’ war efforts as brave and honorable.[3] This belief praised Southern lifestyle and culture before the civil war, claiming that slaves were content with plantation life. Thus, Missy n’ Mammy achieved the goals of the Appalachian Craft Revival by providing jobs for the weavers who made these dolls and by perpetuating a stereotype connected with the colonial Mammy and the Southern Belle.[4]

The Southern Belle was a stereotype used for southern women whose upper socioeconomic class, was identified by their trendy dressing, sexual innocence, and passion.[5] Even though it developed in the 1850’s, its proclivity to female suppression is seen in the 1930s in fictional characters like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the wind film.[6] It is also seen in the Missy side of Missy n’ Mammy as they both are fashionable and do not suggest sexual immorality.[7] Both are symbols of the Lost Cause rhetoric that promoted plantation life.

Through the inclusion of the Missy side, Missy n’ Mammy symbolizes unity between black and white women striving to gain rights like equal pay. However, the difference between the treatments of the doll sides leans towards the class difference between black and white women. The juxtaposition of the Missy’s blue-eyes and white skin, suggesting its Anglo-Saxon ancestry, against the Mammy’s bulging eyes and black skin, proclaiming the demeaning Mammy stereotype, showcase class difference.[8] Moreover, the types of headwear worn by the dolls signify this class difference. While the Missy side wears a decorated green bonnet, signifying the Southern Belle, the Mammy wears a kerchief, indicative of domestic worker uniform at the time.[9]

The use of Missy n’ Mammy as a nurturing teacher and a storytelling assistant sheds light on the reasons why black women could not pass through the line that class differences had created.[10] As benign as it was to teach children to take care of objects living and non-living, the class difference taught by dolls like Missy n’ Mammy progressed from generation to generation. It is this act of taking care of Missy n’ Mammy, that fed the faithful slave rhetoric found in the Lost Cause doctrine that claimed that the Confederacy’s reasons to enter the civil war were just and heroic.

This faithful slave rhetoric rose to fame during the Great Depression and the Jim Crow eras when the Southerners’ fetish of an imagined past filled with content and faithful slaves was at its peak.[11] This nostalgia was translated to black domestic subservience as represented by Missy n’ Mammy, resulting in generations of white girls who would later want a Mammy of their own. To the generation of black girls whose mothers wore this stereotype as domestic workers, it deflated their hopes of becoming more than just a Mammy in a country that was hungry for them.[12] However, for others, it motivated them to become more than just a stereotyped domestic worker, as seen in the actress Hattie McDaniel.[13]

As Missy n’ Mammy’s contemporary, Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar-winning performance as Mammy in the film Gone with the wind serves as a living monument to the Lost Cause doctrine that supported the “faithful servant” rhetoric.[14] Although her mother’s job as a domestic worker motivated her to pursue entertainment, the Mammy stereotype followed her in Gone with the wind (Figure 2). However, even after following her, McDaniel’s reinterpretation of the Mammy stereotype as:

… an opportunity to glorify Negro womanhood-not the modern, stream-lined type of Negro woman who attends teas and concerts in ermine and mink- but the type of Negro of the period which gave us Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Charity Still. The brave, efficient, hard-working type of womanhood which has built a race, mothered our Booker T. Washington, George W. Carver, Robert Moton, and Mary McLeod Bethune. So, you see, the mothers of that era must have had something in them to produce men and women of such caliber.[15]

Unlike Hattie McDaniel, Missy n’ Mammy’s ornate contemporaries only had one dominant interpretation of the Mammy stereotype, which fueled white paternalism towards black domestic women. Mammy-stereotyped objects like Aunt Jemima pancake flour, Fun-To-Wash, Ole Mammy shortening, conjured black servitude nostalgia, giving the white employer the right to be paternalistic toward black domestic women (Figure 3).[16] Prevalent at the time, the employers paid their black domestic workers with clothes or food instead of money, believing that money would disturb the master-faithful servant relationship that was in their imagination.  Even poverty-stricken white families sacrificed their possessions for black domestic workers to feed their paternalistic ambitions and to maintain social status in the community.[17]

The proliferation of the Mammy stereotype in a society where black and white people excused these derogatory images as mediums to educate the viewer of different black identities is not shocking.[18] Although white people mostly imposed the black stereotypes, African American critics like W.E. Du Bois praised Mammy-stereotyped paintings like Palmer Hayden’s Midsummer nights in Harlem for their New Negro representation.  Thus, Missy n’ Mammy perpetuated numbness to the harmful effect of these stereotypes on black self-perception.

The presence of such a doll in an interracial school like Berea College, during President Frost’s era, is also not startling as the 1904 Day Law was signed into the Commonwealth of Kentucky laws prohibiting interracial education in Kentucky schools. This act disrupted the Berea’s commitment to educating all races, resulting in its segregation to form the Lincoln Institute, which allowed the college to continue providing education to all races.[19] It was an act that Thus, the absence of African Americans licensed the production of such stereotypes. Not only did Fireside industries produce Missy n’ Mammy, but Ernberg also led the women into making other similar dolls like Mammy, Dinah, Sambo, and Petunia (Fig 4&5). Unlike Missy n’ Mammy, these dolls received more demeaning descriptions in the catalogs, like Dinah’s “fat and happy” description. Missy n’ Mammy was also unique in that it had the Missy side, which could explain why the doll’s description was not as harsh, as it could have been an effort to respect the Missy side.[20]

The production and sale of Missy n’ Mammy and her contemporaries would not have been possible without the leadership of Anna Ernberg.  Ernberg moved from Sweden to the U.S. with her husband, Hjalmar Ernberg, and two sons in 1898 (Fig 6). When Ernberg arrived in New York, her prior experience from the Normal School of Sweden and Art and Sloyd School, propelled her to become a textile and hand weaving teacher at the Pratt Institute and later Teachers College of Columbia University until 1911.[21] Ernberg was hired by William G. Frost as the Director of Berea College’s Fireside Industries from 1911 to 1936 and died on April 1, 1940, from an extended heart illness.

Frost’s hiring of Ernberg stems from his prioritization of Appalachian culture and the welfare of its people, resulting in the Fireside industries, which helped provide jobs and income to Appalachian women.[22] Thus, Frost wanted a leader who had the passion, skill, market knowledge, and a business-mind, resulting in the hiring of Ernberg.[23] Due to the influx of Swedish immigrant-weavers like Ernberg, Frost advised Ernberg only to teach Appalachian women regional weaving patterns and products, including defamatory images like Missy n’ Mammy.[24]

Thus, Ernberg’s participation in the production of Missy n’ Mammy suggests her adaptation to the Appalachian visual culture, which President Frost fostered. Ernberg could have adapted to Frost’s regionalism to keep the Fireside Industries in business.[25] Thus, Frost’s artistic suppression of Ernberg’s Swedish was an influence in the production of Missy n’ Mammy.

However true this might be, as the Director of the Fireside industries, Ernberg had the right to choose which type of lost colonial art she would design into a product.[26] Ernberg knew of the Berea College’s interracial precepts and thus had the authority to choose whether to honor these precepts or deface them. There is also no correspondence between President Frost and Ernberg that suggests that Frost mandated Ernberg’s decision to make these derogatory images.

Missy n’ Mammy signifies Anna Ernberg’s cognitive dissonance, as seen on the Missy side that symbolizes her efforts to progress the estate of unemployed Appalachian women and on the Mammy side, which shows how she participated in womanhood minstrelsy.[27] To the onlooker, Ernberg fought women’s rights by providing jobs for community women and students. As a spokesman, Ernberg marketed products and the need for donations through speeches and articles distributed to buyers on her sales trips, to keep the weavers employed.[28] As a leader, she taught other women how to initiate and manage their weaving schools like Lucy Morgan, a student who started the Penland School of Crafts.[29] As a designer, Ernberg designed a small hand loom in 1913, inspiring other women’s creativity.[30] Overall, Ernberg is viewed as a champion for women’s rights.

Nevertheless, when Ernberg’s studio working environment and marketing schemes are considered in addition to the production of stereotyped dolls like Missy n’ Mammy, this view is challenged. Ernberg was known for being uncooperative to both her employers and employees, and even though this kept her production levels high, her employees can attest to a toxic working environment.[31] One example is an incident where Ernberg replaced Julia Smith’s weaving job after the employee begged her to save her job after her vacation. From this incident, Smith’s replacement could have been caused by Ernberg’s need to keep production levels high.[32] However, if this was the case, Ernberg should have welcomed Smith back after the break, which she did not.

Additionally, Ernberg’s marketing scheme often portrayed Appalachian women as ignorant and weak, to gain buyers who bought Fireside products to protect colonial tradition from mingling with immigrant culture. Ernberg’s articles like They have eyes and see not, they have ears but do hear not, and news articles confirmed her condescending view of the Appalachians, which she claims to have made “more American” (Fig 7).[33] Economically, the Fireside industry products would not have high sales, without this demeaning portrayal’s appeal to lost cause preservers. This thought might be relevant yet, Ernberg continued to depict Appalachian women as uneducated and poor well after the Fireside industries had become stable enough to deserve a better portrayal.[34]

Missy n’ Mammy also represents the influence of Enberg’s peers who furthered the Appalachian Craft Revival either for the restoration of lost colonial art or their capitalistic interests. One of Ernberg’s peers who progressed the Appalachian Craft revival for the restoration of lost colonial art was Eleonor Roosevelt, who, like Ernberg, was the leader of craft programs. Together with her co-founders Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook, Roosevelt established a furniture-making shop called Val-Kill Industries in 1926 and later supervised the Arthurdale experiment.[35] Just like Ernberg, Roosevelt fought for the inclusion of government-funded craft programs, despite the government’s suspicion of the presence of socialism in these programs.[36] Unlike Ernberg, Roosevelt supported black artist and their works instead of making stereotyped images of them.[37]

Anna Ernberg 1911

The lost cause preservers often were at odds with Ernberg’s peers who prioritized the profitability of the crafts sold, representing Ernberg’s capitalistic ambitions. Although Ernberg was not a businesswoman by training, she knew how to appeal to the market just like her peers.[38] These intentions were also present in the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild leaders like Isadora Williams, who emphasized the making of craft products “like the person who buys it likes it.”[39]  Thus, Ernberg’s peers influenced her production of dolls like Missy n’ Mammy as the doll appealed to the restoration of lost colonial art and capitalistic ambitions.

Missy n’ Mammy accomplishes the goals of organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) as they petitioned for a Mammy monument in Washington, D.C.[40] Although the UDC’s requests managed to reach the government, they were followed by backlashes from leaders like Carter G. Woodson. Woodson resented the proposed monument for insulting the African American population and undermining the struggle that colonial Mammies had to endure.[41] Later in 1955, black domestic women would retaliate through demonstrations like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, demanding a shift from the 1930s master-faithful servant relationship to an employer-employee relationship.[42]  Despite all these efforts, the production of Missy n’ Mammy made this monument more accessible to the public as people did not need to go to Washington, D.C, to see Mammy when they had her in their children’s drawers and toy boxes.

  Thus, Anna Ernberg’s immigrant status is ignored as an underlying factor in the production of Missy n’ Mammy, based on the Appalachian Craft Revival and visual culture’s influence on this production. However, Ernberg’s immigrant status plays a significant role in her complacency to these stereotypes, as seen when she says the following in an interview in 1931:

It is self-evident that Negroes don’t mix with whites. A Negroe is like a child. If he is intelligent, he has quite a lot of white blood in his vein. You live separated from the Negroes.  In a country where there are very few Negroes, it wouldn’t be so, but in America, there are so many.[43]

Through this saying, the main root of Enberg’s intentions regarding the production of Missy n’ Mammy is showcased. To Ernberg, Missy n’ Mammy did not seem like a problem that needed addressing as she believed that black people would be passive to these stereotypes, just like children.[44] Even if Ernberg wanted to address the issue surrounding those stereotypes, her separation from black people, prevented such conversations.[45]

Without Jim Crow laws that promoted segregation like the Day law, Anna Ernberg would not have adapted well to a life where there were “so many” black people.[46] Without this adaptation, the influence that the visual culture and the Appalachian Craft Revival had on Ernberg would not have been as effective in persuading her to make these derogatory images. Ernberg’s life coming from Sweden, where there were “very few Negroes,” would not have adapted to a desegregated Berea College, possibly preventing the production of Missy n’ Mammy.[47]

The Mammy stereotype and its prototypes were devices used to demean the African American population throughout the Jim Crow Era. Missy n’ Mammy represented these devices, revealing the influence of visual culture, peers, and the Appalachian Craft Revival on the Swedish identity of Anna Ernberg. Missy n’ Mammy ignored the struggles that black domestic workers, and later their granddaughters, faced, perpetuating female class differences, Lost cause doctrine, and colonial art preservation. The doll signified Ernberg’s dilemma caused by her adaptation to visual culture and the Appalachian Craft Revival, where her capitalist and colonial-art preservation ambitions clashed against her feminist efforts. Conversely, this adaptation resulted in Ernberg’s role as a contributor to the Appalachian Craft Revival and visual culture. Therefore, even though the influence of visual culture and Appalachian Culture seems to absolve Anna Ernberg from her participation in black female minstrelsy, her Swedish background enabled this influence, resulting in the debasement of African American culture and the questioning of her feminist efforts.

Bibliography

Adams, Ellen. “Tales from the collection at the Alice T. Miner Museum: ‘From Kentucky to Chazy: Anna Ernberg and the Berea Fireside Industries’.” Alice T. Miner Museum, 2016. March 24, 2020. http://minermuseum.blogspot.com/2016/03/from-kentucky-to-chazy-anna-ernberg-and.html.

Alvic, Philis. “Berea College and Fireside Industries.” In Weavers of the Southern Highlands, edited by University Press of Kentucky 35-55. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.

[Item 19/ Folder 10/ Series 4, Box 1], RG 5.28: Belknap Carrol to Berea College Student Industries, 5 June 1933. Needlecraft-Report and Correspondence, Price lists, Labels, 1. Berea: Administrative Divisions: Student Industries, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2018.

[Item 11/ Ernberg/ Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Broomfield, Sarah. Anna Ernberg: Appalachian Crafts Revival Artist/ Swedish Artist (WST/HIS 155). Berea: Berea Special Collections and Archives, 2016.

[Item 8/Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Ernberg, Anna. An appeal to the women of America. Berea: Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2016.

[Item 16/Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Ernberg, Anna. They have eyes and see not, and ears and hear not. Berea: Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2016.

[Item 24/Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Ernberg, Anna. Ruskin’s ideal for humble homes. Berea: Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2016.

[ SC-CT-845-018], Evans Ellen, Smith Julia, interviewed by Phillis Alvic. Berea Weaving Oral History Collection. Berea College Special Collections & Archives, April 12, 1995.

 

Grieve, Victoria M. “Work That Satisfies the Creative Instinct.” Eleanor Roosevelt and the Arts and Crafts.” Winterthur Portfolio 42, no. 2/3 (2008): 159-82. Accessed March 8, 2020. DOI:10.1086/589595.

[Item 24/Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Faculty and Staff Records: Marzolf, Marion. They came, they saw, they wove, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Berea, Ky. 2016

McDaniel, Hattie. Interview by Wings over Jordan. “Speech for Sunday, July 7, 1940 broadcast of Wings Over Jordan for Miss Hattie McDaniel, Los Angeles California/Negro Star of Gone with the Wind and winner of the 1939 Academy Motion Picture Award for the best-supporting actress.” Wings over Jordan. July 7, 1940. Quoted in Micki McElya, “CONFRONTING THE MAMMY PROBLEM,” in Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, Cambridge, Massachusetts: London, England: Harvard University Press, 2007. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvjf9z8t.10

McElya, Micki. “CONFRONTING THE MAMMY PROBLEM.” In Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, 207-52. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 2007. Accessed March 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvjf9z8t.10.

Missy n’ Mammy Doll: 1930-; 2018.35.1, Appalachian Studies Technology Collection, Berea College, Berea, Kentucky.

[Item 23 /Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Faculty and Staff Records: Nadja. “I, A Swedish Immigrant. Make American more American.” Stockholms Tidningen. Translated by Marion Marzolf and Elisabet Lindqvist, December 9, 1931. Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Berea, Ky.

[Item 25/ Folder 11/ Series 4, Box 1], RG 5.28: “Needlecraft of Berea College Student Industries, Cuddle Toys… for Little Folks!! Other Clever Needle Products.” Berea: Administrative Divisions: Student Industries, Berea Special Collections and Archives, 2018.

[Item 29/ Folder 11/ Series 4, Box 1], RG 05/5.28:  Needlecraft of Berea College Student Industries, Cuddle Toys… for Little Folks!! Other Clever Needle Products. Berea: Berea Special Collections and Archives, 2018.

Petty, Miriam J. “Hattie McDaniel: ‘Landmark of an Era.’” In Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood, 27-71. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. Accessed March 23, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt19qggrs.6.

Pilgrim, David. “The Mammy Caricature.” Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Ferris State University. 2012, April 9, 2020, https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mammies/.

Quisenberry, Rosetta. “Aunt Jemima.” A Saga of the Black Woman Part 2, Arturo Alonzo, Cover page. Lexington, KY: Host Communication, 2003.

Quisenberry, Rosetta. “An Early Breakfast on a Dinah.” A Saga of the Black Woman Part 2, Arturo Alonzo, Cover page. Lexington, KY: Host Communication, 2003.

Reef, Catherine. “The Youth of a New Nation:1790-1850” in Childhood in America, 1-24. New York: Facts on File. Inc, 2002.

Sibande, Mary. Interview by the British Museum. A Reversed Retrogress: Mary Sibande. YouTube, Nov 25, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8C5YHIOHqus&t=17s

Seidel, Kathryn. “The Southern Belle as an Antebellum Ideal.” In The Past Is Not Dead: Essays from The Southern Quarterly. Edited by Douglas Chambers, Kenneth Watson, Prenshaw Whitman, Alexander Walker, Alfred Bendixen, David Berry, and Augustus Burns et al. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012. Accessed April 29, 2020. DOI:10.2307/j.ctt24hxzz.11.

[Item 8 /Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Faculty and Staff Records: “Revives Colonial Industry in Mountain of Kentucky.” Unidentified newspaper. 24 March 1915. Berea College Special Collection and Archives. Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Berea, Ky.

[Item 10/ Folder 13A/ Series 6.1, Box 1], RG 5.28: Vaughn Marshall to President Frost, 23 April 1920. Fireside Industries:  Correspondence, Other Regarding Personnel, hiring at Fireside Industries by Anna Ernberg. Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2018, 1.

Williams, Isadora, “Miss Isadora Williams Honored for Citizenship.” Highland Highlights, Feb 16, 1965.  Quoted in Jane S. Becker, “The Southern Highland Handicraft Guild,” in Selling Tradition, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998, 76-77.

Williams, David. “Lost Cause Religion.” In The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion, edited by Inscoe John C., 194-97. University of Georgia Press, 2011. Accessed April 19, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nb3c.45.

Wilson, Shannon, William Goodell Frost: Race and Region. Berea College Special Collections and Archives. 2017, March 20, 2020. https://libraryguides.berea.edu/frostessay.

Wolfskill, Phoebe. “Caricature and the New Negro in the Work of Archibald Motley Jr. and Palmer Hayden.” The Art Bulletin 91, no. 3 (2009): 343-65. Accessed March 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/40645511

Woodson, Carter. “The Negro Washerwomen, A Vanishing Figure.” FNH 15, no. 3. July 1930. Quoted in McElya, Micki. “CONFRONTING THE MAMMY PROBLEM.” In Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, 207-52. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 2007. Accessed March 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvjf9z8t.10.

 

 

Most of the primary sources related to Anna Ernberg and the Weaving Department at the time were supplied by the Hutchins Library’s Special Collections & Archives.

 

Hannah’s Reflections on Ezell

Potential
by Hannah From

When my grandfather came to this land he saw potential.
He saw the tall trees and fertile soil
The rolling hills
And clear waters flowing

He built a cabin
And cut that lumber, sending it down stream
To be masts of the ships sailin’ for some far off land

 

The trees were cut
And that deep, dark soil ran down the mountain side
Leaving behind just red clay
It’ll choke the life out of anything you try and plant

Nothing grows there
Just red clay
Like a scar on the hillside
But he made do
Sent his children to work good jobs
He knew they’d not have to worry as hard as he had

And he smiled
He knew he’d done good

When my father came to this land he saw potential.
Where his father hadn’t seen
Those black diamonds below the surface
“Black diamonds… black diamonds”

He built himself a house
Stripped that land for all he could
Washing and wishing
Poisoning up our spring water
Can’t use the well anymore

The land was ripped up and moved
And put back and re-molded
Not the same though
Like a scar on the hillside

But he made do
Sent his children to good schools
He knew they’d not have to work as hard as he had

And he smiled
He knew he’d done good

When I came to this land I saw potential.
Oh what beautiful potential I see.
It’ll never be the same again
Scars
And left behinds

But the birds still sing,
The mourning dove still weeps
The crow caws, the Chick-a-Dees chatter
Their notes all the way down
Like a musical patchwork across the hillside

It takes time to mend what has been broken.
By wishing,
Soil can’t become fertile
Trees can’t grow tall
Water doesn’t run clear
But I’ll make do

So when the time comes I’ll send my own children out into the world
They’ll know what it means to tend
And care
And hope and wish
And I’ll smile
And know

I’ve done good.

Note about the poem

The “Black diamonds… black diamonds” part is from a the poem “Black Diamonds” by Crystal Good. She’s a fantastic West Virginia poet.

The poem isn’t a direct reflection of the class but it was something I thought of when I was taking the class and watching the play. I wrote snippets of it in my journal and I finally pieced it all together at the end. I wrote it to be spoken because that’s how I write. I hope it comes across well when being read.

The poem is loosely based off the story to my mother’s side of the family. Ezell and them have a similar fate, unfortunately their homestead and roots were lost forever. No one came back to tend and listen to the land.

Reflection:

I come from a family of storytellers and land lovers. I was taught from an early age the importance of story and the impact it can have on the listener and the teller alike.

This class and this experience re-affirmed what I hope to do when I graduate. I want to help people through the arts, do a bit of community story activism myself. I also want to be about to help people tell their own stories because when people start talking to one another they often find we’re a lot more similar than we’d originally perceived.

For the convo production I played the fox and the full Ezell performance I was a musician sprinkled in the woods.

Important and memorable moments in this class:

When we (the class) first started to bond to one another. For me this was probably somewhere between the movement workshop and the class where we found our dogs. We all got to be a little silly together and I think this made all of us band together which made putting on the convo and production much easier.

When I was in the woods playing music. (I loved playing music in general but this moment stood out to me in particular.) I think it was the second or third show and I was in the woods standing among the trees. I think I was playing just a little melody and looking at the light and how it was coming through the trees. It was quite beautiful. I was looking around when I saw the shadow of a bird gliding across the ground. I looked up and saw a hawk riding the breeze. It was a serene moment and I think it helped set the mood for the rest of my woodland playing.

When we got to share stories together. Check-ins in class were always wonderful. I loved hearing about all of the hard and the humorous moments of everyone’s days. We talked about music and movies as well as deep diving and problems we didn’t think we’d get out of.

Being able to finally see and experience the full Ezell experience made me cry a little. There were parts of Ezell that I saw in myself and my loved ones. It wasn’t like looking in a mirror—more like a decently polished spoon. When people share their stories those who listen can find things that ring true for them and I think that is the most important thing about this work. Well, that and the awareness y’all bring to issues like the environment and place.

Overall, this class has be a wonderful experience. I’ve loved meeting all of the new people and working alongside them. I almost didn’t take this class but I’m definitely glad I did!

Article Written by Hannah From

 

Ainsley’s Reflections on Ezell

Dearest EZELL:

If you would let me dance about architecture for a moment, I would appreciate it. The tale of Ezell is in everything we’ve done (and are doing). Ezell spoke while we set the table each night, while we checked in, and while we climbed the mountain. It was in our heart beats and our breath. Watching the irises bloom was because of Ezell, and they said that beauty lives beneath my feet—Ezell taught me that love exists where you plant your feet. Telling your story is not just for the benefit of other people, it is a chance to move your feet and spread your love. I spread my love through the forest and onto the risers, in the “Break Room” where our food was born, and in the mix of love from other people following the same asphalt path.

The love came out of my hands and my mouth and my eyes, and it’s sitting in my chest and my head, waiting for more. This experience felt like just a warm-up for the care that I’ll extend to the rest of the world for the rest of my life. I was told that I was good at helping out, and I know that it’s true because it felt good. Being on-site and running around was so fulfilling. It’s so rare for me to not be pre-occupied with something these days, whether it be a want to rest, or stress about school. But when I was there, so was my mind, and everything else fell away. Which I’m counting as a good thing even during a tumultuous finals season, because as a very wise and caring man once said to me, “If you have a time where you can work or you can rest, you should rest.” (It was Chris.)

 

Chatting with people during the dinner and after was super cool. It felt like a wedding—one massive celebration of life—w ere I got to meet people from all over Bobby B and Carrie’s lives. It would start with questions like, “Where are you from?” or, “What did you all think?” And information about them, and then the cast would present itself. Each conversation was a piece of a puzzle, and we all gained some which make a picture unique to us and to this place. I even met a woman who graduated from the same high school as I did, which is crazy.

I wish I had more time (or was maybe a little braver during the time we had) to talk to everyone on the team individually. Knowing I was entering your space, I tried to leave time to just sit back and observe, and to let everyone do their thing. I have an immense amount of respect for the people who worked on this with me and can only look forward to future opportunities to get to know people even more.

Being a part of Ezell was not only an honor because of its reverence—both in content and after-effect—but also because it is a beautiful creative project. Each night I ended proud of myself for not disrupting the experience for others with my excitement. It was a struggle for me to not leave the group, dancing, every time I heard Mudd’s “Ashokan Farwell,” (I love that tune!) and the talent in the forest this spring was so inspiring and delightful. The minds and the hearts and the hands that built and sustain Ezell each contribute something so essential, and I take with me the hope that someday I will find a group of people—a team—like this one to hang out with for a while.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart and the top of my head.

All my love,

Ainsley

To learn more about what Ezell is visit Clear Creek’s Website here

 

Pop-up Putt-Putt Golf, Appalachian Studies Themed

People playing Appalachian-themed putt-putt golf in the gallery

Pop-up putt-putt in the LJAC Gallery, February 2022

It started with a joke in the exhibit studio.  “Let’s make a putt-putt golf course with an Appalachian theme,” said a student curator. We laughed and joked about what different holes might be.

When the pandemic hit, LJAC turned its focus towards student support and experiences.  The putt-putt-as-interactive-exhibit concept came back to life.  The studio buzzed with activity as Miller and two student curators made it real.  We researched indoor mini-golf, found suppliers, brainstormed themes, and built mockups.  We iteratively improved our designs through pop-up testing with real golfers in the gallery and a soft-opening in December 2021. Interpretive signs connect golfing to nuggets of Appalachian studies content.

Pop-up putt-putt opened on the evening of February 2, 2022. Until March 2, 2022 it “pops up” in the LJAC gallery from noon, Wednesday, through noon, Thursday. Expect it to continue to pop up during winter months for years to come.

Curatorial Team: Ainsley Golden ’23, Lyle Wagoner ’24, and Christopher Miller.

Location: Loyal Jones Appalachian Center Gallery, 1st Floor Stephenson Hall

Our Putt-Putt Holes:

Appalachian, Twice Removed: Celebration of Traditional Music

Article written by Ali Hassan

The Saturday CTM concert, hosted virtually, provided four distinct and unique flavors of the music from the Appalachian region. With each performance, the sound progressively drifted away from its traditional Appalachian roots. The music nonetheless powerfully witnessed the lives and aspirations of the many people who have found a home in these mountains. The diaspora’s innovations that have taken this old-time music with it, spreading the sounds of these hollers far and wide, were also showcased.

Elizabeth LaPrelle kicked off the night’s proceedings in true October fashion. She deftly applied her quivering, sensitive mezzo-soprano to plaintive ballads that left a haunting aftertaste in their wake. Much of this came from her choice to deliver songs either a capella or with just a single banjo. Minor and pentatonic inflections could be discerned in pieces like Cuckoo from the Virginia-North Carolina border, Texas Gladden’s Three Little Babes, and her song from East Virginia. The telltale mountain twang rang clear in these songs, and her conversational delivery of repeated, limited-range melodic motifs drove the point home. On occasion, her slight use of vocal fry to add grain to her lower register also added a subtle undertone of woe to the macabre lyrics interwoven with nature metaphors.

The duple meters of these songs also contrasted nicely with the triple grooves of Sheila Kay Adams’ Young Hunting and Elizabeth’s rendition of the old Irish lullaby, The Castle of Dromore. These songs favored the Dorian and Major Pentatonic modes, respectively, and applied a lilting sway to great effect, albeit for different purposes. While in Young Hunting, the ill-fated lover finds himself violently subdued and buried in a beechen grove, the Irish lullaby was sweetly and softly delivered by Elizabeth with noticeably small vowels and a hooty, airy vocal tone that would be expected of a doting mother. This was rounded off by the dialogue between a besotted lover and her rude, disinterested partner in What Did You Have For Breakfast? The call and response in this piece were remarkable due to the characters’ different motivations and the vocal technique applied to illustrate them. The soft, bright, and tender sung part was sharply contrasted with the terse, guttural spoken replies. As far as the old Appalachian ballads go, this a capella piece remained faithful to its roots.

The next performers brought a heady mix of cross-cultural influences to the table. The Lua Project featured Estela Knott on vocals, clogs, ukulele, David Berzonsky on double bass, Matty Metcalfe on banjo and accordion, and Christen Hubbard on fiddle and mandolin. As described by Estela, the band had a Mexilachian sound – combining her paternal roots in the Shenandoah Valley with the Fonterra, Cumbia, and Veracruz landscapes of her maternal ancestry. Their starting song set the mood for their performance, outlining the staples of their style. This included sprightly duple grooves with accented offbeats, basslines walking with their head held high, vocal harmonies between different band members, strummed chords on mandolin and ukulele with contrapuntal motifs dancing around on the accordion. The rounded, centrally placed vocals only customarily tipped their hat to the Scots-Irish twang expected of all things Appalachian.

La Bruha, a traditional Mexican song, featured harmonic minor interplay with its pentatonic cousins, lending a discordant tinge to the vocal melody without being excessively onerous. The accordion strutted along timidly, etching interesting accents on the triple groove with its short lines reminiscent of old telenovelas. The texture remained squarely homophonic during the verses, with some polyphonic play in the instrumental interludes between them. The vocals were delivered with long Latin vowels, spread sparsely to emphasize specific words. This vocal delivery remained consistent, even on the Scots-Irish-influenced Cabbage White and Blue Ridge Mountain Boy. Estela’s voice lacked the clarion ring of the region, but the compositional dexterity of the pieces more than compensated for this. Whether it was the dramatic pauses interrupting the steady duple groove on the former, or the modal exchange playing out between the mandolin and the chicken-picked banjo, before nudging gently back to the familiar pentatonic ground on the latter, these songs did not fail to impress. Caracho was a unique synthesis – the mandolin alternating between Big Band-influenced strumming and Johnny Cash inspired stylings. However, the highlight of the performance was Ragged Mountain Cumbia. With its Klezmer modality, common time groove with accents shifted all over the place by Estela’s animated clogging, and the percussive call and response between her and the double bass, the piece showed off the band’s maturity and diversity.

David Holt was introduced as the host of River Walk and the recipient of this year’s CTM Lifetime Achievement award before he shared his musical journey and an excerpt from an old performance of his was played. It combined his multi-instrumentalist skills on the banjo, harmonica, mouthbow, and washboard with clogging and a charming storytelling vocal style. From the clawhammer banjo on Black-Eyed Susie and Little Billy Wilson to the clear African influences in the pulsing mouthbow of Songs About Drovers and the triple-voiced tapped and scraped washboard rhythm in Raincrow Bill, his music featured plenty of Appalachian elements. However, his vocal style was more reminiscent of Country and Americana and had little of the mountain twang heard earlier in the night.

Berea graduates Theo and Brenna rounded off the evening with their cultivated voices and modern Pop-Country influenced music with few references to their Appalachian roots. Their time spent in Nashville could be clearly heard in their music. The duo brought guitar and banjo together as harmoniously as their two voices sat as comfortably perched with one another as partners holding hands. Melodically, the duo spent most of their time firmly in the pentatonic stream and within a span of an octave. However, they spiced this up with the key change in Alison Kraus and James Taylor’s How Is The World Treating You? The musical theater inspired grace notes, and chromatic riffing in the John Hartford song, Gentle On My Mind, was another notable innovation. The subtle modal exchange lent a romantic lilt to the melody.

Rhythmically, the pair did not stray too far from their duple moorings. However, the guitar did create interest with its accented up-strums, such as on the Tim O’Brien and John Hartford songs. Particularly in the latter, the detail in the guitar-work was remarkable, with accents shifting between various 16th subdivisions and nuanced up-strum accenting. About Airplanes And Being Wild brought together this delicate rhythmic sense with an unexpected harmonic deftness. Conservative Travis-picked pentatonic sections found themselves spliced with Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy-swing, passing chromatic chords, and dueling stabs thrown in for good measure by both the banjo and the guitar.

Vocally, however, Theo and Brenna seemed to eschew the Appalachian twang in favor of Indie and Country stylings. Of all the performers, their voices seemed the most manicured and cultivated and least emotive. Their lyrics pined within reason, unlike the unbearable forlornness of the earlier part of the concert. It was a disappointing feature of an otherwise beautiful performance.

All in all, the Saturday CTM concert revealed the tributary nature of the region and its music. It reasserted that any monolithic conceptions of what Appalachia sounds like will prove to be thoroughly inadequate in the face of the ongoing conversation that the musicians of this region animatedly have with one another. It showed that, like any living tradition, Appalachian music is continuously growing new buds and flowering with unexpected life.

Article Written by Ali Hassan

What is Appalachian Music?

Hannah From, this article’s author

I grew up in the North Georgia Mountains. I love my home. I love the rolling hills, cornbread and butterbeans, and my community–the ones who raised me. But I think the thing I love most is the music. I grew up listening to and learning old-time and bluegrass music which turned into one of my greatest passions as I play in the Berea College Bluegrass Ensemble and Berea Folk Root Ensemble.

Berea College Bluegrass Ensemble

My labor supervisor at the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center recently asked, “How do you define Appalachian music?” This was a difficult question and one I’ve been pondering for weeks.

One might be tempted to respond, “Appalachian Music is music played by the people who are from the region.” But it’s not quite that simple. Take the Carolina Chocolate Drops for example. They are widely considered Appalachian, but many of the band members are from different parts of America.

One could also say “Appalachian Music is Bluegrass.” But that leaves out mountain blues, ballads, African Spirituals, and shape-note singing. How can you include one without the others? So then one might say, “Well, then Appalachian music is old-time music.” But how do you define this? What qualifies as old-time music. It’s nearly impossible to pin down.

Lee Sexton @ Berea’s Celebration of Traditional Music

Appalachia, in many ways is similar to the United States as a whole. It is a place where people of different backgrounds and cultures come to live, build communities, and as they interact with one another their cultures become entwined, each leaving behind bits and pieces of their own traditions. This is particularly true of Appalachian music.

The Spanish brought the guitar. Italians brought an instrument that would later become the mandolin, an instrument that the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, played. The Scots-Irish brought the violin songs—or fiddle tunes—as well as many of the ballads which were handed down through oral tradition. Germans brought the dulcimer, an instrument that would make an important appearance in the 50s and 60s on the lap of the amazing Mrs. Jean Ritchie. And last but certainly not least, the African influence. When Africans were brought to America as slaves, they brought along their polyrhythms and the banjo, arguably the most significant and influential instrument in the Appalachian region.

Amythyst Kiah @ the Celebration of Tradition Music, 2016

So in conclusion, there is no one right answer to the question, “What is Appalachian Music?” It is what you make it, in all its many shapes and forms.  It is—like all folk music—A starting place for people to grow off of. There isn’t just one way to play this “genre” and there isn’t just one group of people who can play it.

Article by Hannah From

Banjos, Storytelling, and Nostalgia: A Student’s Reflection on 2020’s Celebration of Traditional Music

The Loyal Jones Appalachian Center hosted its first ever Celebration of Traditional Music back in 1974 as a way of honoring old time music and the ritual of passing it on from generation to generation in Appalachia, and has continued to do so each fall ever since.  Every October Berea Campus is filled with dance, jam sessions, and musical performances by highly acclaimed musicians from around the world.   This year the CTM looked quite a bit different this year due to the pandemic. Everything went virtual.

Despite the unusual circumstances, CTM Director Liza DiSavino, put together a stellar line up for 2020’s Celebration of Traditional music, and even though we weren’t able to come together face to face, there was a unique intimacy about year’s celebration that was absent in previous years. We got to watch musicians perform in their own homes or destinations of their choice. From the sunlit living room of Bob Lucas, to the back porch performance by Big Possum String Band at dusk, these artists allowed us a peek into their own personal lives. Today Berea College Junior, and member of the Folk Roots Ensemble, Hannah From, shares her personal reflections on this year’s CTM and how it impacted her.

As a musician herself, Hannah was able to pick up on several nuances regarding instruments and techniques particularly with the banjo. As she watched the banjo player from the Big Possum String Band perform she noticed he was playing a mixture of bluegrass and old-time banjo. She said, “There is some plucking but also some backwards strumming. I thought that was interesting to see.” During Kevin Howard’s performance she even got her banjo out and started playing along with him. She said, “It was easy to play along with him because he talked about the tunings.”

Hannah also noted how each performer had their own style and way of addressing the audience through the screen. Guy Davis used humor to engage the audience using a deadpan voice making it hard to tell sometimes whether he was joking or not. Hannah laughed out loud when he joked about using his sister’s retainer to hold his harmonica. With Bob Lewis she enjoyed the organic feeling of his performance. She said, “It felt like I was in the room with him.” Kevin Howard’s performance felt more individualized. “Unlike the others before it, it seemed like he was talking to only one person instead of an audience.” The Big Possum Band made her feel the most nostalgic of all. “It was like I was sitting outside on a fall night. One the things I miss the most from pre-COVID-19 times is going to live music performances.” When they performed Durang’s Hornpipe, one of her favorite fiddle and banjo tunes she  was so excited to hear it that she actually got up and danced around her room.

One of things Hannah appreciated the most about this year’s CTM was the abundance of storytelling from each performer. She said, “I come from a family of storytellers. It’s a special part of Appalachia and it is sometimes forgotten when people think about the Mountains.” She was particularly excited to hear Sheila Arnold’s performance and loved both of her stories. She even recognized both of them. The first, from a book her Ma used to read to her and the second, a fable that you can find almost all over the world.

“What I like about CTM is the fact that there are so many music types that get shared. From claw hammer banjo to ballads to blues. The people who ran this really did a good job of mixing up things and getting old and new voices.” Says Hannah. She watched seasoned performers like Alice Gerrard (who influenced Hannah’s own style in ballad singing), alongside young performers like the Big Possum String Band. “There is an issue with young folks not taking up the traditional music because it’s seen as outdated.” Says Hannah. She herself, is challenging the stereotypes and carrying on the old traditions as she performs Old Time music through the Berea Folk Roots Ensemble. She performed virtually among her peers on Sunday afternoon, along with the Bluegrass, Mariachi, and Black Music Ensemble. She said it was weird seeing herself perform and that it made her miss her classmates all the more.

We are grateful to Liza DiSavino, the artists, and the enormous amount of work it took to pull off this year’s CTM. What an amazing privilege it is to be able to enjoy these performances from the comfort of our homes, and the hours of filming and editing taken to make it possible have not gone unnoticed. If you have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy these fabulous performances we encourage you can watch them here! You will not be disappointed.

Article Written by Heather Dent

From Violin to Fiddle: An Interview with Ann Whitley

“I have always wanted to sing since I was very small,” says Ann Whitley, an avid singer and fiddler player of Dahlonega, Georgia. For many children in Lumpkin County, she is simply known as Mrs. Ann. She is a staff member and former president of Pick and Bow Traditional Music School, an after school program that teaches children grades 4th through 12th traditional Appalachian Music. I am very fortunate to have come up through this amazing program, and I grew up listening to her sing and play. I am now a student at Berea College and was curious to find out how Mrs. Ann found her way to old time music and recently had the opportunity to interview her.

I asked her about her parents and if they could also play music. She related, “Mother played the piano pretty well, and they bought one for the house when I was taking lessons . . . . She also sang alto at church, so I sat next to her. That was a big boost for me in my developing the ability to sing harmony, because I always had her harmony alto part in my ear during church. Our dad couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket, bless his heart, but he loved the fact that we all were musical, and he supported my brother and me in every musical endeavor we wanted. My brother and I started singing together probably when he was in high school and I was in junior high. We still love to sing together.”

One of my favorite stories Mrs. Ann tells is from when she first started playing the violin and her mother’s reaction: “She (mother) would come to the door of the room that I was playing my violin and get this silly little grin on her face and say, ‘Can you play that tune, far far away?’ I tell that to the beginning fiddle students and especially their parents because it’s not a pretty sound when you’re learning to play the violin or the fiddle.”

On top of working with Pick and Bow, Mrs. Ann is also in a group called the Rosin Sisters, a group of three women, Mrs. Barbra Panter, Mrs. Jan Smith, and Mrs. Ann Whitley.  Together they perform old-time songs with hauntingly beautiful three-part harmony.

I asked how she went from playing in All-State Orchestra in high school to playing in an Old-time band.  She shared,

“I came onto the old-time music scene in Atlanta in 85 or 86…. I already played violin but I wanted it to be a fiddle, not a violin…. We were all country dancing, square dancing, contra dancing, and then 9-11 happened. Our hearts were hurting. We were all sitting around in a circle going around asking ‘How are you doing?’ and someone said, ‘We need to sing!’ and Jan said, ‘How about every Thursday night at my house?’ So about a dozen of us went to her house and we sat around her table. And there wasn’t any music except for words. If people said, ‘Oh, I think the group would like singing this song.’ We’d print up the words and pass them around the table. All of us were good singers and most of us could sing harmony and we really meshed. That still goes on every month or so… Well, Jan and Barbra got to talking, “Let’s get together and try some of these songs with our instruments.” Cause this was all acapella singing. They got together once or twice and said, “You know, let’s get Ann in on this,” and so I got invited. That was in 2005 or 6. Basically that’s how the Rosin sisters got started.”

I then asked her about how music had affected her, and she said, “Honestly, Hannah, I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for this old-time music scene I got into in the mid-80s. I don’t know where I’d be because I was at a big crossroads of my life back then and I needed a community in the worst way. And it was this old-time scene that just nurtured me and gave me more friends than I could ever imagine I would ever have. From going to the first cliff-top in ’90 and meeting so many people… Going to Augusta in ’88 and meeting all those people and going to Swannanoa all those years. I know I would be a totally different person, and I wouldn’t be such a happy person. It was fortune that got me involved with the right people at the right time. That’s just really what life is all about: being at the right place at the right time.”

At the end of our talk, she talked a little about Pick and Bow and how she was passing the torch of Presidency on to a younger person. She said it was about time and that a new person will bring new ideas for the programs. She ended our talk by saying, “It’s just so wonderful to have so many young people, that’s the beauty of passing it on to the young people, that they’re in our lives. You are in our lives and you will pass it on and this music will keep going. And, that’s a good, good thing.”

Article Written by Hannah From

Home Away From Home

In recent weeks our daily lives have been disrupted. We’ve shifted from our usual interactions with friends, family, and colleagues to different forms of communication. In this time I am reminded of ties to home and those summer evenings with the family around a fire pit. Slapping mosquitoes off our legs and waiting for the sun to ease below the hills so that the night could cool off while we stoked the flames. I am reminded of how grateful I should be for those winding evenings with loved ones. It is these moments of drought that force us to appreciate what we have in front of us. In turbulent times if we have no concept of where we came from then we will end up turned around inside out.

In his Appalachian Values essay Loyal Jones wrote, “We are oriented around places. We never forget our native places, and we go back as often as possible.” I have always called Estill County home, but as the years have moved on I have found myself tied closer to Berea. Through college, into my first professional experience, and getting married here. It has become obvious that Berea was much more than just a pit stop in my life. But I can never forget my home in Irvine. As my wife and I curve through Red Lick, a backroad between Berea and Irvine, it comes to me how blended home can be. The lines of Madison and Estill County have become transfused in my mind, a geographical boundary that has existed to me since I was a child and we would visit family in Richmond. Loyal’s quote about how we orient ourselves around place continually rings truth. Counties in Eastern Kentucky or boroughs in New York, these places and the people around us are what have the greatest influence on how we tread through life.

Home might be an area code or a region. It could just be where you feel the love. Even those who drift have some place that pulls on the needle of their inner magnet. For some that place may not be where they were raised but perhaps a center on campus or a group in the community. In a time when they expect that support and familiarity they have found themselves uprooted. But the spirit of this campus community including places like the Appalachian Center remain with them, prepared to serve in any way possible. In uncertain times we may not always feel at home, but those lasting impressions of our origins are engraved into our being. We may be distant, but we are still present.

Article Written by Rick Childers

When I was 20: Voices from the Appalachian Experience

exhibit in Appalachian CenterThis exhibit was created with the idea in mind to take several narratives from Appalachian history, from the very first Native Americans to settle the area to present day Latinx immigrants, and present each story in a way that showcased what people may have been doing in the region when they were twenty years old. The purpose of this concept is to break down stereotypes, shed light onto multiple perspectives, and create a multi-dimensional exhibit, as a representation of the multi-dimensionality of the Appalachian people, themselves.

Location: Loyal Jones Appalachian Center Gallery

Curated by: Christopher Miller, Associate Director and Curator of LJAC
Magenta Palo, Student Curatorial Assistant of LJAC