Art Preservation in Appalachia

John Rice Irwin, the founder of the Museum of Appalachia stated, “We cannot appreciate where we are today, or understand where we are going tomorrow, unless we understand where, as a culture, we’ve been in the past.”

That quote is important to me because I noticed a recent trend in Appalachian news. Several organizations, including National Public Radio (NPR) affiliates, have taken an interest in recording and preserving Appalachian music, stories, dance, and fine art (all of which will be referred to from here out as art). These organizations have a chance to provide wide publicity to the Appalachian arts and hopefully attract the attention of people living in other parts of the country. Exposure to the art of an area can provide a more interesting and effective way to learn about people and culture than opening a history book. Art provides an insider’s view of a culture including the hardships, periods of change, and prosperity.

It’s this insider’s view that many people lack when it comes to Appalachia. There still exists a persistent stereotype that people from this area are backwards, unskilled, ignorant, and helpless. I hope that wider exposure of Appalachian art will help influence a change in how people from other parts of the country view Appalachia. I’ve actually witnessed people’s surprise when folk art wasn’t what they were expecting. The term conjures up imagery of kitschy painted whiskey jugs and spoon rests. There’s nothing wrong with that type of art, but there are great examples of regional styles in oil painting, sculpture, stained glass, metalworking, woodworking, textile, and every other art form you can name. Real high art is made in Appalachia but for some reason people expect to find it only in more urban and metropolitan areas.

I want there to be a real interest in Appalachia besides just hiking and camping or a desire to help. Those are all well and good. Appalachia is beautiful and we can make use of outside resources to improve our communities. But there is also art and culture and a wealth of talent here that rivals the rest of the country and deserves to be acknowledged.

I feel that those who create and preserve art have a similar mission to Fahe. Human beings have an innate desire to be fulfilled, to have self-actualization, to enjoy life. Art, music, writing, dancing; all of that is part of living a better life. The same can be said about working towards getting a better home or improving the local community. Both art and community development help to preserve a passionate culture and ensures that there is something of value for the future generations.