Friday, May 2, 2014

Take a step back in time through TSLA's Arts, Crafts, and Folklife Photographs

As the Tennessee Craft Festival gets underway this weekend, we are reminded of Tennessee’s fine craft tradition and our state’s handmade legacy in the local fine craft movement. The Tennessee State Library and Archives' collection, Arts, Crafts, and Folklife Photographs is a beautiful collection of images revealing this rich Appalachian tradition of arts and crafts.

Many photographs in this collection illustrate the Appalachian legacy of handicrafts, such as woodworking, broom making, chair making, weaving, sewing, whittling, and pottery.

The photographs in this collection are only a small selection from Record Group 82: the Tennessee Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, 1937-1976. The Tennessee Department of Conservation (TDOC) was established “to work toward a program of restoration, development and conservation of our renewable and non-renewable natural resources.” Encompassing various existing divisions and commissions, TDOC added several other divisions, including a “Conservation Education Section.” A new magazine, Tennessee Wildlife (today known as The Tennessee Conservationist), was created by TDOC as a forum for sportsmen’s interests and to showcase Tennessee’s natural and cultural history.

The most efficient way of highlighting this natural and cultural history was by publishing images taken across the state. TDOC hired its first photographer, Paul A. Moore, in 1937. Other photographers employed by this department over the years were James L. Bailey, Wallace Danley, Al Marsh, Dan Grice, Bill Shipley, Bob Ferguson, Dave Murrian, Bill Cox, Aubrey Watson, Charles Jackson, George Hornal, Jim Robertson, and Tim Frazier.

Two Women Making Corn Shuck Dolls and Baskets. TeVA Arts, Crafts, and Folklife Photograph Collection.

Several of the photographs in this collection portray families or other groups of people engaged in these representative crafts or other pursuits. Tasks such as basket weaving or chair making were often embraced by all members of a family. This shared experience provided income for the family unit as well as important social interaction with one another in the days before television, radio, and other diversions. This family or other group interaction can be seen in several photographs, such as the men splitting logs together or the ladies sewing baseballs with one another.

The region experienced resurgence in the craft tradition in the 1890s, as outsiders “discovered” Appalachian culture. Several folk schools were established in the early 20th century to foster the native craft tradition. As several photographs in this series illustrate, native Southern Highlanders realized the market for the products that outsiders considered intriguing forms of folk art. Several of the images in this series show individuals demonstrating their crafts to others, perhaps with intention to sell such items as baskets, pottery, etc.

The images in this digital collection, depicting individuals and cultural traditions throughout the Appalachian region of the state, are a selection of photographs taken from the Arts, Crafts, and Folklife series of Record Group 82: Tennessee Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, 1937-1976. Record Record Group 82 as a whole (grouped into 33 series) consists of over 11,000 photographic images and about 21,000 negatives. The record group was retrieved by Mr. Mack S. Pritchard, State Archaeologist, and transferred to the Tennessee State Library and Archives in the early 1970s. View some of the photographs online or stop by to see more!

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, directly west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. TSLA is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with the exception of state holidays. Parking is available in front, behind and beside the building.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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