FGS 2010: Knoxville – The Museum of Appalachia

This evening at the 2010 FGS Con­fer­ence in Knoxville, Ten­nessee, there was an out­ing to the Museum of Appalachia.

The museum is “a liv­ing his­tory museum of pio­neer, fron­tier, and early arti­facts of moun­tain life in the South­ern Appalachi­ans.” It includes a col­lec­tion of build­ings, folk arts and crafts, and music, com­mem­o­rat­ing and extend­ing the life of the moun­tain arts and cul­ture. I had no idea how vast the col­lec­tion would be, nor how affecting.

At the heart of the whole enter­prise is John Rice Irwin and his daugh­ter Elaine Irwin Meyer. John Rice Irwin began col­lect­ing Appalachian arti­facts in the 1960s. In 2000, he donated the museum and its nearly 40 struc­tures, to a non-profit orga­ni­za­tion. He and his daugh­ter, as well as For­mer Sen­a­tor Howard Baker and three oth­ers, serve as unpaid board mem­bers to direct the edu­ca­tional goals of the museum.

The museum has a stage from which we were treated to excel­lent musi­cian­ship, tongue-in-cheek songs, and humor­ous ban­ter. John Rice Irwin came on stage, and in describ­ing a song about a dis­as­ter in a coal mine, recited a bit of it. When he invited the band to sing it, one of the musi­cians said, “You already sang it.” After which, John Rice Irwin turned to the audi­ence and said, “I’m glad you enjoyed it… We have a smart aleck in the band.…”

It was an enter­tain­ing evening with good food, good music, and it served as a trib­ute to the work of John Rice Irwin to pre­serve Appalachian cul­ture. If you are ever in East­ern Ten­nessee, you need to drop in on the Museum of Appalachia. Keep an eye out espe­cially for their Ten­nessee Moun­tain Home­com­ing, at the begin­ning of Octo­ber. (In 2010, this will be 8 — 10 October.)

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