Rare images taken by Cecil Sharp to be displayed in Burnsville

From Staff Reports
Black Mountain News|USA TODAY NETWORK

On Saturday, Sept. 15, Burnsville Toe River Arts will unveil 24 rare photographs taken by music folklorist, Cecil Sharp and his assistant, Maud Karpeles. These images will take viewers back to a time when folks worked from sunrise to sunset, kids went to one-room school houses or not at all, ate meals by lamplight, and sang songs passed down from generation to generation on their porches at twilight.

The exhibit continues through Oct. 20 with a reception from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Donald Hughes will speak about these black and white glances of Appalachia in the early 20th century.

Hughes initiated the Appalachia Project to commemorate the centennial of Cecil Sharp’s visit to North Carolina and serves as its coordinator.

The Mitchell family was visited often by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles during their time in Burnsville and Marion. Sharp took numerous photos of family members.

In 1916, English music teacher and ballad collector, Sharp and Karpeles, traveled the Appalachian region to document the songs and singers of their music. What they also collected were photographs of these peoples, in their homes, at work, in their best finery, posed, but perhaps not as comfortable in front of a camera.

A fascinating glimpse into the rural life—the rural life of this region’s ancestors. They braved challenging terrain to visit singers and record the notes and words of the songs. By the end of their 46-week travels through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, the pair had collected more than 1,600 variants of English ballads from 281 singers.

Out of their work came the English Folk Dance and Song Society based in Cecil Sharp House in London, the U.S.-based Country Dance and Song Society, and a remarkable collection of centuries-old songs still sung today. A three-year celebration of the people and the songs has begun both in the U.S. and abroad.

In celebration of the centennial of his journeys and his collection of hundreds of songs, stories, and photographs, the Cecil Sharp, the photographic exhibit, exhibition is traveling around the region.

As part of the Cecil Sharp in Appalachia Project, organizers are looking for descendants of the Burnsville and Marion singers who may have information about their ancestors’ interaction with Sharp in 1918.

Although the exhibit includes only the families for whom photographs exist (many of the pictures Sharp took were mailed back to the families as a way of thanking them for their time and voices and as a remembrance), they are interested in speaking with descendants of all the singers included in his diary.

If you are a descendant of someone who is included in Sharp’s diaries, please contact descendant@cecilsharpinappalachia.org or attend the Burnsville Gallery reception and speak with Donald Hughes.