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A documentary series focusing on Southern Appalachian history and culture will debut on Thursday, May 16 in the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center. 

The Summer Historical Documentary Series, which will run at 5:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month, will introduce audiences to historic documentaries on local and regional topics produced by the award-winning media center Appalshop.

The topics of the films will include environmental conservation issues, quilting, ballad-singing, and veterans’ experiences in WWI, WWII, and Vietnam.

At the beginning of each screening, museum representatives will introduce the film and contextualize its themes with Swannanoa Valley and Western North Carolina history. A short discussion about the film and its relevance to contemporary Appalachia will follow each screening. 

About the Historical Documentary Series

The Summer Historical Documentary Series is designed to highlight important traditions and experiences of 20th-century Appalachians, helping natives and newcomers alike become more familiar with the region they call home.

The films, produced from the 1970s through the early 1990s, take place in a variety of locations including the Swannanoa Valley, East Tennessee, and eastern Kentucky.

The first film will be “Artus Moser of Buckeye Cove” (1985), a biographical exploration of Asheville native Artus Moser and his eclectic life as a ballad collector, teacher, painter, sculptor and naturalist.

The second film, “Quilting Women” (1976), playing June 20, traces the process of traditional Appalachian quilting while interspersing women quilter’s thoughts about the origins of quilting patterns and the time and patience required for the craft. For this event, the museum will have quilts from its collection on display.

The third film, “Peace Stories,” playing July 18, features three men from the South as they recount their war experiences and discuss how these experiences have affected their opinions of war.

The fourth and last film in the summer series, scheduled for Aug. 15, is called “Ready for Harvest: Clearcutting in Southern Appalachia” (1993). Set in Western North Carolina, “Ready for Harvest” explores the complex questions of how we use and protect our native forests. Museum representatives will connect some of the themes of the film to the history of the formation of Mount Mitchell State Park.

The film series is part of a new programming initiative by the museum that also includes a monthly History Café series featuring lectures by local researchers and experts on regional history topics.

The next History Café will take place from 10:30 - 11 a.m. on Monday, May 20, and focus on the culture of Black Mountain College in the 1940s and 1950s as seen through the eyes of John Corkran, son of Black Mountain College professor David Corkran.

Other topics of the Cafés include Montreat’s history as a WWII detention center, uncovering enslavement narratives in Western North Carolina, and the music of the Swannanoa Tunnel.

Sponsored by Black Mountain Savings Bank, the series generally takes place on the fourth Monday of the month, and more information can be found at swannanoavalleymuseum.org. The museum also hosts two popular year-long hiking series as well a book club focused on regional literature.

This year the museum is also hosting a special exhibit on Beacon Manufacturing Company of Swannanoa. The Beacon Manufacturing Company operated in Swannanoa from 1924 – 2002 and was once the largest blanket manufacturer in the world. Today, many of their beautiful blankets are collector’s items.

The exhibit highlights several aspects of Beacon’s history, including its controversial use of the term “Indian Design” when advertising its blankets, workers’ striking and union efforts, and the lives and culture of Beacon’s Swannanoa community. The exhibit runs through Nov. 2.

About the Appalshop Media Center

The Appalshop media center was founded in 1969 in eastern Kentucky. Based in the town of Whitesburg in Letcher County, members of Appalshop have spent decades producing documentaries, theater, workshops, and radio programming that highlight the voices and visions of the people of Appalachia.

As stated on Appalshop’s website, the center’s programming is intended to, “present stories that commercial media doesn’t tell, challenge stereotypes, support grassroots efforts to achieve justice and equity, and celebrate cultural diversity.”

Since its founding 50 years ago, Appalshop has produced over 100 documentary films and archived over 4,000 hours of film, audio recordings, and still images. Appalshop’s center in Whitesburg also houses media production and training facilities in film and video, a community radio station, a 150-seat theater, and art gallery.

More information about Appalshop can be found at appalshop.org.

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