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.)