Traveling Photo Exhibit Illuminates Tennessee’s Folk Heritage
McDonald Craig props one foot on the bumper of an old yellow school bus that sits rusting in his barn, a reminder of his past. He lives on a 110 acre tract of land south of Hurricane Mills – land his great grandfather bought when freed from slavery after the Civil War. The down payment was a yoke of oxen. Revealing some of that same resilient spirit, from 1954-64 during the days of racial segregation, Craig picked up all the neighboring kids in the old school bus and drove them across the county line to their segregated school. Today he travels to folk festivals around the state (no, not by bus), singing his soft country lullabies and yodeling to the accompaniment of his guitar.
In a photographic project commissioned by the Tennessee Arts Commission, Nashville photographer Dean Dixon spent 18 months criss-crossing the state capturing a visual narrative of Tennessee’s folk heritage. His pictures reveal the life in the souls of 25 folk artists – a vibrant collection that is awe-inspiring to see. The exhibit is on a three-year tour through Tennessee, and will be at the Nashville Public Library until March 25, 2012. (Next stop will be Etowah, TN).
Enjoy this little sampler from the collection.
Clyde Davenport, Appalachian fiddler, has lived his entire life on the Cumberland Plateau, and is skilled on both fiddle and banjo. Clyde built his first fiddle at the age of nine, and discovered his natural musical talent.
Minnie Bell is a Choctaw basketmaker, beadworker and cook from Henning, a small Choctaw community near the Mississippi River. When photographer Dean Dixon scouted a local field of wheat for his photo shoot, Minnie and her two sisters crossed the creek and hiked up a hill, Minnie Bell using her walker for assistance and smiling all the way. While Dean stoked the fire on the hillside, the three sisters set to in their outdoor kitchen, cooking fresh fish, biscuits and potatoes in the coals.
Jean Horner has been crafting violins and mandolins in his workshop on a remote family farm in the hills of Cumberland County for the past 40 years. This modest “Stradivarius of the Cumberland Plateau” is reknowned for his finely-crafted fiddles that are played by some of the country’s finest musicians. They are made almost entirely by hand, the scrolls carefully carved with wooden gouges and chisels.
Delmer Holland makes his living fishing for catfish in the Tennessee River, but his soul delight is playing the fiddle with his group of Blue Creek Ramblers at folk festivals throughout Tennessee. The day photographer Dixon visited, Holland welcomed his new friend with a fish fry and concert on the front lawn as the setting sun slipped behind the hills.
For five generations, Newberry and Sons (Chairs) have continued the family craft of chair making in the Jennings Creek community near Red Boiling Springs. The timber is cut and milled on their own land and each chair is handmade with finesse according to the family’s 19th century traditions.
If you miss the exhibit, a coffee table book combining Dixon’s collection of photographs with short essays by TAC Folklife Program Director, Robert Cogswell, is available online – Tradition: Tennessee Lives and Legacies.