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'Vanishing Appalachia': Exhibit documents disappearing mountain culture

April 22nd, 2013 8:16 am by staff report

'Vanishing Appalachia': Exhibit documents disappearing mountain culture

Don Dudenbostel's photographs documenting Appalachian culture will be on display at ETSU's Reece Museum beginning April 23.

JOHNSON CITY — “Vanishing Appalachia,” a traveling exhibit from the East Tennessee Historical Society, will open at East Tennessee State University’s Reece Museum Tuesday, April 23 and continue until Sunday, June 30.


This exhibit combines Don Dudenbostel’s photographs and Tom Jester’s field recordings, based on their three years of research among moonshiners, serpent-handlers, Mennonite farmers, cockfighters and others who still engage in traditional mountain practices.


“By the mid-1900s, outside perceptions and inside realities about the people living in Appalachia were beginning to emerge,” according to the East Tennessee Historical Society.  “Some people played to the popularized ‘hillbilly’ stereotype for financial gain, launching successful singing/acting careers, building themed tourist attractions and marketing national products.  Others sought to capitalize on the economic momentum created by the arrival of such federal initiatives as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Manhattan Project.  


“Still others, like Don Dudenbostel and Tom Jester, came to realize certain aspects of mountain culture were disappearing in the face of progress.”


Inspired by such famed 1930s photographers as Dorothea Lang and Walker Evans, Dudenbostel diligently went to work documenting this culture.  Jester’s field recordings accompany Dudenbostel’s photographs and give the subjects a voice, allowing them to speak freely about their practices and traditions.


Dudenbostel says he did not set out to preserve disappearing mountain culture.  He started photographing what he found interesting, but as he noticed traditions slowly fading away, he began to document mountain life more aggressively.


“I really had no concept over 50 years ago that time would change so quickly,” Dudenbostel said.  “I just felt that it was important.  Once this culture has disappeared, it’s not returning.”


“Vanishing Appalachia” is one of four exhibits that will be on display when the Reece Museum reopens in April after being closed for two years for an extensive, $1.7 million renovation project.  The other three are “We Shall Not Be Moved,” a traveling exhibition from the Tennessee State Museum that examines the civil rights sit-in movement in Tennessee; newly commissioned paintings of ETSU by local artist Bill Bledsoe; and “Country Music in the Tri-Cities.”


The Reece Museum’s new hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.  Admission will be free.  Parking passes are available for weekday visits to the museum, and groups may call ahead for tour reservations.


For more information or special assistance for those with disabilities, call the Reece Museum at (423) 439-4392.

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