Preserving Our Heritage and Culture
The mission of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center of Berea College in Kentucky is to serve Appalachia through education, develop service-oriented leaders, preserve and highlight the culture of the region, and “assist communities, organizations, and citizens in working toward the future they envision,” according to its website.
What images come to mind when we think of Appalachian Culture? A cabin in the woods? Folk music? Hard working, thrifty people who spend their days farming, quilting, working in a coal mine or hunting in winter? These images have a great deal of truth to them, but there is more to Appalachian culture than this.
William Hilly gives a complete picture in his blog article Appalachian Culture, where the people of the mountains are a unique blend of Native Americans, Irish, English, and Scotch, followed by the sons and daughters of German and Polish immigrants. Still, there is more to learn about Appalachia than this. If you are interested in learning about how the young women at Oak Ridge helped make the material that went into the atomic bomb, or some of the many artifacts that represent Appalachian cultures that aren’t handicrafts and don’t represent the isolated mountain cabin experience, check out the many events and exhibits at the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center gallery. People from all over the world come to the LJAC to discover and learn about the Appalachian region and its many cultures.
Eleanor Roosevelt observing a demonstration of a radiation counter, Oak Ridge Cancer Research Hospital, 1955
An example of a more traditional handicraft, a kudzu basket by Matt Tommey in the Appalachian Oriole style.
The Loyal Jones Appalachian Center Hosts a Variety of Exhibits and Events
The associate director, Chris Miller explains that “we teach Appalachian Studies courses, we do local events, we publish Appalachian Heritage Magazine, we work to support students from the region.” Miller is also the curator of the LJAC Gallery which houses the current exhibits, including “Made in Appalachia: Exploring Appalachian Material Culture Beyond Cabins, Crafts, and Coal.” This exhibit explores the contributions of diverse people throughout Appalachia and the objects they created, including “African American slaves in the salt furnaces, Flemish and French glassworkers, English and German chemists, and the working women of the Oak Ridge facility,” according to the LJAC website.
The LJAC hosts many events for people of all ages. Recently, the director Chris Green hosted a group of second graders who toured the exhibits, focusing on time, water and light, because, as Green says, “Those are things we always need, right? We need to know what time it is, we drink water, we need to have light.” Green also read to them from Anne Shelby’s Homeplace, in which a grandmother tells her granddaughter the story of the previous seven generations that lived in their home.
Available to the public soon, an exhibit called “When I was Twenty” explores the lives of twenty-somethings from many parts of Appalachia in different eras. As Green puts it, “What did the world look like to a cattle driver in Pittsburgh in 1789 or a woman who came in from the surrounding counties to work at the Oak Ridge Facility in 1946?”
There isn’t just one Appalachian culture, but many, says Green. “Always understand that there’s not one Appalachian culture, but many.” One of the reasons for helping visitors discover these cultures is to debunk the stereotypes about Appalachian people, “because people aren’t going to go hurt or take advantage of people unless they think those people aren’t worthy,” he adds.
In addition to the exhibits, the center hosts the Celebration of Traditional Music. The Faber Library serves as the LJAC library and research center. For a closer look at the collections of artifacts and exhibits at LJAC, click here.
The LJAC Gallery is open to the public on weekdays from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm and is located on the first floor of John. B. Stephenson Hall, 205 North Main Street, Berea, Kentucky. For more information about the gallery exhibits and events, call the gallery service desk at 859-985-3780, or visit their Facebook page here.