An Authentic Representation of Appalachia
© 2003 Charles Bunyea. All Rights Reserved.
It is easy for visitors to Western North Carolina to conjure misrepresentations and stereotypes about Appalachia because it has such a diverse history. In terms of politics, daily life, social activity, environment and customs, historical Appalachia stands apart as its own individual place.
The Mountain Heritage Center celebrates the natural and cultural heritage of the southern Appalachian region. Through exhibitions, publications, educational programs, and demonstrations, the Center promotes the rich traditions of the mountains. The Center's offerings give new meaning to life in the mountains. You will see the Appalachian region from new perspectives and come away with an enhanced understanding of its land, culture, and people.
Since 1974, Western Carolina University and The Mountain Heritage Center has put together an annual festival that attempts to educate the public about cultural Appalachia. To do this, the many aspects of Appalachian life and culture must be represented, all the way form its traditional music to its age-old crafts and daily farm life. Mountain Heritage Day attempts the somewhat daunting task of mixing festival with education and fun and ends up with a valid account of historical Appalachia.
Beginning in 1974, Mountain Heritage Day has had 29 years of trial and error to improve upon its honest attempt to present Appalachian folk life to its attendants. Mountain Heritage Day has been rated as one of the top 200 craft events in the United States and attracts thousands of people each year.
Witnessing the past come to life is much unlike reading it in a book or seeing it in a picture. When a person sees an historical activity that has shaped the future in some way they are able to put themselves in that time and place.
“The music of Appalachia is one of its most diverse and interesting aspects. Mountain Heritage Day is quite successful in covering the wide range of musical styles that Appalachia has to offer.” Suzanne McDowell, curator of the Mountain Heritage Center.
On one stage attendants can see traditional music including guitar, upright
bass, fiddle, mandolin and banjo and on another stage one can see styles
such as Scotch-Irish ballads.
Ballad singing is an old tradition performed by many Appalachians as a way expression and as a way to pass down stories. Jean Reid and Betty Smith are among traditional Appalachian singers at Mountain Heritage Day. Reid and Smith sing songs of heartache and songs that give an almost visible sense of place in to the past.
Reid and Smith’s voices suggest that songs weren’t set out to be sung to the public by perfectly articulated voices but by voices that could tell a story and bring an audience through the ups and downs of early traditional Appalachian life.
Dancing is a performance that complements the music of Appalachia. Being from Appalachia, The Dixie Darlins are a prime example of traditional mountain dance of clogging at Mountain Heritage Day.
Clogging is an individualistic, fast paced dance. After a long day of work families would sometimes get together and play music and dance in their living rooms or front yards and it was used to relieve people of their daily, sometimes arduous life.
After watching the clogging even it is apparent that there are no set rules to clogging and after learning the basic steps there is a lot of room for improvisation.
Making crafts was a large part of Appalachian people’s life in the past because it was a large source of their income. Many skilled craftsmen lived and worked in Appalachia. Many of them still reside in the area because of the craft being passed down from generation to generation.
This talent exists with many of the craftspeople at Mountain Heritage Day, particularly in a Cherokee basket weaver by the name of Louise Goings. The Cherokee played a huge role in many aspects of historical Appalachia. Louise Goings has been weaving baskets in the ancient Cherokee style for 30 years. Cherokee basket weaving was something that her mother taught her and for that reason she speaks very eloquently of the subject.
Goings said, “River cane and honeysuckle are popular woods of choice for weaving baskets.”
Other steps include dyeing the wood with natural dyes and shaving itdown to a desired thickness, which Goings said can be a long process. Depending on the basket being made, there are many different patterns of Cherokee basket weaving.
“I like weaving larger, more useful baskets while some women have theability to weave tiny, more intricate baskets.” Said Goings.
Other features of Mountain Heritage Day were the Scottish foods served by native Scottish people, a blacksmith by the name of Bea Hensley and a cider making and tasting exhibit. While it is nearly impossible to represent all of Appalachian folk life in one festival, Mountain Heritage Day made a very honest, well rounded and thought out attempt at doing so.
Through the upcoming years I foresee Mountain Heritage Day progressing and continuing to inform the public about the history of Appalachia.