Highway marker, exhibit to honor victims of incarcerated labor

Two projects will come to fruition this month that honor the lives of those who were victims of incarcerated labor in Western North Carolina during the Jim Crow era — a highway marker in Dillsboro, and an exhibit at the Mountain Heritage Center in Cullowhee.

Ahead of her time: Photographer shifted the art of the image, fought for women’s rights

Who was Bayard Wootten?

“She was a wonderful, strong North Carolina woman,” said Pam Meister. “She was a skilled photographer. She was a feminist before her time. The more I learn about her, the more I’m impressed with her life.”

Gatekeeper to the Smokies: Longtime Western Carolina University Head of Special Collections retires

coverI was five minutes late.

Trying to track down a parking spot outside the Hunter Library at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee last week, the task proved difficult, even with the students gone for the summer. Having never stepped foot in the library prior, I entered the wrong door of the building and found myself in the Mountain Heritage Center. After some helpful directions, I walked down a long corridor toward the main lobby of the library. And standing at the end of the hallway, in front of the elevator, was a towering figure. The figure waved at me and smiled.

WNC recipients of Folklore awards

art folkloreNumerous Western North Carolina residents and organizations received awards by the North Carolina Folklore Society, which will be celebrated at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching in Cullowhee.

Covered up in quilts: Quilting fanatics eagerly await dazzling array coming to WCU

Noreen Gay doesn’t have a moment to spare these days. She’s busily finishing the final stitches of a quilt she plans to enter in the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild show barreling down in a mere two and half weeks — so busy, in fact, she’s hauling it around on the backseat of her car when she runs errands, in case she has a few spare minutes to put to good use.

“Sleep? What’s sleep? Cook for my husband Bill?  He’s on his own,” said Gay, a member of the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild.

“It’s crunch time,” agreed Cindy Williams of Franklin, president of the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild.

More than 1,300 people are expected to visit the Stars Over the Smokies quilt show coming to Western Carolina University June 7-10. For many quilting fanatics, it will take every bit of the three-day show to soak up the quilts on display.

“I could spend three hours today and come back and spend another three tomorrow and see things I didn’t notice before,” Williams said.

Viewers peruse the quilts on display wearing a single plastic glove on their right hand, given out at the door so all the fondling doesn’t soil the quilts over the course of the show.

Quilting has evolved from a necessity — piecing together scraps of fabric for warm blankets because entire bolts of cloth were too costly — to an art form today.

“There has been a metamorphosis in quilting in the past 10 years,” Gay said.

Many quilters have their own personalized style. Some fancy the traditional, heirloom quilt patterns, handed down through the generations for centuries. Others create their own patterns, sometimes in the traditional vein and sometimes, as Gay describes herself, “out of the box.”

Creating your own patterns comes with some risk, but like any artistic endeavor, risk is inherent.

“All of them end up being risky. Even a traditional quilt, if you choose the wrong color, it won’t pop like it should,” Gay said.

Serious quilters usually have multiple projects at various stages of completion in their queue at a time.

“You get tired of looking at blue, you get tired of making triangles, so you go to a different project and you come back to that one,” Williams said.

Sadly, some quilts are destined to linger in those half-finished forms for years, the quilter unable to get up the gumption to finish. It’s such a common ailment, these unfinished projects are universally known in quilting circles as “Unfinished Objects,” or UFOs.

Quilters tormented by their own UFOs periodically have the chance to pawn them off on another quilter at UFO swaps. Hidden from sight in a brown paper bag, quilters bring in a UFO they don’t want anymore and go home with someone else’s UFO. The catch: you’re obligated to finish whatever UFO you pick from the bunch.

Personally, Gay has banished UFOs from her life.

“I’ll throw away UFOs that I hate,” Gay said. “I only have ‘X’ amount of quilts in me at this age, so I am going to work on what I like.”

Nancilee Dills of Franklin has sworn off UFOs as well. But for her, that means committing herself to giving every quilt in her ongoing repertoire a little love and attention on a regular basis. She keeps a spreadsheet of all her projects and won’t work on one more than six or eight hours without rotating to the next.

It’s no small feat — she has about 30 quilts in various stages, each neatly organized in clear plastic bins, labeled on the outside and with the requisite patterns, tracings and fabric squares contained within, making it easy to grab her quilting project du jour.

Quilting can be obsessive, as many of the quilters in the Smoky Mountain Quilt Guild have learned the hard way.

“We’ve now had two ladies burn pans quilting,” Williams said, imparting the stories of two quilters who got so absorbed while dinner was on the stove they almost burned the house down.

Most quilters have dedicated a room in their house to their endeavors. Mary Ann Budhal, a quilter with the guild in Jackson County, converted her son’s bedroom into her quilting hideaway. Once his old dresser drawers and closet got stuffed to the gills, she had to buy shelving units to hold all her fabric stock and UFOs.

Budhal specializes in miniature art quilts, intended as wall hangings rather than bed coverings or throws. The quilting pieces are tiny — some just a quarter of an inch — with hundreds of them in a single quilt.

With that many pieces in play, Budhal toys with her designs and color palettes on a project wall, a large piece of foam covered in flannel that she can tack pieces up on.

She’s lucky to have a live-in sounding board for her design process. Her husband is a painter and former art instructor at Western Carolina University and willingly offers up his take on a pattern — rather than the typical “looks great to me, honey” answer most women when get pressing their husbands to weigh in on this-or-that shade of burgundy.

But the perk comes with a downside.

“If it weren’t for him and all his pictures we have hanging up, I might have room for more quilts,” Budhal said.


The final throes

Last week, Williams and Gay spent two hours studying the great hall in the University Center where the quilt show will be held, measuring and calculating just how they will fit all those quilts into the space.

Williams will take the dimensions home and plug them into a computer program to come up with a floor plan.

“This will take me untold hours,” Williams said.

The guild had new racks built for this year’s show, fashioned from PVC pipes that fit into sturdy custom-made metal bases.

“Our old racks took screw guns and screw drivers and hammers and nails — and men — to put them together,” Williams said. “These are heavy but they are simple.”

About half the quilts being entered in the show will come from the 150 members of the Smoky Mountain Quilter’s Guild in Macon and Jackson counties. The other half are trickling in from around the country.

Budhal’s living room is rapidly filling up with quilts being mailed in from far-flung locations ahead of time. Not all quilters entering their work will be so lucky to have them finished ahead of time, however.

“They will be sewing on the binding as they approach campus to turn them in,” laughed Budhal.

While some quilts in the show are masterpieces, it will run the gamut from beginners to master quilters.

“We want a show that covers every level of experience,” Williams said. “Quilters want to see everything. You never know what you are going to learn. I have been quilting 30 years and I learn something new at every show.”

This is the first year that the guild will stage its show in Jackson County, and the community has embraced the big event. There is a quilt block planted on the lawn of the historic courthouse in Sylva. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce has a quilt display in its visitor center. And many of the downtown Sylva merchants have incorporated quilts into their storefront windows.

Additionally, WCU has an art quilt exhibit at the Fine Arts Center and a vintage quilt exhibit at the Mountain Heritage Center.

The quilt show is being held in conjunction with the North Carolina Quilters Guild Symposium. This year marks the farthest west it has ever been held in the state.

So far, 250 people have registered for the symposium, which includes two days of classes with renowned national quilting instructors, lectures and socials.

Williams began lining up the quilting instructors more than two years ago, an early start that helped land some of the biggest names in quilting. That is certainly part of the draw, but so is immersing one’s self in all-things-quilting for three days.

“No telephones, no televisions, no children to feed, no husbands to — deal with. You are with your peers and like doing what you like doing,” Williams said. “It can be very intense. But everybody comes with the spirit of friendship and happy to be here.”


Want to go?

Stars Over the Smokies quilt show and symposium hosted by the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild will be held June 7-10 at Western Carolina University.

The major quilting event will feature a quilt show with more than 350 quilts and 24 vendors.

Hours are 3-7 p.m. Thursday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday. $5. Located in the great hall of the Hinds University Center.

Additionally, WCU has an art quilt exhibit at the Fine Arts Center and a vintage quilt exhibit at their Heritage Center.


Celebrate history at Mountain Heritage Day

The traditional folk ways of the Southern Appalachian Mountains will take center stage as Western Carolina University presents the 37th annual Mountain Heritage Day on Saturday, Sept. 24.

The fall festival will feature a variety of arts and crafts, music, clogging, folk arts, contests and activities that is hard to find in a one-day event, said festival coordinator Trina Royar of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center.

All Mountain Heritage Day activities, including stage performances, will take place between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., except registration for the woodcutting contest, which starts at 9 a.m. This year’s festival will be held on fields behind the Cordelia Camp Building, in parking lots and grassy areas around the building and in the nearby Mountain Heritage Center, which is located on the ground floor of H.F. Robinson Administration Building.

Visitors will find nearly 100 booths of juried arts and crafts. Items for sale will include basketry, ceramics, fiber work, glasswork, jewelry, metalwork, paintings, pottery and woodwork.

About 25 food vendors also are signed up to participate in the festival, offering products ranging from barbecue, hamburgers and chicken-on-a-stick to fried pickles, chocolate-dipped cheesecake and Cherokee frybread.

The traditional Cherokee game of stickball has been a favorite attraction for festival visitors in recent years, and the Snowbird Stickball Team from Graham County will make its second appearance at Mountain Heritage Day to demonstrate that ancient sport at 11 a.m.

Another Native American tradition will be featured at 1 p.m., when team members will join with their female associates in playing the courtship game of “Fish.” The team also will demonstrate the use of Cherokee blowguns at 3 p.m.

Fans of traditional music and clogging should head to the two main stages, which will offer continuous free entertainment from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Balsam and Blue Ridge stages will present many types of traditional music — traditional and contemporary bluegrass to old-time, gospel and folk music.

Clogging fans will want to check out performances by the Blue Ridge Hi-Steppers, Fines Creek Flatfooters and Dixie Darlins, plus this year’s festival will present an audience participation clogging demonstration led by well-known clogging instructor Bill Nichols and his daughter, Simone Nichols Pace, at 2:45 p.m. on the Blue Ridge Stage.

Festival music won’t be limited to the two stages. Visitors will have an opportunity to see some rapid-fire picking up close and personal at the Circle Tent, which will provide a music workshop experience. An 11 a.m. fiddle circle will feature John Duncan and Summer McMahan, and a 1:30 p.m. banjo circle will show off the picking talents of Annie Fain Liden, Steve Sutton and Charles Wood.

Singers from around the region will also gather to demonstrate the sacred mountain tradition of shaped-note singing.

WCU’s museum of Appalachian culture, the Mountain Heritage Center, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the museum also will host a free performance of The Liars Bench, a Southern Appalachian variety show, from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

For younger festival goers, the children’s tent will provide fun and educational sessions all day.

Youngsters can learn to make old-fashioned toys and take part in other heritage activities beginning at 10 a.m.

Folk art demonstrations ranging from Cherokee doll-making to sorghum molasses-making will be showcased throughout the festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and area residents who own vintage automobiles will be driving them to Mountain Heritage Day to show them off in the festival auto show.

Admission and parking are free, though pets are not allowed on festival grounds. Shuttles operate throughout the day, with stops at designated locations.

For more information, call 828.227.7129 or visit mountainheritageday.com.



9 a.m. – Registration begins for woodcutting contest

10 a.m. – Woodcutting contest begins; festival booths open, offering arts, crafts and food; antique auto show begins; demonstrations of folk arts and skills begin; Mountain Heritage Center opens

10:30 a.m. – Exhibition of black-powder shooting and “Sacred Harp” shaped-note sing begin

11 a.m. – Exhibition of Cherokee stickball begins

11:30 a.m. – Recognition of arts and crafts awards, and food contest winners, at Balsam Stage

12:10 p.m. – Presentation of Mountain Heritage Awards, traditional attire contests for children and adults, and beard and moustache contest, all on Blue Ridge Stage

1 p.m. – Exhibition of Cherokee courtship game “Fish” begins

1:30 p.m. – “Christian Harmony” shaped-note sing begins; presentation of “The Liars Bench” show begins in the Mountain Heritage Center

2:30 p.m. – Exhibition of black-powder shooting

3 p.m. – Exhibition of Cherokee blowguns begins

4 p.m. – Mountain Heritage Center closes

5 p.m. – Festival closes



(Rodney Sutton, master of ceremonies)

10 a.m. – Hawk Tawodi Brown

10:30 a.m. – Cherokee Traditional Dance Group

10:40 a.m. – Hominy Valley Boys

11:10 a.m. – Blue Ridge Hi-Steppers (clogging)

11:30 a.m. – Recognition of arts and crafts awards, and food contest winners

11:40 a.m. – Deitz Family

12:15 p.m. – Jerry and Paul Wilson

12:55 p.m. – Spring Chickens

1:15 p.m. – Fines Creek Flatfooters (clogging)

1:40 p.m. – Queen Family

2:20 p.m. – Woolly Jumpers

3 p.m. – Heritage Alive! Mountain Youth Talent winners

3:45 p.m. – Blue Eyed Girl

4:20 p.m. – Sweet Tater Band



(10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

“Migration of the Scotch-Irish People” – Permanent exhibit focusing on some of the first settlers to the mountains. A new exhibit update explores the tension between religion and lawbreaking as expressed by the temperance movement and moonshining.

“Qualla Arts and Crafts” – Celebrates the 65th anniversary of this craft co-op in Cherokee. This exhibit features the skill and craftsmanship of Cherokee artisans.

“The Carolina Mountains: Photography of Margaret Morley” – Sixty compelling images reveal glimpses of life in western North Carolina in the early 1900s.

“Progress of an Idea” – Permanent exhibit on the development of Western Carolina University, its local origins and evolving mission, with a special focus on music at WCU.

“Jesse Stalcup: Craftsman and Builder” – Exhibit of handcrafted furniture from the early 1900s.



(Bill Nichols, master of ceremonies)

10 a.m. – Mountain Faith

10:30 a.m. – Stoney Creek Boys

10:45 a.m. – Dixie Darlins (clogging)

11 a.m. – Whitewater Bluegrass Co.

11:45 a.m. – Anne Lough

12:10 p.m. - Presentation of Mountain Heritage Awards, traditional attire contests for children and adults, and beard and moustache contest

12:30 p.m. – Phil and Gaye Johnson

1 p.m. – Buncombe Turnpike

1:45 p.m. – Tried Stone Gospel Choir

2:15 p.m. – Stoney Creek Boys

2:30 p.m. – Blue Ridge Hi-Steppers (clogging)

2:45 p.m. – Clogging demonstration with Bill Nichols and Simone Nichols Pace

3 p.m. – Wild Hog Band

3:30 p.m. – Five O’Clock Shadows

4 p.m. – Paul’s Creek



(10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Curtis Allison and Dwayne Franks – horses and mules

Lori and Chuck Anderson – corn shuck crafts and broom-making

Cassie Dickson – spinning and flax culture

Nancy, John Henry and Johnnie Ruth Maney – Cherokee pottery, beadwork and doll-making

William Rogers – blacksmithing

Larry Stout – sorghum molasses-making

R.O. Wilson – logging skills

Max Woody – chair-making



(Phil Jamison, moderator for musical circles)

10 a.m. – Presentation on “Jackson County People and Places” by the Jackson County Historical Society

11 a.m. – Fiddle Circle with John Duncan and Summer McMahan

12:30 p.m. – Poetry Circle with Thomas Rain Crowe, Barbara Duncan and Brent Martin

1:30 p.m. – Banjo Circle with Annie Fain Liden, Steve Sutton and Charles Wood

3 p.m. – Ballad Circle with the Deitz Family, Gaye Johnson and Jeanette Queen Schrock



10 a.m. – Heritage toys and activities

11:40 a.m. – Jean Hayes with an introduction to bagpipes and parade

12:30 p.m. – Whitewater Bluegrass Co. presents play party games

1 p.m. – Deitz Family

1:30 p.m. – Phil and Gaye Johnson

2 p.m. – Ellie Grace

2:30 p.m. – Carol Rifkin

3 p.m. – Heritage toys and activities

Mountain women defying tradition: WCU exhibit showcases groundbreaking roles of Appalachian women

In modern America, the term ‘women’s work’ is not exactly a complimentary phrase. It’s less descriptive, more derisive, not so much an adjective as an epithet.

It’s a wordplay not lost on the curators of the exhibit by the same name that’s taken up residence at Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center. The display showcases Appalachian women who have, over the last century, ventured outside the traditional vocations of their gender, catapulting them to prominence and success in a range of fields.

There’s a corner devoted to Samantha Bumgarner, a Jackson County native and the first woman to be recorded singing country music; a panel paying homage to Gertrude Dills McKee, the state’s first female senator; and half a wall in honor of the legendary Monteith sisters, Edith and Edna, one of whom was the Jackson County postmaster for 45 years, against all gender odds.

The gallery showcases these women’s spunk and tenacity, as well as their commitment to Western North Carolina, that set them apart from other women of their eras.

Those unique stories of perseverance in the face of mainstream ideas and norms, said curator Pam Meister, are exactly what set Appalachian women apart in the last century, and it’s exactly what she and her colleagues wanted to celebrate with his exhibit.

“There are amazing stories to be told,” said Meister. “North Carolina’s very first woman senator grew up in Dillsboro and lived in Sylva. The very first woman to be a licensed dentist from North Carolina is from Sylva. The very first woman ever to be recorded singing country music and the first person of any gender to be recorded playing banjo is a Jackson County native,” she rattled off, listing just a few of the women who made the region what it is today, and who made such an exhibit worthwhile.

The showing is not, however, only about women flying in the face of tradition, but embracing tradition even as they embraced non-traditional careers and passions.

On display is a magnificent and intricate quilt, hand-stitched by the Monteith sisters, juxtaposed against a series of forceful letters written by Edna Monteith lobbying for her reappointment as postmaster.

Covering one wall is a plethora of photographs that features Appalachian women that spans the last 150 years, all doing work of some kind or another. Meister calls this the “Family Photo Gallery” because it mirrors the wall of family photos found in many homes and illustrates the wide range of work long undertaken by Appalachian women, whether traditionally in the realm of the gender or, in the case of Monteith, Bumgarner and Dills McKee, decidedly less so.

The working legacy of Appalachian women, said Meister, is their ability to take to what work needed to be done, mixing the traditional with contemporary, male work with female.

“We wanted to do something that would show the scope [of women’s work],” said Meister, noting that, as they researched and stories developed, connections between working women that spanned generations began to appear, highlighting the strong culture of working women in Appalachia that began centuries ago. “Strong Appalachian women have been there from the time of the Cherokees right up to the present.”

Emma Wertenberger, who works with the Appalachian Women’s Museum and contributed a great deal to the exhibit, said that illuminating the corners of Appalachian female life that were outside the norms was an important part of it.

“We know what the traditional roles were,” said Wertenberger. “But what never gets focused on were the women that were in non-traditional roles.”

It’s those women, she said, and how they were able to blend the long-held realm of women’s work — still difficult and intense work by any standard, especially in the mountains — with successful forays into fields dominated by men that paved the way for modern Appalachian women who are now, with ease, able to do the same.

“Samantha Bumgarner was the mother of all of female Southern women who sing and make money off of it,” said Wertenberger with a laugh.

And indeed, the women who line the walls of the exhibit show that neither the workplace nor the home are the sole preserve of one gender. And the long and storied fight that they represent has laid the framework for the tradition of strong Appalachian women to continue to grow.

Bicentennial celebration of a mountain community

By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer

An exhibit focusing on the history of Haywood County is now on display at Western’s Mountain Heritage Center.

Illustrating the rich culture of the Appalachian regions, the Mountain Heritage Center — located on the campus of Western Carolina University — offers innovative perspectives of mountain societies though exhibitions, publications, educational programs and demonstrations.

With more than 30,000 visitors a year, Curator Trevor Jones says the museum offers a feel of the culture and history of the area — the Appalachian people.

While the center’s permanent exhibit is the “Migration of the Scotch-Irish People,” the newest exhibit, “Haywood County: Portrait of a Mountain Community,” shares how county’s character has changed and developed over the last 200 years.

The exhibit was created to celebrate Haywood County’s bicentennial, combining the efforts of the Mountain Heritage Center, Haywood County Historical Society, the Haywood County Library, and the community.

In late summer the exhibit will find a permanent home in the remodeled Haywood County Courthouse.

Photographs depicting, agriculture, tourism and industry are the exhibit’s main focus, and were chosen due to their diversity.

“The strength of local communities is its identity, which says a lot about Haywood and its history,” said Wood.

The exhibit will feature five sections on 10 panels, highlighting the “high spots” of the county’s past.

There will be audiovisual component featuring snippets of interviews and historic scenes of the past.

“This is an overview and introduction that invites others to come along and view history,” Wood said.

There is also a book being written about the history of Haywood County due to be finished by July.

The book has been a two-year project in the making, culminating the county’s resources as community members have gathered at the library bringing photographs, stories, newspaper clippings among other information.

The last Haywood County history book was written in the 1930s, according to Curtis Wood, curator of the Haywood County exhibit.

Wood, a former history professor at WCU, is also the editor of Haywood County’s historical book.

“This is the first book written in 70 years, and a lot has happened,” Wood said. “Individual efforts have pulled together the history of the area with great cooperation.”

For more information call 828.227.7129 or visit www.wcu.edu/mhc.

Southern Comfort Food

By Michael Beadle

Long before the days of microwaves and fast food meals, there was the slow-cooked stew, a Southern standard prepared in vast pots over an open fire. These stews included tender meats, fresh vegetables, secret seasonings and a day’s worth of preparations that would bring out an entire community.

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