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WCU Stories

William Barnhill exhibit featured at Mountain Heritage Center

Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center is hosting an exhibit on William A. Barnhill, a photographer who documented early 20th-century regional craftsmanship, in the museum’s second-floor gallery at Hunter Library.

“Appalachia a Century Ago; Craft Through the Lens of William A. Barnhill” features a photo collection that highlights mountain handiwork with pottery, weaving, carving and basketry. The traveling exhibit was created by the Southern Appalachian Archives and the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies at Mars Hill University, with support from Bill Alexander of Knoxville, Tennessee.

William A. Barnhill

Barnhill, a Philadelphia native who lived from November 1889 to December 1987, was inspired to visit Western North Carolina in 1914 after reading “Our Southern Highlanders,” a book about residents of the Great Smoky Mountains, first published in 1913 by outdoors writer Horace Kephart. Today, numerous Kephart materials and artifacts are held by WCU’s Hunter Library Special and Digital Collections.

The exhibit also includes a video of local naturalist, storyteller and artist Doug Elliott demonstrating bark basket-making techniques, a bark basket given to Barnhill by Civil War veteran “Uncle Dave” Penland following a photo expedition near Asheville in 1915, and antique tools.

Barnhill would serve as an aerial photographer and reconnaissance commander during World War I, published in The New York Times and Life magazine, and made a post-military career in commercial photography. The Library of Congress holds photo prints of his “Pioneer Life in Western North Carolina,” depicting the people, landscapes, agriculture, technology and handicrafts of the mountain counties between 1914 and 1917.

The exhibit will be on display through Friday, Sept. 14. For more information, call the museum at 828-227-7129.

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