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Who Are The Appalachians?

In a time when most Americans live in big cities, the sparsely populated places in our country have become a mystery to more people than ever before. Take the Appalachian region of southwestern Virginia. Scholars recently got together at Virginia Tech to talk about what defines the area …and what does not.

When you drive the back roads of southwestern Virginia, it’s not long before someone gives you a sign you’re in Appalachian country - the ‘two fingered wave.’

Stewart Scales teaches geography at Virginia Tech. “I did that twice actually on my way up here,” he says. To him, that gesture is one of civility and respect, not like some other well known hand gestures made from behind the wheel in places where traffic is a nightmare.

“You feel something different when you're in the region.  It could be the closeness of the physical landscape because the mountains are high and close together and the valleys are deep and that’s just one of those ties that binds everybody in the region together and gives it that different feeling."

Customs passed down the generations is one way to define culture.  But it can also become a simplified basket into which go stereotypes about a region.

Emily Satterwhite teaches religion and culture at Virginia Tech. She’s wary of what scholars call the 'Appalachian myth,' that this is a mono-culture descended from northern European immigrants who began arriving here in the 17th century.

“It’s really important to me for people to realize the eastern European heritage, the African American heritage, the American Indian heritage and the new things that were forged by the contact among those groups," Satterwhite says.

"We have to think about Latinos in the region and new Syrian refugees we’ve been happy to welcome here and those cultures are always dynamic and always changing even though it often comforts people to think that there is a singular, long standing culture here. I think that, that’s a mistake.”

Anita Puckett heads the Appalachian Studies Program at Virginia Tech. She adds, “For me,  I take Alan Bateau’s position that Appalachia is a construct. It’s an invention.”

She’s referring to  Batteau’s book called The Invention of Appalachia.

“We use the term to refer to a distinct set of ways of life and meaning systems, more than one, so a lot of people are using it now but it was kind of imposed on us by others.  My relatives who were mountain people were like ‘What? I never use the term.’ So still a whole lot of folks don’t use the term because it’s not meaningful to them or they define it in other ways”

Stewart Scales says that, for him, "Probably the deepest ingrained aspect of Appalachia is the music, how it binds people together. There are songs that I can hear every now and then that will paint a picture of some upland holler somewhere, mists on the mountains on a cold gray day.  I can just hear it and I’m not even there. I’m just listening to a piece of music on the radio.”

…Or playing one with his band, ‘New Standard Blue Grass

(MUSIC) New Standard Blue Grass; Mordecai: “ ....He said my mother was a wandering Jew and it’s my fate to be one too. I’ll roam these mountain trails until I die. Perhaps one day I’ll see my home. Then he smiled and turned to go and we all said goodbye to Mordecai."

Ongoing events in conjunction with Extreme Appalachia, the 40th Annual Appalachian Studies Association Conference


A Sampler of Quilts in the New River Valley: Celebrating Virginia’s Quilting Heritage. March 2 - 31, Mon.-Fri. 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sat. 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.  | Free admission

The display provides quilters and quilt-owners in the region the opportunity to give the public an overview of the variety of quilts, both old and new, they have in their collections. Exhibitors include award-winning local quilters, makers of “art” quilts and traditional quilts, the Montgomery Museum, and the Virginia Quilt Museum. Curator: Kathy Combiths. Community Arts Information Office on College Ave, downtown Blacksburg

Beautifully Useful: Traditional Appalachian Overshot Coverlets. March 1 - 31, Tues.-Sat. 10:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.  | Free admission

This exhibit highlights how nineteenth-century women in Montgomery County and the region created overshot coverlets not only from necessity, but also from artistic choice. On display will be historic coverlets, pattern drafts, a loom and other materials. Curators: Sherry Wyatt and Kathy Combiths.

The Montgomery Museum & Lewis Miller Regional Art Center, 300 South Pepper St., Christiansburg

TRANS + presented by The Textile Artists of Virginia. March 3 – 31, Thurs. 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Sun. 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  | Free admission

The prefix “trans” means “across”, “beyond” or “on the opposite side.” The dictionary lists 440 items that begin with this Latin noun. These five letters are just the start. Add more and enter a new world, a new topic or a new concept. The Textile Artists of Virginia (TAVA) meet bi-monthly in Southwest Virginia to support each member as a fiber artist, to explore the boundaries of the medium, and to educate and increase public awareness of fiber art. Curators: Paula Golden and Kathy Combiths.

Montgomery-Floyd Regional Libraries - Blacksburg Branch, downtown Blacksburg

Wind Chimes: Elements and Seasons presented by The Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends. March 6 – 31, Tues. – Sat. 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.  | Free admission

The ten members of Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends created this eight-part installation featuring the four elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth and the four seasons. Techniques range from traditional quilting designs, to painting on silk, to fused fibers that have been stitched and then melted. Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends encourages members to explore new ideas and techniques, inspires, and nurtures creativity. Curators: Paula Golden and Kathy Combiths.

Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation, Alexander Black House, downtown Blacksburg

Beyond Coal Photography Exhibits, March 6 – 24, 2017

Curator: Deb Sim. Assistant Curator: Katie White. Located at the School of Visual Arts’ gallery, The Armory, downtown Blacksburg.

Sponsored by Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the Commonwealth Humanities Endowment Week in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech, and the School of Visual Arts/The Armory at Virginia Tech

How to Get Home Again is a collection of works from various projects that lead Roger May home and allow him to carry home with him wherever he is, and share it with others.

The Spirit of a Place - Gabriel Amza is a Romanian photographer whose images of the coal mining—dominated Jiu Valley in Romania present a stark and powerful comparison to deindustrialization in the Southern Appalachian coalfields deindustrializing region.

Show Caves: A Collective Fantasy - Austin Irving is an American artist whose series of large format photographs explores caves modified for tourists and the tension between environmental manipulation for commodification and the wild beauty of the subterranean landscape.


Thursday noon - 5:00 p.m.

Friday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. 

#HandsOn: Skill and Creativity in Southwest Virginia Exhibit, March 7 – 20, 2017 Commonwealth Ballroom Concourse, 2nd floor, Squires Student Center, Virginia Tech

Curators: Danielle Christensen and Material Culture and Public Humanities Master’s students. Sponsored by the Commonwealth Humanities Endowment Week and the Appalachian Studies Program in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech.

Chairmaking: Sam Linkous (fieldwork by Moriah Webster)

Beekeeping: Marie Goodwin (fieldwork by Elizabeth Howard)

Quilting: Dee Ann West (fieldwork by Danielle Lewandowski)

Wood turning: James “Jim” Grant (fieldwork by Kendall Lucy)

Tattooing: Shaun Carroll (fieldwork by Heather Lyne)

Hand-built ceramics: Debby Freed (fieldwork by Martina Svyantek)

Crocheting: Ella Haynes (fieldwork by Sarah Taylor)

Homebrewing: Neal Feierabend (fieldwork by Drew Walton)

Poultry butchering: Inga Haugen (fieldwork by Elizabeth Wells)

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