“Tar Heel Camera Man: Hugh Morton Remembered” to be viewable live on the Internet

Hugh Morton and hawk on movie camera

Hugh Morton at movie camera with hawk perched on top, most likely during filming of Morton’s 1981 film THE HAWK AND JOHN McNEELY.

As swift as a hawk, tomorrow’s (Saturday, October 5th) panel discussion “Tar Heel Camera Man: Hugh Morton Remembered” featuring Woody Durham, Jack Hilliard, and Betty Ray McCain, is upon us!  The event is open to the public, and will be held at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, in conjunction with the exhibit Photographs by Hugh Morton: An Uncommon Retrospective.

The program begins at 2:00 P.M, and we would absolutely love to see you there (here are the details), but if you are far afield and cannot make the journey, fear not!  Appalachian State will be streaming the event live for viewing on the Internet.  Just click on the previous sentence, and the link will take you to the proper webpage.

Newt Gingrich within arm’s reach of goal

We like to stay current here at A View to Hugh as much as possible, pairing historical images with current events or anniversaries of notable occasions.  This past weekend’s news just begged for today’s featured Hugh Morton photograph (which I have been secretly chomping at the bit to post for several weeks).  Carpe Diem!  The winds of politics shift quickly, so today we bring you . . . Newt Gingrich and Gerry.

Newt Gingrich and Gerry at Grandfather Mountain

New Gingrich and Gerry during a visit to Grandfather Mountain on 29 August 1995.

No insider political treats here: Mr. Gingrich has had a longtime love for animals and zoos, and his website “Gingrich Productions” even has a webpage called “Newt’s Favorite Zoos“—which includes the North Carolina Zoo that he describes as “the best kept secret in the zoo world.”

Like Newt, Gerry is still alive and kicking.  According to the Grandfather Mountain website, “Even at age 20, Gerry is still very spry and acts like a bear half her age.  Even though she is very patient, she does not hesitate to let her keepers know when they aren’t moving fast enough with her very distinctive and adorable moaning.” Perhaps Newt and Gerry are kindred spirits?

You can “adopt” Gerry through the Grandfather Mountain’s Adopt an Animal program. I don’t believe Mr. Gingrich is similarly available, although heading into the Florida Republican Party primary, I’m certain he’d accept donations, too.

 

Winter Solstice

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Winter scene near Grandfather Mountain

Winter scene near Grandfather Mountain, Linville, NC, with a dog and Julia Morton (right) and Catherine Morton (left) dragging sled next to a snow-covered road.

Winter solstice is upon those of us in the Northern Hemisphere—and today’s simple post features a bright and cheery photograph on this day with the least amount of daylight for the year.

‘Ghost Cat’ confirmed as ghost

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed that the Eastern Cougar (a.k.a. puma, mountain lion, catamount, red tiger, or “ghost cat”) is officially extinct — i.e., there have been no wild breeding populations of the species since, probably, the 1930s. Officials blame continuing, numerous mountain lion sightings in the eastern states on mistaken identity (either another animal entirely or a migrating Western Cougar), or on big cats escaped from captivity — though they may have trouble convincing many locals of that!

This sad news does provide an opportunity to highlight some of Hugh Morton’s striking photos of cougars in the wildlife habitats at Grandfather Mountain.

I’m not entirely sure when the first cougars came to Grandfather (circa late 1970s-early 1980s), or of the impetus for creating a habitat for them — perhaps some of the staff at Grandfather can shed light on that story? But I believe the image below to be one of those inaugural cougars, named Terra and Rajah, possibly upon arrival at the Mountain (judging from the ropes and the unhappy attitude). (Of these two, only Terra, shown in the photo at the top of this post, was an Eastern Cougar — Rajah was Western).

Mr. Morton was obviously taken with the animal’s extreme elegance and athleticism. He tried repeatedly to capture that perfect “cougar leap” image. I’m particularly fond of the shot below (taken in 1982 of the cougar named Judy).

Two cougars, Nakita and Aspen, currently live at Grandfather (though the website doesn’t say whether either or both of them are Eastern Cougars). At least, through captivity programs like Grandfather’s, we can take comfort that not all of these incredible animals will become “ghosts.”

Mystery photo: Two men and a monkey

A few weeks ago I launched into a fiftieth anniversary post on Hugh Morton’s photographs made during John F. Kennedy’s campaign tour in North Carolina.  In the course of researching the post, I got intrigued by the story behind the event and began reading Triumph of Good Will: How Terry Sanford Beat a Champion of Segregation and Reshaped the South by John Drescher. In the mean time as that post takes shape, I’m posting the following lighter fare from Elizabeth. —Stephen

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Can anyone help us out on this one? We’re stumped by these images of two men, a small monkey, and some kind of industrial equipment. What the heck is going on? (Morton included the color version in a slide show he titled “Superlatives,” but we’re unsure as to the “superlative” nature of the image content. Monkeys are superlative, in my opinion, but is there more to it than that?). Let us hear from you in the comments!

It’s official…NC has a bunch of official symbols.

With a hat tip to our pals at North Carolina Miscellany, we inform you that North Carolina lawmakers have managed to find time in their busy schedules (state budget, anyone?) to name the Outer Banks’ wild mustangs as the official “state horse.” Hugh Morton was fond of photographing these charming ponies as they wandered through the harbor at Ocracoke.

From this AP article I learned the interesting tidbits that in addition to well-known symbols like the state dog (the Plott hound) and the state flower (dogwood), there is also a state insect (the honey bee) and a state BEVERAGE (milk).

So, I decided to try and determine how many of NC’s official state symbols Hugh Morton photographed. The answer: quite a few! I created the nice thumbnail gallery below to showcase some of the highlights. Hope you enjoy.

NOTE: If you’re a fan of all things North Carolina, you simply must check out the newly-launched website for materials published by the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center: DigitalNC.org.

Food for thought

I noted a recent announcement from Grandfather Mountain that as of next week, they will be closing the “Bear Hut” (where visitors have been able to purchase food to feed the bears in the Mountain’s black bear habitat). Among other reasons cited for no longer allowing the public to feed the bears, staff say that the closure should improve the bears’ health (as they will receive a more consistent diet) as well as their temperament (as they will no longer have to compete with each other for food).

This reminded me of Morton photos I’ve seen from a time when ideas about the diets of bears in captivity were perhaps less enlightened.

It’s a little tough to make out, but in the photo above, the famous Mildred is enjoying a refreshing Orange Crush soda. (I cropped the original to make it easier to see).

Granted, this was a special occasion, but I suspect bears in the wild don’t have much opportunity to feast on birthday cake (except for perhaps the occasional trash-can raid):

And finally, here’s Mildred enjoying a more nutritious snack (again, cropped for full effect):

Here’s to the new plan for happier, healthier and more “natural” bears at Grandfather.

“The bear that didn’t know she was a bear”

“Mildred the Bear, the nicest bear that has ever been…”
–Hugh Morton

Note from Elizabeth: Allow me to introduce the author of this post, our newest Morton team member, Allison Wonsick. While not “Tar Heel born,” Allison considers herself “Tar Heel bred” as a resident of Hickory, North Carolina, a UNC-CH alumna, and a current graduate student attending Appalachian State University in Boone. She is interning this summer at Wilson Library in the Photo Archives as well as in the North Carolina Collection Gallery.

When my family and I moved to Hickory in 1996, the first place we visited was Grandfather Mountain. We hiked the trails, explored the museum, saw the animal habitats, crossed the Mile High Swinging Bridge on a blustery day, and even saw snow in April (a shock in any month for a former Floridian)–but the most memorable aspect of the trip were the bears, both as residents of the mountain and as symbols of Grandfather Mountain itself.

Particularly iconic, of course, was legendary Mildred. It was clear then and now that she was special. Working with Hugh’s slide collection and family photographs, I can see the bond between Mildred and Morton (and have heard stories of picnics together with Fig Newtons and grape soda), but always wondered how the relationship began. Just how does one become friends with a bear?

Luckily, finding out more information about Mildred was not difficult. It turns out that Morton wrote her biography a few years after her arrival on the Mountain.

So here is a history of Mildred and the bears that followed in her paw prints, courtesy of former zookeeper Laurie Mitchell Jakobsen in her book, The Animals of Grandfather Mountain (published in 2001 by Parkway Publishers, Inc. of Boone, N.C.), and anecdotal tales I’ve picked up while working with the collection.

Continue reading

A Magician’s Secrets Revealed!

Note from Elizabeth: Last Friday was Amber’s last day at work on the Morton project. We’d like to thank her immensely for her dogged, patient, and insanely organized work sorting through the slides, and her charming blog posts. We wish her all the best with the rest of her education!

I’ve learned a lot over the last ten months working on this collection. I’ve learned about archival procedure, making many mistakes along the way (the method for organizing the slides changed probably four or five times before I found one that worked). I have found homes for hundreds of “orphan” slides, and processed more than 72,000 slides in total. I’ve also been able to travel to amazing places: Grandfather Mountain, the Fern Grottoes of Hawaii, the McNeil River in Alaska, Galilee at Sunrise, Puerto Rican beaches, and Milford Sound in New Zealand.

I’ve probably learned the most, though, about photography. Hugh Morton was an artist, crafting amazing pictures out of everyday objects. On my two visits to Grandfather Mountain, everyone shared with me tips and tricks Hugh had taught them for taking great pictures. Now, I don’t feel I am betraying any of these secrets, because Hugh took all of the following pictures to document his process.

When I saw the Linn Cove Viaduct, I thought it was a pretty scene. But it lacked something that Hugh was able to capture. (Elizabeth touched on this in a previous post about her visit to the Mountain). I heard from two different people at Grandfather how Hugh would have helpers bring potted plants or hold branches of fall leaves to frame that perfect shot. Below, we can see how he positioned a rhododendron stem just out of frame to create the resulting beautiful picture above.

I also found slides of how he captured his amazing hummingbird pictures. I always wondered how he was in the right place at the right moment to capture that hummingbird going to that flower. Turns out it wasn’t always serendipity! The shot below shows how he set everything up on his deck at home. He would lure the hummingbirds in with a feeder, then add the bottle holding the flower. The feeder would be removed, leaving only the thistle blossom. (His camera was inside pointed out the sliding glass doors so that he wouldn’t scare the little darlings away). He could then snap as many shots as possible without having to wait all day for the right moment.

Some of my favorite shots of the bears were from when they had climbed to the top of the rock in their habitat or on a cliff by the Swinging Bridge. I thought they had done that on their own, maybe to enjoy the majestic view. Nope. Hugh would have a helper lay a trail of peanut butter up the rock for the bear to follow. Often, there would be someone just out of sight luring the bear with more treats. If you look at those pictures now, you can see that the bears are usually peering over the ledge at something.

On my last trip to the Mountain, I had to laugh when I saw a Morton postcard showing a beautiful red fox running through the snow. It was faked! I’ve seen pictures of that same fox, in that same pose, in many different settings — there’s even one of it chasing a taxidermied rabbit! And Julia Morton also shared with us that Hugh carried around moose antlers in Alaska to add scenic perspective.

So, to be a scenic photographer of Hugh’s caliber, I need helpers to stage the scene with potted plants and tree branches. I need some sort of treat to entice the models in my pictures (whether man or beast). And I need a stuffed fox. Oh, and some moose antlers.

I’m going to need a bigger camera bag.

Mother’s Day Montage

When we were little, Mom was always there with a cuddle, piece of advice, or milk and cookies. Sometimes Mom was more annoying and embarrassing than helpful. She was always trying to get that stray hair back in place or the smudges off our cheeks.

Mom taught us manners and how to be polite. Little things like chewing with your mouth closed and sharing with your brother. And even if we didn’t then, we do chew with our mouths closed now.

Mom taught us to be inquisitive explorers. Everything was a new toy to play with. We would take things apart to find out exactly how they worked. Sometimes we got in trouble because we couldn’t put them back together or played with stuff we weren’t supposed to. But, Mom still loved us.

Bath time was always an adventure! It was usually a fight to get us in the tub. There was always something better to do, and our dirt was a symbol of our adventures. But once we were in, it was sometimes a struggle to get us out. Mom probably got cleaner than we did.

We can look back now and laugh at those stressful events. Like the time we were trying to get that family portrait. Mom kept yelling at us because we were making funny faces and playing rather than looking our best. There was never a picture that caught all of our good sides.

We’ve been through a lot and come out stronger than before. Nothing could come between us, even those awkward teenage years with crazy hairstyles and weird fashions. Some of those looks only a mother could love.

Mom has always been there through everything: the good, bad, sad, and disgusting. So thank you, Mom, for all that you do. You are the most important figure in our world, and we love you more than anything else.