University Libraries receives NFPF grant to preserve Southern Folklife Collection films

We are pleased to announce that the University Libraries has received a preservation grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) to preserve two 16mm documentary films found in the Southern Folklife Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library.

The first film (Jarrell and Cockerham, 1971, by Blanton Owen) captures footage of legendary old-time fiddler and banjo players, Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, both of Surry County, NC, while the second film (A.R. Cole, Potter, 1969, by Terry W. Rushin) looks at the traditional ceramist and potter, A. R. Cole, and his family’s multi-generational pottery shop in the eastern Piedmont region of the state. The NFPF grant will support the production of new 16mm preservation prints and digital access copies of both films.

Both films present their local subjects directly and honestly, giving them the space to share their own stories, songs, and art, which they express through traditional creative practice. Both documentary projects also present exciting research opportunities, not just for folklorists, scholars, and students, but also for artists, musicians, filmmakers, and our region at large. The films complement and connect closely to other Wilson Special Collections Library materials, particularly those held by the Southern Folklife Collection- an archival resource dedicated to collecting, preserving and disseminating vernacular music, art, and culture related to the American South.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is a nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. The Foundation supports activities nationwide to help organizations and institutions preserve American films and improve film access for study, education, and exhibition.

The grant-writing process was a cross-departmental effort at Wilson Library. Thanks to Anne Wells (that’s me, hi!) and Jackie Dean of Special Collection Technical Services; Steve Weiss, Erica Titkemeyer, Hunter Randolph, and Andrew Crook of the Southern Folklife Collection; and Aaron Smithers of Special Collections Research & Instructional Services.

We’ll be sure to keep you posted as the grant process proceeds. Please read on below to learn more about both films – their subjects and makers.

Jarrell and Cockerham (1971, by Blanton Owen, found in the in the Blanton Owen Collection #20027)

Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham playing fiddle and banjo on Fred Cockerham's porch in Low Gap, North Carolina

still taken from the 16mm “pix” (F-20027/10) of Jarell and Cockerham found in the in the Blanton Owen Collection #20027

Back in the summer of 1970 Blanton Owen (1945-1998) traveled to Surry County in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains to document old-time musicians, Tommy Jarrell (1901-1985) and Fred Cockerham (1905-1980). Blanton was a folklorist, musician, and photographer. He studied folklore at Indiana University and for nearly three decades engaged in the documentation of folklore and music in Appalachia, other regions of the South, and in the West. 

The outcome of Blanton Owen’s 1970 documentary project on Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham resulted in close to thirty image and sound elements, including an edited workprint (F-20027/10) and a corresponding 16mm magnetic soundtrack (F-20027/9) created by Owen (if you frequent this site, you might remember Aaron Smither’s post about these film elements back in spring 2016) – all of these elements are found in the Blanton Owen Collection #20027. Sadly, Owen never made or released a final composite print from his edited workprint and soundtrack (pictured below). The NFPF grant presents an exciting opportunity to merge the images and sounds created by Owen almost a half century ago, making this footage accessible to the public for the first time.

edited film elements created by Blanton Owen

Film elements, including an edited workprint (F-20027/10) and a corresponding 16mm magnetic soundtrack (F-20027/9) created by Blanton Owen. found in the in the Blanton Owen Collection #20027

Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham played their instruments in the Round Peak music traditions of Surry County. During the folk revival movement of the 1960s and 1970s, this regional style of playing gained popularity with outside audiences. Folklorists and old-time enthusiasts and musicians would flock to the region to hear and learn from Jarrell, Cockerham, and others, including Kyle Creed and Sydna Myers. Some of these visitors, like Blanton Owen, Alice Gerrard, Cece Conway, Les Blank, and Mike Seeger, would come to the region not just to listen and play, but also to document and record images and sound of these local musicians.

Fred Cockerham made a living playing the fiddle and banjo, performing on radio broadcasts and for medicine shows across the state. Cockerham was a member of The Camp Creek Boys, an old-time string from Surry County that was active from the 1930s-1960s. Banjo player, instrument maker, and Surry county native, Kyle Creed, was also part of this group. In the footage captured by Owen, we see Cockerham playing Kyle Creed’s handmade banjo with gold-flecked Formica fretboard – a banjo that is now housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Owen’s footage captures distinct personalities as well as the chemistry between Cockerham and Jarrell, who had that time had been playing together for many years. As folklorist and musician David Holt points out, “while Tommy Jarrell was outgoing and never met a stranger, Fred was more reserved and circumspect. But when he let loose on the fiddle or clawhammer banjo there was no one any better.”

Tommy Jarrell learned to play the banjo when he was just eight years old, learning most of his tunes before the influence of commercial recordings and radio broadcasts. As Cecelia Conway points out, “In addition to being a remarkable musician, Tommy was a singular vocalist with a powerful style; his repertory included many unusual fiddle and banjo songs, ballads, and Primitive Baptist hymns. An exceptional storyteller, he related family reminiscences and regional lore with a fine wit and was an inspired performer and transmitter of regional styles and repertory. To his last days he continued to add imaginative and subtle variations to his stories and tunes” [1]. Jarrell dedicated himself to music after his retirement, gaining notoriety later in life by participating in fiddlers’ conventions and festivals across the United States. Almost a decade after Owen captured these two musicians playing together, Jarrell would receive the National Endowment for the Art’s National Heritage Fellow award in 1982. And a year later, Alice Gerrard, Cece Conway, and Les Blank would premiere, Sprout Wings and Fly, a short documentary film about Jarrell, at the Chicago International Film Festival (if you’re curious, we recommend checking out our post on Sprout Wings and Fly materials in the Alice Gerrard Collection).  

black and white photo of Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham on Fred Cockerham's front porch

Tommy Jarrell (left) and Fred Cockerham (right) on Fred Cockerham’s front porch. Photo by J. Scott Odell. Found in the J. Scott Odell folk music collection (CFCH.ODEL) in the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections at Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

I’ll end this section with a lovely photograph found in the J. Scott Odell folk music collection at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. It was taken in 1966 by musical instrument conservator and researcher of American music traditions, J. Scott Odell. I love how similar the scenes are between the film stills of Blanton Owen’s 1970 documentary project and Odell’s photograph – it’s like they’ve just been playing for four years straight on Cockerham’s front porch. I wonder if the geraniums are the same?

A.R. Cole, Potter (1969, by Terry W. Rushin, found in the the Terry W. Rushin Documentary on A. R. Cole #20402)

A. R. Cole throws pottery inside his pottery shop in Sanford, North Carolina


still taken from the 16mm print (F-20402/1) of A. R. Cole, Potter (1969) found in the Terry W. Rushin Documentary on A. R. Cole #20402

As the title suggests, this documentary film looks at the artistic practice and pottery shop of Arthur Ray “A. R.” Cole, whose family has worked in the ceramic arts in the eastern Piedmont for more than three generations. Filmmaker, Terry Wayne Rushin (1945-2012), made the film while he was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he took film courses under Professor Earl Wynn in the Department of Radio, Television and Motion Pictures.

The Southern Folklife Collection’s Terry W. Rushin Documentary on A. R. Cole #20402 contains a unique 16mm black and white composite print of the film. Terry W. Rushin shot the film entirely at A. R. Cole’s pottery shop in Sanford, North Carolina in the Seagrove area of the eastern Piedmont, one of three regions in the state known for its pottery production, with Catawba Valley and Buncombe County being the others. The film includes footage of A. R. Cole grinding clay and throwing a pot on the wheel, as well as scenes of A. R. Cole’s daughters, Celia and Neolia, making their own pottery and preparing orders for the shop.

North Carolina has a rich pottery tradition that reaches back centuries. As David M. Egner notes, archaeologists have documented nearly complete pots crafted by Cherokee and other indigenous makers that date from the early 1500s. After Europeans colonized the region in the eighteenth century, folk potters adapted techniques from their native England, Germany, and elsewhere. These potters took local clay, glazed their pieces with lead, wood ash, or salt, and fired them in wooden kilns to produce functional vessels for daily use. Through the nineteenth century, although functional use of folk pottery declined, the state’s potters continued to practice and refine their craft, passing it to subsequent generations. In time, folklorists, collectors, tourists, and others came to appreciate the distinctive forms of North Carolina pottery as artistic expressions [2].

A. R. Cole and his family are embedded in this statewide tradition. According to the News & Observer, the first Cole potter moved to North Carolina from Staffordshire, England, in the 1750s. The Coles settled by the rich clay beds of Seagrove, 75 miles west of Raleigh, and have been turning and firing pots ever since. They helped make the Piedmont into one of America’s centers for traditional, handmade pottery [3].

A. R. Cole was born 1890 in Asheboro and moved to Sanford in the mid-1930s to open his own pottery shop, A. R. Cole Pottery, to cater to tourists traveling alongside the busy Route 1. Terry W. Rushin’s film mostly depicts a day in the life of A. R. Cole, but we also see the traditions being passed down and practiced by Cole’s daughters, Celia and Neolia. Their voice-over provides essential family history and context from which to understand their family’s ties to the region’s ceramic arts. After A. R.’s death in 1974, Celia and Neolia took over the operation with grandson, Kenneth George, and renamed the shop, Cole Pottery. In 2003, Neolia Cole Womack received a North Carolina Heritage Award. Sadly, the shop closed ten years later, followed by Neolia’s death in 2016.

I’d like to end this post with a short film by UNC student and frequent Field Trip South contributor, Hunter Randolph, who was a tremendous help during the grant writing process. Hunter grew up in Sanford, where he and his family have close ties to the Cole Pottery shop and the local Railroad House Historical Association. Hunter’s film, Stories in the Clay: The Pottery and Poetry of Neolia Cole Womack, showcases the work and inscriptions of A. R. Cole’s daughter, Neolia Cole Womack, weaving together original footage of her pottery, video footage shot by Hunter’s father, Jimmy Randolph, and clips of a previously digitized version of Terry W. Rushin’s A.R. Cole, Potter.

 

[1] Conway, Cecelia. “Jarrell, Thomas Jefferson.” Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996. https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/jarrell-thomas-jefferson

[2] Egner, David M. “Pottery.” Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006. https://www.ncpedia.org/pottery

[3] Cecelski, Davis. “Listening To History”. News & Observer, 12 November 2000. https://www.ncpedia.org/listening-to-history/george-kenneth

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage 2018

inspecting 16mm film with a magnifying loop on a light table on left and a bay of cassette playback decks on the right UNESCO, in cooperation with the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) and other partners, has adopted 27 October as the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage to better focus global attention on the significance of AV documents and to draw attention to the need to safeguard them. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Your Story is Moving” described in a statement from the CCAAA Board.

Every year millions of people record stories of all varieties on audiovisual media, ranging from narratives of everyday life to historic events. These moments are chronicled and stored each day on multiple formats and media, whether they are digital or analogue. How do we ensure that this ever-growing corpus that is our cultural history today is preserved and exists in the future? And how do we guarantee that this rapidly accumulating, collective moving story of ours is not lost, as much of our history on these fragile media has been over the past 150 years? 

Reliably, thousands of archivists, librarians and preservationists around the world strive to make our world’s cultural heritage accessible and safeguard it for the future. In addition to their daily efforts to provide access to historic collections housed in established archives, archivists actively rescue collections in danger of loss or destruction due to poor climates, less than ideal storage conditions, political unrest or the economic challenges that many countries are confronted with daily.

…stories move us emotionally. We see this every year on Home Movie Day, an event that provides a moment for publics around the world to bring their visual cultural heritage to archives and libraries, to view, sometimes for the first time in decades. As they see lost family members, loved ones and ancestors long gone come to life on the screen, tears flow, emotions are high, and these moments of our captured history transport us to new heights as our histories unfold before our eyes. History too comes to life through the power of the moving image and in sound recordings which connect us personally with those events and moments in time which have shaped our memories and who we are.

A selection of audio recordings found in the Duck Kee Studio Collection (20553) at the SFC. Recordings are pictured in the vault at Wilson Library.

A selection of audio recordings found in the Duck Kee Studio Collection (20553) at the SFC.

The Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Special Collections Library and the University Libraries at UNC Chapel Hill have many moving parts working daily in our efforts to preserve and make accessible the hundreds of thousands of sound recordings, film and video housed in our special collections.

Thanks to a series of generous grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Grammy Foundation, the Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) has been able to complete a significant amount of digitization of its historic analog audiovisual holdings,

Most recently, UNC University Libraries received a $1.75 Million Grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest ever made to the University Libraries, to allow the SFC to continue to preserve, digitize and share unique audio and moving image recordings. Collections targeted through the grant will come from the SFC and other curatorial departments within Wilson Special Collections Library, as well as six partner institutions across the state.

The regional partnerships will take place through the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, a statewide digitization and publishing program based at Wilson Library. The State Archives of North Carolina, the Southern Appalachian Archives at Mars Hill University and the Forest History Society in Durham have already committed to work with the SFC.

In honor of the 2018 World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, we wanted to highlight some of the recordings recently digitized as part of one of our current projects. These selections are just a few from materials that have moved through this workflow in the last few month. As of Friday,. October 26, thanks to the work of our incredible Mellon Project Team, Wilson Library has 29,857 streaming AV files made from 23,322 preserved audio recordings, and 1,191 preserved video and film items. 

Click through the links below to listen or to view to streaming AV files.

SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20106/6113

(digitized)

Algia Mae Hinton

1/4″ Open Reel Audio

Raw field recording used as source material for “North Carolina Traditions: Algia Mae Hinton: Blues Woman of Zebulon” (FT-20106/3413)

10" cardboard container box for open reel tape, call no. FT-20106_6113The  North Carolina Foklife Media Project Collection (20106) consists of radio programs and associated field recordings, 1982-1983, produced by the North Carolina Folklife Media Project, a National Endowment for the Arts funded media project directed by folklorist Cecelia (Cece) Conway. As project director, Conway headed the production of North Carolina Traditions, an 8-part radio series featuring North Carolina based musicians that aired on WUNC, the flagship National Public Radio station for the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. The collection primarily consists of master recordings but also includes associated field recordings. Programs feature such artists as Etta Baker, a nationally-recognized African-American Piedmont blues guitarist from Caldwell County, N.C.; traditional Anglo-American fiddler Ike Rochelle, singer and accordion player Worth Mason, and fiddler Otha Willard, all from the coastal region of N.C.; Dorsey Dixon (1897-1968), Anglo-American singer and composer of textile and other songs from Richmond County; African-American gospel quartet the Golden Echoes of Granville County; Big Boy Henry (1921- ), African-American blues guitarist and singer from Beaufort County; Algia Mae Hinton (1929- ), African-American blues singer and guitarist and buck dancer from Johnston County; and John (“Frail”) Joines (1914- ), Anglo-American traditional storyteller from Brushy Mountain, Wilkes County.

Digital Folder DF-20402/1

A. R. Cole, Potter, 1969

Digitized version of F-20402/1 with added title cards and countdown. Digital Folder includes original DVD files and an access copy.

Processing information: The digital files were extracted from DVD-R. Original DVD files are dated October 2005. An access .mp4 file was made from the DVD files in August 2018 for viewing purposes.

Side view of blue, plastic film can for 16mm film, call number F-20402_1, with "Cole, the Potter" written in black markerThe twenty-five minute film, titled A. R. Cole, Potter, documents the artistic practice and pottery shop of Arthur Ray “A. R.” Cole, whose family has worked in the ceramic arts for more than three generations. The film is shot entirely at A. R. Cole’s pottery shop in Sanford, N.C. (Lee County, N.C.), and includes footage of A. R. Cole grinding clay and throwing a pot on the wheel, as well as scenes of A. R. Cole’s daughters, Celia and Neolia, storing and preparing pottery orders. The non-synchronous soundtrack of the film consists of audiotaped interviews with A. R. Cole and his daughters, who discuss the family’s long history with the ceramic arts, A. R. Cole’s use of natural, or raw materials, and the evolving business of the pottery shop. The collection contains a 16mm moving image print of the film, as well as a digitized version with added title cards and countdown.

  • From the Archie Green Papers (20002), Sarah Ogan Gunning “goes through a series of songs for potential educational use,” singing and speaking with Green at a union meeting at Solidarity House in 1964, possibly in Chicago.
SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20002/15344

(digitized)

Sarah Ogan Gunning at Solidarity House

1/4″ Open Reel Audio

7" open reel box for Burgess brand magnetic recording tape, call number FT-20002/15344.The Archie Green Papers also include correspondence, interviews, a discography, research notes, and other items relating to Green’s involvement in three performance events in Gunning’s life between 1964 and 1970. These include the production of a Folk-Legacy album, Girl of Constant Sorrow; Gunning’s performance at Carnegie Hall as part of the New York Folk Festival; and her appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. In his work with Gunning, Green collaborated to some extent with folklorist Ellen Stekert. Gunning was the half-sister of Aunt Molly Jackson and sister of Jim Garland.

SFC Audio Cassette FS-20024/1199

(digitized)

Interview with Lesley Riddle, 3 February 1973: tape 1 of 2

Format: Audiocassette

Recorded by Kip Lornell

An extensive interview with Riddles, a blues guitarist from Kingsport, Tenn. About his own music and his relationship with older blues musicians and early country performers in the Kingsport area during the 1930s.

A list of topics discussed by Riddles can be found in Folder 145 within the Southern Folklife Collection Field Notes Collection (#30025).

Cassette tape with handwritten label, Leslie Riddle, Rochester NY,The Kip Lornell Collection consists of audio recordings, 1932-1976, created and compiled by ethnomusicologist, Christopher “Kip” Lornell, while he was a graduate student of Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The recordings are primarily field tapes featuring performances and interviews with African American blues and pre-blues secular musicians from North Carolina. Music performed includes blues, old-time songs and tunes, boogie-woogie, and gospel songs, played on banjo, guitar, and piano. Performers featured in the field recordings include Jamie Alston, Wilbert Atwater, Pernell Charity, George Letlow, Arthur Lyons, Lesley Riddle, Dink Roberts, John Snipes, Leo Strowd, Joe Thompson (1918- ), Odell Thompson (1911- ), Willy Trice (1910-1976), and Clarence Tross (1884-1977). Also included in the collection are an interview with Guy B. Johnson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sociologist who studied African American musical traditions; interviews with the Chapel Hillbillies, an African American string band in the 1920s and 1930s; a lecture on folk medicine by Wilbert C. Jordan, medical doctor and sixth generation voodoo priest; a re-recording of Primitive Baptist singing by Elder Golden Harris and others, ca. 1932; and performances by Anglo-American fiddler and hammered dulcimer player Virgil Craven (1902-1980).

16" Lacquer Disc on Turntable, the middle of the disc shows what the disc looked like prior to cleaning. Ralph Font, "Habanera," 25 June 1947

16″ Lacquer Disc on Turntable, the middle of the disc shows what the disc looked like prior to cleaning. Recording features pianist, Ralph Font, “Habanera,” 25 June 1947

  • And one last item from the Apollo Records Collection (20539). The Apollo Records Collection consists of 16″ master lacquer disc audio recordings, 1943-1958, affiliated with Apollo Records, a record company and label founded in New York City in 1944. Bess Berman, one of the few women executives in the recording industry, ran Apollo Records from 1948 until it closed in 1962. The company and label was known for their rhythm and blues, doo-wop, gospel, jazz, and rock and roll releases. Notable artists featured on the recordings found in the collection include jazz saxophonist and composer, Charlie Barnet; African American comedian and film actor, Stepin Fetchit; African American male vocal group, The Four Vagabonds; African American gospel singer, Georgia Peach; African American male vocal group, The Larks; female vocal group, The Murphy Sisters; country and western singer, Merle Travis; harmonica instrumentalists, The Three Harpers; and African American blues singer and guitarist, Josh White. The collection also includes scattered memos and tape logs found with the lacquer disc recordings. Conservators recently cleaned a number of discs for preservation and digitization, including this recording of the great pianist Ralph Font with his ensemble doing a wonderfully rhythmic version of “Habanera” from the opera “Carmen”
Instantaneous Disc FD-20539/112

(digitized)

Ralph Font, “Habanera,” 25 June 1947

16″ Lacquer Disc

Issue number: AP 3106

These clips offer but a glimpse into the Southern Folklife Collection’s preservation efforts. The public is encouraged to explore our finding aids for detailed inventories and description of archival collections and the UNC Libraries online catalog for materials of interest and request that they be preserved and made available for research. Feel free to contact the SFC with any comments or questions at wilsonlibrary@unc.edu. While you explore the content shared above, we hope think about institutions like the Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, the Library of Congress, and countless other archives and institutions that are working to preserve our aural and visual history in communities around the world. Southern Folklife Collection John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio. Photo by Dan Sears