The Carolina Mountains
Margaret Morley’s photography is that of a past century’s naked
simplicity, vacant of both extravagance and ease.
Through the 1890s, Morley explored Appalachia, writing and framing 8-by-10 slices of rugged mountain life for her book, “The Carolina Mountains,” published in 1913.
On Thursday, Feb. 21, 50 of her photographs will debut “The Carolina Mountains: Photography of Margaret Morley” exhibit at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (BRAHM). A limited number of copies of her book will be available for purchase.
Ten three-dimensional artifacts, like a large spinning wheel, are on loan from the Catawba County Historical Association and will accompany the exhibit.
“The Carolina Mountains” exhibit runs through April 25.
In 1914, Morley donated 244 of her photographs to the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh. The BRAHM exhibit was selected from those photos, which now compose the history museum’s permanent collection.
“It’s mostly of family life,” said Allison Wonsick, communications coordinator for BRAHM, referring to the exhibit’s photography. “There’s a picture of a waterwheel mill, moonshine still, people working in the field, picking berries and washing clothes.”
Morley was born in 1858 and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. She graduated from Normal College and continued to graduate school. She went on to be a biology teacher in the Midwest, as well as Boston, and wrote textbooks.
“Even a sex-ed textbook,” Wonsick said, “which was really brash at that time.”
Morley and her watercolorist friend, Amelia Watson, traveled to Tryon, N.C. to explore the gripping landscapes and visit a friend who had a winter home. Appalachia captivated Morley, and she ended up traveling throughout the area for more than a decade.
“As finally you approach the mountains that form the western end of North Carolina, you catch glimpses of heights so divinely blue that you seem about to enter some dream world through their magical portals,” Morley said in “The Carolina Mountains.”
Wonsick speculates that Morley likely focused on scenic photography at the start of her travels, but perhaps was transformed as she better understood the people and lifestyle. Conversations between her and the native people are suggested in her book by little details of individuals tending the bee gum, making sorghum molasses and washing.
A sepia photograph of a long-skirted woman carrying pails through the woods is entitled “Going Home.” A soft photograph of two light-haloed schoolgirls reading in a bare schoolhouse is called “Gettin’ Learnin’,” about which Morley said, “The children to go to school and go so long as there is a school day left...”
Morley was intrigued by the webs of trails and peeks into the doors of neighbors. Her words ponder the mountains’ tedious tradition, lifestyle and hard work. “The Carolina Mountains” is a text that The New York Times called “historical, descriptive, and anecdotal, and has the compelling charm of utter familiarity” in its 1913 review.
This exhibit, which has been in planning for a year, was originally given the tentative title of “Photography as Art and History.”
That idea is what organizers hope visitors will perceive – Morley’s are photographs of sown integrity.
This exhibit is made possible in part by a grant from the N.C. Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
BRAHM, located at 159 Chestnut St. in downtown Blowing Rock, is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays are free, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Regular admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children, students and military personnel.
BRAHM’s next exhibit will show from March through June. The exhibit is entitled “W.R. Trivett: Imaging the Mountains” and is a collaboration with Appalachian State University.
For more information, visit http://www.blowingrockmuseum.org or call (828)-295-9099.