By Jennifer Benedetto Beals
This article appeared in the Volume 3, Issue 2 Fall 2021 issue of the Appalachian Curator. Click here to view a PDF of the full issue.
The Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives includes rare books collections, manuscript collections, the university archives, and the Modern Political Archive (housed in the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy). In 2017, the department was renamed in honor of a long time and generous supporter of special collections.
Acquisition efforts are focused on topics of global interest with regional significance. Priorities continue to evolve in order to support changing academic needs and the goals of the University of Tennessee. The library builds collections that document the regions heritage with a renewed emphasis on those areas that may have been traditionally underrepresented. Our manuscript and rare book collections contain extensive holdings documenting the history and culture of the mountain regions of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina and the development of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We continue to acquire new collections in these areas and discover new ways to promote our existing collections. Several recently acquired collections have been processed and are available to researchers.
Poet, essayist, and storyteller Marilou Awiakta donated her papers to Special Collections in 2018. The collection (MS.3909) includes materials from her personal and professional life as an author, and also as an activist, community leader, and environmental advocate. She draws upon her Cherokee and Appalachian heritages and her experience growing up during the nuclear era in Oak Ridge, TN to comment on the past, present and future in her creative works.
The records of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club (MS.3936) chronicle the club’s life from its inception to the present day. The collection includes correspondence, club presidents’ papers and notes, and meeting minutes in addition to publications by the club such as the annual handbooks. The handbooks have been digitized and are available with our other Digital Library Collections. The Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association Papers (MS.3911) includes correspondence, meeting information, and wilderness hearings. Founded in 1923, this non-profit organization was based in Knoxville and greatly contributed to the formation and conservation of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Other collections recently made available to researchers are the Camp LeConte for Boys Yearbooks (MS.3889) consisting of three yearbooks from the Camp LeConte for Boys in Elkmont, Tennessee from 1938 to 1940. General information about the camp activities is provided including a roster of boys who attended. Photo Miniatures of the Great Smoky Mountains (MS.4008) contains a small souvenir box of scenes within the park. The Elkmont Papers and Photographs Collection (MS.3924) contains material related to the history and preservation of the town of Elkmont, Tennessee. Papers in the collection include correspondence and member rosters from the Appalachian Club and advertisements for the Wonderland Hotel.
Special Collections continues to acquire the papers of scholars of the Great Smoky Mountains Region. The Durwood Dunn Collection (MS.3937) contains the papers of the late author and former Tennessee Wesleyan College Professor. The collection includes copies of Dunn’s scholarly work, correspondence, and historical research. The Harold Ray Payne Collection (MS.3904) contains the papers, notebooks, reports, and correspondence related to several projects such as Elkmont preservation, Wonderland Hotel, and North Shore Road. The Bain Family Collection (MS.3826) contains scrapbooks and glass plate negatives belonging to Samuel M. Bain, a plant pathologist and botany professor at the University of Tennessee.
Several new large collections are not yet processed. Acquired in 2015, the Wilma Dykeman and James R. Stokely Jr. Papers (MS.3800) consists of 98 linear feet of scrapbooks, memorabilia, correspondence, research material, and manuscripts related to their life and works. An additional 170 linear feet of material received in 2018 and 2022 will eventually be processed and made available with the original archive. The Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts Collection (MS.3958) arrived in Special Collections in 2021 and should be open to researchers in late 2022.
Special Collections continually seeks to establish new collection areas and several years ago we decided to focus our efforts on developing a Moonshine and Distillation Collection. Bootlegging has long been the subject of storytelling in the Appalachian Mountains. The demand for illegal spirits increased when legal distilleries were forced to shut down in 1920 and after prohibition ended, the tradition carried on in Tennessee and the surrounding states. The collections includes early rare published items, ephemera, whiskey labels and folk art.
The scientific process of distillation is documented in early publications such as John French’s The Art of Distillation: Or, A Treatise of the Choicest Spagyrical Preparations, Experiments, and Curiosities, Performed by Way of Distillation (London: Printed by E. Cotes for T. Williams, 1667). Geoffrey Atkinson relates his colorful personal experiences as an Internal Revenue Service Agent in the Southern States in After the Moonshiners. A Book of Thrilling, yet Truthful Narratives … (Wheeling, W. Va: Frew & Campbell, printers, 1881).
Moonshining was frequently depicted on the motion screen and in television series. The Moonshine War Original Screenplay (MS.3860) is from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film based on the 1969 novel by Elmore Leonard starring Alan Alda and Richard Widmark. The Moonshine Hound Teleplay (MS.3856) is a 1980 script based on a story by Laura and Bill Monson for Walt Disney Productions. These acquisitions also strengthen our archival collections documenting the history of cinema in East Tennessee.
Popcorn Sutton Folk Art Chest, MS.3912.Perhaps the most famous moonshiner was Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, who continued to practice his craft until 2009 when he was arrested by federal authorities. Designed by Eric Cunningham in 2017, Popcorn Sutton Folk Art Chest (MS.3912) features the image of a moonshine press and a man. An ephemeral piece, Moonshine still painted on a saw blade, was painted with fingernail polish by Popcorn’s daughter, Sky Sutton.
In response to the growing interest from University of Tennessee faculty and students, Special Collections has been actively acquiring artist books. Instructors in various areas of study schedule class sessions for students to view and interact with the pieces. We have focused on works created by artists from the region or inspired by the region. Free Little Bird created by Peter and Donna Thomas (2019) juxtaposes an excerpt from an Appalachian folk song with a quote from Maya Angelou’s book, which is printed in the hidden space created between the nested accordion pages.
In 2019, the UT Libraries in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg and the Anna Porter Public Library launched Rising from the Ashes: The Chimney Tops 2 Wildfires Oral History Project to collect, preserve, and make accessible personal stories of the historic 2016 wildfires. The team documented the immediate and ongoing impacts of the fires by recording in-person interviews with individuals who were effected by or involved in the wildfires. We spoke to those who lost homes and businesses, first responders, government officials, fire and forestry experts, veterinarians, volunteers from charitable organizations, journalists and artists. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the team pivoted to conducting interviews via ZOOM.
In spring 2020, with the support of a grant from UT’s Division of Diversity and Engagement, we hired a Spanish-speaking student from Gatlinburg, who conducted interviews in Spanish to ensure inclusion and representation of Gatlinburg’s Latino/a/x population and other immigrant communities. The Anna Porter Public Library donated more than 40 audio interviews conducted in early 2017. The digital collection contains close to 150 interviews and is available at https://rfta.lib.utk.edu/
UT Libraries is nearing the end of a two year grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town program. The grants support projects that use arts and culture initiatives to strengthen communities. Illustrators and editorial cartoonists Paige Braddock, Danny Wilson, and Marshall Ramsey were commissioned to create editorial cartoons and graphic non-fiction artwork inspired by the oral histories. The original artwork created through the project is now part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections. Selected pieces will be on exhibit at the Anna Porter Public Library. An interactive digital exhibit will be made available to the public by August 2022. The original plans for in-person programming were switched to virtual programming due to health and safety concerns.
The Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives has a longstanding commitment to preserving the history of the Great Smoky Mountains region through the acquisition and promotion of related archival materials. We continue to seek innovative methods to create and provide access to collection content. Although our collections, processes, and approaches continue to evolve, our mission remains constant.
Jennifer Benedetto Beals is Assistant Dean and Director of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee