A century after the publication of Margaret Morley’s 1913 book, “The Carolina Mountains,” her stories and photographs provide an intimate look at life in Appalachia around the turn of the century.
So much has changed in Western North Carolina during that time, but the faces in Morley’s photographs are much like the ones you might see on a sidewalk in Boone or in a restaurant in Blowing Rock.
The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum will present a new exhibit starting Thursday in its main gallery titled “The Carolina Mountains: The Photography of Margaret Morley.”
The exhibit features dozens of Morley’s luminous black-and-white photographs and descriptions of the people and places where she took them.
The photographs will be on exhibit until April 25.
Morley was born in Montrose, Iowa, in 1858 and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. She graduated from the New York City Norman College (now Hunter College) and subsequently pursued graduate studies in biology in Chicago and Massachusetts. Later she taught school in the Midwest.
It is believed that Morley’s introduction to Western North Carolina came through her friendship with William Gillette, a Broadway actor and playwright best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.
Gillette had a winter home in the mountains of Western North Carolina and was a patron to notable watercolor painter Amelia Watson, who was a close friend with Morley.
During the 1890s, Morley visited the mountains of North Carolina on numerous occasions and fell in love with the land and its people. Eventually, she moved to Tryon, just south of Asheville. She spent much of the next 12 years exploring the region and capturing the essence of everyday life in photographs and prose.
In 1913, Houghton Mifflin published her book, “The Carolina Mountains,” which was an immediate success. To this day, it is considered one of the foremost books about the region in the early 1900s and was recently reprinted by Land of the Sky Books.
Morley’s photographs capture life in the mountains at the cusp of tremendous changes in the region. Railroads, roads and the automobile were connecting previously isolated communities. Areas such as Asheville, Black Mountain and Blowing Rock were increasingly becoming tourist destinations, especially in the summer. But, as Morley discovered, electricity and telephones were much scarcer in mountain homes than in places such as New England.
Morley traveled by horseback to get many of her photographs of backwoods homes, schools and churches. The people she met and photographed with her Kodak camera came to accept and trust her, so much that she was even invited to take pictures of a moonshine still.
Morley’s images in the new exhibit include a sunbonnet-wearing woman washing clothes in a mountain stream, children reading books in a one-room schoolhouse and a farmer cutting sorghum to make molasses.
Each photograph is accompanied by a description or a piece of Morley’s prose, such as “The Blue Ridge! ... This battlement of heaven was not named by accident. It was named Blue because there was no other name for it. It is blue; tremendously, thrillingly blue; tenderly, evasively blue.”
Morley died on Dec. 12, 1923.
BRAHM is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children, students and the military and $6 per person for groups of 10 or more. Children 4 and younger are admitted free.
For more information, call (828) 295-9099, or visit http://www.blowingrockmuseum.org