November 2020 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Museum Store Artisan Spotlights: Johnny Glass, Paula Kahn & Anne Vaughan

A look inside The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum featuring WBCM Radio Bristol Farm and Fun Time t-shirts and framed poster, a colorful metal sculpture that doubles as a giant cowboy boot and umbrella stand, artwork made from the letters of car license plates that mimic the famous Bristol Sign that reads "Bristol VA - Tenn A Good Place to Live," glass fruit and vases, pottery, and baskets.
The Museum Store in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum prides itself on its world-class exhibits, but did you know that attention to detail also carries over into The Museum Store? The goal: To create a gallery-like shopping experience for visitors by offering one-of-a-kind crafts and goods handmade by local and regional artisans. From sculptural, glass-blown collectibles to intricately beaded music-themed handbags, great care is taken to choose pieces that elevate the status of your typical souvenir. The majority of these bespoke items are destined to become treasured keepsakes and family heirlooms.

In this edition of our blog, and in future blogs, we will highlight many of the juried artisans we have commissioned to sell work in The Museum Store. And their work is a joy to behold. To paraphrase the words of Asheville, North Carolina photographer Tim Barnwell‘s book Hands in Harmony: Traditional Crafts and Music in Appalachia, “Traditional music and handcrafts are both expressions of the creative mind and the accomplished hand.”

A ceramic tray holding a blown glass peach, pear, and strawberry made by Glass by Glass Studios.
Glass fruit by Glass by Glass Studios in The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

Johnny Glass: Glass by Glass Studios

Perhaps his name was a self-fulfilling prophecy as Johnny Glass is a master creator of hand-blown glass. Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Los Angeles, California, Johnny travels cross-country demonstrating his art at various craft shows and venues in a mobile studio he custom designed and built himself. He is so self-sufficient, in fact, that he can bring his full glassblowing studio to any location and have it fully operational within 12 hours to serve as a classroom in which to teach others or to provide demos.

A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Glass earned his undergraduate degree at Tennessee Tech, going on to study under some of the best-known glass artists in the country both in California and Washington. Glass is currently working on his Masters in Fine Arts at Tulane University in New Orleans where he has earned a full scholarship. He works part time at the college’s extensive glass studios taking care of the facilities and their six furnaces.

Johnny’s mission is to bring awareness and renew interest in the art of glass, and his life’s ambition is to teach what he’s learned at a major university. At The Museum Store, you’ll find his signature pumpkins in addition to paperweights, mugs, vases, Christmas trees, and much more.

A lovely chinquapin beaded necklace interlaced with white beads and a fossil pendant on a display form beside a smaller display of long chinquapin beaded earrings by Chicuapin Designs.
Handcrafted jewelry by Chinquapin Designs at The Museum Store in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

Paula Kahn: Chinquapin Designs, LLC

Since childhood, Franklin, North Carolina native Paula Kahn has always enjoyed playing with chinquapins – those smooth, mahogany-colored bead-sized nuts found in the center of prickly burrs.

“When I was little, we used to string them and wear them to school as necklaces,” said Paula, and with that inspiration, she has incorporated her fascination with these tiny tree pearls into her own line of jewelry.

“You boil the chinquapins, you dry them in an attic under a screen, and you drill them one at a time to make a bead.”

Paula now lives in Abingdon, Virginia, working on her unique jewelry with the help of her husband and her 90-year-old father. The chinquapins she uses come from trees on her farm, trees that have a family pedigree as they were imported from her father’s former farm near Franklin, North Carolina, where she grew up. She creates to bring awareness, as she puts it, to younger generations who may not have an inkling of how popular the chinquapin nut once was.

One of The Museum Store’s original juried artisans, Paula has recently started combining the chinquapins with geodes, fossils, and gems she acquires from Franklin, which is known as the “Gem Capital of the World.” This has resulted in a significant increase in sales of her creative jewelry in The Museum Store and elsewhere.

Two display forms adorned with colorfully beaded chains with stone and coin pendants and a smaller display of long earrings that coordinate with the necklaces.
Handmade jewelry by Anne Vaughan Designs at The Museum Store, Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

Anne Vaughan Designs

Anne Vaughan began creating jewelry in her home back in 2006 after the birth of her second child, leaving her career in education behind to forge a new path. In the beginning she made one piece per day from the basement of her home in Floyd, Virginia, increasing exponentially to a total of around 60,000 pieces of jewelry made up to today. Her business has grown so much that she now employs four local women part-time to help with jewelry assembly. Today her jewelry can be purchased in dozens of art galleries, museums, festival booths, and high-end boutiques across the country.

Anne uses a diversity of production techniques along with quality gemstones, handmade flower clusters, vintage and repurposed jewelry parts, and multi-colored pearls in her work, with new lines being created every couple of weeks to keep things new and fresh for her sellers.

“Operating a small business is so challenging, but you learn so much,” said Vaughan. “I am always searching out new techniques and methods that I can incorporate into my work.”

Each of these artisans, along with around 50 others, are featured in The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Museum admission is not needed when visiting The Museum Store, and it’s a great destination for holiday shopping.

*Note: There’s perhaps nothing more personal than a gift of the arts, so be sure and stop by the museum on #ArtistsSunday November 29 and support our local artisans and small businesses! The day is dedicated to encouraging consumers to shop with artists and give something special, unique, and handcrafted this holiday season.

Once Upon a Time: Remembering and Sharing Family Stories

“Do you remember when…?”

“Let me tell you about your grandmother’s apple butter…”

“Uncle Roger, I want to hear the story about the time you thought you’d swallowed a water dog!”

November is Family Stories Month, and even though we are still in the middle of a pandemic right now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t share family stories with each other – whether it be in smaller, more socially distanced gatherings; through Zoom or WhatsApp or FaceTime; by writing them down in journals and scrapbooks; or whatever method takes our fancy!

Recording and telling stories – especially family stories – is a big part of southern and Appalachian culture and tradition. From fictional folk tales to the recording of your clan’s names in the family Bible, from the poetry and the storytelling of the region’s music to the family anecdotes we share around the table – all of these are ways for us to pass on our history, big and small, and to remember the good and the hard times.

My family is full of story tellers (my Uncle Roger DID think he swallowed a water dog once, and it is my favorite story to hear, over and over again – for those who don’t know, water dog is another name for a hellbender salamander). On my mother’s side of the family, meals and gatherings are filled with tall tales, stories, remembrances, exaggerations, all told in a southern fashion – in other words, slow and often rambling into other tangential realms. On my father’s side of the family, a cousin’s interest in genealogy has led to family trees and records way beyond the stories we’ve told to each other about more recent ancestors and descendants.

A hellbender is a type of giant aquatic salamander – also known as water dog, snot otter, and mud devil, amongst others. How my uncle was convinced that he had swallowed a water dog – in all probability an impossibility – involved my mother and her sister and their desire to make their younger brother sweat. Image from Wikimedia Commons, photographer: Brian Gratwicke

Family stories – and other historical and personal recollections – told through oral histories is one way that museums and other cultural institutions “collect” data and content for exhibits, research, archives, and programs – and for future generations. Here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum we have incorporated oral histories and family stories into our exhibits and programming in multiple ways:

  • Upstairs in our permanent exhibits, a display titled “I Was There” shares excerpts from interviews with Ralph Peer, Ernest Stoneman, Maybelle Carter, Georgia Warren, and Clarice Shelor, giving first-person accounts of the 1927 Bristol Sessions.
  • In 2015 we held a “Tennessee Ernie Ford History Harvest,” an event where we invited members of the public to come to the museum to share any photographs or paper items, objects, and stories related to Ford, his life in Bristol, and his career. We scanned the images, newspaper articles, and other documents; photographed the objects; and spent several hours recording stories and memories of Ford, still a Bristol hero to so many. Not only did this give the public a chance to explore local history more deeply, but the resulting materials are now part of the museum’s archive and can be used for future educational and programming purposes. We hope to hold other “history harvests” in the future – for instance a hoped-for partnership with Black in Appalachia to record stories of African American musicians in this region.
  • At the museum’s symposium on the 90th Anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions in 2017, we recorded oral histories by many of the descendants of the 1927 Bristol Sessions artists to learn more about the musicians who played and recorded here, to give context to the wider history, and to explore the impact that moment had on them, their families, and beyond. We have also interviewed different family members for blog posts, such as our post on Hattie Stoneman.

Recent educational work has focused on creating learning activity sheets, including one related to Real Folk, a special exhibit at the museum earlier this year. This activity sheet encourages children to find master artists or artisans in their family by talking to their parents, grandparents, and other relatives about special talents or skills they have or activities they enjoy doing, another route to learning more about your family.

Left: Focus in one "I Was There" panel shows the quote "I Was There" in a speech bubble at the top, three photographs interspersed with text, and a TV screen with the oral history video running.
Center: Two blondish/white-haired women sit on a bench laughing and talking with an man with glasses, short white beard, and overalls.
Right: The activity sheet has the title "Interview a Master Artist" at the top, with descriptive text and a list of interview questions below the title.

Left: The exhibit panel “I Was There” includes text, images, and a short video recording the memories of the 1927 Bristol Sessions by Ralph Peer and several musicians. Center: Roni and Donna Stoneman, daughters of Ernest and Hattie Stoneman, share memories and stories with a member of the public at the 90th Anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions. Right: The “Interview a Master Artist” activity sheet provides some prompt questions for discovering your family’s hidden talents. All images © Birthplace of Country Music

There are lots of articles and guides out there to help you tell and record your own family stories. Here are just a few that can help get you started:

And if you want some inspiration, check out StoryCorps whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” Over the years, they have recorded the stories of more than half a million people – from family stories to moments of history, from the small things to the big things in lives lived.

There are also tons of websites and books that will help you with some prompts to get the ball rolling on learning more about your family. Why don’t you try out a few of these questions at your next socially distanced family gathering?

  • What is your favorite story about your grandmother/father?
  • Where did you go to school, and what was your favorite subject?
  • Did you ever play a musical instrument? Which one?
  • Tell me about the places you have traveled.
  • What was the best concert you attended?
  • Did you play a sport in high school or college?
  • What is YOUR favorite family story?
  • Do you remember how you felt or what it was like when the Berlin Wall fell/Barack Obama became President/the Challenger space shuttle blew up – and, one day, when the COVID pandemic hit?

Finally, one last thing to remember: Family can be what you make of it – in other words, family stories can be those told by your relatives, but they can also be those told by the family you have created with your friends. All of these are part of your personal history and remembering them over the years will always bring you – and those you share them with – pleasure.

So start the conversation. Ask a few questions. Pull out some photographs to prompt the memories. Become the record-keeper and storyteller – for your family and friends!

Radio Bristol Book Club: Woman Walk the Line

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Each month, readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together to celebrate and explore one book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage. We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 11:00am when we will dig deep into the feelings and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

The cover of the book is blue and cream with the main title in red. Several female country musician's names are written in cursive font on the blue part of the cover.
The cover of Holly Gleason’s Woman Walk the Line gives an inkling of the many women who are represented within its pages.

Our book for November is Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives edited by Holly Gleason. Full-tilt, hardcore, down-home, and groundbreaking, the women of country music speak volumes with every song. From Maybelle Carter to Dolly Parton, k.d. lang to Taylor Swift, these artists have provided pivot points, truths, and doses of courage for women writers at every stage of their lives. Whether it’s Rosanne Cash eulogizing June Carter Cash or a seventeen-year-old Taylor Swift considering the golden glimmer of another precocious superstar, Brenda Lee, it’s the humanity beneath the music that resonates.

Woman Walk the Line is a collection of deeply personal essays from award-winning writers and musicians – from Holly George Warren and Madison Vain to Grace Potter and Patty Griffin – on country music’s femme fatales, feminists, groundbreakers, and truth tellers. The book speaks to the ways in which artists mark our lives at different ages and in various states of grace and imperfection – and ultimately how music transforms not just the person making it, but also the listener.

Holly Gleason is a Nashville-based writer and artist development consultant. She’s written for Rolling StoneThe Los Angeles Times, The New York TimesOxford American, No Depression, PASTE, Lone Star Music, Texas Music, Spin, Musician, CREEM, Interview, PLAYBOY, The Palm Beach Daily News, The Vineyard Gazette, Tower Pulse, Request, Rockbill, Bam, Rock & Soul, and Mix. She loves songwriters, roots music, country, R&B and very early rap, as well as life moments, fame and its impact on who we are. Her book Woman Walk the Line was published in 2017 and has become a favorite read of a variety of country stars!

Picture of woman with long reddish brown hair, wearing glasses, a red and blue striped top, scarf, and big hoop earrings.
Author Holly Gleason. © Allistair Ann

Be sure to tune in on Thursday, November 19 at 11:00am – a week earlier than normal due to Thanksgiving the following week – to hear the book club discussion about Woman Walk the Line, followed by an interview with the author. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. And be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this wonderful musical journey!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for December is Mama, Me, and the Holiday Tree by Jeanne G’Fellers, which we’ll be discussing on Thursday, December 17 (a week early due to Christmas Eve). Happy reading!