Keeping the Circle Unbroken: Trouble at the Carter Fold

April 13, 2008

My previous post looked at the difficulties facing the Museum of Appalachia, whose founder, John Rice Irwin, hopes to strengthen his creation before handing it off to his descendants. Now, from the Bristol Herald Courier, comes a sad story of strife at the Carter Family Fold. Seems that the board of directors of the Fold have voted Dale Jett, son of the late Jeanette Carter, off the board.

Jeanette Carter and her chow-chow. Photo by Larry Smith

The late Jeanette Carter

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Museum of Appalachia faces uncertain future

March 31, 2008

One of the toughest challenges facing any non-profit organization is surviving its founder. The kinds of folks who create museums, schools, or institutes (or websites) are highly focused, driven, and relentless people. The same characteristics that bring life and success to their creations can make it difficult to hand over the reins of power to their successors or make the sometimes hard decisions necessary to keep the organization thriving.

Metro Pulse’s Mike Gibson has written a great article about the Museum of Appalachia in Norris and John Rice Irwin, its founder. The Museum is one of Tennessee’s treasures; Irwin was named a MacArthur Fellow, popularly known as the “genius” award. His Museum, however, is facing an uncertain future. Irwin has been subsidizing it for years, and now says he cannot write checks for much longer. Even if he could continue underwrite the Museum, he is 77 years old.


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Rogersville’s African-American heritage

March 8, 2008

In the days of segregation, Tennessee’s Black communities had their own school buildings, which along with churches served as centers of community life. While many of these small-town structures fell into disrepair or were torn down after school districts integrated, some survive and have taken on new life as museums that provide a glimpse into all-black eduction.

The most prominent such school in East Tennessee has to be the Green McAdoo Cultural Center in Clinton. Rogersville has its museum in the Price Public Community Center and Swift Museum.


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Bottle museum collection is liquidated

December 19, 2007

The Tennessean has a great piece today about the end of the famous Museum of Beverage Containers and Advertising. This was the institution just outside of Nashville that contained hundreds of thousands of pop bottles and beer cans. Remember Billy Beer, from President Jimmy Carter’s ne’er-do-well brother? It was there.


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The Cherokees of Lawrence County

November 18, 2007

On a recent drive across Tennessee on Highway 64, I stopped in the town square of Lawrenceburg. Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign may not exactly be setting the Republican woods on fire, but he is hot stuff here. One of his more interesting supporters claims that the Cherokees are descendants of the Hebrews.



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Fossil Museum evolves in East Tennessee

November 12, 2007

The museum with the longest name in the state, the East Tennessee State University General and Shale Brick Natural History Museum has now been open for several months. This museum came about when a road construction crew dug into a massive collection of fossils dating back 4.5 million years. Seems that an ancient sinkhole filled with water proved to be a wonderful collection site for animals of that time. The sinkhole filled with clay that resisted erosion to the extent that what was a depression is now a small hill.

Relatively few museums offer the visitor a chance to walk 50 yards and see the very digs from which the fossils on display were found. That’s one of the charms of this place. Another is a chance for visitors to–in warm months–watch actual paleontologists at work.


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East Tennessee Fossil Museum: the missing links

September 6, 2007

By this account, the museum with the most unwieldy name in Tennessee–East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum–had a boffo opening. Some 5,000 people strolled through the new facility over the four-day weekend.

Time will tell, however, how many visitors the Museum can pull. It has several things going for it–being just a few miles off I-81 is the biggest factor–but the rural location offsets that advantage.

One low-cost way the Museum could attract visitors and help sister museums is to work the web. Visitors to the Museum website can get directions, but there is nothing on the site linking to other attractions in the area, places to eat, or places to stay. More and more people plan trips by using the web–especially the well educated, upscale families for whom this Museum would be a natural.

Birds of a feather flock together, and this Museum should especially seek to have an on-line connection to places such as Knoxville’s McClung Museum, the other big natural history museum in East Tennessee.  As anyone who has had children can testify, kids get obsessed about things such as fossils, and will demand to see any and every collection on a trip.  Museums can not only guide visitors from one institution to another, they can give people reduced admissions that will increase visitation, increase sales in museum shops, and–best of all–educate everyone who steps in the door.

Highlander reaches 75th anniversary

September 3, 2007

Many moons ago, before NPR’s Morning Edition existed, Bob Edwards was the co-host of All Things Considered. When the East Tennessee chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists needed a speaker for a banquet, we invited him to come, offering to pay all expenses and, as I recall, a painfully small honorarium. To our surprise and delight, Edwards accepted, and in making the arrangements, he commented that he wanted to come to Tennessee to visit the Highlander Research and Education Center. Highlander is celebrating its 75th anniversary this weekend, and NPR–sans Edwards–did a piece on Sunday’s Weekend Edition.


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Gray Fossil Museum opens in East Tennessee

September 1, 2007

One of the more stupendous collection of fossils on earth now has a window in the form of the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center. Heck of a long name for a museum, but this looks line a promising institution that will help bring visitors to Upper East Tennessee.

The Museum is built adjacent to a five acre site containing fossils dating back 4.5 million years to the Miocene period, and contains the remains of animals such as tapirs, saber-toothed cats, and elephants. The fossils are layered in deposits dozens of feet deep that will provide work for scientists for years to come.

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Fisk to be fleeced by Wal-Mart heiress?

August 30, 2007

As blogged here earlier, Nashville’s Fisk University is in such bad financial shape that it is trying to sell off portions of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, the greatest art collection in the state.

Now comes news that Wal-Mart heiress Alice L. Walton wants to buy a half interest in the Stieglitz Collection for a mere $30 million. The estimated value of one painting alone–the Radiator Building shown below–is $20 million.


If this dirty deal goes down, the Collection would spend half the time at the new Chrystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The irony of this offer is unreal: the ill-gotten gains from Wal-Mart, a company whose predatory business practices have led to the extinction of hundreds of family-owned hardware stores, drug stores, and other small town establishments is now being used to take advantage of Fisk when the university is on its financial knees.

According to the offer put forth by Chrystal Bridge–the name sounds like a resident of some Arkansas trailer park–the Stieglitz Collection would spend half of the year in Bentonville, a hick town mostly visited by manufacturing representatives who come to the Wal-Mart Death Star in hopes of selling more cheap, Chinese-made goods to the company.

The best story I have seen on this sad situation is in Christine Kreyling’s article in the Nashville Scene.

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