American Folk exhibit explores Appalachian culture

The Staniar Gallery exhibition showcases photographer Lisa Elmaleh’s work with Appalachian musicians

Henry Barden

The American Folk exhibit appeared in Staniar Gallery from October 20th through November 13th. 

The exhibit provided a window into the lives and culture of old-time musicians in the Appalachian region and beyond through portrait photography by artist Lisa Elmaleh. 

Clover Archer, director of Staniar Gallery, was striving to add visual dynamism to the largely uniform group of photographs. 

“I didn’t want it to be just like a constant hum around the gallery,” she said. “I wanted there to be bits and bursts and peaks and valleys.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Archer and Elmaleh planned for a group of country musicians to play during the reception following Elmaleh’s lecture.

They’d hoped it would bring the W&L and nearby folk music communities together. 

“We knew we wanted to do something about old-time music because there’s a long music tradition in Rockbridge County,” Archer said. “We had kind of talked about all these things, and then when COVID hit, obviously, we couldn’t do those things.”

Staniar Gallery intern Chloe Parsons, ‘22 helped lay out and install the current Atrium exhibit, which features the senior theses of last year’s studio art majors.

“We kind of divided and conquered with that,” Parsons said. “She mostly installed and sequenced the Lisa show and I did the Atrium one.” 

Parsons also attempted to contact musicians featured in “American Folk” to collect musical samples since many have not been formally recorded and play mainly for their local communities and families. 

Ultimately, Archer and Parsons found YouTube videos of the musicians in order to assign QR codes to the images.

“We were fortunate to find as much material as we did,” Archer said. “I think that’s all the more reason to tell this story, it’s not a formalized tradition, so it’s been handed down, and it’s been documented here and there but it hasn’t been commodified in a lot of ways.”