Smithsonian exhibit on display at museum through Nov. 9

This image from the “Journey Stories” exhibit illustrates the sentiments of a South Dakota family on their way to Oregon in 1936. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

“Journey Stories,” an exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution that examines the intersection between modes of travel and Americans’ desire for freedom of movement, will be on display at Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center beginning on Mountain Heritage Day – Saturday, Sept. 29 – and continuing through Friday, Nov. 9.

The traveling exhibit tells the story of migration and mobility throughout American history, ranging from the tales of immigrants who came to America in search of promise in a new country to the harrowing journeys of Africans and Native Americans who were forced to move. It also includes stories of fun and frolic on the open road.

“Journey Stories” is composed of seven freestanding kiosks, with audio stations, a digital slideshow, a selection of artifacts and other interactive components. The exhibit’s showing in Cullowhee is made possible by the North Carolina Humanities Council and is part of the Museum on Main Street program, a collaboration between the Smithsonian and state humanities councils nationwide. Support for the exhibit is provided through Congress and its showing at WCU is part of a six-stop tour of North Carolina.

“‘Journey Stories’ is a theme with deep resonance in Western North Carolina, from ancient Cherokee legends to tales of today’s vacationers,” said Pam Meister, curator at the Mountain Heritage Center. “In addition to providing an opportunity to experience a Smithsonian exhibit in our community, ‘Journey Stories’ provides a framework to tell our own stories through exhibits, programs and digital media. By creating a series of local journey stories with built-in opportunities for input, comment and discussion, we hope to encourage community members to connect their personal histories with a larger national heritage.”

Five of those local stories are told as a part of “In, Out, Through and Back Again: Smoky Mountain Journeys,” an accompanying exhibit researched, designed and built by WCU public history students. That exhibit will be on display at the Jackson County Public Library through Saturday, Nov. 17.

The students were directed in their efforts by Jessie Swigger, WCU assistant professor of history, with support from WCU’s Department of History and in partnership with the Friends of the Jackson County Public Library. The student exhibit will be accompanied by additional exhibits on the journey stories of local adventurers created by June Smith, the library’s volunteer exhibit and display coordinator, Meister said.

The student exhibit focuses on five topics: the Frizzell family’s migration to California, the integration of education in Jackson County, Cherokee women’s use of basket-making to preserve their traditions and economic independence, the story of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, and the Caldwell family of Cataloochee. WCU students also are serving as docents for the Smithsonian exhibit and as support staff for special events that are scheduled for the Mountain Heritage Center and county library, Meister said.

Mountain Heritage Center Director Scott Philyaw said the museum staff is excited to be unveiling the “Journey Stories” exhibit on Mountain Heritage Day, when thousands of visitors will be on WCU’s campus. “It’s an honor to be chosen to host a Smithsonian exhibit,” Philyaw said. “The Mountain Heritage Center’s collaborative work with regional organizations impressed the selection committee, and it’s also a testament to the strength of the center’s other programs and exhibits.”

Philyaw said the “Journey Stories” exhibit, located in the museum’s Gallery C, will fit in well with its permanent exhibit, “Migration of the Scotch-Irish People,” and other exhibits currently on display that feature local journey stories – “Horace Kephart in the Great Smoky Mountains,” “Captain Orr’s Badge” and “The Cullowhee Lily – A Botanical Journey.”

Visitors at Mountain Heritage Day will have an opportunity to experience the “Journey Stories” exhibit at the Mountain Heritage Center from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but the exhibit is not the only journey-related activity going on at WCU’s 38th annual festival of mountain culture, Meister said. Mountain Heritage Day also will offer a living history demonstration of an 18th-century hunters camp; a presentation by the Jackson County Historical Society that will feature the WCU public history students discussing local stories they investigated, set for 10 a.m. at the Circle Tent; musical jam sessions focusing on train songs and the migration of musical traditions, at the Circle Tent; a Liars Bench performance on the life-journey of Cherokee Chief Osley Saunooke at the Mountain Heritage Center at 1:30 p.m.; and examples of modes of transportation via a Wells Fargo stagecoach display, horse and mule demonstrations, tractor-pulled hayrides and an antique car show.

Other “Journey Stories” public events include:

– “First Thursday Concert and Community Jam,” 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, at the Mountain Heritage Center. Facilitated by two Mountain Heritage Center staffers, historian Peter Koch and Appalachian music and dance expert Trina Royar, the program will include a performance by Sons of Ralph, featuring 84-year-old Ralph Lewis, a Madison County native who toured internationally with Bill Monroe as one of his Bluegrass Boys in the 1970s, and Lewis’ musician sons Martin and Don, who will tell tales of life on the road with Monroe.

– “Journeys of Courage: Stories of African-Americans in Jackson County,” 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Jackson County Public Library. Facilitated by artist and scholar Marie T. Cochran, director of the Affrilachian Art Project, the program will feature Victoria Casey McDonald, Reggie Rogers and Ernest Johnson discussing the themes introduced in the student exhibit that revolve around the integration of education in Jackson County. WCU public history students will attend to provide informal tours of their exhibit.

– “Over There and Home Again: Veterans’ Journeys,” 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at the Mountain Heritage Center. Military historian and WCU assistant professor of theatre Luther Jones will lead a panel discussion with veterans whose service ranges from World War II to Afghanistan. The discussion will focus on the physical, emotional and psychological journeys of soldiers before, during and after war.

– “Captain Orr’s Badge: A Civil War Journey,” 4:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at the Mountain Heritage Center. The journey of a Civil War-era U.S. Army officer’s badge from New York state to a flea market in Western North Carolina, as described in a Mountain Heritage Center exhibit, also has inspired a graphic novel by retired WCU art professor Lee Budahl. The reception and book signing will include a discussion of the historical mystery that inspired the project.

– “The Liars Bench: Appalachian Journeys,” 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Mountain Heritage Center. Author and folklorist Gary Carden, recipient of the 2012 North Carolina Award for Literature, will present local journey stories and introduce the program’s themes with an illustrated presentation, followed by performances by Cherokee storyteller Lloyd Arneach and local musicians, writers and dramatists.

– “From the Hands of Our Elders: Cherokee Traditions,” 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Jackson County Public Library. In conjunction with the student exhibit’s focus on Cherokee basket-making, Cherokee craftswoman Betty Maney will demonstrate her family’s tradition of white oak basket-making and discuss her exploration of new media. Curator and author Anna Fariello will discuss and demonstrate new digital resources for Cherokee crafts.

– “Cultural Journeys: Cherokee Boarding Schools,” 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Mountain Heritage Center. The panel discussion will be facilitated by historian and psychologist Rosanna Belt, director of WCU’s Cherokee Center and an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Panelists will include Jeff Marley, director of Southwestern Community College’s Oconaluftee Institute of Cultural Arts, whose parents were Cherokee boarding school students.

– “First Thursday Concert and Community Jam,” 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Mountain Heritage Center. Facilitated by Koch and Royar, the program will feature musical tradition-bearer Henry Queen, head of the award-winning Queen Family Band and subject of the PBS documentary “The Queen Family: Appalachian Tradition and Back Porch Music.” Queen’s presentation will focus on the journey of songs across oceans and through time.

Regular operating hours for WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, located on the ground floor of WCU’s H.F. Robinson Administration Building, are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The Jackson County Public Library, located at 310 Keener St. in Sylva, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

For more information about the “Journey Stories” exhibit and related activities and events, contact the Mountain Heritage Center at 828-227-7129.

WCU public history students (from left) Valerie Bush, Kayla Sprinkles, Kayla Pressley, Sonrisa Crespin, Elyse Yow and Nelson Edmondson take a moment to examine an artifact during installation of the exhibit “In, Out, Through and Back Again” at the Jackson County Public Library. (Photo courtesy of Rose Garrett)