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Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection

 Collection
Identifier: Ms-1989-025

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the photographs of Earl Palmer, an award-winning photographer from Cambria, Virginia, whose work depicted the landscape and traditional culture of rural Appalachia in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Materials date from the 1940s to the 1970s. The collection is divided among the following series: photographs, duplicate photographs, written materials, oversize photographs, and artifacts.

The Photographs series contains approximately 750 photos taken by Palmer from the 1940s through the 1970s. Palmer's photos document the landscape and traditional culture of Appalachia in the Virginia- Tennessee-North Carolina-Kentucky-West Virginia region and include depictions of artisans, moonshiners, coal miners and scenes from daily life in rural Appalachia. Many of the photos are accompanied by descriptions written by Palmer. The photographs are arranged by topic, with numerous cross-references directing the user to appropriate headings.

Duplicate Photos are arranged by the same subject headings used in arranging the original photographs. While there are multiple copies of some photos, others have only one duplicate, and many have none.

The Written Materials, very few in number, range in date from 1946 to 1976. Including such materials as photo descriptions, bits of correspondence and notes, postcards and printed material, this series is arranged by document type.

The Oversize Photos series consists of items which were too large to be inter-filed in the Photographs series.

The Artifacts series contains materials, collected by Palmer, which are associated with traditional Appalachian folk culture. The series includes such items as a moonshine still, wagon wheels, ox yokes and hand-made brooms, as well as items associated with coal mining and railroading. Also included is a small collection of cameras and photography equipment.

Dates

  • 1880 - 1989

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection consists mainly of artifacts and photographs. All language materials capture in images or on items is in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

Photographs in this collection are still subject to copyright. Requests for reproductions and permission to publish or use these images in exhibits or other media is required from Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: http://bit.ly/scuareproduction. Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: http://bit.ly/scuapublication. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives (specref@vt.edu or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms. Completed forms may be emailed or sent to the address in the header of the form.

Biographical Note

Earl Palmer, an Appalachian photographer, was born in Bell County (some sources claim Harlan County), Kentucky, on May 11, 1905. The son of traveling circus performers, Palmer's interest in photography began when he received a camera as a gift at age 7. After high school, Palmer took a job with a local A&P grocery store. By the time he was 19, Palmer was managing the store and was soon employed by A&P as a road supervisor, overseeing 18 stores. Meanwhile, his photos were appearing in local newspapers and were soon being seen in numerous travel magazines.

Around 1945, Palmer moved with his first wife, Alice, to Cambria, Virginia (now part of Christiansburg), where he opened a grocery store. By this time, Palmer's photos were being featured in such magazines as Life,National Geographic,and the Saturday Evening Post.Billing himself the Blue Ridge Mountains' Roamin' Camera Man, Palmer concentrated on the people and places of Appalachia, particularly the region's traditional culture. Though based in southwestern Virginia, Palmer traveled the mountain regions of Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia in search of subjects.

By 1954, Palmer had been elected mayor of Cambria, and he would serve in that capacity until the town's merger with Christiansburg in 1964. In 1972, he retired from the grocery business to devote more time to photography. During his many trips, Palmer also collected a number of artifacts associated with traditional mountain life, including wagon wheels, handicrafts, a moonshine still and tools.

In 1982, Palmer married Evelyn Chrisman; he died at his home on March 4, 1996.

Extent

8 Cubic Feet (8 boxes (not including the artifact collection))

Abstract

This collection contains the photographs of Earl Palmer, an award-winning photographer from Cambria, Virginia, whose work depicted the landscape and traditional culture of rural Appalachia in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Materials date frome 1880 to 1989, but are primarily from the 1940s to the 1970s. The collection is divided among the following series: photographs, duplicate photographs, written materials, oversize photographs, and artifacts.

Arrangement

I. Photographs. This collection of Palmer's photographs spans from the 1940s to the 1970s and is arranged alphabetically by subject matter. A number of cross-references have been included to lead users to valid subject headings.

II. Duplicate Photos. Duplicate copies of those photos found in the Photographs Series, these photos are also arranged alphabetically by the same headings used in describing the original photos. Note that while there are multiple copies of some photos, there are no duplicate copies for others

III. Written Materials. This series includes a small set of papers related to Palmer's photographic work and includes photo blurbs, correspondence and notes, and postcards and other printed material.

IV. Oversize Materials. This series contains photos which were too large to be filed with those in the Photographs series.

V. Artifacts. The Artifacts series contains materials, collected by Palmer, which are associated with traditional Appalachian folk culture. The series includes such items as a moonshine still, wagon wheels, ox yokes and hand-made brooms, as well as items associated with coal mining and railroading. Also included is a small collection of cameras and photography equipment. While the material descriptions are arranged here by subject matter, the items themselves are housed in several locations. Note: Artifacts in this collection are held by Special Collections and University Archives, but are located in an off-site facility. Access to artifacts requires at least one week advance notice and is subject to availability of staff. Please note: We may not be able to offer viewing of all artifacts requested, due to preservation and transportation concerns, current location and organization of collection, the size of individual items, and the number of items requested. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives (specref@vt.edu or 540-231-6308) for more information.

Physical Access

Artifacts in this collection are held by Special Collections and University Archives, but are located in an off-site facility. Access to artifacts requires at least one week advance notice and is subject to availability of staff. Please note: We may not be able to offer viewing of all artifacts requested, due to preservation and transportation concerns, current location and organization of collection, the size of individual items, and the number of items requested.

Please contact Special Collections and University Archives (specref@vt.edu or 540-231-6308) for more information.

Source of Acquisition

The Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection was donated jointly to the Appalachian Collection of the University Libraries and the Appalachian Studies Program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1989.

Existence and Location of Copies

A small portion of the Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection has been digitized and is available online.

Imagebase contains digital images of both photosand artifactsin the collection.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/cc0/).

Processing Information

The re-processing, arrangement and description of the photographs and accompanying papers commenced in July 2002 and was completed in October 2002.

Title
Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection 1880-1989
Subtitle
Palmer, Earl, Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection
Status
Completed
Date
2003 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English

Revision Statements

  • 2018-01-09: Contents list fixed for ASpace; items without instances added back into contents list; finding aid code improved/fixed up from multiple migrations. kadietz
  • 2020-01-08: Notes updated to new best practices. Improved note on physical location of materials, since most artifacts have been relocated to university libraries' off-site storage. kadietz

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Contact:
Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US
540-231-6308