News & Events
MHC to "Unveil" Bascom Lamar Lunsford Collection
The incredible riches of the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Collection will be the subject of the third annual “Unveiling Our Treasures” event in Renfro Library, Mars Hill College, on Tuesday, February 15 at 3 p.m. The program is free and open to the public.
The program will include the findings of a faculty/student research team who have spent several months exploring the Lunsford Collection this year. As a special treat, regional musician and educator Betty Smith will sing some of the ballads collected by Lunsford and share some of her personal reflections about him.
The “Unveiling Our Treasures” series is sponsored by the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies as part of a three-year focus on various collections in the possession of the college’s Southern Appalachian Archives, and is funded by a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who was born on the campus of Mars Hill College, spent much of his life traveling the hills and coves of the Appalachian Mountains to find, memorize, write down and often record the songs and dances so intimately woven into the mountain culture. The Collection, donated to Mars Hill College by Lunsford near the end of his life, includes an enormous scrapbook; Lunsford’s own musical instruments; letters and books; memorabilia from early festivals in the region; and audio recordings.
Dr. Carol Boggess, Professor of English and Coordinator of Regional Studies, and Mars Hill College student Kristina Blackford have spent the greater part of this academic year researching the collection. Boggess said the goal of the team’s research was three-fold: to become more familiar with Lunsford’s life and work, to investigate the contents of the collection, and to make parts of the collection more accessible to others, particularly to classes and students at Mars Hill College.
According to Boggess, Lunsford’s handwritten notes offer a fascinating picture of the evolution of ballads through time. “The most important part of the collection for our study were the folders of handwritten ballads and folksongs that Lunsford collected from people in the area. Balladry is an oral form, not generally preserved in writing, but people seemed to enjoy writing out songs they knew and passing them on to Lunsford. The result is multiple versions of the same song; many are variations of English folk songs that have been passed down for generations,” Boggess said. “It is fascinating to compare versions and speculate on the source of some of the subtle variations.”
Blackford, a resident of Mitchell County, said she knew very little about Lunsford before her work on the project. She credits this year’s work in the Ramsey Center with a new appreciation for the culture of her home region.
“Now I am fascinated by the life story of Lunsford and I am even more intrigued by the ballads he preserved so well in his collection,” Blackford said. “It is amazing that he was able to collect such a variety of ballads in this region; no two are the same. Working on this project has definitely taught me more about this place I call home.”
Also presenting at the program will be Mars Hill College Archivist, Dr. Karen Paar, who will speak about some of the challenges of preserving instruments, as well as the fragile photos and handwritten notes in the collection.
Boggess and Blackford are the third such faculty/student team to conduct research in the collections of the Southern Appalachian Archives as part of the NEH Challenge Grant. They are, however, the first team whose work is funded by the Hart-Melvin Archival Research Fellowship.
The Hart-Melvin Fellowship, endowed last year by the MHC Class of 1960, will continue to fund faculty-student research teams as they investigate the rich archival collections of the Southern Appalachian Archives and develop teaching materials from those resources. The fellowship is named for two beloved professors: retired physical education professor and coach, Dr. Virginia Hart, and retired professor of history and religion, Dr. Robert Melvin, who passed away this past November.