'We could lose history.' Appalachian archives soaked in record Kentucky flooding

Bill Estep and Austin Horn, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Weather News

The materials in its archives cover nearly a century of life and work in the region, according to Appalshop, including coal mining, labor strikes, religious practices, out-migration, farming, traditional folk arts, musicians, storytellers, politics, and environmental activism.

Dee Davis, who worked at Appalshop for 25 years and whose wife, filmmaker Mimi Pickering, works there, called the archive “precious cargo” in an NPR interview this week.

“That’s — those are the stories of miners and quilters and people who have built this place and learned the lessons the hard way,” said Davis, now president of Center for Rural Strategies. “And it’s really important information. And it’s a treasure.”

Caroline Rubens, director of the archive, said the vault was likely breached by water.

“It’s probably all wet up to a certain point,” she said.

One of her particular concerns was extra footage from published documentaries that didn’t make it into the final film.


“For every documentary that Appalshop made, there are hours and hours of footage that was shot. We have interviews with musicians, artisans, politicians; everyday local residents talking about what they care about or what makes them angry,” Rubens said. “They’ve got people talking about social justice issues, their love for this place and the region, how it can be painful to see themselves misrepresented – a lot of those voices are in there.”

Rubens said those voices can help change the narrative about an Appalachian culture that has often been misunderstood and badly portrayed. Preserving those items is what drew her to the profession and this place, she said.

She said the final cuts for many of Appalshop’s films have been backed up physically and are in storage, but much of the other material in the archive had not been preserved digitally.

A former Appalshop staffer offered to round up high-grade dehumidifiers to help salvage material. Ten were on the way, Rubens said Friday.


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