The Archive

The Appalshop Archive was formally established in 2002 to safeguard and improve access to media created by Appalshop producers since the organization’s founding in 1969.  Our core mission is to preserve and make accessible the creative works and extraordinary history of this rural-based media arts center located in the Appalachian region.  In addition to its collection of institutional materials dating from 1969 to the present, the Archive cares for a growing number of donated collections that help enrich understanding of the region.

Soon after its founding, one of the Archive’s priorities was to rescue its audiovisual media from permanent loss. Because physical media formats can deteriorate if not given special care, a climate-controlled vault was built in the Appalshop warehouse for stabilizing 16mm film, video and audio tape, and photographic materials. Forty-nine of Appalshop’s 100+ documentaries were shot and edited on the obsolete formats of 16mm acetate picture film and magnetic audio tape (known as “double system” recordings, later synched in editing).  In order to preserve these documentaries according to best-practice, the Archive went back to the original picture and sound “masters” of the films, and had professional film labs make new copies to fresh film stock (physical film is still considered the most durable moving image format).  From these new “preservation” elements, digital copies were made for access by the public. Because this photochemical process is specialized and expensive, the Archive pursued and was fortunate to receive support from multiple funding sources.

To date, 33 of our 49 “film-born” documentaries have been preserved in this manner, not only ensuring longevity of the films but enabling Appalshop to replace outdated access copies with new digital versions, so that their original beauty can be enjoyed by new generations.

Clips from a selection of preserved films, beginning with a before & after preservation demo.

Appalshop’s released documentary film masters form only a portion of an extensive media collection, which includes thousands of hours of film, videotape, audio recordings as well as photography and supporting materials that portray a multifaceted view of life and history in central Appalachia. Appalshop producers have documented some of the most vital individuals in the region including ballad collector John Jacob Niles, authors James Still & Harriette Simpson Arnow, and tradition bearers such as renowned storytellers Ray Hicks & Sheila Kay Adams, and musicians Ralph Stanley & Jean Ritchie.  In addition to documentation of these individuals, Appalshop’s audiovisual records span a wide range of practices of community institutions such as the Old Regular Baptist Church, and address important social topics like stripmining, labor organizing, in-and-out migration, and Appalachian representation in American popular culture. Appalshop films and videos contain interviews and footage of Appalachian people from all walks of life, from coalminers to lawyers, national politicians to local sheriffs, senior midwives to teen-aged basketball players.  Production materials range from original interview recordings to broadcast masters, as well as photographs, production logs, play scripts, and promotional materials that provide insight to the many stages of an Appalshop project.  The Archive also houses several works of regional folk art, such as master chairmaker Chester Cornett’s 8-legged rocker, whose construction was documented in the Appalshop film Hand Carved.

In addition to our core collection of material created through the activities of Appalshop, the Archive has accepted donations of local media and other items of regional significance.  These include: the William R. “Pictureman” Mullins collection of photo negatives taken by a self-taught studio photographer from circa 1935-1955; a collection of amateur 16mm films shot in the 1940’s and 1950’s, originating from Pineville, Kentucky; and the Mountain Community Television collection, comprised of 70’s-era cable access programs that were produced and broadcast in the coal community of Wise County, Virginia and beyond.