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Randy (Plainfield, VT)

Randy (Plainfield, VT)

Major Arcana, Francis Denny

In her series, Major Arcana: Witches in America, Francis Denny creates an incredible photographic collection of women who identify as a “witch.” The series is diverse in its approach, including witches who identify as herbalists, folklorists, practicers of voudou, green witches, women, gender-fluid, trans, kitchen witches, hedge witches, and sex witches. Her broad scope of individuals included in the project can be applied to the work I have done and will continue to do in terms of making portraits and creating spaces with Appalachian women. Some of the women in Denny’s series possess certain characteristics that one would typically imagine when envisioning a “witch,” but the series is also extremely unique and shows a great range of people who identify as such in attempts to recontextualize the witch of today. In her statement, Denny states of Major Arcana, “Major Arcana [is] re-framing the witch as a feminist archetype and the contemporary embodiment of a defiant, unsanctioned femininity.” In a similar way that Denny is working to reimagine the “witch” as a feminist archetype, I hope to create a similar effect through my work with Appalachian women. 

Denny, Francis. Major Arcana: Witches in America (2018). Retrieved from

Portraits and Dreams, Wendy Ewald

Wendy Ewald is a photographic artist, community activist, and educator, and has travelled all over the country working with people to help them document their own life and culture. In this series, Portraits and Dreams, Ewald empowers students in Letcher County, Kentucky to make photographs of their home, family, community, and even themselves. Within this series are several provocative self-portraits realizing dreams, imaginative play, and the raw emotions that come from being a child. In the statement for this series she writes, “I wanted them to expand their ideas about picture-making, while staying close to the people and places they felt most deeply about.” In this quote, I deeply appreciate her employment of the term “picture-making” as this is an important teaching tool, especially when sharing your practice with others. She goes on to say, “When they made self-portraits, they discovered that they could be the subjects of their own photographs, and could change themselves into whatever characters they chose to create…The photographs the children took afterwards broke new ground for many of them—and for me. They seemed not to separate their waking and sleeping worlds, as adults do, and as in dreams ordinary objects became magical vehicles.” In this statement, I see many parallels between my own work and the work of the children in this series. In a similar way that they are able to capture themselves in a light that is true to their dreams, I hope to create images with the women in this project that will visualize their dreams and the ways in which they wish to be represented.

Ewald, Wendy. Portraits and Dreams (1976-1981). Retrieved from

Click here for the full book review.

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Female Farmer Profile Project, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture

I am looking at this project, headed by Logan Field, that delves into the work of female farmers in the region. In a similar way to Francis Denny, Field is documenting and recasting the archetype of the mountain farmer. According to her blog, Field says, “women are the fastest growing demographic of small-farm owners and operators,” and she is creating a platform on which the stories of these women can be told. I am not looking at this project in terms of craft and artistic rendering, but to see the ways that these types of empowering documentary projects are enacted at the local level. With each farmer, there are photos to animate the profile, but there are also interview questions and often quite tough questions at that. For example, Field asks, “Did you encounter barriers? Were they gender related?,” “Has your gender ever been an issue with regards to farmwork?,” “Why do you think women are the fastest growing demographic of small-farm owners and operators?,” and “What do you think is the stereotype of a farmer?” This project seems less informed by the images of the farmers, though they do play a significant role in the act of creating a profile of them, and seems to be more about the act of documenting opinions and the climate around the topic at hand. 

Female Farmer Profile Project. (2018). Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. Retrieved from

Gestare Art Collective

 Gestare Art Collective is comprised of a group of women in Canada: Barbara Bickel, Nane Jordan, Medwyn McConachy, and Cindy Lou Griffith. These women are all artist/ teacher/ researchers and create work individually as well as collectively through Gestare. They have several ecofeminist projects including, Wombwalks, Dark Moon Ma Walking, and another community project entitled, Nap-in Dream Scrolls. I am interested in the way these artists collaboratively create work that is often performative in nature but exists afterward in photo, video, and multimedia pieces. It is especially informative to see how their work, particularly the Dream Scroll, connects with communities other than their own. Last summer, Barbara Bickel came to Appalachian State University as a visiting artist and facilitated a Nap-in at HOW Space with several groups of students and community members. Each group engaged in a collective napping, followed by a creative exploration of dreams and imaginings experienced during the nap. They were then taught how to make their own Dream Scroll which now inhabits their own spaces in our community. Using the artwork and research of Gestare, I plan to inform and incorporate ways to give to the communities I am working with by teaching a skill or introducing a creative practice. 

Gestare Art Collective. (2018). Retrieved from

Dark Moon MA Walking

Dark Moon MA Walking

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Her Appalachia

This project was conceived during the making of hillbilly, a film by Ashley York created to show a broader, more complex view of the hillbilly stereotype. The Her Appalachia project “allows Appalachian women to tell our own identity stories. It allows us to address the role media archetypes play in our lives, and how our lives differ from these portrayals.” Sam Cole, who collaborated with others to bring the project together, writes, “We hope this project gives mountain women a voice, allowing us to tell our own stories through audio clips and photographic portraits.” The project currently exists through a website platform showcasing four women with interviews and digital portraits as well as pieces of writing from the five makers behind the project. The interviews of real women living and working within the region are shown first and are followed by a series of general stereotypes placed upon Appalachian women: “the mountain mamaw, the holy roller, the drug addict, the sex pot, and the freeloader.” These stereotypes are then followed by the stories of the makers of the project. I was surprised to find this work as it is very similar to my own research, and I hope to be able to join forces or collaborate with the project in the future.

Her Appalachia. (2018). Retrieved from

The Nature of Craft and the Penland Experience, McLaughlin, J.

This book was published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte, NC, that celebrated the 75thanniversary of Penland School of Craft. The exhibition book is edited by Jean McLaughlin, who is the Director at Penland School of Craft and not only lends information to support the exhibition, but shares a deeper story of Penland and the history of craft in the region. She writes, “Craft stands as a common denominator among peoples, as an act of invention, embellishment, and communication. To honor craft is to recognize the value inherent in the human spirit. To pay attention to craft is to learn from materials and processes, to find joy in the utilitarian and commonplace, and to realize that powerful ideas are made manifest through the work of the hands,” (8). Penland has long been a hub for new ideas, chance, and experimentation through the arts. McLaughlin goes on to say, “We wanted to explore ways of understanding craft through the perspective of fields such as anthropology, science, folklore, sociology, poetry, and cultural history and criticism,” (8). This book is a wonderful example of the ways craft and experimental, collaborative artmaking influence a community and can travel and be experienced outside of the region. While many folks come from outside of the region to attend Penland, there is much to be learned from the structure of this school and its contributions to the history of craft and art within the region as well as how these crafts exist today.

McLaughlin, J. W., Mint Museum of Craft + Design., & Penland School of Crafts. (2004). The Nature of Craft and the Penland Experience. New York: Lark Books.

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The Appalachian Photographs of Doris Ulmann, Doris Ulmann

While Ulmann’s images in this work, created during her time in Appalachia, are often beautiful and strong portraits though they raise some points that should be discussed when critically thinking about the way we photograph one another. Ulmann was a photographer from New York who travelled through various parts of the country in hopes of documenting people and cultures she thought were quickly disappearing. This obviously puts a very strong bias on the way one would document the people and ways of life they see in areas, such as the Appalachian region. This view of Appalachia as a waning and antiquated culture certainly influenced the way she made her images as one can see in the olden garb she photographs her subjects in. Looking at this body of work as a point of reference for how Appalachia has been previously represented is important when attempting to decipher how to create images moving forward. There are certainly worse depictions of Appalachia to be found, and many of Ulmann’s images are powerful portraits of women in the region that have much to be learned from.

Ulmann, D., Niles, J. J., Williams, J., & Martin, S. (1971). The Appalachian Photographs of Doris Ulmann. Penland, N.C.: Jargon Society.

Women of Appalachia Project

I first learned of this project through a conference presentation/performance at the Appalachian Studies Association Conference in Cincinnati, OH, in March of 2018. The Women of Appalachia Project “was created to address discrimination directed at women from the Appalachian region by encouraging participation from women artists of diverse backgrounds, ages, and experiences to come together, to embrace the stereotype, to show the whole woman: beyond the superficial factors that people use to judge her.” The group attempts to achieve this through a crowd-sourced collection of mostly creative writings and a few visual artworks submitted by women in the region that is published annually. I find it informative to research the processes by which these kinds of projects operate, especially in order to formulate a critical and comprehensive understanding of the way these stereotypes exist and are potentially amplified by such projects. For example, this publication is not quite as diverse as it claims to be, and this year, the visual arts call was juried by Roger May. While Roger May is a successful emerging artist, I cannot help but wonder why he was chosen to jury the Women of Appalachia project. Despite the fact that he is a well-received artist, he will still be one of two decision-makers who make the call for what should be included in a publication that will, in essence, reinforce the way Appalachian women are perceived. I do not think that this position is one that should be given to a man, however qualified, because the creation and publication of media around the archetype of a woman, especially an Appalachian woman, should be created and curated by women in a radical effort to present our own image as opposed to continually being presented by and through men. However, I do see this project as a valuable avenue for artists and creative writers in the region and is one that I can learn from. 

Women of Appalachia Project. (2018). Retrieved from

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New Opportunity School for Women

In a similar way that I will use Jane Stephenson’s book, Changing Lives in Appalachia: The New Opportunity School for Women, I will use this website as a current source to find information about the New Opportunity School for Women in both Berea, Kentucky, and Banner Elk, NC (at Lees McRae College). Having both sources will allow me to represent the program in both a historical and contemporary sense. For instance, since Stephenson’s book was published, the program has been cut into a one or two-week experience rather than a three-week experience, according to the website. It is also important to note that self-esteem and wellness are still at the top of the New Opportunity School for Women’s “Core Curriculum Components.” The website also talks about current events that the program is involved in, such as graduate reunions, graduate retreats, philanthropy, conferences, and more, which could be informative when looking at outlets for creative workshop spaces. 

New Opportunities School for Women. (2018). Retrieved from

Changing Lives in Appalachia: The New Opportunity School for Women, Jane Stephenson

This book was an exciting find. It is written by Jane Stephenson, founder of The New Opportunities School for Women, and follows the stories of seven women who have gone through the program as well as provides a history of the program and a deeper look at the curriculum used during the “Three-Week Experience.” Apart from the narratives of the women who have graduated from the program, the book is told from the perspective of Jane Stephenson, who grew up in Avery County seeing the effects of the fact that “boys had more advantages than girls,” (vii). The mission of the New Opportunity School for Women “is to improve the educational, financial, and personal circumstances of low-income, middle-aged women in the south central Appalachian region,” (39). What is interesting, though, about NOSW is that their main focus is to build self-esteem. They operate under the belief that “self-esteem is changed and bolstered by learning new tools and strategies, and learning that beliefs, even long-held ones, can change,” (69). I think this approach is what makes this program unique and worthy of exploring further. 

Stephenson, J. B. (2013). Changing Lives in Appalachia: The New Opportunity School for Women. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation. 

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Mountain Women: Steel and Velvet ; Stories of Appalachian Women, Frances VanLandingham

This book is a collection of stories gathered by Frances VanLandingham about Appalachian “women with wills of steel, and hearts as soft as velvet,” (iii). I envision myself using this book as a reference to understanding womanhood in Appalachia. Many of the stories included are written by the daughters of whom the stories are written about. This intergenerational approach is something I am very interested in exploring further and incorporating into my workshop curriculum. Some of these stories are more poetic in nature. For example:  

“I am an old woman and forgetful… but I do have memories - exact, precise, detailed memories from times long past. A summer evening spills over the mountains as I linger in the cemetery surrounded by the tombstones - grave markers of my ancestors, friends, and neighbors from generations now gone from this earth. A warm fragrant wind blows up from the fields and woods beyond. It seems to carry whispers, murmurs of voices from long ago,” (1). 

While some stories are poetic, others are straightforward and tell the detailed biography of mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and friends. The book is an interesting collection that often emphasizes the love, happiness, and strength that these women exuded despite the hardships they may have faced. The author says, “I learned, at an early age, to trust in the power and strength of women,” (2) which is a lens I am eager to look through in order to gain a deeper understanding of womanhood in Appalachia. I do realize, however, that this is a very white, heteronormative storybook and intend to dig more deeply into diverse experiences of womanhood in Appalachia. 

VanLandingham, F. H. (2008). Mountain Women: Steel and Velvet ; Stories of Appalachian Women.

Ecofeminism: Feminst Intersections with other Animals and the Earth, Carol Adams and Lori Gruen

In their book, Ecofeminism: Feminst Intersections with other Animals and the Earth, Carol Adams and Lori Gruen have gathered essays that speak to the aspects of feminism that align with environmentalism. Ecofeminism is defined in the book as “the various ways that sexism, heteronormativity, racism, colonialism, and ableism are informed by and support speciesism and how analyzing the ways these forces intersect can produce less violet, more just practices,” (1). The book discusses specific “structures of power… reinforce the ‘othering’ of women and animals, and contribute to the increasing destruction of the environment,” (1). The book is broken into three parts: Groundwork, affect, and context. These are then broken into subsections including essays by various feminist authors-- “Compassion and Being Human” by Deane Curtin, “Eros and Mechanisms of Eco-Defense by pattrice jones, “A Contextualized Ecofeminist Approach in Action” by Karen S. Emmerman, and “Toward New EcoMasculinities, EcoGenders, and EcoSexualities” by Greta Gaard. These essays will be useful to me in regards to aligning my intentions with the conversations I hope to co-create around the ideas of ecofeminism. 

Adams, C. J., & Gruen, L. (2014). Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with other Animals and the Earth. New York: Bloomsbury. 

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 A Zen-Flavored Feminist Environmental Selfhood and its Contemporary Implications, Y. Lam

This publication struck me with its ecofeminist approach to environmental selfhood. The author claims that she will dive into the “contextual and alternative groundings for the future development of a new ‘ecological selfhood’” (1), a term coined by Val Plumwood. According to Lam, the analysis of Wang Wei’s poetry through an ecofeminist lens “suggests a new method through which this selfhood can be attained” (1). In regards to my own research, this publication seemingly presents a point of view that can be applied to the ecofeminist approach I am weaving through my project. Where this article falls short, in both credibility and usability for my research, is the fact that the author is using the poetry and creative work of a male-identifying person to ground the theoretical “ecological self” of ecofeminist scholar Val Plumwood. What does it mean for an ecofeminist to take conceptual roots in something that is written by a man? I will benefit by digging more deeply into Plumwood’s work as I am both intrigued by her concepts and see many parallels between my own research and her writings.

Lam, Y. (2017). A Zen-Flavored Feminist Environmental Selfhood and its Contemporary Implications. Ethics & the Environment22(2), 99-123. Indiana University Press. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from Project MUSE database.

On Photography, Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag, writer, philosopher, and political activist among other roles, discusses the visual code within photographs and the ethical, physical, and conceptual act of making them in her book, On Photography. This book has guided my understanding of photography and has influenced my practice of making images. With her simple, but powerful, statements such as: “There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera,” (7) which challenges the terminology of “shooting” or “taking” an image, Sontag creates a captivating dialogue that encourages photographers to reconsider the language they put around their practice. Looking at this work through a feminist lens, I am using her consideration of the camera as “a tool of power,” (8) to transform it into something that can be used to recast the image of women in Appalachia through and with women’s perspectives. I am also incorporating her proposition that “having a camera transform[s] one into something active,” (10) and that “using a camera is still a form of participation,” (12) in my creative philosophy that engages me as an active member of my community through the act of making images just as well as other types of community participation. Just as I am empowered by her words to use the camera as a feminist tool, I am also carefully considering her clear discontentment with cameras and photographers. For example, she states: “Cameras are fantasy-machines whose use is addictive,” and “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed,” (14). With this, I will continue to evaluate my practices and adjust them in hopes of being as collaborative as possible with my image-making and allow the women in the work I am doing to be active subjects who have control over what is being made and how it is being shown. In reimagining her latter statement, I hope to empower the women in this work by creating spaces where we can engage with this knowledge that is seemingly hidden and enact control over the way it is presented moving forward. 

Sontag, Susan. (1977). On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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 Rebuilding Communities: A 12-Step Recovery Program, Helen Lewis

This essay written by Helen Lewis is an in-depth and detailed plan for community development. In this essay, Lewis emphasizes the importance of sustainability, the need for “people development,” ways that community development can be “culture-based, inclusive, and ecologically based”, and ways to use local resources in programming (317). Lewis’ 12-steps are as follows:

1.     Understand your history

2.     Mobilize / organize / revive community

3.     Profile and assess your local community

4.     Analyze and envision alternatives

5.     Educate the community

6.     Build confidence and pride

7.     Develop local projects

8.     Strengthen your organization

9.     Collaborate and build coalitions

10.  Take political power

11.  Initiate economic activity

12.  Enter local / regional / national / international planning processes (318-321). 

Though Lewis’ plan encompasses an entire local community rather than a specific demographic (women), her points within each step are well taken and can be translated into my plans to hold workshops and intentional creative spaces to empower community members. I appreciate the way she frames the “community developer” as someone who participates in a “collaborative research model” which “describes the process whereby the researcher/educator comes to the community at the invitation of the community to help them ask questions and find their own answers,” (322). There is much to learn from this way of thinking about community development, and I intend to apply several of Lewis’ teachings to my own practice. 

Lewis, H. (2007). Rebuilding Communities: A 12-Step Recovery Program. Appalachian Journal,34(3/4), 316-325. Retrieved from


Through this research, I have brought together many disciplines, perspectives, and projects to carefully curate a body of informative content to use in my practice moving forward. By including the work of artists, activists, creative writers, and educators, I hope to formulate a research project that is inclusive of all my skills and interests. Informed by the work of artists like Francis Denny, Wendy Ewald, and the Gestare Art Collective, I hope to extend my efforts towards intentionally creating and weaving my artistic work into the fabric of my research and workshops with Appalachian women. I intend to delve more deeply into using photovoice as a method to empower the women in my community by finding more examples of successful women-led endeavors. It has also been beneficial to get a better grounding in the scholarship of Appalachian Studies and its relationship to art and women’s studies as well as in the visual information that extends beyond the region, like the work of Doris Ulmann. Through the works of Elizabeth Engelhardt, bell hooks, Joyce Dyer, and others, I have gained an understanding of scholarship in women’s studies about the region and the Appalachian stereotype. Somewhat surprisingly, there is very little ecofeminist work emerging from or about the region, but it is a topic I intend on exploring further.

My work fills a gap in current research by creatively and collaboratively bringing together voices from multiple perspectives in an attempt to create a grassroots project that is accessible, meaningful, and empowering for my community. It is my intent to hold space and facilitate critical discussions around topics of womanhood in Appalachia as well as provide a platform for creative reflection to participants. Researching various collaborative and community projects, such as the Women of Appalachia Project, New Opportunities School for Women, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture’s Female Farmer Project, and the Her Appalachia project, has given me insight into what is currently being done in the region and how I can fill niches within this work.