WVU exhibit explores the music of West Virginia during the timber boom

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia has a rich history of music and logging that is now perfectly captured in a new exhibit at the West Virginia University Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum.

The beginning of the exhibit

The exhibit, “Timber/Timbre: Falling Trees and Rising Voices – Logging and Music in West Virginia, 1880-1930,” use folk music to explore the history and themes of logging in West Virginia’s Allegheny Highland region. Danielle Petrak, the exhibit’s curator, said the exhibit’s goal is to create awareness of history but in a creative way.

“Our goal was just to find a creative way of telling the story of West Virginia’s logging industry,” Petrak said.

She continued.

“We’re hoping that this exhibit allows visitors to see the logging industry through the perspectives of the logger themselves and the folks that lived along the mountainsides of West Virginia.”

Petrak said tunes from the era can be found throughout and not all of them were actually sung by loggers.

“Not all the tunes that we feature in the exhibit are directly about logging,” the curator said. “But many of them relay themes relating to what residents and loggers were thinking about and experiencing during that boom period in our state’s timber industry. Things like comradery, danger, their connection to the land and that sort of thing.”

Petrak demonstrating one of the songs available in the exhibit

The exhibit will be at the Watts Museum through May 2021, and then it will travel, Petrak said. First, to the Marlington Public Library and then to the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, both in Pocahontas Co. Finally, the exhibit will go to Davis and Elkins College.

The exhibit will travel around because it is part of a larger project commemorating the 200 anniversary of Pocahontas County. In fact, many other projects and programs have been created to go along with the exhibit, Petrak said.

Creating the exhibit, much like the larger project it’s a part of, took a lot of effort.

“I worked with a lot of people on this exhibit: a group of graduate students in an exhibit development class that I taught, as well as many scholars and advisers that helped with the content of the exhibit,” Petrak said. “And I am quite pleased with how it turned out. It was a challenge to develop an exhibit that could travel from place to place, which limited us in some ways, including artifacts. But I think we came up with some creative and effective ways of developing a traveling exhibit.”

A look at the middle section of the exhibit

Petrak said she would like to thank the West Virginia Humanities Council and the WVU Humanities Center for providing funding.

Again, the exhibit will be at WVU until May. Even though it is open to the public, you cannot simply show up and see it without an appointment.

“If you would like to come visit the exhibit, please make an appointment ahead of time since the museum is closed due to COVID restrictions,” Petrak said. “You can call 304-293-4609 or email the museum at wattsmuseum@mail.wvu.edu.”

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