Archive Collections at Iron Mountain

One year after the flood, hundreds of cardboard boxes containing (almost) the entire Appalshop Archive collections of audiovisual media have been moved to Iron Mountain, a climate controlled storage facility in a former iron mine inside a mountain in Boyers, Pennsylvania. We are grateful to Iron Mountain for extending the life of this archive through financial support, cold storage, digital preservation, and support for upgrading our website.

Steven Walter, who drove two truck loads of archive boxes from Whitesburg to Boyers, PA

Most of the media in the archive remains “trapped” on obsolete formats, frozen in time but unable to be heard or seen by the public without being digitized. A lot of this media also sustained flood damage, which puts it on a quicker timeline of physical deterioration. This opportunity to store these materials in a stable environment and accelerate the cleaning and digitizing process is a big step towards sharing these sounds, images and stories with the world.

Archive director Caroline Rubens and U-matic tapes
Boxes of audio and video tapes

Appalshop Archive Flooded

On the morning of July 28th 2022, the waters of a 1000-year flood breached Appalshop’s warehouse and vault which held paper records, film, video, audio and photographs representing a century of central Appalachian history. While a great number of archival items had been preserved over the years, with copies stored elsewhere, many had not yet been transferred to contemporary, accessible formats. Plans to accelerate the digitization of the collections were underway when the floodwaters overtook our building.

Thanks to emergency support from archival specialists and an incredible team of volunteers who came from near and far, we have been able to carry out a complex recovery effort to empty the contents of our warehouse and vault, sort materials according to their needs (e.g., some items were refrigerated while others required immediate dehumidification), and ship them to different locations for treatment and storage.   

80% of our film reels, video tapes and audio tapes were affected by the floodwaters. These materials include interviews with and footage of legendary Appalachian musicians, artists and authors such as Ralph Stanley, Hazel Dickens, chairmaker Chester Cornett, Harriet Simpson Arnow, and scholar Helen Lewis. They also include mountain people from all walks of life, from coal miners to lawyers, politicians to local sheriffs, granny midwives to teen-aged basketball players. Thousands of these items are at preservation labs to see what can be salvaged, and thousands more are being stabilized in a low-humidity space in Whitesburg.

Several of our photo collections were also affected by the floodwaters, including the 3600 original photographic negatives in our William R. “Pictureman” Mullins Collection, 1935-55. Mullins took portraits of people, ceremonies, and landscapes in central Appalachia, such as this image of a river baptism (digitized before the flood).  Mullins’ photo negatives are being assessed by a conservator to see what can be saved.

The estimates of the costs for salvaging and digitizing the collections are high, and we expect that it will take at least a year to compile a full account of the flood’s effects. Early reports from preservation labs have been encouraging and we are hopeful that the quick actions taken in the first weeks of the flood will result in a significant amount of material being saved, but it will take a great deal of time and funding to accomplish. Our hope is to digitize whatever is salvaged and to make the Appalshop collections more available than ever before.

We have a lot to be grateful for, but also a long road ahead of us in recovering and providing access to our collections. We will need the continued support of our community to make it there!

If you would like to to support us please click here to make a donation to Appalshop Archive. You can also support us through our Amazon Wish List that will be updated periodically as needs change throughout this long process.

Thank you from all of us at Appalshop Archive.

Archive Digitization Projects

The Appalshop Archive staff has been working to digitize a wide range of photographic and audiovisual material from obsolete formats. The following is an overview of what has emerged recently from the archive, along with connected threads that lead elsewhere.

Footage from Richmond, VA, 1970

This silent footage features Black communities in and around the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia. It was shot on Super 8mm film by Ben Zickafoose, a prominent but elusive character in the history of Appalshop film. Zickafoose made this film while a student in a sociology class taught by Helen Lewis at Clinch Valley College (now UVA-Wise) in Wise, Virginia. Zickafoose’s thesis project for the class was the film Coal Miner Frank Jackson which became one of Appalshop’s first feature documentaries. 

The William R. “Pictureman” Mullins Collection, 1935-1955

William R. “Pictureman” Mullins was a self-taught professional photographer from Dickenson County, Virginia, two counties over from Letcher County, Kentucky. From the 1930s through the 50s Mullins photographed people living in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia, and in Baltimore where he worked in a shipyard during World War II. 

Mullins took photos of individuals, couples, families, religious happenings, funeral ceremonies, landscapes, roadways and storefronts. He had a sharp eye for composition and light and his work is often recognizable, in part because of the rarity of commercial portrait photography in this region and time period. Many of the people in his portraits took care to get dressed up for the picture in their best suits and dresses. The images are careful and formal and stand in contrast to most early to mid-twentieth century photography of Appalachia, which often took the form of outsiders looking in at an impoverished, “other” world. 

Mullins’ work was prolific, but only a fraction of his photographs still exist after a fire destroyed his home studio in Jenkins, Kentucky. The Appalshop Archive is home to the 3600 photo negatives that survived the fire and our staff is performing preservation scans of these negatives to be cataloged and made available to the public. 

Mullins’ son James described his father in an interview:

“No, he was a poet as such. And he used to draw a lot. I can remember pictures – or sketchings, should I say, more than that – I remember one picture he had of a turtle sitting out here on a log and three rabbits standing on the bank, and one of them had a bow and arrow, fixing to shoot the turtle.”

Interview with Morgan Sexton, 1991

In late May of 1991 Dallas filmmaker Blaine Dunlap shot this video footage of the legendary banjo player and singer Morgan Sexton at his home in Linefork, Kentucky. Dunlap speaks with Morgan and his wife Virgie on their porch, and follows him around his garden. This particular project was never completed and Dunlap’s footage remains unedited, but some of Dunlap’s other finished work, including this short documentary about the nighttime street cleaners of Dallas, hints at what the Morgan Sexton footage might have become. 

Dunlap’s film “Sometimes I Run” is not owned by the Appalshop Archive

Help to Preserve our Unique Collections!

Established in 2002, Appalshop archive cares for an extensive media collection that includes thousands of hours of 16mm film, videotape and audio recordings as well as photographic negatives and prints, paper documents and material ephemera that portray a multifaceted view of life and history in central Appalachia. Our physical infrastructure is in critical need of upgrades and renovations to so that we can properly preserve and digitize our collections. In addition to a secure work area, the 40 year old roof above the vault needs to be replaced. In the coming years, our ability to make a wealth of currently inaccessible materials available to community members as well as scholars, researchers, and the public, will depend on these infrastructure improvements.

Donate here

With architectural and engineering plans drafted, we are now embarking on a 4-year capital campaign made possible by an Infrastructure and Capacity Building $125,000 Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. To meet the Challenge, we must match it 3 to 1 and raise $375,000 to leverage the total of $500,000 cost of upgrades.

Please consider making a donation to help ensure the longevity of and improved access to Appalshop Archive’s rich holdings by visiting our Project Donation Page.

The Covid Garden: A Story Writing Workshop

Are you a farmer or growing a garden? Are you a writer or interested in writing? Appalshop Archive in partnership with the Creating in Place project invites farmers and gardeners with any or no writing experience, as well as writers who built a home garden this summer, to tell their stories. The workshop will be led by award-winning author Rebecca Gayle Howell: “Through online meetings, we will collaborate, practicing active listening and creative documentary techniques, as we work to share the harvest that this summer of quarantine brought to us—be it one of grief, stress, or an unexpected bliss. We will also read writing from those who have come before us, voices who can help comfort, challenge, and guide us, teaching us how to hear each other’s stories and share our own.” At the end of the workshop, participants will be invited to contribute to a radio documentary, produced for community radio station WMMT in Whitesburg, KY.


Workshop classes will take place twice a week from October 13 through November 8th. Participants will receive a $250 stipend, and seating is limited to 12.

The deadline to apply is Friday, October 2nd. Please apply via this Google form. Applicants who live in Eastern Kentucky will get priority seating. Because classes will take place online, access to a good internet connection will be required.

The COVID Garden is an online story workshop offered by Appalshop’s Creating in Place initiative to bring together original, creative works about life during Covid. We thank the National Endowment for the Arts for their generous support.

Welcome to Appalshop Archive Online!

Welcome to Appalshop Archive’s online catalog, where you can search film, video, audio, photographs and other records in our collections. This beta version gives access to only a portion of our digitized media, item catalog records, and finding aids, however we will be regularly making updates and revealing the catalog, so keep checking back for new discoveries.

We invite you to interact with the site by registering and using the Lightbox feature, which lets you save favorite items to a personal folder. An account also lets you comment on and suggest tags for items and collections. Help us to enrich these community collections by sharing information about an image or recording, person or place.

One of the aims of this website is to provide access not only to individual items—such as a live musical recording or a video interview—and not only to Appalshop’s linear history, but to a multi-dimensional map of the organization’s deep and sustained work in central Appalachia and beyond, and to offer points of entry into this unparalleled experiment in place-based, first-voice representation.

About Appalshop’s feature films and June Appal Recordings releases is where users can access–among other collections–Appalshop’s production archive comprised of thousands of hours of full interviews and outtakes, b-roll, promotional items and ephemera associated with the organization’s media history. It also includes excerpts from Appalshop’s 100+ feature films and in some cases gives access to the full film. However, our non-profit organization continues to raise revenue by selling its feature documentaries at as DVDs or via streaming services.

For June Appal Recordings, you can visit June Appal’s Bandcamp page for digital streaming/download, and for cassettes, CDs and LPs.