A Guide to the Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection, 1880-1989 Palmer, Earl, Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection Ms1989-025

Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection,1880-1989

A Collection in
Special Collections
Collection Number Ms1989-025


Special Collections, Virginia Tech

Special Collections, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061
Phone: (540) 231-6308
Fax: (540) 231-3694
Email: specref@vt.edu
URL: http://spec.lib.vt.edu/

©2014 By Virginia Tech. All rights reserved.

Processed by: John M. Jackson, Special Collections

Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.
Collection number
Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection 1880-1989
Physical Characteristics
This collection consists of approximately 1,000 photographs and artifacts.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from the Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection must be obtained from Special Collections, Virginia Tech.

Preferred Citation

Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection, Ms1989-025 - Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.

Acquisition Information

The Earl Palmer Collection was donated jointly to the Appalachian Collection of the University Libraries and the Appalachian Studies Program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1989.

Alternative Form

The Special Collections Imagebase contains digital images of both photosand artifactsin the collection.

Processing Information

The re-processing, arrangement and description of the photographs and accompanying papers commenced in July 2002 and was completed in October 2002.

Biographical/Historical Information

Earl Palmer, an Appalachian photographer, was born in Bell County (some sources claim Harlan County), Kentucky, on May 11, 1905. The son of traveling circus performers, Palmer's interest in photography began when he received a camera as a gift at age 7. After high school, Palmer took a job with a local A&P grocery store. By the time he was 19, Palmer was managing the store and was soon employed by A&P as a road supervisor, overseeing 18 stores. Meanwhile, his photos were appearing in local newspapers and were soon being seen in numerous travel magazines.

Around 1945, Palmer moved with his first wife, Alice, to Cambria, Virginia (now part of Christiansburg), where he opened a grocery store. By this time, Palmer's photos were being featured in such magazines as Life,National Geographic, and the Saturday Evening Post. Billing himself the "Blue Ridge Mountains' Roamin' Camera Man", Palmer concentrated on the people and places of Appalachia, particularly the region's traditional culture. Though based in southwestern Virginia, Palmer traveled the mountain regions of Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia in search of subjects.

By 1954, Palmer had been elected mayor of Cambria, and he would serve in that capacity until the town's merger with Christiansburg in 1964. In 1972, he retired from the grocery business to devote more time to photography. During his many trips, Palmer also collected a number of artifacts associated with traditional mountain life, including wagon wheels, handicrafts, a moonshine still and tools.

In 1982, Palmer married Evelyn Chrisman; he died at his home on March 4, 1996.

Scope and Content Information

This collection contains the photographs of Earl Palmer, an award-winning photographer from Cambria, Virginia, whose work depicted the landscape and traditional culture of rural Appalachia in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The collection is divided among the following series: Photographs, Duplicate Photographs, Written Materials, and Oversize Photographs.


The collection is divided among the following series:

Series I, Photographs. Palmer's photographs span the 1940s to the 1970s and document the landscape and traditional culture of Appalachia in the Virginia- Tennessee-North Carolina-Kentucky-West Virginia region, depicting artisans, moonshiners, coal miners and scenes from daily life in rural Appalachia. Many of the photos are accompanied by descriptions written by Palmer. The photographs (approximately 750) are arranged by topic, with numerous cross-references directing the user to appropriate subject headings.

Series II, Duplicate Photos. Duplicate copies of those photos found in Series I, these photos are also arranged alphabetically by the same headings used in describing the original photos. Note that while there are multiple copies of some photos, there are no duplicate copies of others

Series III, Written Materials. This series includes a small set of papers related to Palmer's photographic work and includes photo blurbs, correspondence and notes, postcards and other printed material. Arranged by document type.

Series IV, Oversize Materials. This series contains photos which were too large to be filed with those in the Photographs series. It contains four images.

Series V, Artifacts. The Artifacts Series contains materials, collected by Palmer, that are associated with traditional Appalachian folk culture. The series includes such items as a moonshine still, wagon wheels, ox yokes and hand-made brooms, as well as items associated with coal mining and railroading. Also included is a small collection of cameras and photography equipment. [Note: Except where otherwise noted within the contents list by the presence of a box-item location, the materials in this series are currently held by the university's Appalachian Studies Program and are housed in Solitude. While the material descriptions are arranged by subject matter in this guide, the items themselves are not so arranged.]

Index Terms

Contents List

Series I, Photographs
Series II, Duplicate Photos
Series III, Written Materials
Oversize Photos