Take a walk through the past –Southern style–at the Cranbury Museum.
The Cranbury Museum, which is located at 4 Park Place in Cranbury, has presented a new exhibit on display that is connecting people to the past through featured materials documenting life in the South during the 1970s.
The exhibit, “Southern Folk Life,” has photography, art and recordings of music that are generated from Jerry Pevahouse, who in the 1970s, journeyed throughout Tennessee and Mississippi documenting both the poverty and spirit of the region’s residents.
Pevahouse’s collection includes a center piece of 40 photos, recordings of delta-style blues artists Blind Abraham McNeil and Henry Speller, as well as art from Coy Love.
“After moving to Tennessee, I worked for the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, which is a nonprofit to promote arts and music,” Pevahouse said. “I began making contacts with musicians and folk artists like Henry Speller and Cory Love. I was able to borrow quality recording equipment from the center and my brother had given me a pretty nice camera, which is also on display.”
The documentation of Pevahouse’s work spans over a four-year period beginning in 1974, as Pevahouse traveled throughout Mississippi and Tennessee capturing a culture with art, music and poverty.
He encountered delta-style street blues singers, where he recorded their music, and took photos of people in their natural element. For Pevahouse it was important to capture the essence and true picture of what was happening during this period of time in the mid-70s.
“When recording, I did not need to ask people to sing or play – they were just doing it. The point was to make contact with people and they were kind enough to invite me into their homes,” he said. “This was real and spontaneous.”
Pevahouse describes his work of photos and recordings as a showcase of the dignity and strength of people in some of the poorest conditions of the time period.
“Most of the people I documented have passed away. I caught the tail end of something that was rapidly disappearing,” he said. “The black subjects, people need to understand, lived with dignity and pride. They were not beaten down considering the horrible conditions they we living in. In my first 30 years of life there was segregation in the South. I went to a segregated school. They survived with dignity and took a lot from people in the environment that they lived in. The strength was just powerful.”
Pevahouse said it was about the quality not quantity when it came to capturing images for “Southern Folk Life.”
“When I began this work, I began moving and working with black musicians and artists. For the first time I had really made contact with a different culture and people,” he said. “That was the most interesting part of it. It gave me an education.”
The people Pevahouse encountered through his journey were considered friends. He said the best part of his work was meeting the blues musicians Henry Speller and Blind Abraham McNeil.
“I achieved what I wanted to capture, I captured people around me. Some people I only met one time,” Pevahouse explained. “I went to homes, picnics and just captured moments. This is not meant to be artistic. This is documentation.”
He explained one thing he regretted that he did not have in the exhibit is the photos of the architecture during that time. Pevahouse said he had taken plenty of photos. Pevahouse made certain he could portray with the daily life of black and white southerners through his work.
“I do not think people have any clue what it was like to live in that environment and be that poor. There was no opportunity. You were locked in. For example, in West Tennessee the towns were 20-30 miles away,” he said. “You did not have money to get out. This was truly intense poverty. We throw away things that the people I met would never throw away.”
Pevahouse also saved pieces from that time which included handmade baskets, not for decoration in homes, but as tools used to aid the individuals who created them. He had also saved a handmade washboard to showcase what a family created to clean their clothes.
“If I did not do it, no one else would. I wanted to document [everything] to make certain this period in the South was remembered,” he said. “Everything has a story; when you know the story it is fascinating.”
People can see Jerry Pevahouse’s work on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. For more information about the exhibit, visit www.cranburyhistory.org.