Town & Gown: Alabama in the Making comes to JSU
This Town and Gown is written by Julie Skinner in the Jacksonville State University Office of Public Relations.

The Little River Canyon Center, owned and operated by Jacksonville State University, has a room that’s 2500 square feet. That room was designed to be a Smithsonian-style museum one day, lacking windows and offering the darkness of a movie theater. Since the opening of the Little River Canyon Center to the public in 2009, this darkened exhibit hall has been a popular spot for meetings, wedding receptions and conferences.

But now, it is home to the Alabama in the Making exhibit until Nov. 3. Filled to the brim with artifacts, pottery, quilts, video footage and photographs documenting Alabama’s history, Alabama in the Making is the first large scale exhibit to be in JSU’s Little River Canyon Center.

According to the Executive Director of the Alabama Folk Art Association and the Creator and Developer of the exhibit, Mary-Allison Haynie, the exhibit consists of five kiosks that represent five different regions in Alabama: the Tennessee Valley, Blackbelt, Southern Appalachian, Gulf Coast and Wiregrass regions. At the beginning of each kiosk, there’s an iPad and television that helps visitors to navigate through the massive amounts of history.

“This exhibit is a great opportunity for people of all ages to visit and explore the diverse cultures of Alabama, and the contributions that our artisans have made to the heritage of the state and the country,” Haynie said.

Pete Conroy, director of the Environmental Policy and Information Center at JSU, said that Alabama in the Making would be wonderful for non-Alabamians to visit, as well.

“It’s a terrific overview of Alabama,” Conroy said, “especially if you’re from out of state or out of the country. It’s a really neat way to learn about Alabama and some of the artifacts we’ve created.”

Throughout the exhibit, the history of Alabama unfolds using photographs, audio clips, documentary clips, artifacts and music. Haynie explains what a couple of the kiosks have to offer, including the Tennessee Valley kiosk and the area Jacksonville, Ala., would fall into: the Southern Appalachian region.

“The Tennessee Valley kiosk features the heritage of the Muscle Shoals music tradition and interviews in oral history with two fishermen who fished all their lives on the Tennessee River,” Haynie says. “It also explains the chicken and goat stews tradition of north Alabama.”

Sound weird? You’ll just have to visit the exhibit to find out about this stew.

The Southern Appalachian exhibit features a lot of video clips from documentary films produced by Alabama Public Television, as well as information about the Gospel Quartet tradition and how this ties in with the area’s local steel mills.

What else might you learn from other regions? The Green Corn Ceremony of Native Americans, Gulf Coast gumbo and secret barbecue sauce clubs, just to name a few.

“Families will have a great time visiting the exhibit together because parents, and even grandparents, can recall or identify with people in the exhibit and remember parts of their growing up that are associated with some of the topics presented in the various kiosks,” Haynie said.

It took six months to gather the information for the exhibit, which also includes recycled architecture designed by John Kelton. When looking for the first place to house the exhibit, many fine art facilities were suggested, but Haynie remembered the JSU Little River Canyon Center from a hike she took.

“We’re grateful for the new Little River Canyon Center to open their doors and allow us to present this exhibit,” Haynie said. “It really fits well with the space and provides a great facility for people to visit during the fall.”

The exhibit will be touring for roughly a year, and Haynie said she has a lineup of institutions that want it after it leaves the Little River Canyon Center on Nov. 3.

How much does it cost to experience hours upon hours of some of the most fascinating and multi-cultural history of Alabama?

It’s absolutely free.

Plan a fall adventure to Little River Canyon, and let the Alabama in the Making exhibit take you back home to your roots.

For more information on this story, please contact Julie Skinner at jsu1435n@jsu.edu.
© 2012