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Collections Corner: The Photographs of Robert Burns Stone

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Robert Burns Stone

Robert Burns Stone

Every once and a while, you come across one of those collections that is just a gem.  A true diamond.  The Robert Burns Stone Photograph Collection is one such collection.  Stone was a telephone engineer by trade (between 1913 and 1954) and a Christian missionary by faith.  Sometime in the early 1930s, he founded the Faith Mission Band, a Christian missionary organization devoted to the people of the eastern Kentucky mountain region. An amateur photographer, he used lantern slides, which he produced and collected in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, in lectures to promote Christianity as well as to illustrate the life-styles of eastern Kentuckians as part of his fundraising for his mission work.

"Old Mountaineer"

“Old Mountaineer”

His collection, which consists of Stone’s original color 35 mm slides as well as glass and film transparencies and lantern slides, depicts everyday life in the mountains as well as portraying individuals who were significant to the communities in which  the Faith Mission Band visited.  If you have ever been to, driven by or lived in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, this collection will speak to you.  If you have not, this collection will make you want to get in your car and drive there.  The collection documents less the landscape and more the people-scape of the mountains:  images of people standing proudly before simple wooden cabins, or gathered around “listening stations” to hear the radio, or working at spinning, cooking, lumbering or farming.

"Sorghum Making"

“Sorghum Making”

Many of the images are stark in their portrayal of the “mountain people” as Stone calls them.  Others try to grasp the enormity of the struggle to move from one place to another in a land where there are no roads, sidewalks, or even footpaths.  The images speak for themselves but are also complemented by two diaries, several scrapbooks and several scripts (possibly for Stone to refer during impassioned fund-raising speeches).  One diary was kept by Stone, himself, during a mission trip to the mountains, and describes the struggles that most of the communities faced getting basic resources to individuals.

"Carrying an injured man"

“Carrying an injured man”

The other diary was kept by Mrs. Prescova Hogg, who was inspired by Stone to make a missionary visit to Flax Patch (Knott County).  Stone transcribed Hogg’s diary and added photographs to illustrate her words.

Excerpt from the diary of Prescova Hogg

Excerpt from the diary of Prescova Hogg

Mrs. Hogg describes in detail her daily activities, but also comments on the deeper context of things: the conflicts between the different sects of Baptist believers, the lack of work leading men to leave their families in search of income, the conflict between 19th and 20th century healthcare practices.

This collection a treasure trove of images and information depicting places and peoples infrequently portrayed.  Due to the fragile nature of the glass slides and negatives, much of the collection has been digitized.  Follow this link to view the digital selections .  However, the finding aid provides a detailed inventory and item level description of the entire contents of the collection (read the finding aid).

"Three orphan boys"

“Three orphan boys”

free sample just need to think that the that nothing will change.

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