Old Church Gallery

Tim Smith (left), Bat-Erdene Altankhuyag and Kathleen Ingoldsby take a break from their work on a recent Wednesday at Old Church Gallery.  

It’s a work in progress at Old Church Gallery, where volunteers have taken on a huge project.

“We’re trying to corral all of our archives, both oral history and the permanent collections, to a digital organization so it can be saved and shared,” explained Kathleen Ingoldsby.

Finding a software solution to accomplish that goal was an important first step as the gallery’s files were very large, including audio, video, images and transcripts, added Tim Smith. Omeka, software developed by Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University (GMU), was found to suit needs. The software’s name is a Swahili word meaning “to display or lay out wares,” explained GMU graduate student Bat-Erdene Altankhuyag, who has been in Floyd helping with the work. Omeka software is also used by Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Berea College and others.

The first few entries are already up on the website – OldChurchGallery.org – and blog – FloydStoryCenter.blogspot.com, but it is in the early stages of construction. Every item is being entered according to library standards, “so it will be a universal language…and can go anywhere in the world,” Ingoldsby said.

Dr. Mills Kelly, associate director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center, traveled to the Gallery in August and helped with the work, Ingoldsby noted. “We also went out to the Virginia Tech library and met with people from special collections, from digital preservation services and publishing. They have been supportive.”

The work began this summer, and volunteers meet one day a week to concentrate their efforts. On a recent Wednesday, Ingoldsby had been working on the Joe Rutrough interview from 1999. That interview was part of the place-based interviews, conducted through the anthropology class and Dr. Melinda Wagner at Radford University, and the start of the oral history project.

“They went out the first year in 1999 and interviewed almost a dozen people around the Buffalo Mountain area,” Ingoldsby said. “Then in 2000 and 2001, also with Dr. Mary B. LaLone, they interviewed the Little River area, and mostly because it was anthropology, they tried to extract information about living near that kind of resource, so we had stories about harvesting the ice on the river and Buffalo Mountain had about hunting, and so forth. In the snippet we have about Joe Rutrough, he said ‘it has been years since I’ve seen a quail.’ But he also talked about his father’s life as a physician and what that was like in that time period, so it runs the gamut of what you get out of an interview.”

A one-and-a-half minute snippet of the Rutrough interview is already on the website. Smith said the whole interview – done by Radford students Josh Klemmer and Anna Marie Meador, along with Ingoldsby - was over 50 minutes long. Each of the oral histories will include a sampling of the interviews that were done. The complete interviews will be available at the gallery on Wilson Street in Floyd.

In 1999, interviews were on cassette tapes, Ingoldsby said. “These early recordings were part of a grant. We got a tape to PC converter. All of those cassette tapes had to be converted to digital. And some of them had to be improved. We did some audio editing to clean up the audio (from background noise)…and enhanced them as much as possible.”

Oral histories are still being collected by the Gallery’s Floyd Story Center. In 2018, the center released a DVD set of films created from the stories of local World War II veterans and their families. Those interviews were conducted by students at Floyd County High School.

Most recently, Floyd teachers have interviewed people for community and neighborhood stories.

Ingoldsby came to Floyd County from Boston in 1980. She became interested in the stories of her almost 90-year-old neighbor. “I could not believe the oral histories in her head that spanned the whole county’s history.”

She also interviewed other neighbors, who talked about tomato canning and the area cannery. There were those stories, but there were “hundreds of others,” Ingoldsby realized.

In the late 1980s, she interviewed Luther Bowman about the “four farms area” – a place in Floyd County where “you didn’t need to go anywhere else, except to get your horse shoed….Everything was there that they needed.”

Then Wagner came along in 1999 and suggested this project, Ingoldsby said. Catherine Pauley, the executive vice president of The Old Church Gallery, “was completely on board.” The Gallery “provided a community link and connection for the Radford University interviews.”

Ingoldsby said she was immediately drawn to the gallery. “It represented the best of Floyd County.”

In the late 80s, Ingoldsby also took an Appalachian Studies course, taught by Floyd County resident and educator Bill Gardner at Floyd County High School. There she met a longtime local historian, Marguerite Tise, now deceased. Ingoldsby’s love of local history grew. “There’s a wealth of history here, if you just look under the rocks.”

Smith, a retired reference librarian from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, has lived in Floyd County for more than three years. He met Ingoldsby before he moved here. His first job as a librarian was at nearby Wytheville Community College, where he said he came to know and love the Blue Ridge and became acquainted with Floyd County resident/author Fred First.

Bat is a second year graduate student from Mongolia. He traveled from GMU to help with the Gallery’s work on site. His work was part of a 160-hour internship. He will be graduating soon and said he may work at a museum.

The Gallery’s many exhibits through the years - from baskets to feedsacks - will also be a featured part of the entries on the Omeka site. The snippets of the interviews will be available online.

“We’re hoping to actually document our process and present it to the larger community,” Ingoldsby said. In the spring, Ingoldsby and Wagner attended the Appalachian Studies Conference and found in conversations with others that most small museums are having similar challenges in preserving and preparing their cultural heritage collections to go forward. “We hope what we are developing will become a model for other small museums.”

The local volunteers are small in number, but consider themselves “enthusiasts and keepers of the history,” Ingoldsby commented. Other volunteers, especially those with technical knowledge, are welcome to help with the project, Smith said.

With the work this summer, there has been positive progress. Ingoldsby added, “It has represented years of behind the scenes work to get to this point….We’re excited about this.

“Anyone interested in the history of the county as it relates to the creative side, which is how the Gallery portrays itself, would be welcome to come and pitch in.”

To contact the Gallery, call 745-2979 or email oldchurchgallery@swva.net.

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