By Madison Fisler Lewis
Feb. 20, 2015. The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum is now offering visitors a chance to step back in time and explore the storied history of the town until April 25. The Jerry Burns: Through the Lens exhibit, put together in collaboration with the Blowing Rock Historical Society, features nearly 200 photographs taken by “Mr. Blowing Rock” himself during his time as editor of The Blowing Rocket as well as historical photos he acquired over the years.
From a release:
Jerry Burns was rarely seen without a camera. He was known for his modesty, and as such, he preferred to be behind the scenes, taking in the action and capturing in every photograph the town that he so loved. His work and dedication to the town became a symbol to the community for what it means to be a Blowing Rock citizen.
“We have been working hard to redesign our approach to exhibitions throughout the year,” said Dianna Loughlin, exhibitions and collections coordinator at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum.
“The town is often at its slowest in regard to tourism during the winter, aside from skiers, and many residents leave during this time to areas with a warmer climate. But there are still people who stay here year round. Thus, we wanted our winter season to focus on our community, our year-rounders, both in Blowing Rock and nearby. Jerry was a year-rounder, so to speak, and really cared about this community, so we thought his story would be one that would really resonate with a lot of people here. It made sense to begin this community-themed approach to our winter season with a story like Jerry’s.”
Jerry Burns passed away five years ago, and this year would have been his 50th year at the Blowing Rocket. The timing of this exhibit, though unplanned, is exceptional.
“I think Jerry was an important person to a lot of people, but for all different reasons,” Loughlin said. “Commonly, though, he was just a generally good guy, one who cared about others before himself, and his actions with the town really showed that. The collection of photographs he amassed wasn’t necessarily an asset until recently, because they show many aspects of the history of Blowing Rock that would’ve otherwise been unknown had he not gifted them to the Blowing Rock Historical Society upon his retirement. These photos show a great chronology of the town.”
The photographs included in the exhibit are only a small fraction of the thousands of photos that were donated by Burns to the Blowing Rock Historical Society. Of the more than 10,000 photographs in the collection, only 185 are on display.
“Jerry’s photographs in particular show over forty years of Blowing Rock, and as you look through them, you can note how things changed,” she said.
“Whether buildings were put up, businesses closed and replaced by others, how people’s clothing changed, things like that. But Jerry’s whole collection, which includes more than just his photographs, goes as far back as the late 1800s, and some photos were taken by other photographers like Hugh Morton. There are photos of Blowing Rock when it was just grass and rolling hills, for example, barely recognizable as the town we know today. As far as photography goes, what people record in the past becomes our history later.”
Aside from photographs, the exhibition includes a selection of awards that Burns received throughout his time at the Blowing Rocket. Also included are a few of Burns’ cameras, photography gear and his fire helmet that, ironically, reads “Burns.”
The museum could use the public’s help in identifying people and places in the photos.
“We want to capture the stories of these photographs, and those not on display, before they disappear with time, so that we can preserve as much as possible,” said Loughlin.
“We believe the best way to do this is through the people of Blowing Rock themselves. This project is really about coming together as a community, and Blowing Rock has always been a strong one. We really want to hear stories from the heart of the town, through its people that are as passionate about the town as we are, and as Jerry was.”
If you know any of the people or places shown below, let us know in the comments!
Photos Courtesy of the Blowing Rock Historical Society
On Friday, Feb. 13, the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum held an opening reception for the exhibit.
“We had a great turnout on Friday,” said Dianne Loughlin of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum.
“I was worried that with the weather and nature of the season in general, February is our slowest month, that we wouldn’t have anyone there. But the gallery was packed the whole time.”
Check out photos from the reception below.
Photos by Lonnie Webster