Ken Abbott’s photography and Hickory Nut Gap Farm is a marriage made in heaven, or about as close as we get to heaven here in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina. For almost a hundred years, one extended family has lived on and created a uniquely beautiful farm and community in this place. In Useful Work, Ken Abbott so thoroughly and beautifully depicts the surface and soul of this home and farm, that he reminds us how the best photographers can focus on something seemingly small, yet evoke our common humanity. This book represents an extraordinary achievement in life and in art.
– Alex Harris, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University
About Useful Work: Photographs of Hickory Nut Gap Farm
About ten years ago I started photographing a special place – Hickory Nut Gap Farm, perched near the top of the eastern Continental Divide, in Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It was once known as Sherrill’s Inn, and in the late 1800s it was a busy stagecoach stop on an old trade route out of the southern Appalachian Mountains. The inn declined some after the railroad arrived in Asheville, but in 1916 a young couple in the area on their honeymoon, Elizabeth and Jim McClure, fell in love with the house and surrounding land, and bought it from the old innkeeper and his wife. They weren’t a typical farm couple. Jim was a Yale and Oxford educated Presbyterian minister, and Elizabeth was a painter, educated in France, who in a letter to a friend once wrote of watching Claude Monet painting the haystacks in the fields next to her school. Both were followers of a movement called The Social Gospel that sought to apply Christian principals to solving social ills. Together Jim and Elizabeth created a legacy that lives on in their family of political and community leadership, respect for the land and place, and also – and perhaps this is what I responded to so strongly here – an understanding of how an appreciation for beauty can play a role in all of it. I’ve been working to bring my photographs of this farm and family together into a book for several years and this summer the book will be out, and also many of the photographs will be exhibited at the Asheville Art Museum, and later, travelled to exhibitions around the area and around the country. Stay tuned to this site and my Facebook for updates on the progress of the book and news on exhibitions and related events. Click here to pre-order the book. I’m raising money for the project using a Hatchfund campaign. If you’d like to learn more about that opportunity, you can make tax deductible contributions, and receive perks such as discounts, books and prints, click here.