A new exhibit celebrating the life of Dr. Richard Blaustein is now open at the Reece Museum. Blaustein was a musician, an academic, and a visionary who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Center of Excellence for Appalachian Studies and Services (CASS) at ETSU. CASS spawned the creation of the Department of Appalachian Studies, which now houses the renowned Roots Music Studies program, a range of undergraduate minor programs, and graduate programs in Appalachian Studies and in Heritage Interpretation and Museum Studies. He was a beloved figure remembered for his passion and humor, intellect and imagination, and his gentle spirit. He loved Appalachia and living in the South, and enjoyed telling stories about his experiences as a New Yorker adjusting to life in rural Tennessee in the 1970s. His original song Subways Rumbling in My Mind from 1984 speaks to the negotiation of two disparate cultural and physical landscapes.
". . . the moanings of the foghorns in the bay was as lonesome as the mountain whippoorwills. "
Roy Andrade is an associate professor in ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots Music Studies program at ETSU. He was a close friend and former student of Richard Blaustein
By Richard Blaustein
This note was originally published in Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine in 1990, Volume 7, No. 1, while Blaustein was serving as the Director of the Center of Excellence for Appalachian Studies and Services.
Growing up within window-rattling distance of an elevated transit line that separated the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, N.Y. from Bensonhurst, some of the happiest hours of my early childhood were spent listening to my father's vivid descriptions of his family's summer place, an old farm in the Taconic range of the Northern Appalachians about 20 miles east of Albany.
Still active science educators in New York City, both of my parents share a love of nature and country living which is positively contagious. When I was six, we took our first family vacation on a working dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains where my sister and I were able to frolic in the hayloft, dig fishing worms in the barnyard, splash in clear rushing streams and wander down gravel roads and dirt trails. I had happy dreams about that farm for years afterward.
The next summer my parents took jobs as nature and crafts counselors at a co-educational camp in the northwest corner of Connecticut just south of Berkshire County, Mass., and no more than 10 miles east of the Appalachian Trail. After working 10 years at that camp, they were able to find an affordable house on a beautiful hillside in southern Berkshire County overlooking the Taconics to the west. Thirty years ago, my parents were among the very first city people to move into a rural neighborhood which was then still mainly occupied by working dairy farms, most of which have since been subdivided into vacation property. Though rural New Englanders are reputed to be cold and aloof, my mother and father quickly struck up a warm and deep friendship with the farm family down the road, after whom, in fact, the road was named. Despite obvious differences in their backgrounds, they nonetheless shared a great deal in common, particularly love of learning and love of the land.
About that same time I became interested in oldtime fiddle and banjo music, which drew mixed reviews from my family. My father's mother, who was raised on a farm in the Carpathian mountain of Romania, enjoyed my fiddling because it reminded her of her father's hired hands, who played their fiddles and drank wine on warm summer nights. My mother's father, who was born in the marshy lowlands of the Dnieper basin in Byelorussia, did not care much for my fiddling or for the hills the rest of us loved so much. His primal memories were of a countryside so flat he claimed that you could stand on a tabletop and see for 50 miles in all directions. As for my fiddling, the kindest thing he could say was that it frightened away the mice and rats.
Aside from being a merciless teaser, Grandpa was also a great storyteller and a self-taught scholar who ranged widely and deeply through the humanities. He and my parents instilled a love of learning and of country living which have been happily combined in my career as a folklorist and cultural anthropologist in East Tennessee over the past 20 years and as director of this center since 1984.
Possibly the most valuable lesson my parents have taught me is to respect every person's unique character and to avoid casting individuals into stereotyped categories. In retrospect, their values have deeply influenced the underlying agenda and mission of CASS and Now & Then. Our fundamental purpose is to demonstrate the creative potential and intelligence of Southern Appalachian people, which is still so sadly underrated and so richly evident in this latest issue of Now & Then.
The below images were taken during the opening of the exhibit honoring Richard Blaustein at the Reece Museum. Visitors explored the life, passions, and accomplishments of Blaustein. Photos by Appalachian Places staff.