A Look Back: Earl Palmer, Mountain Photographer

While organizing our archives I noticed that we had a number of prints from a photographer named Earl Palmer.  Not recognizing the name, I decided to do some research.

Earl Palmer was born in Harlan County in 1905.  After receiving a camera at age 7, a lifelong love of photography was born.  Later in his life he would go on to call himself the “Blue Ridge Mountains’ Roamin’ Camera Man.”  He traveled through the Appalachian regions of Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia photographing what he saw as traditional mountain subjects.  In an article for The Mountain Laurel Dale Belcher said this of Palmer;

“What makes Earl Palmer’s photography stand out from everybody else’s is that his subjects are fast disappearing or have already gone. Earl would go off in the mountains and leave his wife for two or three days at a time taking photographs. He would always take a tent and camp out. Anything that the mountain man has ever done, Earl Palmer has it in photographs   Making chestnut rails, tanning leather, making oak baskets, brooms, soap, molasses, making wagons, log cabins, wooden shingles, making water wheels for grist mills, the list goes on and on. He has done a lot of photography around Floyd, Patrick and Franklin Counties on everything from quilting, apple butter making, blacksmithing to moonshining.”

Below I’ve included a selection of the Earl Palmer prints we have.  I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I do.

Students walk across the grounds in front of Orchard House.


Jethro Amburgey and students in front of hand-built furniture.



Martha Burns, known for her accomplished weaving.


Elizabeth Watts speaks with a student.


A woman wears a hat made of broom sage by Martha Burns.