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The Asheville Art Museum is hosting an exhibition of limberjacks and related dancing figures, produced in cooperation with the Asheville Puppetry Alliance, through August 29, 2004, at the Art Museum. Familiar to fans of mountain music and enthusiasts of Appalachian culture and history, limberjacks are jointed wooden puppets, usually about 12 inches tall, accompanied by a wooden board and stick to hold the dancer from the back. A storyteller or musician sits with the board between his or her leg and chair, holding the limberjack with one hand and hitting the board with the other, making the puppet dance with a sound reminiscent of clogging. Limberjacks are also known as Dancing Dan, Clogging Man, or Paddle Puppet, and their musical antics have entertained generations of mountain children.
The exhibition includes dancing figures made and used in Western North Carolina circa 1930 and more modern limberjacks, including the folk artistry of native puppeteer Clyde Hollifield, whose whimsical inventions expand on traditional limberjack designs. The exhibition includes limberjacks of all sorts, including horses, bears, and a daring Lady Godiva. “Limberjacks and Dancing Figures” is on view in the Museum’s Holden Community Gallery, which is always free of admission, and this lively exhibition is sure to entertain visitors of all ages.
The limberjack has often been called an Appalachian inspiration, but, in fact, it has European antecedents and is popular throughout both the United States and Canada. In Canada, the French Canadians call this toy a gigueux de bois or le bonhomme gigueux. In English, the limberjack gets its name from its loose, limber method of dancing and the European name for Everyman: Jack. “Jack” stories, rhymes and toys, including Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, Jack-of-all-Trades, Jack O’Lantern, Jack Be Nimble, Jack and Jill, Jack-in-the-Box, and more, are staples of European folklore and mythology, and are familiar to children all over the world. The Jack tales were brought to the Appalachian mountains by the early settlers, and, as the stories were retold, took on the flavor of Appalachian culture and have come to represent a blend of Old and New World traditions.
An opening reception, free with Museum admission, will be held on Thursday, May 27, 2004, from 5-7 PM, and will include live mountain music and limberjack demonstrations by the Butter Holler String Band of Madison County. Modern limberjacks are now available for sale in the Museum shop. “Limberjacks and Dancing Figures: An Appalachian Puppet Tradition” draws from both public and private collections, and is part of the 2004 Southeast Regional Puppetry Festival, to be held in Asheville July 29 through August 1, 2004.
The Asheville Art Museum is open 10 AM – 5 PM, Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 – 5 PM on Sunday. The Museum is open every Friday until 8 PM. Special docent-guided tour packages are available for groups and students. The Museum is located in the Pack Place Education, Arts and Science Center, 2 South Pack Square, in downtown Asheville. Admission to the Museum is $6.00 for adults and $5.00 for seniors, students with ID and for children 4-15 (children age three and younger are admitted free). Members are admitted free to the Museum.
(Images provided by The Asheville Art Museum)