A! Magazine for the Arts

Graveyard Quilt on loan from the Kentucky Historical Society.

Graveyard Quilt on loan from the Kentucky Historical Society.

New exhibit at Abingdon museum examines birth and death rituals

October 26, 2021

“Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” opening Nov. 11 at William King Museum of Art in Abingdon, Va., takes a look at the ephemeral items and lasting objects surrounding both the beginning and end of life, as well as the traditions carried on in the Appalachian region.

Focusing heavily on the way that we mourn, celebrate and honor the dead, items such as a hair wreath, hair ring and funeral ribbon blanket remind us that often, we attempt to hold onto a loved one through an object related to them. These beautiful, albeit macabre, objects outlive the individuals they honor and can be passed from generation to generation, much like songs and customs.

This exhibition aims to discuss rituals and traditions relating to birth and death throughout the region, such as baptisms/christenings, death masks, photography of infants and children and funeral hymns, such as the titular “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?,” a song frequently sung at graveside services. The song also ties to the region with the 1930s recording by the Carter Family, which changed the lyrics to the more popular version known today.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that fully vaccinated people wear a face covering for indoor settings. Therefore, all staff and visitors to the museum, regardless of vaccination status, are expected to wear masks. For outdoor events, this policy applies to unvaccinated visitors and is recommended for those fully vaccinated.

William King Museum of Art is open seven days a week: Monday through Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the museum is free.

William King Museum of Art is located at 415 Academy Drive, off West Main Street or Russell Road, in Abingdon. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, William King Museum of Art is a partner of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, a member of the Virginia Association of Museums, and is funded in part by the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For information on exhibitions or events at William King Museum of Art visit williamkingmuseum.org or call 276-628-5005.