Ken Abbott

Ken Abbott received his MFA in photography from Yale University in 1987, and received a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship Award for his photography at Hickory Nut Gap Farm, in 2006. Prior to moving to Asheville he was the Chief Photographer for the University of Colorado at Boulder. His work has been published and exhibited widely, and is in many collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and the Yale University Art Gallery. He lives in Asheville with his wife and two children. Today we share his series, Useful Work.

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Hickory Nut Gap Farm, sits 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. 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.

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Jim was a Yale and Oxford educated Presbyterian minister, and Elizabeth was a painter, educated in France, who in a letter to a cousin once wrote of watching Claude Monet painting the haystacks in the fields next to her school. Both reflected in their values the ideals of the Social Gospel, a movement that sought to apply Christian principals to solving social ills. They changed the name of the old Inn to Hickory Nut Gap Farm, and Jim and Elizabeth created there a legacy that lives on today in the family, now in its fifth generation, of political and community leadership, respect for the land and place, and also – and this is what I responded to so strongly – an understanding and appreciation for how beauty plays a role in all of it.

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Rob Neufeld is the author of five books on literature and history, and is the long-time book feature writer and local history columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times. He has led region-wide reading programs, produced dozens of events, and made many radio, TV, and film appearances. He is the creator and publisher of “The Read on WNC,” a popular online magazine and social network; and served for many years as a library director and administrator. He and his family live in Asheville.

To view more of Ken’s work, visit his website.

Ken’s book, Useful Work, is available for purchase in our shop.