Herb E. Smith, January 29, 2016


Herb E. Smith, January 29, 2016


Caudill, Harry M., 1922-1990
Appalachian Region--Social conditions
Cornett, Chester
Still, James, 1906-2001
Appalshop, Inc.
Hand Carved (Motion picture)
Motion pictures--Production and direction
Strangers and Kin (Motion picture)
Arnow, Harriette Louisa Simpson, 1908-1986
Harriette Simpson Arnow: 1908-1986 (Motion picture)


Herb Smith talks about the role Appalshop played as an internal, independent voice in the region. He says that he believes it was the youth culture in the organization when it first began in the 1960s and 1970s that influenced that--saying that, as young people, they were willing to question unethical practices that had become commonplace because "that's just the way it is" (e.g. unsafe mining operations, environmental degradation, and the exploitation of the populace).

Smith recalls conversations he had with author James Still when Smith lived nearby in Knott County. He says that he and Still would often discuss the complexities of portraying the same people you were living and working among, and how Still influenced his approach to the work he completed at Appalshop. Smith talks about getting to know chair maker Chester Cornett and starting work on the film "Hand Carved." Smith discusses the content of his film "Hand Carved," specifically about trying to communicate the issues of taking on "Appalachian" as an identity.
Smith talks about how the film became part of a larger conversation going on with other regional artists (Gurney Norman, Wendell Berry, and Jim Ways Miller, for example) about Chester Cornett and his chairs. Smith says that a lot of people from all over the country were inspired by and interested in Cornett.

Smith talks about the films Appalshop made as a result of grants received from the National Endowment for the Humanities, specifically "Strangers and Kin." Smith discusses how they came to the decision to tackle the negative stereotypes of Appalachian people at the beginning of the new film series. He says that before they could begin telling the history of the region, they needed to show people that their ideas about Appalachia were wrong. Smith talks about how they all thought that once people understood what life in Appalachia was really like the negative image of the "hillbilly" would go away. Smith talks about how local leaders in the communities reacted to his film "Strangers and Kin." He says that the County Judge for Pike County at the time liked it at first, but didn't like the audience's response to the things he had said in the film. Smith also talks at length about Harry Caudill and his reaction to the film, and recalls different interactions he has had with Caudill over the years. Smith talks about Harry Caudill and Tom Gish, saying that their work in the region is part of what made an organization such as Appalshop possible.

Smith talks about making the short film about Appalachian author Harriette Simpson Arnow, saying that he has always been a fan of her work and wanted to create a film that would both honor Arnow and encourage others to read her work. Smith discusses the parallels that exist between Arnow's work and the work of Appalshop, specifically speaking about how both he and Arnow had a fascination with the "old timey" ways, and their neighbors and kin--a fascination that oftentimes even close friends and family members didn't understand.

Smith discusses the ways in which Appalshop has changed over the years, specifically in the 1980s, referring to this time as a "maturing" time in the organization's history. He talks about the million-dollar renovation of the new building, and how it was in itself a statement to those who doubted them. Smith also talks about the opposition to Appalshop, saying that it was primarily rooted in generational differences.






Jeffrey A. Keith
Rayna Gellert


Herb E. Smith

Interview Keyword

Appalachian Region--Economic conditions
Appalachians (people) in motion pictures
Appalachians (People)--Public opinion




“Herb E. Smith, January 29, 2016,” Exploring the Legacies of Appalshop Oral History Project, accessed March 31, 2023, https://nunncenter.net/legaciesofappalshop/items/show/27.