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History + Highballs: American Folk Art Buildings

Thursday, Jan. 7, 7 p.m. via Zoom


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Presenters: Marsha Gordon, Professor and Director of Film Studies, Department of English, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, North Carolina State University; Louis Cherry, Principal, Louis Cherry Architecture; Steven Burke and Randy Campbell, Collection Curators and Caretakers

Located in Hillsborough, the nation’s only collection of American folk art buildings combines imagination, skill, and American architectural history to present such one-of-a-kind creations as houses, schools, and churches; Ferris wheels and carousels; bridges, stores, and factories; castles and more—all reflections of communities, and imaginations. The collection, gathered and cared for over many years by Burke and Campbell, contains works of all sizes made by largely unknown artists and crafters from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century and displays a wide range in skills and interests. The miniature structures served as inspiration for the short film Rendered Small, by Cherry and Gordon, which shows these unique structures to an audience that would not otherwise get to see them. A viewing of this Longleaf Film Festival official selection film is part of the evening program.
Gordon and Cherry have made three short documentary films together—Rendered Small (2017); All the Possibilities . . . (2019), currently on the festival circuit; and Nesting (2020), which features a pair of robins raising their offspring during the difficult spring of 2020.

Burke is retired and happy to have more time to attend to American architectural history—on a small scale. An undergraduate degree in religion and literature and a graduate degree in instructional design led to five years on the faculty at North Carolina State University. He then spent 28 years in state, national, and international life science development and policy, first at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and then as president and CEO of the Biofuels Center of North Carolina. Campbell was a longtime independent bookstore operator. He has now, with patience, perceptiveness, and imagination, come to a life and marriage with American folk art buildings. Together, they have added to their home multiple times in order to accommodate their continuously growing collection of small churches with soaring steeples, quaint storefronts, homespun bowling alleys, Art Deco theaters, carnival rides, farmhouses, and more. The married couple has self-published American Folk Art Buildings: Collection of Steven Burke and Randy Campbell, a partial pictorial inventory of their buildings, along with some historical information they know about a few of the items.
Rendered Small explores the collection of 1,200 American folk art buildings—made of materials ranging from meticulously detailed tin and wood to repurposed materials like old food containers or uncooked macaroni to cigar and Velveeta boxes, even postage stamps—on display in the private Hillsborough collection and discusses with the couple what it is like to live amongst so many treasures—and each other’s obsessions.