Strong Roots

Written by Shauna Caldwell

Decisions,  2019 - © Shauna Caldwell

Decisions, 2019 - © Shauna Caldwell


Having been raised in a small, rural Appalachian community, the impact of my upbringing continuously influences my place-based work. Despite growing up in a close-knit mountain community, it wasn’t until I attended College that I became aware of “Appalachian” as a cultural identity that I could claim. Recently, I began to question the peculiar disconnect from this shared identity. In my questioning, I found a commonality with many women, in particular, who echoed this experience. Why is something so ingrained in who I am seemingly invisible? This line of inquiry, along with a desire to better understand my home and the dialogue around it, brought me to the Appalachian Studies Master’s program at Appalachian State University. However, I came to the program with two BFAs in Studio Art and Art Education and consider myself an artist first and foremost.

Together,  2019 - © Shauna Caldwell

Together, 2019 - © Shauna Caldwell

As an artist creating primarily photographic work, I am connected to the ways that making images with someone can be a deeply powerful experience. Not only does the act of intentionally making a photograph slow the process down, but it also creates room for stories to emerge and for relationships to be examined. I carry this understanding through my highly interdisciplinary MA program in Appalachian Studies which allows me to continue to explore the roots of my artistic interests while deepening my personal practice.

Katrina and Rose  , 2018 - © Shauna Caldwell

Katrina and Rose , 2018 - © Shauna Caldwell

Raven and Blackberry  , 2018 - © Shauna Caldwell

Raven and Blackberry , 2018 - © Shauna Caldwell

Often, when asked to conjure an image of an “Appalachian woman,” she is not even remembered in color. A quick image search renders an overwhelming amount of black and white photographs of mountain women, each worthy and inspiring in her own right, but very few present-day images appear. This antiquated way of viewing women in Appalachia also contributes to the erasure we experience in society today. Through the acts of compassionately documenting stories, making images, and holding space for those Appalachians who identify as women in a way that is meaningful to them, I (alongside a few other Appalachian artists and activists) am working to complicate the often generalized narrative which our life experiences are reduced to. My research and artistic practice weaves together the varied stories of Appalachian women in my community in order to amplify their distinct voices and recognize their importance on an individual and collective level.

Poke,  Digital scan of lumen print, 2018 - © Shauna Caldwell

Poke, Digital scan of lumen print, 2018 - © Shauna Caldwell

In setting out to honestly represent women of Appalachia, I believe it is prudent to “start by telling stories, understanding the past, and sharing memories,” (Lewis, 2007). Through the intimate exploration of my personal history and relationship with this region, as well as the scholarship around it, I am able to gain a greater breadth of knowledge to draw from in my artmaking. By delving into this graduate program where my artistic practice, purposeful community engagement, and scholarly research can flourish, the roots of each aspect of my work can spread and entwine and create a structure far stronger than they could be alone.

LEWIS, H. (2007). Rebuilding Communities: A 12-Step Recovery Program. Appalachian

Journal,34(3/4), 316-325. Retrieved from