More than 180 digital assets from the ​Virginia Folklife Program can be viewed online thanks to a new partnership with the Google Cultural Institute. By partnering with cultural institutions worldwide, Google is making important cultural materials easily accessible to a large audience and digitally preserving the materials for future generations. The Virginia Folklife Program’s Eastern Virginia Gospel exhibit was launched for Black History Month along with those from an impressive array of other exhibitions focusing on African American history, arts, and culture. The Virginia Folklife’s exhibit joins nearly eighty others created by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Studio Museum in Harlem, The King Center, and many others.

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The Virginia Folklife Program’s virtual exhibit entitled Eastern Virginia Gospel connects viewers worldwide with some of the Commonwealth’s most unique gospel treasures in just a few clicks. Key elements of the exhibit include:

  • National Heritage Fellows The Paschall Brothers’ legacy explored through twenty years of photographs and recordings featuring never-before-seen concert footage of the Tidewater quartet.
  • Selections from the late “Gospel Queen of Richmond” Maggie Ingram’s family audio archive, including “I Come to the Garden,” a unique recording that strays from the better-known and more raucous gospel tunes of Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes.
  • “Put Me Down Easy: The Charlie McClendon Story,” a 30-minute documentary feature exploring racial relations in the Tidewater region of Virginia through R&B music of the 1960s.

In the exhibit, rare recordings such as those from the archives of the late evangelist Rev. Maggie Ingram are paired with a family history by Richmond-based journalist Don Harrison and photo and video assets from the Virginia Folklife Program archive. “Maggie is a national treasure, not just in her interpretations of gospel standards and spirituals, but also in her own compositions. She’s one of the great writers of gospel music,” said Jon Lohman, Virginia State Folklorist and director of the Virginia Folklife Program. “Through Maggie’s story and others, this exhibit will shed light on the largely unknown significance of Richmond, Hampton Roads, and Norfolk to the development of the gospel music tradition. The Google Cultural Institute’s recognition of these individuals as great American artists is an exciting opportunity and invitation for further exploration.”

Richmond Folk Festival Highlights – 15th Anniversary

Hannah George-Wheeler greets one of her fans after Urban Artistry turned the Virginia Folklife Stage turned into a full on dance party (photo by Pat Jarrett).

As we look back at the 15th Folk Festival in Richmond we can’t help but take pride in the stunning success of this event! This was another great year, and we are gratified to be partners in the largest Folk Festival of our kind in the United States—with well over 200,000 in attendance this year. We’ve also been recognized by the National Arts Council as a model of how arts and culture festivals can build and strengthen community.

By working with Venture Richmond and the National Council for the Traditional Arts for the last 15 years, we know the Richmond Folk Festival has introduced hundreds of thousands of Richmonders—and Virginians—to the breadth and depth of musicians, dancers, and crafts men and women from our state.

To all those who shared in the magic, we are extremely grateful for your support and can’t wait for next year.

In Gratitude: Roddy Moore

Roddy Moore during the Richmond Folk Festival in Richmond, Virginia on 10/11/19. Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

The Virginia Folklife Program at Virginia Humanities would like to express our deep gratitude to Roddy Moore, recently retired director of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College for his immeasurable assistance with the Folklife Demonstration Area at the 2019 Richmond Folk Festival. Roddy is unquestionably the preeminent authority on Virginia’s car culture, as well as so many other aspects of Virginia’s traditional culture. Roddy’s contributions to the preservation, documentation, presentation, and vibrancy of the folk traditions of the Blue Ridge region have transformed lives and impacted communities in the area and beyond. He has long been an invaluable resource and contributor to the field of folklife, and a relentless advocate for the folk traditions and their faithful practitioners that we so cherish.

The Virginia Folklife Program has long benefited from Roddy’s generous advice and mentorship. His wisdom was indispensable to us as we created some of the programs that have become the cornerstone of our work, including our apprenticeship program, touring programs, and recordings. We have relied on Roddy’s generous consultation over the years and cannot count the number of folk artists that he has introduced us to who have become mainstays in our public programming.

From 1972 until his retirement last year, Roddy directed the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College. Since arriving at Ferrum, he oversaw a monumental amount of documentation and presentation of folklife and culture, mostly in South-Central and Southwest Virginia but also as ranging as far as New Mexico. Through perseverance, grants, and extensive private fundraising, he shaped the Institute into a modern 21st century folklife center, museum, and archive. In fact, it is the only institution in Virginia dedicated exclusively to folk culture, and is an anchor venue on Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, the Crooked Road.

Roddy Moore (photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Folklife Program)

During his time at the Institute, Roddy curated multitudes of top-notch exhibitions showcasing a broad range of Blue Ridge cultural traditions and history, including some focused on Southwest Virginia car culture, moonshine, furniture crafts, instrument building, folk architecture, basketry, quilts and other decorative arts, folk toys and amusements, and many others. What characterizes each of these exhibitions, as well the publications and recordings that often accompanied them, is a deep commitment to research, authenticity, humanity, and scholarship.

Much of the work of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum, such as its award-winning series of traditional music recordings recently adopted by Smithsonian Folkways, speaks to its broad range of projects and initiatives. However, Roddy’s greatest achievement is perhaps the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, held in Ferrum each October. We have been blessed to work and collaborate with many folklife festivals around the country, and there are few that compare to this one. Showcasing everything from coon dog swim races to traditional butchery, African American mountain gospel to old time and bluegrass, and black pot chicken to homemade sorghum, Roddy created a model folk festival that has continued to thrive for more than four decades. And while the festival attracts visitors from outside the region, clearly its greatest support comes from the local community itself, which has truly and proudly embraced this festival as its own.

Throughout Roddy’s career, he has remained a fighter for the traditional arts and the communities that carry them on. He has always been as comfortable around coon dog handlers as he is around congressmen, and his contributions to the cultural fabric of our state cannot be measured.

Thanks for this and everything, Roddy, and enjoy your “retirement!”

Remembering Helen White

Pat Jarrett/The Virginia Folklife Program

The Virginia Folklife Program is deeply shocked and saddened at the news of the passing of our good friend Helen White. Helen channeled her tireless passion for the music and people of Southern Appalachia to create the Junior Appalachian Musicians program, first in schools across western North Carolina, and then in our own state. Through her sweat, perseverance, and guidance, the school-based program has brought the joys of traditional music to countless school children, and its impact will be felt for generations to come. Helen was a fine fiddler and singer herself, and to say that she’ll be missed at the many musical gatherings she regularly attended would be a tremendous understatement. Helen was a sweet and generous soul, and had a smile that could light up any room. Today we are heartbroken as well as grateful that the Blue Ridge Mountains had Helen White.

Galax Gazette Obituary »

Hot Rods and Hot Licks: Virginia Folklife Area at the Richmond Folk Festival to showcase Virginia’s Car Culture

Marty Martino

What: Richmond Folk Festival
When: October 11-13, 2019
Where: Downtown Richmond between 2nd and 7th streets and Brown’s Island
Cost: FREE, no tickets required

Ever since the first automobiles started coming off the assembly lines of Detroit, Virginians have had an ongoing love affair with them. While the automobile completely revolutionized our mode of travel, it inarguably transformed our very conception of the American landscape. More than simply a way to get from point A to point B, the automobile quickly and forcefully staked its claim on the American imagination, particularly among young people. In the years following World War II, a more prosperous America experienced a volcanic rise of teen culture, and the automobile—particularly fast ones—became the perfect vehicle for a new cultural ethos, evoking notions of freedom, adventure, rebellion, romance, individualism, and “cool.” Prior to the 1960s, nearly every car in America was a product of Chrysler, Ford, or General Motors, but it wasn’t long before they were being chopped down, souped up, and tricked out in small garages, barns, and backyards across Virginia’s landscape. Skilled “motorheads”—artisans of the automotive arts—combined traditional mechanical skills learned through family and community connections with new technological innovations and individual self-expression, transforming Detroit’s factory models into hot rods, dragsters, street rods, muscle cars, low riders, art cars, and anything else the imagination could dream up on four wheels.

Anthony Kent Writtenberry

The Virginia Folklife Program’s 2019 presentation of Hot Rods and Hot Licks will celebrate and showcase some of the Commonwealth’s most skilled and innovative automotive magicians today. Audiences will witness the intricate art of pinstriping, custom form sculpting, bead rolling and stretching, and much more, while getting up close and personal with the prized rolling wonders of local hot rodders and collectors. And while we won’t be racing these beauties on the street, speed will definitely be on display, as audiences will be able to witness the complete disassembly and reassembly of a small block Chevy engine in world record time by our own Hot Rodders of Tomorrow national youth champions from Roanoke County Schools.

Junious Brickhouse

As always, the Richmond Times-Dispatch Virginia Folklife Stage will also be operating at full-throttle. While Team Vibrant Performance breaks down engines in record times, young contestants will dazzle the judges with their own lightening quick banjo breakdowns in the 5th Annual Scott Street Five String Finals. As master custom car designer Marty Martino demonstrate the sculpting of whimsical curves on a hot rod’s fins, master Mongolian contortionist Mandkhai Erdembat will bend her own body into equally elegant yet seemingly impossible forms. Much in the way that Virginians turn local lots into cruise ins and drag strips, audiences will marvel at the remarkable artistic expressions and aesthetic cultures that arose from the urban parking lots of Hampton Roads with the dazzling hip hop dance moves of Washington, D.C.-area arts collective Urban Artistry. And just as the greatest custom car artisans combine a deeply held reverence for the past with a burning passion to create something new, the Folklife Stage will feature a diverse range of artists that draw from some of the state’s most beloved traditional musical genres—blues, bluegrass, gospel, and honky-tonk—in a manner that honors tradition yet leaves the indelible stamp of their own imagination and handicraft.

Come ride with us!

  • Jack Harris (Custom Metal Work)
  • Kent Writtenberry (Autobody Metal Work and Custom Restoration)
  • Tom Van Nortwick (Automobile Pinstriping)
  • Marty Martino (Custom Auto Design and Shaping)
  • Roddy Moore (Car culture expert)
  • Team Vibrant Performance: Burton Center for Arts and Technology Motor Sports Team, Chris Overfelt, Coach (Engine Assembly and Disassembly)
  • Bryan Bowers Band (autoharp virtuoso/folk)
  • Danny Knicely (multi-instrumentalist and dancer)
  • Deborah Pratt and Clementine Macon Boyd (oyster shucking champions)
  • Dr. Levine and the Dreaded Blues Lady with Andrew Alli (blues)
  • Frank Newsome (Old Regular Baptist hymns)
  • J Pope (vocalist and lyricist)
  • Legendary Ingramettes (gospel)
  • Linda Lay and Springfield Exit (bluegrass)
  • Mandkhai Erdembat (Mongolian contortion)
  • Urban Artistry (house dance and hip hop)
  • Whitetop Mountain Band (old time)
  • Wild Ponies (Americana)
  • Willard Gayheart featuring Dori Freeman (Appalachian singer/songwriter)

The Richmond Folk Festival is one of Virginia’s largest events, drawing visitors from all over the country to downtown Richmond’s historic riverfront. Now in its 15th year, the Festival is a FREE three-day event that got its start as the National Council for the Traditional Arts’ National Folk Festival, held in Richmond from 2005-2007. The Richmond Folk Festival features performing groups representing a diverse array of cultural traditions on seven stages.

Remembering Gerald Anderson

Master mandolin maker Gerald Anderson. Photo by Morgan Miller/Virginia Folklife Program.

I’m sure we join so many throughout Southwest Virginia and beyond in our sadness and shock to learn of the passing of Gerald Anderson. Gerald was a fine luthier, player, and singer, but most of all one of the kindest, generous, and most humble people to walk those beloved Blue Ridge Mountains he called home. Gerald was one of the first master artists in our Folklife Apprenticeship Program, mentoring the then very young Spencer Strickland, who has gone on to be a most gifted luthier and player as well. Gerald himself apprenticed in Wayne Henderson’s shop for nearly 30 years, learning the tricks of the trade making guitars and mandolins, and emulating Wayne’s unique guitar picking style. When we produced our book chronicling the first five years of our apprenticeship program, entitled In Good Keeping, we chose to put Gerald’s hands sculpting a mandolin on the cover. For Gerald truly kept the lessons passed down from the great luthiers of the past in the best of care. There’s an old saying that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. Gerald was both of those things, but clearly it is his tenderness and sweetness that folks will most remember about him. We had the pleasure of “working” with Gerald many times over the years, and like so many of the folks we work with Gerald became family. We are so heartbroken today but also so grateful that this world had Gerald. Goodbye, sweet friend.

–Jon Lohman

2019 Apprenticeship Showcase Highlights

We are so grateful to artists and audience who braved the forecast and came out for the 2019 Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase. The event featured a remarkable program switching seamlessly from old-time music to Vietnamese dan bao, from contortion to bluegrass, from dulcimer to house dance. The day was incredible and spirits were high! Check out these amazing images from photographers Pat Jarrett and Peter Hedlund:

Apprenticeship Showcase FAQs 2019

Rain or shine, please join us for Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase on Sunday, May 5 from 12:00 to 6:00pm** at James Monroe’s Highland.

Do I need a ticket? How much does it cost?
This event is FREE, there is no admission fee and no ticket. Just show up! Bring your friends and family!

How do I get there?
Directions are here. Parking is available on site. The address is 2050 James Monroe’s Parkway, Charlottesville VA 22902.

What happens at the Showcase?
It’s a festive event where apprenticeship teams demonstrate their skills in a wide range of traditional art forms, including music, crafts, and food.

Is there a schedule?
Click here for the performance and demonstration schedule.

Should I bring my kids?
Yes! Volunteers of James Monroe’s Highland will provide kids activities and games.

What can I eat there? Does it cost money?
Come hungry! Food will be for sale on site. Joey’s Hotdogs, Brunswick Stew by the Proclamation Stew Crew, plates of soul food by Tina Ingram-Murphy and her family, and fried apple pies made by Frances Davis will be for sale. Sondus Asad Moussa and Sanaa Abdul Jalil will have samples of their delicious baklava available while Luz Lopez and Princey Reyes will be demonstrating how to make homemade tortillas.

What can I drink? Do drinks cost money?
Water and sodas will be $1, with free juice boxes available for kids. For those 21 and older, we’ll have moonshine from the apprenticeship team of Chris Prillaman and Tanner Talley and their legal moonshine operation, Twin Creeks Distillery. Beer and wine also will be available for purchase.

Should I bring cash?
Yes, cash is preferable, but we can take checks. We also can take credit cards, though not all vendors can take them. You may need to exchange plastic for cash with our information desk.

Are there restrooms?
Yes, full service restroom facilities are located next to the Highland gift shop. Portable toilets will be located near the Pavilion.

Are dogs allowed?
Only service animals are allowed on the property. Please, no pets.

What’s the weather going to be?
Ha, if we only knew! Plan for springtime in Virginia which means a little bit of everything. The performance stage is under Highland’s beautiful outdoor Pavilion and we’ll have tents sent up in case of rain.

Are there chairs?
Yes, we will have audience chairs and tables for eating. There’s also plenty of gorgeous green grass to stroll around on.

What kind of music is there?
A little bit of everything: old-time (Whitetop Mountain Band), bluegrass (Phyllis Gaskins and Anna Stockdale), jazz and swing (Danny Knicely in a tribute to Bert Carlson), Vietnamese Dan Bau (Nam Phuong Nguyen and Anh Dien Nguyen), and gospel (Cora Harvey Armstrong and Samantha Willis). There will also be two amazing performance traditions: Mongolian contortion (Mandkhai Erdembat and Emma and Ella Chuluunbat) and House dance and culture (Junious Brickhouse and Tyrone Edwards).

What else will I see?
Amazing crafts! Fiberglass sculptures (Mark Cline and Brently Hilliard), stained glass (Ronald Dixon and William Hinkle), hot rod cars (Jeff and Jeremy Bennett), a moonshine still (Chris Prillaman and Tanner Talley), heirloom apple trees (Clyde Jenkins), and instrument inlay (Brian Calhoun and Jake Hopping).

I thought the event was 12-5:00pm, but now I see it’s from 12-6:00pm. Why is that?

We’ve just partnered with the Front Porch to add the Boot Scoot Square Dance to the end of the day featuring Frick-Rucker Stringband and dance calls from Hannah Johnson. Musician Seth Swingle (of Frick-Rucker Stringband) and caller Hannah Johnson are both Apprenticeship Program alumni.

Whitetop Mountain Band

Apprenticeship Showcase Schedule and Special Guests

Whitetop Mountain Band

You will not want to miss a minute of the  Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase at James Monroe’s Highland on Sunday, May 5 from noon to 6:00pm. We will kick off with the Whitetop Mountain Band, a beloved old-time group that has been entertaining audiences for more than forty years with their ensemble-based, hard driving dance music, and features returning Folklife master artist Emily Spencer on clawhammer banjo. We’ll close down the Showcase with a gospel throwdown featuring master Cora Harvey Armstrong and Apprentice Samantha Willis. From start to finish, the Apprenticeship Showcase is not to be missed. Here’s just a little taste of Cora and Samantha:



Sunday, May 5:

Performance Stage Schedule

12:00: Whitetop Mountain Band
12:45: Welcome by Jon Lohman, State Folklorist
1:00: Vietnamese Dan Bau with Nam Phuong Nguyen and Anh Dien Nguyen
1:20: Mongolian contortion with apprentices Emma and Ella Chuluunbat
1:40: Clawhammer banjo with Emily Spencer and Lisa Ring
2:00: Recognition of crafters and food masters
2:15: Mongolian contortion with master Mandkhai Erdembat
2:30: House culture and dance with Junious Brickhouse and Tyrone Edwards
2:50: Recognition of food masters
3:00: Galax dulcimer with Phyllis Gaskins and Anna Stockdale
3:25: Oyster Shucking Showdown
3:50: Bert Carlson Tribute featuring Danny Knicely and special guests
4:30: Gospel singing with Cora Armstrong and Samantha Willis
5:00: Boot Scoot Square Dance with Frick-Rucker Stringband and dance calls from Hannah Johnson

Crafts Area Schedule:

At each booth, you’ll be able hear from these masters on their special artforms

12:30: Instrument Inlay with Brian Calhoun and Jake Hopping (Rockbridge Guitars)
1:00: Stained Glass with Ronald Dixon and William Hinkle
1:30: Roadside Sculpture with Mark Cline and Brently Hilliard
2:00: Baklava making with Sondus Asad Moussa and Sanaa Abdul Jalil
2:30: Hot Rod Rigging with Jeff and Jeremy Bennett
3:00: Moonshine making with Chris Prillaman and Tanner Talley
3:30: Tortilla Making with Luz and Princey Lopez
4:00: Heirloom Apples with Clyde Jenkins

Master Artist Spotlight: Mark Cline

Master of fiberglass sculpture and roadside attractions Mark Cline (photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities)

Mark Cline is a master artist in the 2019-2020 class of apprenticeship teams in the art of roadside attractions and fiberglass sculpture. In this feature Richmond-writer Don Harrison takes an in-depth look at Mark Cline’s life and work.

By Don Harrison

Mark Cline is keeping alive the vanishing tradition of the roadside attraction—those haunted houses, singing caverns, historical parks and outsized food that have long enticed bored travelers with promises of rest stop thrills. Cline, working largely in molded fiberglass and foam, has put his own unique spin on the kind of regional off-road novelties found in places like the John Brown Wax Museum in Harpers Ferry, Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach, and the World’s Oldest Edible Cured Ham in Smithfield. His Haunted Monster Museum, which burned down in 2012, even managed to combine two roadside Virginia traditions—the Civil War historical attraction and the Dinosaur Park—with a grisly battle reenactment that imagines the scene had Tyrannosaurus Rex had chosen a side in the Civil War.

Born in 1961 in Waynesboro, the third of four boys, Cline loved to draw from the time he could hold a pencil and always looked at things a little differently: “When I was 7 years old, I entered a snowman contest and, instead of a snowman, I built the Statue of Liberty.”

Mark Cline’s Enchanted Castle Studios and Dinosaur Kingdom II are full of wonder and are designed to spark imagination. Photos made at the roadside attraction and studio in Natural Bridge on 2/27/19. (Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities)

“My father and I were traveling, coming back from Baltimore, and Dinosaur Land [in White Post, Virginia] was closed, but I asked my dad to stop there—I’d been there before—and he said, ‘OK.’ I was probably about 12 years old. We stood there together looking through the fence at these huge dinosaur figures, and I said, ‘I’m going to make these when I grow up, dad.’

Mark Cline not only made good on his vow, he became the guy who designed new beasts for Dinosaur Land. “I’ve never done a dinosaur attraction that was unsuccessful,” the professor says proudly. In addition to the work shown at his Enchanted Castle studio in Natural Bridge, you can also find his work in Putt-Putt golf courses, Six Flags theme parks and the Pavilion in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; regionally, he’s crafted a huge dinosaur head for the Luray Reptile Center and mounted a gigantic King Kong climbing a truck stop in Fairfield. For all your fiberglass creature needs … call Mark Cline.

The “professor” has made his bread and butter with large complex constructions, but his most successful projects have been scaled down, almost minimalist. His full-scale replica of Stonehenge, titlled Foamhenge, effectively situated slabs of foam to simulate the world’s most mysterious ruins. And his “Eleven” cost less than $1,000 to make. The project involved little more than decorating a pair of 40-foot storage bins that he saw in a neighbor’s yard. But no one who traveled to Buena Vista to see Cline’s homespun tribute to the Twin Towers will forget its stirring simplicity.

“Others see big blocks of foam and he sees Foamhenge,” says writer Ken Smith, the author of several books on Roadside America. “Same thing with those bins and the Twin Towers. He sees things that others don’t, and that’s the definition of an artist.”

Mark Cline’s Enchanted Castle Studios and Dinosaur Kingdom II are full of wonder and are designed to spark imagination. Photos made at the roadside attraction and studio in Natural Bridge on 2/27/19. Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

Movies were a big influence on Cline’s artistic sensibilities, and his sci-fi and horror favorites aired on “Slime Theater,” a local creature feature show on Saturday nights at 11 p.m. on Charlottesville’s WVIR TV. “I did some artwork for them. I used to send them this stuff, and they asked me to come on the show—they used my stuff as the backdrop. Then they found out I was 12 years old and said, ‘Hey man, this guy’s kinda cool … .’”

After (barely) graduating high school, things changed. “I had nothing, no career, I wasn’t military or college material, jobs were very limited where I grew up in Waynesboro. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go.

Cline was fortunate to find not only employment, but also a direction in life. “It was a job at Red Mill Manufacturing in Lyndhurst, right outside Waynesboro … where they [made] little resin figurines. They did minutemen and turtles and all these things made of pecan-shell flour. So I basically became the guy who went there in the morning and mixed this stuff up.”

One day, the owner of the place, John Sewell, asked him to stay after work. He wanted to show Cline how to make a mold of his hand.

Fiberglass sculpture by Mark Cline (photo by Jon Lohman)

“That’s what really got me going,” Cline says, excited, relishing the memory. “I mean, I was like a kid that just—it was a revelation: ‘Wow, I can make all kinds of stuff out of this.’ [Sewell] told me, ‘Yes you can, Mark. Now, here’s a five-gallon bucket. Go home and play with it. Just don’t tell my wife I gave it to you.’” Red Mill manufacturing is no more, but Cline still keeps in touch with his mentor, Sewell. “I remember the last time I saw him, I told him, ‘I don’t know whether to hug you or hit you for starting all of this.’”

And what did he make out of that five-gallon bucket of resin?

“I started making monsters,” he says.

After years of perfecting his sculpting methods, Cline decided to open a Monster Museum attraction in Virginia Beach. It failed, but he knew he was onto something. He studied a map of Virginia. “I looked at Natural Bridge and said, ‘I’m gonna go there… It was another tourist area … closer to Waynesboro than Virginia Beach.”

At that time, the early ’80s, the area had little beyond its scenic caverns and a certain rock formation. “Natural Bridge itself didn’t want to have anything to do with me at the time—it had different owners—they thought the stuff I did was beneath them.” The ambitious youngster opened The Monster Museum of Natural Bridge when he first arrived, but it closed within three years. “Nobody wanted to invest in me. I got money off of the tourists, but the locals didn’t come.”

Mark Cline’s dinosaur Kingdom II (photo by Jon Lohman)

His first marriage closed down too, an event that prompted another cross-country trip, more soul searching. “What I learned from that trip was that I had everything I needed right here to be successful.”

He turned his spook house into a studio tour and entertained tourists with thrill-ride creations and celebrity impersonations. They could also watch Cline mold fiberglass. “It was somewhat Willy Wonka-ish,” he admits. For $5, visitors could enjoy the sight of a bungee-jumping pig, visit a “Tornado Room” or get put in a chair and sent to the Moon, Cline style.

Even with the tour, he struggled. “I didn’t start off doing statues, nobody wanted to buy monsters. I had to start painting signs for people, cheap, to get my foot in the door.” Cline attended trade shows with increasingly ambitious concoctions, resulting in outside commissions from corporate clients such as Six Flags and Jellystone.

“A couple years later, the new owners of Natural Bridge came to me and said, ‘Hey, do you have any ideas for bringing more family units in?’ I said, ‘Yeah, how about a haunted monster museum?’ They said, ‘Yeah! That’s great.’ See, it’s different now. I was 21 when I first got here. I had to gain their trust.”

A Mark Cline original (photo by Jon Lohman)

“Now I do charity events, I help raise money for people, I loan folks statues and donate money or services. People have recognized this now. I’ve sort of become their Disney.”

The professor’s community spirit is all the more striking when you consider the still-unsolved fire that destroyed his original Enchanted Castle. In the most striking panel of his autobiographical comic, Cline sets the scene: “At 2 a.m., April 9, 2001, his studio burned to the ground. A letter was found accusing Mark of practicing witchcraft and devil worship. Although arson was suspected, it’s never been proven.” The note read, “God uses fire as his judgment. Behold, the judge is standing at the door.”

He claims that he became a long-standing target for “religious crazies” after getting a call from the Salem Avalanche, the single-A minor league baseball team in Salem, Virginia. “The team was on a long losing streak and asked if I could stage a séance to expel the bad demons of baseball before their game on Friday, June 13th. A Christian radio station and some preachers got hold of it and started protesting. The event went off OK, it was done in fun, but it became a media thing and the religious element didn’t like it. Then, a few years later, the fire … .”

“We were done pretty dirty on that deal,” echoes Sherry Cline. She too blames “religious fanatics” for setting the blaze, people who view Cline’s spook show antics as spiritually sinister. “A couple of churches around here said we were like devil worshippers. I never knew you could be considered a devil worshipper just because you made gargoyles.”

Insurance covered the buildings but not what was inside. “The fire—I looked at it as losing everything we’d worked for,” she says. “He looked at it as a new start.”

Mostly closed until after Memorial Day, Cline offers to open up Professor Cline’s Haunted Monster Museum for … a personal tour. Cue maniacal laughter.

This museum, heavily advertised on passing I-81 and Route 11 billboards, rests near the Natural Bridge Welcome Center and stands as testimony to the close relationship Mark Cline enjoys with the town’s current owners. Housed in the same compound as Escape from Dinosaur Kingdom, the artfully dilapidated Victorian manor was donated by Natural Bridge for Cline to embellish and spookify. “Anyone in the business would die to have a house like that to work with,” says Nightmare Mansion’s James Johnson.

The professor’s own fears involve not monsters but the future of the town. According to Leonard Puglisi, one of the eight partners who own the 215-foot-high limestone bridge and its surrounding tourism apparatus, the place is currently for sale (anyone got a spare $32.5 million?). “I don’t know what new owners would want to do,” Puglisi admits. His guess is that Cline is fine. “Mark’s made a lot of money for Natural Bridge over the years. The relationship hasn’t been totally one-way.”

The world of wacky roadside attractions like the Haunted Monster Museum—a trend that hit a peak in the ’60s—has been on a general decline. “Ninety percent of haunted houses fail in their first year,” Troy Faries says.

Mark Cline’s mayhem (photo by Jon Lohman)

“These things have been disappearing over the years, or they’ve consolidated into parks like Busch Gardens,” explains James Johnson. “That doesn’t mean the right idea in the right location won’t still draw people. Everything cycles around.”

Ken Smith, who co-wrote two best-selling Roadside America books, agrees—he doesn’t think this particular American subculture will ever totally die out. “Americans like to go and drive around and look at things on vacation. We love our cars and roads.” Cline’s ventures fit in perfectly with other regional off-road novelties like the John Brown Wax Museum in Harpers Ferry, Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach and the World’s Oldest Edible Cured Ham in Smithfield, he says. “Mark’s Haunted Museum is different because he actually put his in an old house. With that long walk up the path and through the woods, he creates a nice atmosphere even before you get there.”

The imposing castle sports a giant one-eyed skull as well as a huge reptilian tail protruding from its upstairs window. There’s a downed airplane and all manner of mayhem on the grounds of the creepy dwelling, which has the faces of writhing spirits protruding from one side of the exterior. An annoying telephone constantly rings in the booth across the lane (don’t answer it!) as eerie music plays throughout the compound.

Cline is approached by a couple of Liberty University students, who stopped at the Mansion not knowing it was closed. They too are invited inside … if they dare.

When the door creaks shut behind us, we ramble through a dark maze that includes a psychedelic room, the skeletal remains of the Marx Brothers and a séance table complete with grisly surprise. The professor himself leads the tour, breaking into his repertoire of voices (Elvis, Barney Fife, Ernest) and instructing his guests not to fear the beeping smoke detector. “He doesn’t get to do these tours much anymore—this is a rare thing,” whispers Faries, along for the tour. We giggle and jump at all the appropriate moments.

One of Mark Cline’s monsters (photo by Jon Lohman)

The host admits that his haunt is purposefully old-school, tapping into that boyhood Slime Theater vibe. “I can’t really get by with gore because I’m down here with the tourists,” he says as he gives out free passes to the visitors and waves goodbye. “Plus I find it more of a challenge to entertain and scare people another way. Some people come to my monster museum expecting to see Dracula or Frankenstein, but when they get there, you don’t see that. You see bits and parts of these monsters and you fill in the rest with your mind. And it’s even scarier.”

The professor is already planning his next attraction, a historical project designed for children. “I haven’t titled it yet, but it should be educational. It’s about the shelling of Lexington in 1864. I talked to historians about this to make sure it’s right—but, see, this is where I make some people nervous,” he says. “Some purists in Lexington are biting their nails, saying, ‘Is he going to tell the story [right]?’ Well, I believe in educating through entertainment. Kids see what I do—adults don’t get this.

“When children see a frog with a fiberglass mouse on its back, or dinosaurs fighting Yankee soldiers, or Stonehenge off on the side of the road, it opens up their imagination … to different possibilities.”

Announcing Apprenticeship Class of 2019–2020

Master of instrument inlay Brian Calhoun (front) and apprentices Jake Hopping, right, and Adam McNeil photographed at Rockbridge Guitars in Charlottesville, Virginia (Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities)

The Virginia Folklife Program at Virginia Humanities announces the 2019-2020 class of Master Artists in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program. Master Artists are selected through a competitive process in all forms of Virginia’s expressive cultures. The seven new teams join more than 120 pairs of masters and apprentices who have taken part in the Apprenticeship Program since its inception in 2002.

“Through this unique program, we work with incredibly accomplished musicians and craftspeople who are dedicated to passing along vitally important art forms to future generations,” said Jon Lohman, State Folklorist and director of the Virginia Folklife Program. “Participants in this year’s showcase exemplify the remarkable range and diversity of folk traditions in Virginia.”

Introducing the 2019–2020 Master Folk Artists and their apprentices:

  • Master of instrument inlay Brian Calhoun of Charlottesville and apprentices Adam McNeil and Jake Hopping
  • Master of Yucatan-style cooking Luz Lopez of Albemarle County and apprentice Princey Reyes
  • Master of house dance and culture Junious Brickhouse of Virginia Beach and apprentice Tyrone Edwards
  • Master of stained glass restoration Ronald Dixon of Staunton and apprentice William Hinkle
  • Master of fiberglass sculpture and roadside attractions Mark “Professor” Cline of Rockbridge County and apprentice Brently Hilliard
  • Returning master of the clawhammer banjo Emily Spencer of Grayson County and apprentice Lisa Ring
  • Returning master of apple grafting and white oak basket making Clyde Jenkins of Page County and apprentices Isaac Lonas, Tanner Good, Sam Jenkins, and Logan Hindershot

Celebrating the completion of the 2018–2019 Master Folk Artists and their apprentices:

  • Master gospel singer Cora Harvey Armstrong of King and Queen County and apprentice Samantha Willis
  • Master baklava maker Sondus Asad Moussa of Harrisonburg and apprentice Sanaa Abdul Jalil
  • Master hotrod car builder Jeff Bennett of Roanoke and apprentice Jeremy Bennett
  • Master of Vietnamese Dan Bau (monochord instrument) Nam Phuong Nguyen of Fairfax County and apprentice Anh Dien Nguyen
  • Master Mongolian contortionist Mandkhai Erdembat of Arlington and apprentices Emma and Ella Chuluunbat
  • Master moonshine maker Chris Prillaman of Franklin County and apprentice Tanner Talley
  • Returning master of the Galax-style dulcimer Phyllis Gaskins of Rockingham County and apprentice Anna Stockdale
  • Master of jazz and swing guitar the late Bert Carlson of Bath County and apprentice Danny Knicely (sadly, Bert passed away in the fall of 2018)

The Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program pairs experienced master artists with gifted apprentices for one-on-one, nine-month learning experiences, ensuring that art forms are passed on in ways that are conscious of history and faithful to tradition. More than workshops or lessons, apprenticeship learning takes place in the art forms’ traditional contexts, calling upon the complete engagement of the senses and contextualizing the practices within the larger cultural landscape.

On Sunday, May 5, from 12:00 to 5:00 PM, the Virginia Folklife Program will celebrate these two classes of master artists at the Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase at James Monroe’s Highland just outside of Charlottesville. Now in its sixteenth year, the showcase is a FREE, family-friendly event that celebrates the traditional music, crafts, and foodways of Virginia, introducing the public to the master artists and apprentices who keep the traditions alive. This year’s audience will enjoy more than ten live musical performances and a dazzling display of engaging demonstrations. Featured foods include real Brunswick stew, Frances Davis’s fried apple pies, and Joey’s hot dogs. Additional special guests will be announced in April.

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