MacArthur Fellows Program

John Rice Irwin

Curator and Cultural Preservationist | Class of 1989

Curator and Cultural Preservationist
Norris, Tennessee
59 at time of award
Area of Focus
Culture and Society
Published August 1, 1989

About John's Work

John Rice Irwin is an expert on the history and culture of the Appalachian people.

Irwin has spent much of his life collecting and documenting artifacts, memorabilia, and folk art of southern Appalachia.  Irwin traveled the region in search of tools and farm and household implements that bring to light long-forgotten customs and methods of living and working.  In 1969, he founded the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee, to house his collection.


Irwin is the author of Baskets and Basket Makers of Southern Appalachia (1983), Musical Instruments of the Southern Appalachian Mountains (1983), A People and Their Quilts (1984), and Alex Stewart: Portrait of a Pioneer (1985), a narrative account of early pioneer life and mountain customs, and A People and Their Music: The Story Behind the Story of Country Music (2000).  Since its founding, Irwin has served as the director of the Museum of Appalachia, having expanded it from a two-acre, single building to a vibrant, living, sixty-five-acre reconstruction of a nineteenth-century Appalachian village, containing a quarter of a million artifacts. 

Irwin received a B.A. (1955) from the Lincoln Memorial University and an M.S. (1958) from the University of Tennessee.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

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