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About this collection

The Emma Bell Miles Southern Appalachia art, correspondence, and journals digital collection contains correspondence among members and friends of writer and artist Emma Bell Miles’ family of origin illustrating the personal roots of themes Emma lived out and developed in her work. The heart of the collections are 4 diaries authored by Emma from 1908 to 1915.

Morning in the woods. Surely it is worth drawing lain under the heel of winter to attain this summer morning. Bars of sun-warmth shout through the cool dim forest, touching here a hank of shattering laurel, there a glade of grasses gray with dew: lighting now a jade-colored creek pool, now a filagree-flash of running water among the rocks, and again a bed of the fine soft fern whose perfume is mingled with that of the late azalea. Bluish glints everywhere in the shadow as the midsummer gloss of the leaves begins to reflect the deep morning sky: golden dapple of sun. Catbird in treetop. A stray breeze, a mere breath, sends down a sudden broken shower of glittering drops from the boughs. Many different birds: wren, redbird char, wood hen... In another hour the dew will have dried, the romance of the day will be over, and it will be hot.

Emma Bell Miles, 27 May 1908

The collection also features a series of letters written during 1901-1903 concerning Emma’s troubled relationship with her parents, her life as a young woman, and her life as an emerging artist and naturalist; as well as the death of her mother, Emma’s marriage to Frank Miles soon thereafter, and disposition of Bell family property in Walden Ridge, Tennessee. The collection also features numerous examples of Emma's art, including watercolors, oil paintings, and sketches.

Purple asters have a far away, reminiscent sort of color, don't they? There are so many this year. On the ground the dark ones look like a shadow, and in your hand they look distant. They are nearly the color of Lookout. Do you have blue hills in the North? They were what I missed most in St. Louis. Every time I looked up I expected to see some little patch of blue distance, and was newly disappointed every ten minutes. I am never going back there again.

Emma Bell, 1901 September 14

Emma Bell Miles’s parents were both teachers and both graduates of the Evansville Normal School. The family moved to Walden Ridge, Tennessee in 1890 for health reasons and to establish a school for mountain children as a mission of the Presbyterian Church. In 1892, Martha Ann Bell, née Mirick, purchased 2.46 acres of land near the top of the W Road for construction of the family home in which Emma lived as a girl, then, briefly, after her marriage to Frank Miles. Emma spent the winters and springs of 1900 and 1901 at the Saint Louis School of Art with the assistance of her teacher Zerelda Rains and family friends, a period Emma Bell and Frank Miles considered their engagement.That the Bells did not approve of Emma’s blossoming relationship with Frank Miles may be read between the lines of their 1901 correspondence. In Summer 1901 when Emma returned from St. Louis, the Bells were living on the Georgia end of Missionary Ridge and struggling to support themselves in a rural region in which opportunities for formal schooling were only then becoming organized. Martha Ann Bell died October 3, 1901, and Emma Bell and Frank Miles married on October 30, 1901.

Emma Bell and Frank Miles struggled financially, and Emma sold her poetry, short stories, and books, The Spirit of the Mountains, to make ends meets. She also made money selling her art, some of which is featured in this digital collection. Emma and Frank had a difficult marriage, and their children often went hungry. This life of continual poverty eroded Emma Bell Miles's health and after spending several years in the Pine Breeze Sanitarium in Chattanooga, she died in a small house Frank had rented in what is now North Chattanooga, in 1919.

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