The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

January 6, 2013

New look at New Deal photography in W.Va.


Rivard — with the help of people like Crabtree and Birurakis — has worked for a decade to piece these fragmented images together to tell a story.

Some other states had New Deal photography books out years ago. It has taken West Virginia a bit longer, but the thoughtful essays by Rivard and others that accompany the photos are worth the time it has taken to get it right.

“It took Betty to pull it all together and do extensive research to find out how all the pieces fit together,” said Beverly Brannon, curator of Photography in the Prints and Photo Division of the Library of Congress.

“She has brought a lot of written material out of hiding. I think it took somebody who was from West Virginia and knew a lot about the state to be able to pull that information together.

“It’s a very rich book. It was done with depth and I think it will make a future contribution to scholarship about these photographs, these places, and the photographers who worked there.”

Only a few pictures of West Virginia are part of the FSA canon, says Brannon, but because Rivard selected broadly, she found some “sleepers” that were being overlooked.

“Nobody had been paying attention to them,” she says.

Rivard, a retired social worker, hopes that will change.

And by looking at this difficult past through the lens of gifted artists, she hopes West Virginians will also see the basis for a better future.

“One of the main challenges that people faced then, as we do now, is to believe in ourselves and do the best we can with what we have, including our faith, our families, our communities, our dedication and work ethic and the beauty of our natural surroundings,” she said.

“There is and always has been a great spirit in the state and a can do approach that impressed the photographers, came through in their photographs, and is the foundation for planning and progress into the future.”

She hopes photographers and artists will build on the legacy of the collection.

For more information on “New Deal Photographs of West Virginia,” visit

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