Appalachian Culture


Ballad Quilt

An early decorative art of Appalachia was the hand-pieced quilt, a “necessary” craft once common to every remote household. In the Appalachian region, art was often the result of need and eventually quilting became an art. Ballad quilts combine two Appalachian art forms, oral ballads handed down through the generations and quilting.

Artist Phyllis Nichols Rowe’s hand-crafted Ballad Quilt is pictured to the right. Click on the quilt to view a detail image. Rowe spent several years designing and two years making the quilt, which uses scraps of cloth, braid lace and brightly colored embroidery thread to depict classic English ballads. Phyllis Nichols Rowe has been a generous supporter of Americans Helping Americans® since 1996.

Ballad quilt photo courtesy: Alfred Lease, Jr.


An example of a Ballad Quilt. Click image to view a detail image of the quilt.

Apple Stack Cake

The “Dried Apple Stack Cake” is the most “mountain” of all cakes baked and served in Southern Appalachia. The story goes that James Harrod, one of Kentucky’s earlier pioneers and the founder of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, brought the stack cake recipe with him when he traveled the Wilderness Road to Kentucky.

In the mountains, weddings were celebrated with “in-fares” where people gathered to party, dance, and eat potluck food. Because wedding cakes were so expensive, neighbor cooks brought cake layers to donate to the bride’s family. The number of stack layers on her wedding cake often gauged the bride’s popularity. Along with weddings, the stack cake was served at family reunions, church suppers and other large gatherings.

Traditional Appalachian Apple Stack Cake RECIPE

Apple Stack Cake photo courtesy Adam Briner/Knoxville News Sentinel

Apple Stack Cake 






Kentucky Quilt TrailThe Kentucky Quilt Trail is a celebration of the region’s quilting heritage as well as its historic barns and architecture.

The Quilt Trail began in 2001 in Ohio when Donna Sue Groves installed a painted quilt design on her barn to honor her mother, a fifth generation Appalachian quilter. From that simple act, the project has spread to more than 2,000 colorfully painted quilt designs on barns and other structures in 24 states.

The photo to the right is the Compass Quilt Block on the Kentucky Quilt Trail in Menifee County, Kentucky.

Photo by Terri McAllister


Tennessee Music BoxWhile the typical Appalachian Dulcimer with its graceful, teardrop curves may have been common in the mountainous regions of West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky; the farming communities of southern Middle Tennessee produced a similar instrument called the Tennessee Music Box. This form of music box found its grace in the sound it made rather than its outward appearance. While the reasons for their development are still in part a mystery, the instruments themselves speak of the importance of music in the everyday lives of Tennessee’s pioneers.

These folk instruments, made from materials at hand, are traditionally played laid flat across the musician’s lap and plucked similarly to a guitar. The music box echoes the old mountain love of stringed instruments like the guitar, violin and banjo and is one of America’s major contributions to the world of music and folk art.


Clogging Clogging is a uniquely American dance from the southern Appalachian Mountains. It emerged from a melting pot of influences — Celtic, African and Cherokee — creating a distinct new form of folk music and percussive dance, performed to the rhythms and driving beat of live banjo and fiddle.

There are many groups keeping the tradition of clogging alive including FiddleKicks from Pennsylvania (in photo). FiddleKicks brings Appalachian clogging to life with a whoop and a holler!

Photo by Cylia von Tiedemann, courtesy Fiddlekicks,