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CCU Atheneum: William Van Auken Greene
William Van Auken Greene

Athenaeum Press: One arm, one camera and 2,000 photos

by Alexandra Morris
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Some 84 years ago, the Horry County town of Aynor was a tobacco farming community struggling to survive the Great Depression. It was a place like the rest of the economically-stricken, rural South: people took pride in what they had—their families, their pets, their cars. Thanks to a certain one-armed photographer, a valuable record of this time and place has been preserved.

The photographer was William Van Auken Greene, who made a living by taking photos of the people of Horry County. He was born in 1866 in Minnesota, traveled to West Virginia and eventually settled in Horry County. At the time, photos were a luxury, but he took pictures of family gatherings, weddings, tobacco harvesting, and, in the 1940s, men in uniform going to fight in World War II.

That collection of photos discovered by the Horry County Museum was a book waiting to be made for Coastal Carolina University’s Athenaeum Press,.

“I proposed this project to Coastal’s Athenaeum Press last spring,” says history professor Eldred “Wink” Prince, who specializes in Southern history. “There are a few people in Aynor who met photographer William Van Auken Greene when they were children. The photo negatives are owned by the Horry County Museum, with whom we partnered for this project.”

The Athenaeum Press is CCU’s unique, student-driven publication lab within the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts that provides hands-on experience to undergraduate and graduate students. The Press is only in its third year of existence.

“We publish work in a variety of media forms, both analog and digital,” says Athenaeum Press director Patricia O’Connor. “For this project, we are compiling a book with text to go with the photographs."

A mixture of majors in history, photography, graphic design, communication, English, philosophy and others had a hand in creating the William Van Auken Greene book.

“We really worked together and created something simple and powerful,” says senior philosophy major Nicklaus McKinney. “We created a book that speaks not only to the history of one man, but to the history of a lifestyle that is slowly disappearing from the American landscape.”

The project was also led by digital content coordinator Alli Crandell, photography professor Armon Means and graphic design professor Scott Mann.

“They called him Uncle Billy, and people would ask him how he lost his arm,” says Prince of photographer Greene. “He would tell them, ‘I didn’t lose it! They cut it off!’ He walked everywhere and eventually accumulated over 2,000 photos. For the book, we cut it down to 80 that were very representative of this area.”

Prince also wrote the introduction for the book. The rest of the text in the book was written by the students.

“The main part that I was responsible for was contacting local people who interacted with William Van Auken Greene, because I am also from that area,” says history major Nick Barton. “During interviews, we discussed Mr. Greene himself, but also discussed rural life, farming, popular activities, church, school.”

The book was published at the end of December. Next spring, O’Connor says the Press staff will continue on another project about African American soldiers during World War II.

“Our next project will be published in the form of a museum exhibit,” says O’Connor. “We will also include video and audio recordings from the soldiers during that time.”

For a full display of the Press’s past work, visit http://theathenaeumpress.com/.

 

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