The Meadowlark Smoky Mountain Heritage Center has another unforgettable event under our belts! This past weekend we had the incredible honor of hosting two living Haywood County legends and presenting them with the first annual MSMC Lifetime Achievement awards.

Charles Miller and Earl Lanning can both trace their family tree in the area all the way back to the Revolutionary War and even had ancestors who fought in the 1776 Rutherford Campaign and at the Battle of Kings Mountain. With that kind of heritage running through their blood, you would expect them to have a great love of history and culture…and you would be right!

These modern-day pioneers are extremely passionate about their Smoky Mountain heritage and have devoted their lives to keeping it alive for the next generations. They both have an expertise in local genealogy and history and are widely recognized for their artwork, craftsmanship, and storytelling abilities that keep listeners enthralled for hours.

Last weekend’s events included highly entertaining presentations from the duo as well as a musical performance by William Ritter, who played traditional 18th century ballads and hunting songs. (He even played a fiddle that was handcrafted by Earl Lanning. What a treat!)

We took a look at a still that Charles Miller crafted with his own two hands – and got some insight into moonshining. Mel Hankla gave us a history lesson on frontier life with a spectacular display of frontier clothing and accoutrements. And we gained insight into the artistic minds of Earl and Charles with displays of their artwork as well as historic guns and rifles.

Before diving into a delicious dinner at J. Arthur’s Restaurant, Miller and Lanning were presented with the very first MSMHS Lifetime Achievement Awards.

When asked what this award meant to them, Lanning said, “I have never done anything for accolades and could care less about the attention. But it means a lot to be recognized by folks you respect and to have my friends and family here to see it too. I am truly honored to get this award and even more so, to share it with my lifelong friend Charles Miller. There is no one I respect more than Charles and there are not any better artists or historians around than Charles Miller.”

Miller added, “Like Earl, I am passionate about my work and our history and I take pride in doing things right and being accurate in anything I do whether it is metal work, wood carving or historical research. And just as he said, I never did a minute of it for attention or awards, I did it all because I love it – and I will do that until the day I die. But it means a lot to be recognized while you are still above ground by people you respect, and I am truly grateful for this honor. It’s like I told Bob in the book, what I have enjoyed more than anything else in this life is the people I met and the many good friends I made. It’s been a real good ride and this award means a lot to me, it really does.”

When asked about the importance of storytelling, music, and art in preserving our Smoky Mountain history, both men had a heartfelt response that can only come from someone who is passionate about their heritage.

Lanning said, “Storytelling, art and oral history are integral parts of mountain history and culture. Our people have passed their stories and skills down from generation to generation since time began. So much of this history was never documented and has been preserved through stories and songs, so music is important too. And so is art – although back then they would not have considered metal work, black smithing or gun building an art, or woodworking an art, they considered it vital to building what they needed to make life better. Our people brought their stories, skills and songs with them when they came here, and subsequent generations added to those stories and songs while also preserving the original ones. That’s priceless. It’s who we are and without those stories and songs a huge part of our culture would be lost.”

Miller agreed, “Earl is entirely correct. I laugh when people call us craftsmen. You know what a craftsman is? Someone capable of fixing what they messed up in the first place – or what someone else messed up. Our stories, skills, and songs are the essence of who we are and it’s our obligation to pass those things on to future generations to be preserved. Without it, centuries of history and work are gone. Lost forever.”

Follow us on the Meadowlark Smoky Mountain Heritage Center’s Facebook page and on Instagram so you don’t miss out on more upcoming events that you can only find in Maggie Valley. And make it a summer getaway when you book your stay at the Meadowlark Motel.