Virginia Patterson Hensley, or “Ginny,” as she is known here in the Shenandoah Valley -- “Patsy Cline” to the rest of the planet -- is perhaps one of the biggest music cultural icons ever to emerge from the Shenandoah Valley.
She grew up in Winchester, Va., a claim that city has long made with much pride. The young Patsy Cline also lived in the Valley communities of Lexington, Elkton, Grottoes, Gore, Edinburg, and Middletown. After she had become a national sensation, and before she died in a 1963 plane crash at age 30, Patsy Cline would often return to her Virginia home for guest appearances at parades and other public events.
Now, in an effort to tell a unique part of her story, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester is on a quest to gather stories and historic objects that relate to Patsy Cline's roots, things like photographs, letters, and posters. The museum is getting ready to debut its Becoming Patsy Cline exhibition later this year.
Whatever historical contributions can be gathered will fill a “community memory” part of the gallery exhibition that is set to open at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley on August 30, 2013, and then remain on view through February 2, 2014.
The exhibition the result of a partnership between the museum and a local organization, Celebrating Patsy Cline, Inc., that just a few years ago renovated Patsy Cline's girlhood home in Winchester. They first opened the house to the public for tours in 2010. The Patsy Cline Historic House now showcases authentic household furnishings and personal items that interprets the time period of 1948 to 1957 when Patsy and her family lived there. Besides the furnishings inside the house, the organization’s collection contains many other artifacts, including handmade dresses and the sewing machine that her mother used to make them.
The museum has worked before with other regional museums and private individuals to collect historical material, according to Exhibitions Manager Cory Garman. Most recently, the museum partnered with the Shenandoah County Historical Society to create an exhibition about a Woodstock, Va. photographer who took tens of thousands of historic photos about Shenandoah Valley life. “We love to collaborate with other institutions in the region,” Garman says. “So this is very much following in that model.”
He also notes that Patsy Cline remains a passionate subject for many people, and her music remains a powerful influence today. The exhibition project is intended to tap into a reservoir of passion among older fans in a way that may possibly redefine Patsy Cline for a whole new generation.
“People who may have photographs of these types of things could really be a big part in helping us create that,” Garman explains. “But ultimately, we want to give the community a voice, a representation, somewhere in the exhibit. So people who have something to contribute could become part of that community memory and affection.”
Anyone with any material that could be contributed is encouraged to contact the museum by March, 2013. After that time, the development focus will shift to actually making the exhibition ready for the August opening.
Working with the MSV and serving as the exhibition’s guest curator is Douglas Gomery, a Celebrating Patsy Cline historian and author of the 2011 book, Patsy Cline: The Making of an Icon. Exhibit designers from Design Minds of Fairfax, Va. will be instrumental in putting everything together in the gallery. Design Minds’ previous work includes the Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center in Clintwood, Va., and the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, DC, .
Becoming Patsy Cline will be the first museum exhibition to use objects, clothing and rare photographs to focus almost exclusively on her early years, delving into the singer’s family history and early influences that helped her develop her career. The exhibition will also detail the Shenandoah Valley communities where Ginny lived and will describe the struggles her family endured as they constantly move from town to town to escape poverty.
It's a story about amateur talent shows and a dream, including key figures that played into her rise to fame, such as her mother, Hilda Patterson Hensley. It's about the pivotal moments that led to her discovery and subsequent rise to fame as the first female solo artist ever inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and her recordings that have sold millions of copies worldwide.
Garman says that the exhibition has been years in the making and has unfolded with the support of Patsy Cline’s husband, Charlie Dick, along with their two children. Garman credits Celebrate Patsy Cline as a critical force in the development of the project concept. “And they always had a desire to build a museum and see these things displayed in the context of an exhibition. So I think the collaboration and the partnership was just a very natural thing,” he says.
Anyone who may have material to contribute that deals with Patsy Cline’s Shenandoah Valley roots should contact Garman at 540-662-1473, ext. 203 or send him an email message. The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is online at TheMSV.org. Celebrating Patsy Cline, Inc. is online at CelebratingPatsyCline.org.
Photo of Patsy Cline taken around 1957 in Winchester: Celebrating Patsy Cline, Inc. Dress photo by Shenandoah Valley Productions LLC. Story copyright ©2013 by Shenandoah Valley Productions LLC.