An impressive new collection of vintage music posters is on display until Nov. 30 at the Wilkes Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro.
Tom Murphy of Raleigh is loaning part of his vast collection to the museum for the exhibition called “A Cardboard History of Blue Ridge Music.” It ties in perfectly with many artists already inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame.
The hall of fame and the exhibit are both on the second floor of the museum, which is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the museum is $6, and the special collection can be viewed at no extra charge.
Murphy, in a recent interview, spotlighted a couple of his favorite window cards—sometimes referred to as show cards—on display at 100 East Main Street.
“The Mac Wiseman card in the Blue Grass Boys case was acquired many years ago from an antique store near Winchester, Va., where he was from,” he said. “The lady in the store didn’t recognize his name, and thought the poster advertised a movie (Partners of the Trail), and not a concert.”
Murphy admittedly did not know at the time who Wiseman was, but after doing a lot of research, he discovered this card was a concert announcement for Wiseman’s very first band in 1945.
A few years later, Wiseman joined Flatt and Scruggs as an original Foggy Mountain Boy, then later joined Bill Monroe as a Blue Grass Boy band member. He also spent about a year working for Ralph Epperson at WPAQ radio in Mount Airy, the self-proclaimed “Voice of the Blue Ridge.”
“He had quite an amazing career,” said Murphy of Wiseman. “I’d bet this is probably the only card of its kind in existence today.”
Murphy pegged Tommy Millard’s Blue Ridge Hill Billies card as another rare find. Both are in the same display cabinet titled “The Blue Grass Boys.”
He bought the Millard card on eBay after the item generated no other interest from prospective poster collectors.
“That was because no one recognized his name, except for me,” Murphy noted. “Tommy was from Asheville and was one of the original Blue Grass Boys chosen by Bill Monroe for his new band after splitting with brother Charlie in 1938. Over 150 talented musicians passed through Monroe’s band during its existence, and Tommy was one of the first original three.”
Murphy added, “Again, a very rare find, and maybe another one-of-a-kind poster.”
Another of Murphy’s favorites was gleaned from Marty Stuart, a member of the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame.
In 1969, 13-year-old Stuart was hired by Lester Flatt to play mandolin in a new group called the Nashville Grass.
“After concerts, Marty would wander the venue in search of cards advertising their show,” recalled Murphy. “The Lester Flatt Show poster was one of those announcements. He found at least two of these, and this was a duplicate he was willing to part with.”
Murphy noted that Stuart is a rare breed: serious bluegrass poster collector. “Marty is in that small circle and was willing to share this great window card with me for my collection and the exhibit.”
After owning a film and video production company in Raleigh, Murphy and his wife retired about 15 years ago. They bought a small house near the Blue Ridge Parkway that they visit quite often.
“This is a wonderful area for a second home and we’ve enjoyed all of the experiences we’ve had, as well as all the new friends we’ve made in the area,” he said.
Collecting posters is an unusual but very fun hobby, Murphy indicated.
“Once you’ve accumulated all of these great—and often rare—pieces of cardboard Americana music history, what do you do with them? Like most collectors, I put them in drawers in my hobby room, where they sat in the dark and very few people saw them.”
Finding themselves homebound during the first outbreak of the coronavirus, Murphy and his wife picked out about 50 posters and developed the idea of a traveling museum exhibit once the pandemic simmered down.
Murphy emailed Jennifer Furr, director of the Wilkes Heritage Museum, and asked if she’d be interested in displaying the collection.
“I was thrilled when she said yes. This is a rare opportunity for me, as not many collectors get to share their passion with the public. I hope lots of fans of bluegrass, Blue Ridge and string music come to see my posters.”
When the exhibition in Wilkesboro ends, Murphy isn’t sure what’ll happen next to his extensive collection.
“We spent the summer putting the exhibition together, so there has been little time to search for the next host museum,” he admitted. “That is our next challenge, but hopefully we can get a commitment for the next venue soon.”