Through The Lens of Palmer Blair
Digital Watauga Project
Palmer Blair was born on July 8, 1922, in Watauga County, the second of two sons among five children born to Henry Neal Blair and Martha Sligh Blair. Born and raised on the 300-plus-acre working Blair Farm, Palmer grew up attending local schools. He graduated as a history and science major from Appalachian State Teachers College (now ASU) in 1945, the same year he met his future wife, Sarah Lynn Rives, a freshman from Jonesboro, North Carolina. They were married in October 1947.
Palmer began exploring the world of photography and working in the field while a student in college. During that time he convinced his mother to allow him to set up a darkroom in a tiny room off of the kitchen’s back porch at the Blair home place. He opened his first photography business in 1947 in the basement of Wade Brown’s law office at 766 West King Street, the current home of Miller and Johnson’s Law practice. In late 1948, Palmer moved his business and studio to the Linney Law Office Building at 718 West King Street. By 1952, he had outgrown that building and relocated his business to 127 Depot Street, now Black Cat Burrito. The final home of “Palmer’s Photo Shop” was in the Carolina Hotel building at 597 West King Street, where “A Piece of the Past Antiques” is currently located.
While much of Palmer’s professional work involved consumer portraiture, stringer work for local newspapers, and commissioned photography for family reunions, high school and college yearbooks, private parties, police investigations, insurance documentation, and corporate marketing, Palmer also loved all the creative dimensions of photography and shooting images in his spare time. Many of the negatives in the Palmer Blair Collection document his fascination with aerial photography, the use of infrared film, and gorgeous compositions of snowy landscapes, which are often the most difficult scenes to capture on black-and-white film. In February 1957, three of Palmer’s images were featured as part of The 1957 Convention Exhibit, North Carolina Photographers Association, Inc., in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he received a “3rd Award” in the category of “Color Transparencies.”
Tragically, on March 21, 1957, Palmer Blair was killed in a plane crash doing what he loved—flying and capturing aerial images through his lens. That particular day was the first day that Palmer was using a recently purchased, state-of-the-art camera for his aerial work. He and his pilot, H. C. Sisk, a cousin by marriage and a World War II bomber pilot who was also killed in the crash, were completing a contract project for a mining company in Ashe County.
Palmer left behind a young wife, Sarah Lynn, and three small children, Palmer Sligh Blair Jr., Sharon Rousseau Blair, and Susan Rebecca Blair. Palmer’s young widow operated her husband’s business for the remainder of that year. She sold “Palmer’s Photo Shop” to George Flowers on December 31, 1957. The Palmer Blair Collection contains approximately 10,000 surviving negatives and prints, which Digital Watauga is uploading to its site as scanning is completed.
The prints range in size from 8" X 10" to 20" X 24", and they will be for sale.
2017 Gallery Schedule
February - Junaluska Art Group
March - Digital Watauga Project
April - Watauga Education Foundation
May - Willard Gayheart
June - Dawn Wicklow
July - High Country Watermedia Society
August - Steven Newhouse & Pegge Laine
September - Beth Shuford
October - Kim Abernathy
November - Clayton Pennell
December - Year in Review
604 W. King St.
Boone, NC 28607