Local resident Charles Wood holding up two of his canning labels at the Moneta/SML Library. 

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A second exhibition of historical canning labels from small regional farms and canneries in Bedford County will be shown at the MOarts Gallery in the Moneta/ Smith Mountain Lake Library during the month of January, 2019. These unique labels are printed with the names of canneries, farmers, landowners, and towns. They are a record of bygone days, of the people who lived in the region before the 1930’s and a reminder of the traditional practice of canning produce and meats independent of factories and corporations. The labels for this exhibit are from the collection of Charles Woods, a native of Bedford County.  When a friend of his mentioned that Smyth Companies had historical canning labels on display at the MOarts Gallery in October, 2018, Charles Woods and his wife Carlie drove over from their home in Vinton to see the exhibition. That day, Woods brought in some labels from his own collection to show to the library staff. Opening his briefcase, he took out notebooks with clear sleeves filled with brightly printed papers featuring unusual font and colorful designs including vegetables, fruits and animals. Some of the labels picture plants, farms and landscapes. Searching in flea markets, yard sales, antique shops Charles Woods has traded and purchased canning labels for years. He said that he started with tomato labels. Bedford County was famous for growing tomatoes, so there were many different tomato labels printed. Later, Woods branched out and began collecting fruit, bean, and meat labels. He flipped through his notebooks, occasionally stopping to say a few words about a label. The colors of the small scenes and bowls of vegetables printed on the labels are designed to be attractive, but the brand and cannery names and the names of farmers are of the most interest to Woods.
Speaking affectionately of small Virginia villages and towns with little to mark them now except crumbling buildings and a few road signs, Woods told anecdotes about the individuals and families who farmed and those who worked in the canneries many years ago.  “Now this farmer paid his canners by tokens, sometimes.” Woods relates, recalling that one person employed at the farm cannery saved enough tokens for a pair of shoes.  Woods explains that “Not many people had money in those days, so they used tokens.” Woods pointed out several labels that were used in a cannery located near “Old Moneta” by the railroad tracks. Although a commercial development “Downtown Moneta” was built near the tracks about 10 years ago, some of the buildings in the original community of Moneta are abandoned and overgrown with vines and small trees. Other buildings there have been remodeled: Lake Christian Ministries has recently expanded and the thriving business Appalachian Images & Framing, is located in a former fire station. But no sign remains to mark the location of the cannery.  Most of the old canneries in the county are abandoned, walls crumbling and roofs caving in. Woods’ wife states with regret that canning labels are not of interest to the younger generation. “Our children don’t want to hear about the old days. Our sons are interested in sports, not labels.” Woods agreed to bring labels to the gallery in January for a canning label exhibit. Packing up his notebooks, he ambled back to the Smyth Companies exhibit saying there was a label on display there that he’d wanted to collect for a long time. He just wanted to snap a photo of it.

Historical Canning Labels: Second Exhibition may be viewed Wednesday, January 2 through Thursday, January 31, 2019 in the MOarts Gallery during the regular hours of the Moneta/ Smith Mountain Lake Library. The library is located at 13641 Moneta RD, Moneta, Virginia. For directions call the library at: (540) 425-7004.

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