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Archive for Southern experiences

favorite flânerie . Inspiration at Memphis’ Brooks Museum

I love the word flânerie and its meaning. One definition of this curious French word is aimless idleness, the act of strolling or dawdling. What a poetic name given to something that we so often criticize. When I think of the word dawdle, sadly, the first thing that comes to my mind is an impulse to hurry up one of my children in whatever task we’re trying to do. The idea of giving any attention to being aimless, to taking our time, to meandering from one thing to the next – on purpose – is pretty foreign to today’s culture. In a world where we seem to value being “driven”, and learn to focus on productivity at every younger ages, the notion of simply wandering or intentionally spending time with no purpose as become rare. Over the last year, I’ve challenged myself to try and recapture the forgotten art of flânerie, to leave time to go unplanned, to indulge the impulse to pull off the main road, or to ignore the admonition that we don’t have enough time. To see what we see.

A museum is a perfect place to dawdle. On a recent trip to Memphis, we took a few refreshing minutes to wander through the Brooks Museum of Art in Overton Park, and take in some of the collection. We’ve visited Memphis countless times, and always seemed not to have “enough time” to visit Brooks. On the last day of this trip, I credit my mom with saying, “you’ve been wanting to see it; so we should see it.” Decision made.

It was about an hour and a half before closing when we arrived at the museum, and even the docent told us, with a sigh, that the collection normally takes several hours to see. Still, the kids and I decided to wander anyway through Eggleston photographs, the uniquely Southern but sometimes otherworldly paintings of Carroll Cloar, contemporary Memphis-inspired works, and a visiting exhibit of American still life works which includes examples from Andrew Wyeth and Georgia O’Keefe. The museum’s collection is an eclectic combination of styles, mediums, and historical references from contemporary and modern works to decorative arts, internationally renown artists, and uniquely Southern work.

In the Cloar gallery, I jotted down one of his quotes… “There is the joy, in the sense of belonging, of possessing and being possessed, by the land where you were born.” As I was looking through images of artwork taken on our trip, it struck me that there is also a sense of belonging in the places we wander. The places we allow ourselves to absorb uninhibited by what we ought to be seeing, what we ought to be doing, where we ought to be going. These pieces, the emotions they evoke, and the familiarity they call to mind, are entwined in my mind with the look of the galleries as my children wandered them. The light on their faces next to the artwork. The ones they liked. The times they ran on ahead to find their favorites. Which were invariably different from mine. In that sense, these works belong to us. As well as to the Brooks.

Works portrayed in photos from the museum:

“Christina’s Teapot” 1968 — Andrew Wyeth
“Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog” 1965 — Carroll Cloar
“Wedding Party” 1971 — Carroll Cloar
“Historic Encounter Between E.H. Crump and W.C. Handy on Beale Street” 1964 — Carroll Cloar
“Study for Homage to the Square: Young Voice” 1957 — Josef Albers
“The Gleaners” 1936 — Burton Callicott
“The Cat Man” 1986 — David Bates
“Memphis On My Mind” 2015 — Red Grooms
“Reading By The Brook” 1879 — Winslow Homer
“Still Life with Red Apples” ca. 1935 — Emil James Bisttram

 

go . Sights and Shops in Downtown Asheville
[part 2]

A few weeks ago, I shared part 1 of downtown views and shopping fun from my recent trip to Asheville, North Carolina. It was an inspiring trip getting to see this quirky city for the first time, and today, I thought I would share part 2. I was in town for a conference on school public relations, and I actually stayed in a different hotel from the one hosting the events. That gave me the chance to walk around a good bit and explore some of the heart of Downtown Asheville.

Walking around the downtown area, I couldn’t get enough of the colorful buildings, sidewalk art, and the unique shopping experiences – all with a distinctly Asheville flair. Churches spires and doorways, art deco building details and both public and impromptu art captured my attention on every jaunt between conference sessions. I always enjoy looking at buildings and signs – particularly hand painted signs – when I’m visiting places, so I took time to capture a few examples to bring home for inspiration.

On one afternoon walk, a familiar name caught my attention… Kress. The fabulous art deco Kress building in Downtown Memphis is one of our favorite landmarks. The old department store chain has been preserved in Downtown Asheville as well. In addition to Kress, the historic F. W. Woolworth and Company building on Haywood, down from the Basilica of Saint Lawrence and Malaprop’s Bookstore, pays tribute to the department store era. Plus, what fun to find a historic marker commemorating Meridian, Mississippi native, Jimmie Rogers’ music career in Asheville right outside the Woolworth entrance. A good sign to go inside! It was great to see that both the Kress and Woolworth buildings had been reclaimed in Downtown Asheville as venues for local and regional artisans, crafters and small businesses. I found some quirky Asheville-made pottery in the retail incubator spaces on the ground floor of Woolworth’s. The venue also boasts an old 1950s soda fountain, which is on my list for the next Asheville adventure!

aSHEville Museum on Wall Street (with its twinkling lights) near the flatiron building offers a crazy, eclectic collection of artsy merchandise in the museum store. (I bought the children some pirate and princess crocheted finger puppets!) Plus, through rotating exhibits, the museum pays homage to girl power and the talents and legacies of women with walk-thru displays of memorabilia, art, and more. I also enjoyed visiting Bee Charmer on Battery Park. Bee Charmer features all things honey and bee-related, but most notably, a honey bar with the opportunity to taste local and a variety of hand-crafted infused honey options that are available in the store. From food items to skin care to wearables, Bee Charmer is definitely a sweet stop!

I’ve been looking through the tons of other photographs from my visit to Asheville, and reading some of the books by locals that I bought there. I’m looking forward to sharing a few more posts about the arts and tastes I enjoyed there. Stay tuned!

go . Sights and Shops in Downtown Asheville
[part 1]

Beautiful, quirky Asheville. There are places that grab you, that you immediately want to claim as your own. That’s how I felt about this vibrant, Southern mountain town. I had the opportunity to visit Downtown Asheville for a few days last month while attending a public relations conference, and I think it took my heart.

From Tuesday to Friday, I spent as much free time as possible wandering the downtown area, stopping in shops, poking my head down alleyways, and sampling the local cuisine. I found historic and colorful views, a love and commitment to all things Asheville-local, a penchant to spontaneous self expression, and an overwhelming sense of energy — really a “vibe.” Yes, there’s an unmistakable vibe, like something inspiring could happen at any moment. The jacket of a book I bought about the city described Asheville as “everywhere an easy gaiety.” That sums it up perfectly. The joy was so very easy.

The book, 27 Views of Asheville, came from Malaprop’s Bookstore on Haywood, along with the funky Only in Asheville tome. They were both on the recommended shelf of regional work, and kudos from the Malaprop’s staff carries good weight in indy bookstore circles. An iconic Asheville book seller and literary cafe since 1982, the store has a revolving door of events and author readings along with a stellar collection of bestsellers and unusual finds. After the public art, street musicians, and traffic bustle outside the door, the bookstore had its own buzz of book talk, event prep, and literary energy.

In Asheville wanderings, like in so many of the South’s urban centers, I found an inspiring mix of art deco ornament, historic structures, cobbled streets, sacred spaces, public parks, and the region’s overlapping colors of fall. What was even more inspiring was the obvious creative energy – community gardens outfitted with hand-made sculpture, outdoor artisan market areas, colorful facades, doors open with music outpouring, goods and wares pulled out into the sidewalks, and many shops proudly displaying not only a commitment to inclusion, but a list of wares available from fellow shops and artisans around the region. I walked back to my hotel each evening believing that each shop or restaurant or artisan I encountered knew they had something unique and wonderful to add to the world around them. Somehow Asheville seems to have created a place where those gifts are overwhelmingly welcomed and set on display for anyone to partake in the vibe.

On the last morning of my trip, I stopped by another Asheville shopping icon, the L.O.F.T., offering “lost objects and found treasures” since 1996. Squeezed into a vibrant street level and basement walk-down, I found quite a few treasures, indeed. Unusual books, ethnic memorabilia, gypsy-esque fabrics and decor, Asheville products, unique wall hangings, outdoor art and more. The color alone, displayed in every inch of the place, was enough to set my eyes in wonder.

Over the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to sharing some glimpses and thoughts from my morning visit to the beautiful Basilica of St. Lawrence, also on Haywood, the spectacular Grove Arcade on Page and Battery Park, a few favorite local restaurants, and some of the vibrance of the Flatiron area on Wall Street. So many memories that will stick with me! I think I love you, Asheville.

 

go . Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains

Tomorrow, my children are on Fall Break, and we are heading to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a few days. I have visited the Smoky Mountains many times, but last October, was the first time I’d taken the kids there.They decided right away they wanted to go back. We enjoyed a “town day” and a “Park day” on that last trip, and this time we’re adding one extra day to be sure we fit in all our favorites. As I’ve been gearing up for the trip his week, I’ve been looking back through some of the photographs I took on our last trip to the Smoky Mountains. I took some time to record my memories in watercolor – the first time I’ve painted this week.

Last year on our visit to the Smokies, we spent most of our “Park day” exploring Cades Cove. It’s a great driving loop with mountain views and a collection of preserved primitive structures – churches, houses, and barns. It also includes some of the last pasture lands still maintained in the National Park.

The historic churches in Cades Cove are quiet, moving experiences, each standing empty now with only echoes and strong light from the windows to highlight their sacred spaces. There are graves from pioneers and mountain folk who populated the area over the last few centuries. And, the houses and barns show a small glimpse of what life might have been like. It’s not unusual to see wildlife in Cades Cove (and throughout the Park). On our last visit, it was wild turkeys. Depending on the temperatures, the views are a display of oranges, maroons, yellows, browns, and a rainbow of green shades with that namesake gray-blue smoky haze over the upper elevations.

This year, I’m hoping we can drive over the mountains to visit Cherokee, North Carolina on our “Park day,” and I’m looking forward to new views in one of our favorite places. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these views of our trek through Cades Cove.

sojourn . Itta Bena, Mississippi

Back in May as our summer plans were just starting to materialize, I knew I wanted to take some opportunities to explore. We had already planned trips to the beach and Memphis, but I was determined that we would spend at least a few days on sojourns to Mississippi places we hadn’t seen before. I felt very blessed to have the children hanging out at home while school was out, and to have the flexibility in my freelance work to “schedule in” some unscheduled time.

So, on a Wednesday in the middle of June, we picked up breakfast donuts and headed west on Highway 82. It was the first day trip in our new car, which made for excitement with the kids in checking out all the bells and whistles, and I had heard that the B.B. King Museum in Indianola was pretty cool. Even though I was born and raised in Mississippi, I really haven’t spent a lot of time in the Delta, and the kids had never been to that part of the state. I was eager to take time without an itinerary, to soak up my little ones on the journey, and to explore some of that storied part of my home state.

There’s something mesmerizing about the sudden flatness of the land as you move out of the “hills” region of Mississippi. The sprawling farm fields, the succession of small towns popping up along the way, and so many broken down structures out of time. My children have tagged along on enough adventures to know my tendency to wander down side roads and stop on various Main Streets to capture photos of historic buildings, hand painted signs, and the curious sights of the small town South. This day trip had its share of those kinds of stops!

After pizza and visiting Indianola’s homage to Riley B. King, the kids indulged me in the short right turn onto Mississippi Highway 7 in Leflore County, down to Itta Bena. We wound past fields and water towers to a small square of a downtown with a city park surrounded by half cobblestone streets and nearly vacant storefonts – no evidence of the fast food spots and quaint downtown shops found in some of the other Delta towns we saw. It was late in the day and not many businesses were open. Not many businesses were there. We saw cars gathered around a few storefronts including a small convenience store, and a few folks were gathered on benches near the park. We drove around the square several times, across the railroad tracks and through the surrounding streets, stopping to capture the “place” of the place through my camera lens, and trying not to look too conspicuous.

Itta Bena seems to share part claim to Mississippi Valley State University with its neighboring county seat, Greenwood, just twelve miles East. The community also stakes claim to the birthplace of B.B. King, technically in Berclair, three miles to the West. I learned that Itta Bena comes from a Choctaw phrase, “iti bina,” meaning “forest camp,” and was named by a state senator who relocated his plantation there and built a home in the mid 1800s. He called it “Home in the Woods.”

We didn’t see much “woods.” We’ll seek that out for the next trip, but I enjoyed the glimpses into shops and businesses gone by and what I most often seek out on these adventures – the haunting and beautiful blight common in so many rural Mississippi towns. The gutted gas station. The vacant lunch counter featuring “Southern Cuisine”. The old structures you find give a hint to entrepreneurs and business folk who once made downtowns like these thrive. So that what you see is indelibly tied to what you imagine you would have seen twenty or fifty years ago. And sometimes the make and model of parked cars blur the difference.

The bricked pavement. The railroad tracks. There always seem to be railroad tracks. Military cannons and statues in the park memorializing one conflict or another. Buildings bear the remnants of their last use, sometimes overcome by weather and decay, but still vibrant with color. Sometimes the structures are just a shell with no roof remaining, and their own rural garden of weeds growing where countertops and store shelves used to be. Mom and pop restaurants, corner convenience stores and beauty salons are often the last hold-outs of downtown commerce, displaying store windows with the current price of a six-pack or posters of the latest beauty inspiration. Churches and public buildings are well-kept, but the interesting finds are those structures with a tell-tale hodgepodge of styles revealing their changes through the years. The boarded up remnants of stained glass windows and worn plaster ornament.

And, I love the signs. In addition to the faded out brands – logos that have since been updated to meet today’s visual appeal – small towns often show great examples of hand painted signs and repurposed banners showcasing a business owner’s pride. Somebody’s initials. Somebody’s name. Somebody’s stamp on the world. The local Big Star grocery became Big Star Tobacco, and even that has since gone defunct. Warehouses and old train cars usually provide an overlapping series of letters as the sun fades one generation of signage into the one before. The past, present and a citizen’s ingenuity.

Those glimpses of a small town – like the ones we captured in Itta Bena – are interesting and layered and sad and curious and indicative of how time passes. And sometimes passes by. Looking back through the images of our drive made me wonder what I keep trying to capture. When I seek out these broken and aged views of the small, worn South. I think maybe they are a glimpse of the greater challenges we have in our state. The wrestling of past and present, of sustaining opportunity, of growing and overcoming, of how we clean up our messes. Of capturing the moment in time. Or letting it go. All told, we spent less than an hour on our drive down to Itta Bena. That’s not enough time to know the place. Not enough to see what’s really gone and what remains. Not enough to see what might be emerging.

sojourn . Old Salem School

Very often while I’m working in my studio, I think about this historic brick structure. It’s the “Old Salem School” off Highway 14 in Noxubee County, and I think of it because the work table I’ve made a habit of painting and block printing on came from the school. Mr. Cotton, the caretaker from the Noxubee County Historical Society, is a long-time family friend, and he gave the kids and me permission to go inside the very dilapidated building last summer. For years, every time we drove by it on the way to Busy Bee, I said I wanted to go inside and see the space. Last summer, we finally did it.

One reason the school is very interesting to me is that my grandfather went to elementary school there in the early 1920s. Not long ago, we were looking through an old lockbox from my grandmother’s house and found his diploma from Salem Consolidated School, promoting him to high school on April 17, 1925. The school is one of the earliest remaining public schools in Noxubee County, and was officially confirmed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

The structure is basically a four room school house in a dog-trot type plan, with stairs in the center hallway and two large rooms on each side of both stories. On one side the rooms have been divided into smaller spaces connected through a series of doorways. My mother said that during some of the years the building was in use, one side was used as housing for teachers or caretakers.

Upstairs on the east side, the remnants of a corner stage area are still there, and as a child, my mom remembers going to community Christmas suppers held in the room with entertainment and even a visit from Santa Claus on the stage. After the building was no longer used as a school, it became sort of a community center available to the Salem community, including Salem Methodist Church and Concord Baptist Church. From the looks of the chalkboard we found inside, Sunday School classes and church meetings were sometimes held there, and my mom remembers going to birthday parties on the property as well.

During our visit, layers of peeling paint and cracked wall plaster revealed the bones of the building, and the aging patina of old chimney pipes, metal ceiling panels and cornices. And although it is in very severe disrepair, we could still see the remnants of wooden bead board chair rails, shiplap walls, movable classroom panels, and even the brass nameplates of families who donated money to install windows and other features. You can see from the angles in the shiplap photo below, that the building is just on the edge of being structurally sound. I’m afraid it may not last much longer, and I’m very glad we were able to visit when we did. It was interesting to see my children explore the space and to imagine someone going to school there. I hope I was able to impart to them the importance of historic buildings and remembering their significance to a community, especially as they listened to their grandmother talk about her own memories there.

After our visit, I nearly begged Mr. Cotton to allow me to rescue two of the last pieces of movable furniture I found there before they were overtaken with weather and falling down ceiling materials. Mom and I loaded an old six-foot wooden table into Dad’s pick-up along with a large chalkboard that was made to hang on sliding panels in the school classrooms. Underneath the graffiti writing of other explorers, the chalkboard still had names on a list titled “To-Day’s Record”, where Sunday School member attendance and offerings were recorded during years when the building was still in use. We brought the table home, cleaned decades of dust and insect friends from it, and added a little reinforcement to the legs to accommodate printmaking duties. It has become a treasured part of my daily studio activities, inspired by the knot holes and rusted nails as reminders of the heritage I imagine happened there. One of this summer’s projects will be to restore the chalkboard to hang in our entryway, and in the repainting, I plan to replicate that Sunday School secretary’s hand-writing as we create a space to document our own “To-Day’s Record.”

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photo essay . Merry Christmas Main Street

We’ve been visiting my parents in Macon, Mississippi for the holidays. The place is full of holiday memories for me! As a child, I spent every two-week Christmas vacation at my grandparent’s house on the farm at Busy Bee. One of our Christmas Eve traditions was driving the ten minutes to “town” to see the Christmas lights. We would tour the small neighborhoods and recall who lived in each house and ooh and aah over the holiday decorations.

Now, my children and I also spend much of our holiday vacation in Macon as well, and I’ve tried to revive that practice of checking out the lights. We usually wander through downtown and Main Street to see the stars, angels and Christmas trees in white lights. We notice the white lights lining the tops of the Main Street buildings even though some are sagging now and it’s not hard to find a missing bulb or two. We drive to the end of Main Street to see the “Peace on Earth” lighted letters that serve as sort of a last call for the sentiments of the season as you leave town. There are not quite as many neighborhood lights as there once were. The town’s citizenry is getting older, and many of the antebellum homes stand empty. Like so many small Mississippi towns, the heart of Macon is changing with fewer businesses, fewer activity, and more people traveling out of town for what they would normally find at home. Still, it’s neat to share these sights with my little ones, and enjoy the peace of quiet lights. Here’s a glimpse…

go . Fairview Inn

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Earlier this year, I had the chance to visit the Fairview Inn in Downtown Jackson, and I thought I would share a few images of the historic hotel. I was in Jackson to speak at a conference, and the Mississippi School Public Relations Association treated us to a lovely dinner and stay for a night. The hotel and grounds are a beautiful view of the past, tucked into the bustle of an older part of the Capital City. They even have a hammock hanging from the boughs of a magnolia tree! I walked around for a few minutes at twilight and took these photos.

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My stay happened to be in the “English Room” which included these fun commemorative plates for the royal watchers! 🙂 Happy Thursday!

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go . Post Office on Jefferson Street

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Hundreds of little metal doors with tiny windows marked with hand-painted numbers in red and gold. I have to admit it’s why I love to walk in the post office in Macon, MS. I wander in there every now and then when I’m visiting my parents hometown because it’s filled with interesting shapes and textures. And those little decorative, but time-worn doors.  They are so fascinating to me for some reason.

The lobby is a tiny L-shaped space where folks still come to check their mail. I’m not sure when the structure was built, but it has the tall, chicken-wire laced windows and warm woodwork you don’t often see in more modern public buildings. Plus, the north wall contains a painting created by Douglass Crockwell through the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, dated 1944.

Mr. Crockwell became a fairly popular artist in the 1940s-50s creating advertisements and cover art for some notable companies as well as the Saturday Evening Post. The work was created more specifically under the jurisdiction of the US Treasury Department in its Treasury Section of Fine Arts designed to offer artists commission work to create paintings and sculptures for public spaces in the 30s and 40s. The painting depicts the “Signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.”

I imagine walking into the Post Office would be a lot like it was in the 1950s if it weren’t for the glossy posters touting first class mail and “forever” stamps. It still has hand-painted signs for the “office” part of the Post Office and the now-dissolved “Civil Service Commission”. The stained wood is still polished and pock-marked next to newer, more modern metal stands and the metal sliding door covering the postal counter.

Every time I wander in, I always wish for a tiny key to slip into box number 534 or some other sacred address to turn the lock and retrieve some treasured bit of correspondence.

[Macon Post Office, 201 Jefferson Street; Macon, MS]

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photo essay . At the Speed of Summer

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Is anyone else in shock that summer vacation is over? My kiddos begin school tomorrow, and this year, all three are in “big school.” Our lazy, hazy days of summer have been filled with fun activities, swimming, yard work, relaxed schedules and our own brand of daily celebrations. Never is there another time when relaxing activities move so fast!

One of those week-long celebrations was our second annual trip to Gulf Shores, AL for plenty of sun and waves. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to an amusement park, but we were actually able to spend a couple of evenings at one in Gulf Shores. I had almost forgotten how alive they are with sights and sounds and movement. In between bumper boat showers, go cart races and carnival rides, I took a few snaps. Most of them have some blurred elements, as I tried to capture what you couldn’t possibly grab hold of… Life at the speed of summer. Enjoy!

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