This first interview for PorchScene.com features Memphis artist Deborah Fagan Carpenter. I commissioned Deborah to create the dust cover for my book of short stories that was published in April of 2011. I have owned one of Deborah’s major paintings for several years and I have always admired her work.
The design of the book jacket gave me an excellent opportunity to visit with Deborah at her studio just east of Memphis in Brunswick, Tennessee. I took this time to interview Deborah about her work and her career. Here is that interview:
TRL: I‘ve known you for most of the time you’ve had your studio in this rural area east of Memphis, and I’ve enjoyed following your career. Could you tell me how you began working as an artist?
DFC: I received a BA in Fine Art from Mississippi University for Women, but my art career began simply as the result of a series of life events, rather than because of any intention on my part to actually become a working artist. I married after graduation from the “W” and moved to Florida, but shortly after my son was born, that marriage failed and I found myself a single mom with a toddler to support. I moved to Memphis and found a job working as an interior designer for a local furniture store, which is where I began using my art background professionally.
In the early 90’s, now in my second marriage, I began pottery classes with Dale Baucum at the Memphis College of Art and later with Ellen Boehm at her studio in Eads, Tennessee. I also attended a couple of two-week seminars in clay at the Appalachian Center for Crafts. In order to justify this hobby, I began teaching adult pottery classes at a community center, and joined the Memphis Potters’ Guild, which provided me with a venue for selling my work. At this time, I was one of only a couple of potters in the Memphis area who was working in the Japanese firing process, Raku. After the demise of my second (and hopefully final) divorce, I moved here to Brunswick, when I found the perfect place to live, work and show my art. It was here that I discovered an allergy to something in clay, and so I revisited my original training and interest, painting.
TRL: I’ve seen your career really blossom yet you continue to sell your work almost entirely independently. Do you have an interest in gallery representation?
DFC: During my pottery days, several galleries in east and middle Tennessee carried my work, and I had some work in the Mid-Town Gallery in Nashville and the Riverside Gallery in Memphis at the beginning of my professional painting days. Early in my career, I thought that the only way to be a commercially successful artist was to have the support of a major gallery, and while that is probably true, I’ve managed to sell a whole lot of art here out of my own studio. I have never settled into doing one thing in my painting, so I’ve never developed a recognizable style, which is what major galleries typically want. I’m always exploring new techniques, which may always be the case; at least I don’t see it changing any time soon.
TRL: Exactly how do you market your work?
DFC: I host a couple of shows each year here at the studio, and I work with a number of local designers. They can really be a painter’s bread and butter. I’ve had a web site for a number of years that helps to boost my name recognition, and is an online gallery for potential clients to be able to see the breadth of my work. Social Media is an incredible marketing tool, which I’ve just begun to utilize to promote myself. And recently, a notable local gallery owner, David Perry Smith invited me to join his stable of artists at his charming gallery in Memphis. www.davidperrysmithgallery.com In spite of the fact that I don’t necessarily have a discernible style, there is a consistency to my work that has attracted clients who may own as many as four to six of my paintings. They may not be collectors, but they certainly have been loyal clients, and I’m grateful for them.
TRL: Tell me more about the shows at your studio.
DFC: The shows here in this country home are really unique and special, not only because the house is so interesting and inviting, or because the outdoor setting is so beautiful, but because nobody expects to see the kind of quality of work that we present, and they don’t expect to see it displayed in such a professional manner. Jimmy Crosthwait almost always shows his fascinating mixed media sculptural pieces along with my paintings, and our work compliments each other beautifully. Because this is a home setting, people can get an idea how the work might be used in their own home. The whole house and garden are open to the guests, who are encouraged to wander about, and we serve fabulous finger foods and beverages. It’s really so much fun, and so relaxing, and rarely is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy the visit, and some of them actually leave with a wonderful piece of fine art.
TRL: Who has had the most influence on your work?
DFC: There are many artists that I admire and whose talent I envy, but I would be embarrassed to say that they have influenced me, or that there are elements of their work in mine. I think life has impacted my work more than anything.
TRL: Where do you get your inspiration? Who is your Muse?
DFC: I don’t think there’s any question that Nature is my Muse, even in the strictly abstract work. I want my paintings to be in harmony with nature and to reflect that beauty and tranquility. I’m also fascinated with ancient architecture and weathering contemporary architecture, and what effects nature has had on their graceful aging. Therefore, the work is often influenced by the crumbling ruins of decaying structures. But any artist’s work is decidedly impacted by the events of their lives, whether that is obvious in the subject or simply evident in the depth and complexity of the work.
TRL: What’s on tap for your future?
DFC: Life continues to present me with new challenges and opportunities for emotional growth, and there’s just no way for that not to be reflected in my work. So I see the work maturing and a certain level of confidence emerging, which will likely take me in new directions. I’ve always enjoyed photography, and I hope to take that to a higher level, and to perhaps marry it with some creative writing in the near future.
TRL: Thanks for taking your time to visit with me. I look forward to the exciting changes in your creative endeavors.
DFC: Thanks for your interest.
Word of mouth is apparently all they need to draw a crowd. Without any signage, who would guess that behind the weathered Delta Cypress wall, surrounded by thick bamboo, one would find an amazing art environment created by Merigold, Mississippi potters, Lee and Pup McCarty. I had been buying McCarty Pottery for years from shop owners around the South, all of whom advised me to make a pilgrimage to the studio in the Delta where the couple created their unique, minimalist work. So in the spring of 1992, I made the two hour trip from Memphis to the little “Oasis in the Delta,” and was immediately enchanted with these two artists, their work and the unique world they had created on an entire city block built from the cypress, which was once a mule barn owned by Lee’s Aunt Margaret.
The minute I entered the studio, I realized that I had dropped right into the absolute essence of Mississippi Art. There is an indescribable element which often, but not always infuses the art, music and writing that emanates from the state, and the McCartys had completely captured it in their work and the environment in which they created it. The spirit of that creativity permeated the walls of the small shop and was present in every vignette that beautifully displayed the enormous variety of pottery.
Paintings they had collected, including one of the petite Pup and the strikingly tall Lee, added interest and intrigue to the unique pottery displays, and was indicative of the extent to which the two had surrounded their lives with art.
Outside the shop was a lush garden, filled with every plant and herb imaginable, and studded with hundreds of pieces of the owner’s pottery.
A shed near the lap pool housed a long concrete table, on which I imagined the couple hosting fabulous garden dinners.
As I roamed the extensive menagerie of garden rooms, I was fascinated to see how found objects, furniture, sculpture, Delta memorabilia and even religious icons had been woven into the work of art that was this cypress wonderland.
In the years since, I have made many trips to the quaint Southern town to eat at the McCarty’s Gallery tea room, (another day’s post) shop for pottery and wander through the garden. Pup was taken by illness a few years ago, but it was clear from a recent visit to the studio that Lee, now in his 80s is still creating art, although currently in the form of ceramic jewelry.
I inquired about the parties in the garden, and he said that indeed they had many memorable dinners there, and that Pup would always dress in something fun and festive, even on the evenings when it was just family. His nephews Jamie and Stephen Smith are now carrying on the family tradition, making and selling the unmistakable pottery, with the simple, but elegant glazes, each decorated with a small symbol of the Mississippi River. www.mccartyspottery.com
Actor, poet, writer, puppeteer, artist and blues musician. Jimmy Crosthwait, is a Memphis, TN artistic and musical icon, whose art and performing style are as recognizable as is he. Welcome to the World of Jimmy!
“Look, he isn’t wearing any clothes!” Awareness that he had been given the punch line in his first play, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” had a significant impact on the early little Stage Hound. The reward of performance came early to Crosthwait, when at about age 3 he entertained relatives by conjuring up make-believe items, while using dialogue to support their magical appearance. His stage presence found a home at the Memphis Children’s Theatre, where he performed the lead in Rumpelstiltskin, and held the role of “Doc” in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the only major speaking part in the production. There would also be a made-for-television production which recounted the facts of the infamous black market baby selling scheme that was executed out of The Tennessee Children’s Home. The series however, was never released, and Jimmy’s young acting career came to a disappointing end, but the love of performance was by now a visceral part of him.
Young Jimmy’s full musical and artistic talent would soon emerge. Although he was selling magical tricks at a “fun shop” in downtown Memphis at age 12, by teenage years, his musical interest had been piqued and he began playing drums in a variety of garage born rock ‘n roll bands. Simultaneously, he began dabbling in poetry, writing and experimenting with painting. Although painting wasn’t a medium at which he considered himself expert, he created “assemblages,” and in 1962 at age 17, he decided to take his artistic creations to New Orleans, where he would set-up and sell his wares at Jackson Square. His parents gave him $50, bought him 2 shirts and a train ticket, and sent him on his way. Sadly, the Cuban Missile Crisis was at its height at this same time, so his ill-fated trip ended abruptly and he returned to Memphis, where he enrolled in the University of Memphis to actually study art and sculpture.
For a guy who could never stop moving, the artistry and movement of puppetry was a natural next step. After reading about Florida puppeteers, Ken and Vera Hodge, and subsequent correspondence with the couple, Crosthwait learned that there was an opening for a husband and wife team needed to take one of their shows on the road. After marrying his college sweetheart, Jimmy and his new bride traveled to Florida in 1965 to become Puppeteers and to make their fortune on the road. The couple learned the Hodge’s version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and mimicked 14 voices per show and performed the production nearly 300 times in schools from Florida to Virginia during that year.
By 1966 Jimmy had heard of George Cole, who had trained Hodge 20 years earlier, so he and his wife went to Chicago and performed Cole’s version of a Marionette Circus during the ‘66-‘67 school year. At the end of that job, Jimmy was competent at performing string puppets, had made note of Jim Henson’s hand puppets and had begun to create his own versions. In the spring of 1967 he built a “theatre of the absurd black comedy” that he called “Iom Dode,” and an ad in the Village Voice reading, “hippie puppet show wanted,” sent the couple to New York City, where they opened the Electric Circus during the “Summer of Love” with that same production. Before the puppet room was completed at the Electric Circus, Jimmy, dressed as a clown, would slide down a wire cable spraying confetti over the audience, and when asked what his favorite part of his American tour was, Jimi Hendrix replied, “A little guy in a yellow clown suit sliding down a cable at the ElectricCircus!” In the spring of ’68 the couple returned to Memphis, where they continued performing the puppet shows at schools and art festivals.
Before his departure to join the traveling puppet shows, he had often performed music with lifelong friend, Jim Dickinson. The first record he recorded with Dickinson was in 1964, as part of a jug band under the name The New Beale Street Sheiks. Just as the group was beginning to get positive reviews in Billboard Magazine, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the “British Invasion” caused American music to take a nose dive for almost a decade. But during that time the group performed at local spots, and Dickinson put together a folk festival that opened the Memphis Overton Park Shell in 1965. Jimmy was on the road during that time, but was back for the 1968 Festival, where he played washboard with Bukka White, a giant in the blues world. Jimmy also emceed that show, a skill for which he is also quite adept, and it was recorded by Sire Records, a division of London Records. The dance between, music, puppets and artwork went on for years, but his full- blown career as a professional artist, showing and selling work would be yet to come. In the ’60s there were few, if any art galleries in Memphis.
By 1972 he and his wife had reached a parting of the ways, and he abandoned his puppet act for awhile and began playing more and more music. Early on, he performed not with Dickinson, but with a group called Crawdads, later to become Briarpatch, which evolved to become Crawpatch, recording an album in the late ‘70s. In 1972 he and Jim Dickinson, Lee Baker and Sid Selvidge formed a blues/rock group called Mud Boy and the Neutrons. Because the group began on Halloween Night, costumes were a part of the performances, and initially the group only played small venues such as parties and anniversaries. Over a 20 year period however, they produced 3 albums. Dickinson recorded with Bob Dylan in 1997 on a Grammy winning CD called, “Time out of Mind,” and Dylan remarked that “Mud Boy and the Neutrons was that great band that nobody can find.”
Although he had always kept his musical endeavors separate from his other creative work, the music and the art was almost always happening simultaneously. His art went from collages to sculpture to mobiles, which he calls Zen Chimes, and to “spread-out” wall pieces he calls Equations, to free-standing pieces which are often 6 or 8 feet tall. His most recent series are floral sculptures he calls Wall Flowers, and arrangements in vases called BottleSculptures.
Crosthwait owned his own gallery in Eads Tennessee for a period of 3 years, beginning in 1988, during which time he showed mostly other artist’s work. While creating metal cutout designs to form posts in front of Eads Pottery Gallery, he was inspired to use cutout metal in his own sculpture. What began as an architectural feature, evolved into his well-known Zen Chimes and wall pieces. His and wife Ulla’s current home employs a variety of that cutout metal in railings and windows. Robert Gordon, in his book, It came from Memphis says of Crosthwait, “he became a puppeteer because he was a sculptor and he wanted to see his sculpture move, he went on to build a house which was a work of art that he could move into.” Combining found objects, clay pieces and cut-out metal, he creates puppet-like art. He essentially weds strength and delicacy, and the ceramic work, mixed with the steel is the epitome of that and is present in every form of the work. Because his work incorporates examples of other cultures, including Native American and/or Eastern influences, it has a feeling of universality and timelessness. One of his early Maze drawings has a decided Mayan influence and is the cover of a recent Luther Dickinson Album, Hambone’s Meditations.
Crosthwait is now the only living member of Mudboy and the Neutrons, but before Jim Dickinson and Sid Selvidge died, the three were asked to perform at the Barbacon in London as part of a series organized to honor Memphis Music. The trio was joined by Dickinson’s sons, Luther and Cody, along with Chris Chew, who were well known in their own rite as the North Mississippi Allstars. Shortly after Dickinson’s death, son Luther Dickinson organized a recording session with the surviving sons of Mudboy and the two surviving original members, Crosthwait and Selvidge, to form the Sons ofMudboy. The informal group sat around one microphone at the Dickinson family farm and recorded a live album to honor Dickinson that became a Grammy nominated CD. Recorded almost entirely in one take, it has a real sense of authenticity and was a genuine tribute to Jim Dickinson. Shortly after that recording, the group went to New York and played at Lincoln Center under the same name, and after Sid Selvidge’s recent death, the group performed at a memorial to him at the Levitt Shell, formerly the Memphis Overton Shell.
In spite of the loss of good friends and his own health issues, Jimmy’s music and art continue to bring him and those who witness it great pleasure. His zest for life is clearly evident when his long gray hair is blowing in the wind while he plays his washboard, and is certainly present in his colorful, dancing artwork. Jimmy Crosthwait himself is a work of art. (Or is that a piece of work?)
Jimmy Crosthwait’s sculptural work can be found at Art Reach Gallery in Germantown, TN, www.artreachgallery.com, Southside Gallery, Oxford, MS, www.southsideartgallery.com, and at the Fagan-Carpenter Studio, Lakeland, TN, www.faganart.com
He’s a double-fused stick of creative explosive known as Bobby Lounge and Dub Brock.
Wowing the audience with steamy, soulful lyrics, Bobby Lounge has theatrically closed the “Lagniappe Stage” at the New Orleans Jazz and HeritageFestival every year since 2005. The Louisiana word Lagniappe, defined as “just a little something extra,” is just what is delivered on the stage whose performers are slightly off pitch from the usual festival attractions, and when he “bursts onto the stage in an iron lung,” Bobby Lounge lands squarely into that definition.
Bobby Lounge is actually Dub Brock, who has been building a repertoire of inventive, provocative and supercharged songs much of his life. The powerful body of off-color work, rich with sardonic humor, was initially performed for friends and at local clubs. As his musical appearances became more numerous, he decided to give himself a lounge name with some sizzle, first to maintain some anonymity, but also to add some theatrics to the performance, and so “Bobby Lounge” was born.
Unfortunately, a bout with mononucleosis in 1985 led to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, rendering Brock almost unable to function on any level, especially in his demanding career as an artist and musician. Preparing for and actually engaging in his dynamic performances was an exhausting undertaking. But a regiment of rest and vitamin therapy, along with the awareness that he must pace himself, enabled him to continue producing and performing the original, groundbreaking music.
With encouragement from his friend and manager, John Preble, Bobby Lounge recorded his first CD in January of 2005: I Remember the Night Your Trailer Burnt Down. Preble passed the fiery CD around to music journalists and others in the business, and when music producer Quint Davis heard it, he invited the reclusive singer/songwriter to be the closing act on the Lagniappe Stage at the 2005 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where he has performed every year since.
Wanting his performance to be “incongruous and a little bit weird,” prompted him to tell his manager, “I’ll tell you what John, if I can burst out of an iron lung, and with a nurse, I’ll do it!” Undaunted, Prebble found an old steam cabinet at a junk shop, painted it gray, put it on wheels, and voila’, he had an iron lung! And so, the act begins with a master of ceremonies, speaking in thick Southern patois, explaining to the audience that the performer is infirm and reclusive, at which point Bobby Lounge is wheeled on stage by “Nurse Pontevecchia.” After exiting the iron lung wearing a mauve smock, with sequined and feathered shoulder pads, the entertainer takes the piano and energizes the crowd with an amazing and expertly executed gumbo of boogie-woogie, jazz, blues, gospel, and soul rockabilly fantasy!
By his own admission, many of the songs “require parental supervision,” but the influences of a lifetime are woven together to create a style that is uniquely his own, not only in the music, but in the riveting, inspired lyrics. And, the songs are just great fun! There is the occasional comment on pop culture:
If I had been Elvis, And he had been me,
I would not have made all those tacky Hawaiian films.
And an occasional reference of a personal note:
You broke my heart, You didn’t care,
You spent my feelings honey, like a millionaire.
The songs, reminiscent of deep southern blues, often embody the flavor of a syncopated gospel choir, and most of the lyrics are embellishments of the “quirky” misfits he has observed in the course of a lifetime of living in the “quirky” South.
He traveled far and wide, searching high and low
Vandalized a statue by Michelangelo
Shot down in Great Britain on the palace grounds
Baying at the moon in the Queen’s nightgown
The Queen said, “We do not loan out our under things”
He said, “Ma’am, just send me back to Abita Springs”
The off stage life of Dub Brock is that of an accomplished and well-respected artist who creates colorful, whimsical paintings he calls “Southern Gothic.”
His successful career as a two-dimensional artist began in the early 1970s, selling his fanciful, but primal paintings in such prestigious spots as the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans. He also enthusiastically headed the art department at Southwest Community College in South Mississippi for thirty-five years.
Without a doubt, the colorful culture of the Deep South lights this creative genius’s art. Having spent most of his life in South Mississippi and the New Orleans area, he has a great love and respect for the beauty of the landscape which the almost tropical climate has produced. The verdant foliage is always present in his paintings, and a rich assortment of flamboyant characters from his life appears on canvas. The paintings, a blatant social commentary, usually include imagery, and are heavily laced with sarcasm. While some may be shopping for Tupperware at Wal-Mart, Brock is paying attention to the “shoppers,” keeping an eye out for an intriguing character to paint or about whom he can write. One painting series called, Pentecostal Women at HowardBrothers featured women in “bee-hive hairdos” and “cat-eye glasses.” There was a “Trailerscape” series, a “Dish Receiver” series and one small series called, “JesusDropped the Charges,” borrowing from an old gospel song.
“You know, we love our eccentrics in the South,” was part of the answer I received, when during a visit to his studio I asked what it is about the South that influences his work. “It’s this collision of contrasts! There’s the social situation; there’s blatant ignorance and then there’s a high degree of education and sophistication. There’s a gradual autumn into winter, and then spring and summer come back in a powerful way. You have blistering heat and humidity, but then there’s this lush, green landscape that’s a delicious contrast, and it sends my imagination running wild. And maybe because it’s so rural and we’re so isolated, there are more interesting people to tell stories about.”
Dub Brock, a gifted storyteller, who is so fascinated with human behavior and so deeply connected to his Southern roots, has the ability to look at a place where many of us live, but may never fully experience. Thankfully, he generously shares his magical view in an honest, inventive fashion, and transposes his insights into evocative, exhilarating, and compelling art and music, both as Dub Brock and as Bobby Lounge.
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, and a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Technology, Kathleen Armour Walker seems an unlikely candidate to own and operate one of the most successful and unique Pewter businesses in the country, Tennessee Pewter. But an innate sense of business and a palpable enthusiasm for her product has ensured that the expertly crafted pieces from her boutique company be in collections world-wide. The advice and expertise on the subject of pewter from the charming, competent Southern Belle is a highly sought commodity.
Appreciation for the beauty and permanence of pewter originated when her husband initiated her own collection during their dating years. When Tennessee Pewter was listed for sale in the Memphis Commercial Appeal on a Sunday night in 2008, she “couldn’t imagine it not being in existence anymore.” In the week to follow, she, her husband Dan and her parents reviewed the business and its possibilities, and a life changing decision to buy it and join the pewter industry was made. In the ensuing years, she has literally changed the face of the original business, and turned it into one of only a handful of companies doing pewter in the same way and one of the most successful ones in the world.
When it was moved from its original site in Grand Junction, TN to Brownsville, TN, the building to which it was relocated collapsed during the extensive renovation. So in 2009, it was reestablished in its current location in Somerville, TN. Walker’s Dad, fully employed in Memphis, was convinced by his persuasive daughter to “retire” and join her in the pewter business, and the two set about to learn the craft together. He learned some of the process from several master spinners in the country, but because there was nobody doing pewter work nearby to advise them on the craft, they both learned largely through “on the job training.”
The enormity of the business is disguised in a quaint house, and is made even more elusive when one is greeted at the showroom entrance by the lovely owner or her charming Mother. One would never guess from the calm demeanor of this gracious hostess that she has an order of 400 juleps to complete and ship that day. The showroom is filled with examples of the “authentically beautiful pieces,” but most of what they create never hits the showroom floor. Although the showroom is always open for customers, her actual “front door is her website,”email@example.com.
The timeless goblets, coffee services, juleps, bowls and other pieces are shipped all over the globe. Many Heads of State have received a gift of her pewter, not only because it is a metal and color that is acceptable in most cultures but because it is a beautiful and quality made item. Many large globally represented corporations present gifts of her pewter to dignitaries around the world, and the office of the Governor of Tennessee is a regular customer. Not only is each piece branded with the Tennessee Pewter logo, but also with “Made in the USA,” another thing about which Kathleen Walker is passionate.
Much of her success can be attributed to her appreciation of her customers and her involvement with them. She’s loves participating in the “joys of people’s lives,” such as anniversaries, weddings, births, and birthdays, and after experiencing some serious family illnesses, is heartened to be in an enterprise which allows her to be around people at “exciting times in their lives.” She has a contagious zest when working with someone such as a husband who is planning his wife’s annual Christmas gift. And, she and her family will go to almost any length to insure that an order, even if last minute, is delivered or shipped at the specified time.
It is unusual for a woman to be an expert in the pewter industry and it was not necessarily easy to prove her worth there. But Kathleen Walker’s drive, her entertaining experience, her passion and her Southern charm are unique industry qualities which have served her and her customers well. Brides from all over the country are grateful and overcome by her willingness and confidence in guiding them through decisions about their wedding, often resulting in the purchase of an entire collection; her understanding of entertaining invaluable in the decision making process. She is often asked if “her accent is real,” but is also often told that, “nobody here will spend this kind of time with me.”
Kathleen Walker’s career choices have been calculated, including the one to work in the intimate shelter of her family, and that loving intimacy is reflected in the spirit of the work. The challenges of the pewter business began immediately, not the least being the collapse of the first building, but certainly included the reluctance of the industry to except her. But her tenacity and the gift of being able to experience the trials and the joys of the business while surrounded by family has been a nurturing and sustaining factor. As with many Southerners, she draws strength from her roots.
Enthusiasm for the business has never dwindled and she continues to be excited to arrive there each day, delighted to meet the challenges du jour. Tennessee Pewter has weathered the struggling economy and Walker and her family are indebted to their customers for their support. “Many of our customers are not wealthy, and it’s gratifying to me that even in these tough times, people will spend their hard earned money here. But they know they will be getting a beautifully made object that will last a lifetime.” firstname.lastname@example.org
A small sign along Highway Alternate 27 between Bronson and Chiefland, FL is the only notice you have that a hidden treasure lies down the secondary county road that meanders between fields of watermelons and peanuts. The country road takes you to an intersection and there on the left in a field of mowed green grass sits this beauty, just waiting for you. It is a fitting place for the Log Cabin Quilters to meet as it is a long, low, wooden building with porches on three sides that just begs for one to come in and explore. Or to sit a spell in one of the rocking chairs that dot the porches.
It has a Chiefland address: 11050 NW10th Ave. My good friend from childhood, Myrtice Bailey Scabarozi, lives along this road and volunteers daily at this gem. It is the Levy County Quilt Museum, and is the only one like it in the state of Florida. It was the brainchild of the late Winnette Horne who helped start The Log Cabin Quilters. Her dream was to have a place for quilters to meet and to work on their projects. It took about twenty-five years of hard work, fundraising, and prayer but it opened in 2000, both as Mrs. Horne’s home and as The Levy County Quilt Museum.
Called Miss Winnette by one and all, she thought everyone should know how to quilt, but barring that, at least everyone should have a quilt! She felt that quilts brought warmth, comfort, and happiness. Miss Winnette lived and quilted there until her death on January 30, 2012, aged 87.
The large quilt display area holds quilts in all shapes and sizes, ages and designs, and all manner of assembly. Some are hand-tied. Some are hand-stitched while others are machine-stitched. All are works of art.
The museum is not only an awe-inspiring delight for the eyes; it is also a shop. You can find other quilted items to purchase as well: table-runners, place mats, coasters, aprons – just about anything that can be quilted. More themed pieces are added around the holidays. One of my favorites is the Christmas stocking. I must purchase a few of those for family members this year — to go along with the gorgeous, well-made table-runner and placemats I bought last year.
There is no admission fee, so the museum exists today through its sales and with the help of volunteers, like my friend Myrtice. Of courses, generous donations are a large part of its operational budget and are overseen by a board whose job it is to disperse funds where needed. Right now, funds are needed to repair the air-conditioning. If Miss Winnelle were here, she’d say, “Okay, quilters, let’s get busy and get it done.” And they will!
The Levy County Quilt Museum provides not only the breathtaking beauty of its exhibits, a place for quilters to meet for fun and fellowship and to apply their craft, but it also provides a particular service to the community. Inmates from the local correctional facility who qualify for supervised outside work come weekly and are fed lunch by the volunteers for their work on the grounds. That sounds like an even trade to me!
The museum often has events designed to attract visitors. On Saturday, November 2, from 10 AM to 1 PM, the museum will host a traditional yard sale but its headliner will feature several local authors. It will be an opportunity to meet the “Writers on the Porch.” There to help meet and greet the museum visitors, they will read from their books, offer the books for sale, and sign any that are purchased. Any donations made to the museum will be their choice.
The Log Cabin Quilters still meet there, and while most are seniors, they are pleased to welcome younger quilters who are learning the craft. Some of the finished quilts on display are such artistic creations and true works of beauty until they literally steal your breath. Do go visit. It’s a welcome stop off the highway.
Enjoy a few minutes out of your busy day with some peace and beauty.
Photo from The Tampa Bay Times of Miss Winnelle Horne in 2011.
*All photos with the exception of The Tampa Bay Times’ Jeff Klinkenberg’s photo of Miss Winnelle Horne are courtesy of Myrtice Bailey Scabarozi and can be found on the website:
“Orthopedics is like woodworking in bone,” he said. Dr. Jeff Justis made the decision to become a hand surgeon when a fellow medical resident pointed out the similarities between that specialty and Dr. Justis’ lifelong passion for creating with wood. Recognizing both as mechanical procedures, he realized that it was a natural fit, and dedicated his professional life to using his skilled hands to repair those of others. Forty years were spent at the renowned Campbell’s Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee doing just that.
A lifelong passion for woodworking was sparked with the gift of a jig saw at the early age of ten. Armed with his first piece of woodworking equipment, he joined his father who was a dentist in pursuit of his own hobby, and the two learned much of the craft together. At the time of his retirement from medicine in 2001, Dr. Justis had become a master wood artisan.
A spacious home near Oxford, Mississippi is filled with countless examples of Jeff Justis’ woodworking expertise. The house was designed according to his and wife Sally’s specifications, and most of the trim work, mantles and bannisters were expertly fashioned by him. Nearly all of the wood furniture in the house is museum quality reproduction pieces he has painstakingly recreated, and in most cases, a miniature replica was made prior to the final version. A grandfather clock, sideboard, china cabinet and dining table are examples of the extensive collection of his handiwork.
One of his most spectacular woodworking achievements is a reproduction of a Stradivarius violin. Having built two guitars some years ago, Dr. Justis relished the challenge of crafting a violin. He purchased the plans for the instrument during a trip to England some fifteen years prior to its realization. Stradivarius likely tapped on the wood and could hear it when he had reached the proper thickness. Not musically inclined however, Dr. Justis had to rely on his blueprint to tell him what millimeter to shave the wood to in order to achieve the proper tonal quality. A special apparatus was brought into his studio to assist him in the shaving process, and he also designed a piece of equipment dedicated to house and hold the violin during the carving.
The beauty and musical quality of the violin was debuted at a recent concert performed by his granddaughter, Sarah Beth. Watch the concert video here. When she became a professional violinist, it gave him the impetus to finally construct the instrument. Sara Beth had the pleasure of presenting it to the world and, subsequently to own the cherished instrument. He was delighted to see it come to life in her gifted musical hands, the superiority of sound evident to even the most tone deaf in the audience.
The beautiful and organized studio of this master builder would be the envy of any artist. In his previous studio in Memphis he had worked on concrete floors, on which anything dropped would be damaged. The floors of his current workspace are recycled wood, which he laid himself and which are kept dirt free by the dust removal system he also installed himself. The bottom floor of the spacious two-story studio houses wood, much of which has been salvaged from demolished buildings, and which is waiting to be transformed into some wooden masterpiece.
While Strativarius may have had more of a musical ear, Dr. Justis has a real appreciation of classical music and so it is piped into the studio to accompany him as he works.
Woodworking has to share space in the doctor’s heart for his other passion, building and flying small airplanes. A typical day for the good doctor is to spend his mornings in his studio and the afternoons at the nearby Oxford airport maintaining his two small airplanes, one of which he built. He and his wife have been all over the world in the aircraft, so he keeps them in top notch condition.
The soft spoken Dr. Jeff Justis has spent a lifetime healing the hands of others, and using his own creating beauty and pleasure. His awe-inspiring talent, fueled by inexhaustible passion has clearly been bestowed upon one who has used his gifts to the fullest.
In the woods of the Ozarks, an unlikely location for a world class museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is exactly that. Until recently, Bentonville, Arkansas was known only as the headquarters for the Wal-Mart Empire, but the top notch museum has put the small town on the map as a cultural destination. In the two years since its opening, Crystal Bridges has proved that it is not only worthy to be considered one of the top museums in the country, but in its brief life has seen over a million visitors.
Involving the Walton Family Foundation, Alice Walton, the youngest heiress of the Wal-Mart fortune spearheaded the project to build the museum, and amidst much controversy, brought it to fruition. Passionate about art since childhood, the avid collector recognized the absence of a major museum for hundreds of miles, and wanted to provide the region with exceptional art and easy access to it. In 2005, Ms Walton began amassing the prestigious multi-million dollar collection, and today Crystal Bridges is regarded as one of the most important museums to open in a generation.
Israeli/Canadian architect Moshe Safdie designed the 217,000 square feet of galleries and meeting spaces with the dramatic curves and geometry which are his signature, the contemporary structures fitting seamlessly into the beautiful Ozark woods. The extraordinary complex, consisting of a series of stunning wood and glass pavilions is situated around two pools, which are fed by Crystal Springs, thus the name. Safdie’s brilliant design allows the visitor to enjoy the verdant landscape, while simultaneously viewing a noteworthy body of art.
Extensive nature trails peppered with sculpture wind about the one hundred twenty acres, and one trail provides an easy walk into downtown Bentonville. The property, developed while still maintaining the integrity of the Ozark fauna, is an important part of the overall experience, uniting art and nature. A full-service restaurant, Eleven, named for the day the museum opened, 11/11/2011, overlooks the peaceful pools of water, the impressive architecture and the luxuriant grounds.
Work by exclusively American born artists comprises the permanent collection, which spans five centuries and is displayed in the gallery in chronological order. Although the collection will continue to add pieces, the museum had a full inventory the day it opened, several pieces having generated a good deal of hype in the art world based on their importance and the exorbitant prices at which they were acquired. The broad selection of paintings incorporates the exquisite realism of Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits with the stark minimalism of Mark Rothko’s Orange, and sculpture includes work by noted artists Roxy Paine and James Turrell.
Emphasis is placed on ensuring that children of all ages experience the museum, with their travel, lunches and any other incidental expenses paid by Crystal Bridges. The creative stimulus imparted on children viewing art of such quality is likely immeasurable, and for many, their trip to view the prominent collection will be a day they will always remember. Bus-loads of children arrive each day and their enthusiasm is palpable as they are ushered throughout the complex and given special instruction on specific works.
Incredibly, there is no charge for admission to the museum, the gardens or even to park one’s vehicle. The positive economic impact the institution has had on the region is hard to overlook however. But from a cultural and educational level, Crystal Bridges is an amazing gift of art and beauty that is a special crayon in the coloring box of Northwest Arkansas.
“Let’s stay together and be as rusty as that ole tin.” This is one example of the straightforward wisdom flowing from the heart and hands of folk artist Mary Proctor- an uncomplicated, optimistic outlook for relationships, friendships and marriage. Her down-to-earth insight and uplifting spirit is brought to life on hundreds of old doors, windows, and other found objects in the form of words and captivating primitive paintings. The vibrant, imaginative work fills every square inch of the space she leases in the Tallahassee Mall, but has also found its way into such prestigious spots as the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
“I been writin’ and writin’ ever since the Lord told me to get a door and write on it.” In 1994, Mary Proctor’s Grandmother, Aunt and Uncle all perished in a house fire, and Mary fell into a bottomless depression. Deeply spiritual, she prayed for guidance, and was led to put her feelings and the lessons she’d learned from her best friend and Grandmother onto old doors. Working at the time at a flea market where the doors were an easy acquisition, she began emptying her devastated soul onto the doors with the words and paintings that would eventually heal her heart and give her an awareness that her Grandmother would always be with her in spirit.
“Before I knew it, I had a yard full of stuff I had written and painted on!” The butterflies, blue willows and peonies of her childhood, accompanied by her Grandmother’s practical spirituality, commenced to appear on countless doors and found objects.
“Remember Grandma” was her constant focus, and the more she created, the better she felt, having no idea that what she was doing was making art. What she did know was that she had found a way to relieve the pain she had endured from a broken heart.
A car screeching to a halt in front of her house changed life as Mary Proctor knew it. Tricia Collins, owner of the Grand Salon Gallery in the SoHo district of New York City immediately recognized the work as a world-class example of folk art and was beyond ecstatic at her chance discovery. Mary however, was skeptical about Collins’ enthusiasm and declaration that the work was the best example of folk art she’d seen in a long time, having no idea that it was art at all, folk or otherwise. To her complete astonishment, the woman offered her five thousand dollars for the purchase of ten of her doors, and reappeared the next day with a truck to transport them to Manhattan.
“Lord, I ain’t made a hundred dollars in a month in this place! What’s wrong with this woman?” Mary hurriedly helped Collins load the truck, fearful that she would come to her senses and change her mind. Not only was Mary incredulous, but her husband thought she’d robbed a bank, having himself dismissed the work as child’s play! Mary explained to him that God had directed her to paint the doors, and this was the result! The purchase was only the beginning of the life changing course for Mary, as Collins made a subsequent trip and purchased seventy five pieces to be used in a one-woman show for her at the SoHo gallery. So it was that in 1996, Mary went to New York City to see her work beautifully displayed on crisp white gallery walls, and to witness purchase after purchase by people willing to pay up to seven thousand dollars each for her treasured doors.
“When people heard about my show, they started coming around buying the work, afraid I was going to sell out before they could get some of it!” Mary developed a following, and has since participated in countless shows across Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, and has work in numerous collections. The work can now be purchased at her leased space in the Tallahassee Mall, or on her official website, www.missionarymary.com.
“Art will never tell you nothin’ but the truth.” Led to her creative path through a series of tragic events, Mary Proctor has found her mission in life and her way to communicate with her God and the world. Her belief that there is truth in art and her certainty that people continue to seek it because they know that, solidifies her vigilance to spread her message through the painted and written word. “This is my communication line to God. This is my expression. The Church of Art.”
Is it Spring yet? I start asking this question every year around the beginning of February. I am done with Winter, thank you very much. I’m ready to see some flowers, sit on the side porch in the morning and resume my pedicure schedule. Alas, every year I am met with great disappointment. Spring never makes it here early enough, but this year there is a salve to ease Winter’s chafe. This year we get to spend February celebrating our “Labors of Love”.
I am guessing the interpretation of this phrase will differ depending on the individual, but the common thread of “Love” will shine through. The strands of devotion, attention, personal expression and celebration will connect our individual expression, or labor, of love.
We will be sharing some great stories about projects that need your support and people with passion for their work. We would also like to invite you to share your “labor of love” with us. Do you have a passion, hobby, art, cause or story you would like to share? It’s easy to contribute. Email your story, photo, song, or video to email@example.com and we will include it in this month’s posts.
An enormous silver chicken glistening in the pouring rain caught my eye as I motored down highway 231 near Brundidge, Alabama. The artistic fowl announced the existence of Art`wurks, located in an unassertive block building, and in which I assumed I would discover a collection of local folk art.
The chicken was revealed to be a 13 foot rooster made of car bumpers, and upon closer inspection, I discovered that the art inside the unassuming building was extraordinary and world class work by multi-faceted artist Larry Godwin. Cathy Culpepper, the curator and well-versed authority on Godwin guided me through the small building, which was overflowing with one fine example after another of creations showcasing the breadth and proficiency of this amazing artist. Expertly executed and colorful abstract oil paintings were accompanied by numerous examples of contemporary metal sculpture, alive with movement, and stack after stack of drawings and prints, which disclosed a lifetime of devotion to his passion.
A series of uncomplimentary, satirical clay figures of lawyers filled a stair-stepped wooden structure in the studio. The disappointing outcome from a family legal battle inspired Godwin to pursue in-depth legal knowledge, which in turn prompted him to create the series. The unflattering, but whimsical busts revealed in vivid detail his disdain for the profession. It is unclear as to whether or not the legal judgment Godwin received was just, but he no doubt worked through much of his “scorn” during the creation of the disparaging statues.
How was it possible that I had never heard of this remarkable artist or seen any of his exceptional work? I managed to recover from the embarrassment at my ignorance to learn that he had begun a lifelong love affair with the arts, when at an early age he was introduced to paint by a childhood teacher. During his high school years he created large animal sculptures for parade floats, which served to advertise his father’s feed business, and subsequently became the “go to” person in the area for all creative projects. Godwin earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree from Auburn University in 1957, and after a tour in the army and some time spent in Europe, returned to the Brundidge area to work fulltime as an artist and to spend some years teaching arts in the local school system.
Godwin’s work, which encompasses concrete, copper, bronze, steel, aluminum, water, clay, paint, charcoal and smoke, continues to evolve. A fascination with fountain technology and the environment has insured that his designs be included in the beginning stages of many architectural projects throughout the state of Alabama.
A stainless steel replica of the Wright Flyer at Maxwell Air Force Base was perhaps his first significant sculptural creation, but many more were to follow. There are also a number of sculptures around Montgomery to his credit. They include the Equinox concrete and aluminum sculpture at Alabama State University that measures 50 feet square by 24 feet high; the Wall of History in downtown, which depicts the history of the city of Montgomery in six bronze panels; an 11-foot high sculpture at the Montgomery Cardiovascular Institute; and sculptures and fountains at the city’s Eastdale Mall. Mr. Godwin has also created work for Walt Disney World, The Hard Rock Café in Chicago, Ill., and the city of Headland, Ala., and one of his favorite sculptures is the statue of Wilbur Wright at Wright-Patterson AFB.
Larry Godwin’s Art’wurks Studio is located 3514 Highway 231, Brundidge, AL. (334) 735-2347
Artistic Yin and Yang will join the Fourth of July festivities in the Arkansas Delta this weekend. Porch Scene’s very own Deborah Fagan Carpenter, and Jimmy Crosthwait, last year’s July Artist of the Month, will be presenting an art exhibit together Fourth of July weekend, at the Plantation Gallery on Horseshoe Lake in Arkansas. Horseshoe Lake is just west of Memphis, and is situated right in the heart of the rich Arkansas Delta.
Color and whimsy meet calm and serene in an imaginative display which provides visual and emotional texture for every artistic taste. The duo often show together, because even though radically different, the work of each complements the other beautifully. The lively movement found in Jimmy’s mixed media sculpture sits or hangs comfortably alongside the quiet sophistication of Deborah’s paintings.
Bathing suits allowed at the laid-back gallery, so drop by between burgers or boat rides and absorb a little creativity at the Plantation Gallery! The show opens on July Fourth, with the Artist Reception to be held on Saturday, July 5th, but the show will continue to hang throughout the month.
July 4, 1pm — 5pm
July 5, 2pm –5pm Artist’s Reception
July 6, 2pm –5pm
(on display through July)
Firmly rooted in the gumbo loam of the delta, two artists have sprung forth. With the common preoccupations of texture and color, both are strikingly different in their approach.
Evolving through earlier realism, Deborah Fagan Carpenter calms and soothes the viewer with simplicity as she studies natural lighting, hues, and earthen elements in her paintings. Characterizing herself as “a Mississippian” she draws inspiration from previous visits to classical Italy, as she explores light, color and abstraction on canvas.
On the other hand, Jimmy Crosthwait delights the viewer with three-dimensional sculptures of metal and clay, which may be suspended, fixed or hanging. Lyrical in nature, these forms though still, seem to have movement and gestures reflective of Jimmy’s earlier occupation as a puppeteer.
The expressions of these two divergent, yet complementary individuals, will be showing at Plantation Gallery near Horseshoe Lake 4th of July weekend.
Information may be obtained by calling Barb McKee at 870-945-2270.
I-40 west past West Memphis
Take exit 271–go under the overpass to highway 147 south for 16 miles.
(Bonds Store will be the landmark on the right)
When you reach the three way spit, go straight through to the center gravel road.
(Plantation Gallery will be straight ahead)
“Everybody has a voice, and Memphis provides a platform for that voice.” The broad spectrum of Memphis and Delta history is brought to colorful life in the form of music, art, film, dance and story-telling at the Center for Southern Folklore in downtown Memphis. The culture of diverse groups in the city and the surrounding area is represented in the center’s extensive archives, honored on the walls of Heritage Hall, and is presented as live entertainment on the stages of Heritage Hall and the Folklore Store, as well as at the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, which the center produces.
“The Center for Southern Folklore provides a place where people can show what they’re about! We help the people of the area understand their heritage, and make them proud of it,” says Judy Peiser, Executive Director and co-founder. Celebrating people and “their differences” is what Peiser and William Ferris set out to do when they established the center in 1972.
“At one point I realized I couldn’t do another film about somebody who’d been bitten by a rat!” Armed with a degree in film and broadcasting from the University of Illinois, Peiser returned to her hometown Memphis in 1967 and began making films about poverty in the area. The despair she encountered began to take its toll however, so she took a job with Mississippi Educational TV, where she traveled around the state interviewing writers, painters and musicians. William Ferris was one of those writers. (The Storied South) Shorty after their meeting, Peiser and Ferris began a collaboration which resulted in the establishment of the Center for Southern Folklore.
“We’re preserving a piece of southern culture,” says Peiser. Ferris left Memphis in 1977 to form the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, and is currently heading the Center for the Study of the American South at The University of North Carolina, and Judy Peiser has continued to keep the Center for Southern Folklore focused on its mission to safeguard the stories of the Memphis and Delta region. The center’s quest is not only to protect the music, culture, arts and rhythms of the South, but to celebrate it, and that is accomplished in an entertaining and lively manner. The Memphis Music and Heritage Festival is one of those avenues.
“The festival doesn’t necessarily have the big dogs, but the dogs who really understand who they are. Memphis has a great musical heritage so we focus on that, but we don’t just focus on big named musicians,” says Peiser of the festival line-up. The Memphis Music and Heritage Festival,” held every Labor Day weekend is one of the primary platforms for presenting the local talent that is rich and plentiful, and it’s free! The festival this year, August 30 and 31, will be the 28th year for the popular event. Musicians love to play the festival, and it brings people from all walks of life together. “I always tell folks when the festival is over; I hope you’ll strike up a conversation with the person who’s standing in line next to you at the grocery store. People read things that make them afraid, and I want them to experience each other so that they’re not.”
“I interviewed one writer in South Mississippi who lived on a farm and walked her pig, while carrying a gun to protect the pig from snakes. Then we went into her modest home and had turnip soup!” Countless stories gathered about the hundreds of fascinating ordinary people, as well as artists, musicians, dancers, photographers, quilters, writers and more are housed in the extensive center archives, just waiting to be revealed to interested folks. The archives include the extensive collection of Reverend L.O. Taylor, spanning a 40-year period of Memphis history, preserved in film and recordings. Additionally, ongoing programs of music and dance serve to educate children and adults alike. Guitar and banjo lessons are available, and kids can learn the current dance crazes like “jookin,” taught to them by local celebrities.
Lemon baked chicken, greens, cornbread, mac ‘n cheese, coleslaw and peach cobbler! What program about southern culture would be complete without a taste of southern food, and that is what tour groups from all over the world are treated to as they enjoy entertainment from a variety of local celebrities. The delicious southern cuisine is available to tour groups through an advance reservation, but the Folklore Café serves up the delectable fare daily, along with gourmet coffee.
“The programs really change people,” says Peiser. Cultural diversity is revealed to various groups through the movement of dance and music and the beauty of regional art. Performers such as local singer Joyce Cobb, along with a bass player and guitar player often do a 45 minute set and interact with the children. “They’ll perform some blues and really help the kids to understand what it’s all about, getting the kids not to just sit back and listen, but to get involved.” Peiser “puts a lot of people in the mix,” such as Mississippi Morris, or Randall Morton, a banjo player, who occasionally brings in Henrietta Alves of Pat O’Briens fame, to sing familiar pieces like, “My Old Kentucky Home.” There are also Friday night programs that focus on the lives of such music legends as Robert Johnson and Memphis Minnie.
“It’s amazing when cultures collide and come together! When I go to a party, I know everybody from the host to the bartender. I can talk to anybody about anything, and that’s what the center does,” says Peiser. “It transcends a lot of cultural differences and things that keep people apart, because with music, art, narratives and events, you bring people together. There are very few groups like us around.”
For information contact Judy Peiser at:www.southernfolklore.com
If you find yourself in Alabama this May, I suggest you find time to make a trip to Montgomery for the Southern Makers Festival. Scheduled for May 2-3 in downtown Montgomery, Southern Makers is an annual two-day event that celebrates creativity in Alabama. Now in its third year, Southern Makers highlights Alabama artisans and craftsmanship and affords Makers the opportunity to display their passions and talents to not only those from their home state, but also those from other regions who haven’t been exposed to Alabama’s traditions and culture.
The meticulously-selected group of Makers includes nationally-renowned
fashion designers, textile artists, screen printers, jewelers, brewers, winemakers, contemporary artists, farmers, woodworkers, chefs, bakers, architects, industrial designers, preservationists and entrepreneurs from every corner of the state, all coming together under one roof simply to showcase the best in Southern creativity and innovation.
You read right: the “Best of Alabama,” from Gulf Shores to Huntsville, all in one place.
While this festival is sure to be a weekend to remember, this event isn’t just about having a good time. It’s just what Alabama needs. Marketing and Communications Director and key player in the making of Southern Makers, Andrea Jean believes that there’s a lack of awareness of the talent that lives and works in the South. Big news always focuses on designers or artists from New York or California, but we hardly get any attention down here.
Southerners share a connection deeper than just the region we live in – we’re connected through heritage, through traditions, and even the land itself, and these elements play crucial roles in the Makers’ creations.
There’s great potential here and across the Southeast, and the festival is a way to showcase that to visitors, and to provide an experience that really expresses the core of their brands.
This year approximately 120 Makers will be setting up booths, in addition to some putting on interactive workshops and participating in the conversation series. This is an increase in last year, where there were only around 100 Makers, several of which are returning for 2015. I imagine we can look forward to this venue growing every year, which will be great for local artisans. Click here for a full list of Makers; there’s a good chance you’ll recognize a few names.
Just steps from the Alabama River in Montgomery’s Union Station Train Shed, visitors will have the opportunity to explore the state from south to north, starting at the Gulf Coast and working their way up. They’ll travel through the south, central, and north regions, encountering the area’s resident Makers along the way, and have opportunities to sample food from local chefs, take part in hands-on demonstrations and workshops, talk with the artists/craftsmen one-on-one and even purchase some of their work to take home.
Tickets are available now online ($25 for the day and $40 for the weekend) and I suggest you buy them while you can! They’ve sold out the last two years, seeing some 4,000 visitors over the two-day period. It’s definitely the place to be this first weekend in May, and it’ll give you a chance to support our local artisans.
All proceeds benefit E.A.T. South, a nonprofit organization that encourages healthy lifestyles through education and sustainable food production in urban areas throughout the Southeast.
All photos courtesy of Southern Makers
Agnes Stark, Peter Sohngen, Brin and Dale Baucum — the Heartbeat of Memphis Pottery. In a community that boasts an enormous number of highly skilled and well-known potters, these four artisans have had a significant influence on the cities’ pottery world for a combined total of nearly 150 years. In an often challenging economic environment, the three studios have managed through dedication and diligent work to make a living for themselves and their families, while providing beautiful creations for avid regional pottery collectors.
For pottery aficionados, their work is as unmistakable as a Picasso or a Pollock. Although the recognizable work is unique in style, color, and technique, the decorative and functional work by Stark, Sohngen, and the Baucams is concurrently collected by many enthusiasts. Not only is their collective work found on many dinner tables, but their professional and creative lives have been inter-twined since the beginning of their careers. They’ve shared space in exhibition halls and businesses all over the region, and as members of the Memphis Potters’ Guild, they’ve worked alongside their other talented guild colleagues to present beautiful creations at semi-annual showcases.
Agnes Gordon Stark
Is it food safe? Is it dishwasher safe? Can you bake in it? Those are the questions that Agnes Stark has been asked hundreds of times over her years of selling pottery. As one of the earliest members of the Memphis Potters’ Guild, Stark takes pride in the fact that she and the guild have helped to educate people about the originality of each piece, and about the creative process of ceramics. She’s helped buyers realize that “pottery is a living, breathing thing, each piece with its own personality—unlike factory made pieces.”
“the call of the clay”
Her dinnerware is as “earthy” as the beautiful country garden in which she holds quarterly studio shows. Agnes and her now deceased husband, Ted, had an avid love of nature and together created the verdant oasis on their weekend property near Arlington/Eads, Tennessee. The lush spot is the perfect backdrop to showcase her well-known pottery, work that is clearly influenced by her love of the land—rich in both color and texture.
The “call of the clay” has directed most of her life. Stark opened her studio and began selling pottery in 1970 after doing postgraduate work in ceramics at Louisiana State University. During the subsequent years, she’s actively participated in both the Tennessee Association of Craft Artists, and the Memphis Association of Craft Artists, serving as president of MACA for many years. Stark worked tirelessly aside others in both organizations, striving to introduce the public to the finest crafts in Tennessee. President of the Memphis Potters’ Guild for 18 years, Stark was diligent in making the guild function and keeping the work of the many talented participants in the public eye twice a year. Peter Sohngen spoke of her tenure as guild president saying: “It’s easy to see that what made the guild work, was Agnes. She’d pick up all the loose ends, she’d pick all the ‘nits,’ and she’d tell you when something needed to be changed. It’s short-sighted when you have a leader like that, not to see that they’re doing the best thing for the organization.”
“His pots were so exquisite and done so masterfully, that I just really wanted to make stuff that was as good as his.”
His enthusiastic teaching skills followed him across the ocean from Europe to the Memphis Academy of Art. Peter Sohngen was teaching English to first year students at Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey, when he developed “a sort of back door interest in making pots.” Although he credits the school with having an “effective English program,” his teaching skills were thorough enough that students were not only required, but also prepared to take their remaining university classes in English. That ability to inspire students would become his legacy in the Memphis pottery community.
His “back-door interest” turned into a full-blown infatuation for making pottery, and after meeting and marrying his beautiful and talented wife, Judith, he struck out to pursue that passion. Fortified with his newly found creative spirit, he began his clay studies at Mills College in California, and ultimately ended up at the renowned Alfred University in upstate New York, where he earned a Master’s degree in ceramics. After earning that degree, Peter and Judith moved to Memphis, where he ran the clay department at the Memphis Academy of Art from 1969 until 2002.
No clay was left unturned while studying under Sohngen! “His mission was to make us all expert potters. Under his two year tutelage at the Academy (now the Memphis College of Art) we earned the ‘equivalent’ of a master’s degree from other programs,” said one former student. Not only did he teach his students to be proficient in throwing pots, but he offered in-depth courses in glaze chemistry and instruction on how to build kilns and how to set up an efficient studio.
“His pots were so exquisite, and done so masterfully, that I just really wanted to make stuff that was as good as his,” said another student. Not only is Peter Sohngen an inspiring educator, but his pots are thrown or hand-built with authority, skill and finesse, and are glazed to perfection. His ability to make beautiful pottery was clearly a motivation for the many students who were lucky enough to study under him. Memphis potter, Dale Baucum was one of those who was enrolled in his two year program early on, and Agnes Stark had a summer course with Sohngen, and countless other potters in Memphis and elsewhere credit him with their ability in the art of making pottery.
Brin and Dale Baucum
“And I don’t even have a job!” was the horrifying thought that potter, Dale Baucum awakened to when he and wife, Brin were expecting their first child. But since 1973, that “non-job” has resulted in countless stunning pottery creations, and has enabled the Baucums to raise their two children and to enjoy life doing what they love. Although they work like gangbusters, producing an enormous amount of pottery, neither has had a “real job” for nearly 43 years.
They’ve fired a whole lot of dazzling pots! The brick kiln in their mid-town Memphis backyard has been fired 638 times, with each firing comprised of 200 to 300 pieces, depending on size. The enormity of that accomplishment however, is surpassed by the resulting beauty of the work, decorated with their unique gray/green and scarlet glazes, and distinctive leaf motifs and other glaze patterns.
A photographer’s eye and a skilled potter’s ability fused to create the elegant work that has been featured in exclusive exhibitions in prestigious galleries, such as the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis. After the birth of their second, child, the couple decided to pool their talents and to focus all their attention on the pottery business. Unlike Dale, Brin didn’t enjoy working on the pottery wheel, but she did have an interest in both nature and decoration, and began to incorporate a variety of leaves into the clay to decorate Dale’s exceptional thrown and hand-built pieces. The merger that ensued brought about an amazing evolution of their pottery design, and has brought them notoriety in the craft world.
“Go out to the garden and pick a nose!”
Every single firing of the brick kiln has included a clay sculpted NOSE—that’s 638 noses so far! The first firing occurred on the day that Richard Nixon resigned, and whether or not his rather large snout inspired that tradition, it has continued throughout the years. Dale has thus planted a “nose garden,” and when children come to the studio, he invites them to go out to the garden and “pick a nose!”
The Baucum’s striking work serves as a goodwill ambassador for Memphis. Even their attractive set-up has raised the bar for pottery display, and this summer it will travel to Chicago—TWICE! Working harder and faster than ever, they’ll not only participate in the two Illinois shows, but in numerous shows across the south, in addition to the upcoming Memphis Potters’ Guild Spring show.
Memphis and the Memphis Potters’ Guild is fortunate to have an abundance of outstanding potters, and few of them would disagree that Agnes Stark, Peter Sohngen and Brin and Dale Baucum have had a significant impact on the pottery business and on the community. All artists are influenced by other artists, and in one way or another, these three groups have likely played that role for many of their peers. They’ve “upped the game” for everybody!
Agnes Stark: www.starkpottery.com
Peter Sohngen: 901-278-6463
Brin and Dale Baucum www.baucumpottery.com
Memphis Potters’ Guild www.thememphispottersguild.com
The next Memphis Potters’ Guild show will be held at the Memphis Botanic Garden on the weekend of May 29, 30 and 31, 2015
TRASH TO TRASHION
by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
One man’s trash is—well—another man’s haute couture. Paul Thomas makes vogueish fashions from objects that many would consider useless rubbish, an innovative contribution to the art world that simultaneously calls attention to responsible waste disposal.
Repurposing discards of just about anything into astonishing art came about as a result of necessity for Paul, (the name of his business is “art in the dark”) but it has become his trademark. The Memphis Commercial Appeal has named him the “Recycling King.” Often unable to purchase art supplies and fabric, Thomas simply sources his necessary materials from thrift stores, curbsides, yard sales, and yes, occasionally garbage cans. A child’s thrown away stuffed animal becomes a charming handbag; a soaking wet pile of fabric ribbon from a flooded street becomes an exquisite black boa. No discarded item is safe from the creative ingenuity of Paul Thomas.
Every artist’s work blossoms with the aid of a muse, and so, Paul Thomas conceived Maria Vincenzo to serve as his. Once a bag lady, she too, collected discarded rags from which she constructed beautiful garments. Discovered by the Queen of England, she became the rage of the fashion world, and eventually opened a design house in the style capital, Paris. Commissioned by the French government during World War II as a spy, she created samples into which code was sewn and subsequently shipped all over the world. After the war, the illusive heroine quietly disappeared into the obscurity whence she came, never to be seen again. A worthy muse indeed.
Creation through recycling has not gone unnoticed by organizations around the South. Memphis City Beautiful has hosted a “Trashion” show since 2012, to encourage people to clean up the environment. In Shelby County alone, over a million tons of trash a year goes into landfills, so with stunning exaggeration, artists such as Paul Thomas are demonstrating that much of what is thrown away can be reconceived as something beautiful and/or useful.
At the 2014 Trashion show, Thomas was named Best of Show by presenting a gown made from Christmas ribbon, hospital scrubs and a used, beaded dress, all constructed via his own skillful technique. The supplies used by the artists at the show are collected from within the community, and the money raised at the show is then put back into circulation in the city in the form of community gardens, tree planting and city beautification projects—a cycle of recycling.
Paul’s reputation as “Recycling King” has followed him to Little Rock, where he serves as the featured finale at The Clinton Library’s “Curbside Couture” each year. The annual event features the work of 98 to 100 art students, some of whom are awarded scholarships to design school. Paul is passionate about sharing what he has learned, and anxious to encourage the students and to impart any helpful advice which might boost their creative spirit. Coca-Cola was the sponsor of last year’s show, and the product was of course the focus of Paul’s designs. The inventive designs are a combination of cleverly put together bottle caps, cut up card board from packaging, pop tops, cut up cans and Coca-Cola shoe strings.
“I follow fabulous taste!” says Thomas, who, inspired early on by his Mother, a fashion model, has deliberately surrounded himself with people who have exquisite taste and knowledge in order to learn from them. Working alongside notable representatives of the fashion, interior design and art worlds, he has devoured their expertise, all the while acquiring his own inspired style. One of those, Memphis and Arkansas fashion icon Babbie Lovett, recently used 30 of Paul’s designs in an extravaganza at the Ken Theatre in McCrory, Arkansas, including shawls, boas, jewelry, hats and scarves.
Conception for Paul Thomas is hardly limited to fashion however. In 2001, he acquired a lovely, but dilapidated home on a prestigious street in Memphis, and in three years was able to turn it into a showplace, using his resourceful method of “find and repurpose.” After completion, the home was featured in a two page spread in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. His talent also extends to home staging and the selling of antiques and used decorative items.
“It’s all about the work,” says Thomas who is in a state of productive bliss most of the time. Financial reward has not come easily to the imaginative prodigy, but the love of the process and the thrill of seeing a finished product has been compensation enough to keep him engaged in his innovative endeavors. Joining forces with friends, Babbie Lovett and John McIntire, Paul is currently participating in the 2nd Terrain Biennial, an international exhibition of site specific art made for front yards, balconies and porches. Paul fashioned eyes out of strobe lights, with eye lashes made from cut up plastic bottles. Various colors of eye balls represent the diversity in his neighborhood, and the point of his display is to help the Neighborhood Watch group say, “We’ve got eyes on you!”
Eyes will likely remain on Paul V Thomas too, as he and Maria Vincenzo continue the repurposing of the material world into clever and thought provoking art. He’s lessening the environmental footprint one piece of art at a time.
The photos of the model in the hat, the green ribbon dress, and the Coca-Cola fashions were provided by Paul Thomas
All other photos by Deborah Fagan Carpenter