Sunday, December 21, 2008


I went to the big Birmingham gun show with my friends, Sons of the Confederacy, Jake, John Jacob, Pat Ezell, and his kid. I was in town for a different event during the gun show last year and saw a lot of potbellied men with shotguns and rifles walking the streets. It was weird and it made me nervous. I hurriedly drove back to York.

I suppose a year in Dixie has greatly diminished any reservations I may have had about fervent Red-Staters with weapons. I was super eager to attend and by the time Jake extended an invitation I was already there.
Aside from the camouflage survivalists with their crude anti-Obama posters and the rough-looking gangbangers packing pistols and glocks in every pocket, the gun show was magnificent. Inventions beyond belief and, dare I say, some truly beautiful instruments of destruction. I wish I coulda taken photos of this stuff along with some of the characters in attendance but armed security guards confiscated my camera at the door.

Jake's been trying to convince me that I need a flintlock in my life. He suggested a British Enfield, or as he describes it," The gun that killed everyone on whom the sun set." As a history buff I can dig the Enfield but I kinda fell in love with the Russian Nagant. It's got nice curves and snipers love it.

Anyway, the guy was right - I do like the flintlock. I like all of them. I like the look and feel of old metal on polished wood. The weight of it all in the hands is sublime. I'm gonna get me a Nagant AND an Enfield and probably add a German Mauser to round out my little antique arsenal. Then I'm gonna join the boys down at the farm and shoot cans and bottles and other junk. I can't wait.

Afterwards, we visited Dr. Neely, an old friend of Utsey's and a very cool man. Dr. Neely has a sweet collection of military paraphernalia. I was especially taken with his Civil War era Union rifle. I couldn't put it down, literally holding on to history. I was too in awe to even get a photo of it. So here's the Doctor inspecting some German crosses the guys had just bought at the gun show. He's a very knowledgeable fellow, especially when it comes to the finer details of things.

Then there's the other side of my new Southern identity.
Sister Shoral and Sister Jackie of White Chapel Baptist Church of Silas asked me to create an altar for their little rural house of worship. The only detail they requested was a black Jesus. Everything else was up to me...

...with the exception of this dedication to Jackie's brother-in-law who was recently deceased. Tony's buried right out back behind the church along with about 25 other of Jackie's family (The whole church is one extended family). Walking among the graves with Jackie, I stated the obvious, "I suppose you intend to be buried here too". "There's no place else I'd rather be", she replied, with typical Southern grace and aplomb in the face of the ultimate existential head trip. There's lots I can learn from these people. I wish I had the temerity and lightness to walk on the very ground where I'll one day disappear.

'Create in me a clean heart, oh God. Renew a right spirit within my heart'. I found this quote on one of the altars I researched. It's just the perfect plea. So personal yet selfless. Beyond denomination or even religion.


Working in collaboration with the Coleman Center and the Sumter County Board of Education, I started an afterschool arts program for the high school students of Sumter County. Classes are held at the Coleman Center 4 days a week.

Art is not available in the schools anymore so hopefully this will give more students a more rounded education. I know it's already given a few young artists an outlet to explore ideas and materials enough to work on their own. That's the most gratifying thing.


I spent fifteen weeks, several days a week, in residency again at my favorite school, Demopolis High. This time I worked with Jody White's drama classes creating the set and props for their production of Murder in the House of Mystery.

It is an audience interactive murder mystery set in an Egyptian exhibit. The Props and set had to look as authentic as possible. I worked closely with the students to create a decent collection of urns, statues, furniture, and a functional sarcophagus.

A little wood, chicken wire, and paper mache can go a long way but patience is key.

The students not only had to build the show but also learn technique, art terminology, and cultural history.
We spent several sessions studying hieroglyphs and how to use them. Students learned to write their names and simple phrases.
The set incorporated these writings but only an expert would know that our hieroglyphs spelled out Betty Sue, Billy Bob and other innocuous things.

Director, Jody White (seated) and the cast and crew.


There were 8 weeks with the Youthbuild program at Hale county's HERO center. Young adults in their late teens and early 20's are working hard to earn their GED's and learn some practical skills to move on with their lives. I was happy to do a public art project with them. We decided to try a kind of self-portrait using freestanding cut-out plywood silhouettes.

One side of the figure, inspired by traditional and tribal body painting, involved color, form, symbols, and whimsy. The main challenge was to create a new heart - a heart unique to the individual.

The other side consisted of freestyle, freeform, stream of conscious writing. I wanted them to spill their guts, let people know exactly who they are.

The work produced with Youthbuild, Demopolis High, and the Art Afterschool program culminated in a big group show here at Coleman Center. It's ongoing until late January.
The Youthbuild folks stopped by the Gallery earlier in the day. I was able to get some photos of them but by night my camera was unexpectedly petered out. All I could shoot were these folks gathering around for Christmas Carols. It was a great night anyway.

I'll have to include photos of the exhibit in my next post. I promise it won't be another 6 months.