Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The City of York got its first official Historic marker. The unveiling was on a Saturday morning on the grounds of the Coleman Center. The event was really a tribute to bonafide Yorker, Artist, and CC founder, Tut Riddick.

About 50 or so people came out. The Mayor spoke, a Senator spoke, a Congressman's wife was there, songs were sung.

One side of the marker commemorates The Coleman Center, its founding and its mission. I was a little heartened because the Education Program gets a mention here. I'm at least half responsible for its existence and I work hard to keep its wheels rolling so I will consider this marker a speck of my own immortality.

The other side of the marker gives a brief rundown of York history. No mention of slaves and all that dirty business but I think that's just taken for granted. This area was always relatively poor and out of the way anyways. There were never really any huge plantations or massive importations of human chattel. Not like, say... New York City and Newport, Rhode Island. (Google Wall Street slave market and Newport slave traders) Heh.

Tut shared a few of her poems. In her writing as in her paintings, Tut is all about the homage. She renders portraits of the people and places that inspire her. She told me she has a painting of me at her place down in Mobile so I guess I have arrived.

The rest of this York Homecoming day was taken up by a few more presentations, speeches, craft sales, and community singing. But in typical and very refreshing York fashion, this little fair was oh-so-mellow, friendly, and crowdless.

The Coleman Center brought in Alabama Art Casting, a traveling foundry with a hands-on, audience participation approach.

I love what these guys are doing - bringing this otherwise rarely witnessed process to the public. Metal castings are all over the place but few of us are aware of what goes into it and how it's done.

The townsfolk got to etch an image into these tightly compressed blocks of very fine sand.

Then after a couple dozen sand plates are ready, the crew pours the molten metal.

It's bright bright orange and flows as loose and liquidy as water.

The flames leap high. The smoke billows wider. You can feel the heat many yards away.

The strong, alien odor causes reaction.

The metal plates seem to cure quite rapidly, soon reverting to a more familiar-looking metal. But as they're spread out for cooling they're still deadly hot at over 800 degrees.

The medieval tools and equipment; the cowhide protective gear; the heavy shielded masks; the shooting flames and the noise. Alabama Art Casting combines education and awesome spectacle.

The leader of the group is the good man, Johnny P. Williams, also a York native, who was very happy to return to his hometown on this fine day.

The best part of that clip is the adorable lilt of the Southern "Yay".


Then over in Livingston, our county seat, there's the annual Sucarnochee Folk Life Festival. Kinda typical small town faire - craft booths, food, and live music.
Not the kind of thing I'd be inclined to attend but, again, this is Sumter County in Black Belt Alabama. No hype, no crowds, total relaxed friendliness. It's just about hanging loose and running into people you know.

Coleman Center wanted to have a presence there and asked me to help out but I didn't have any ideas for an outdoor craftsy project for random passersby. So I just kinda threw up my hands.

Then Shana recalled a photograph of a project I'd done in New York and New Jersey schools. She thought 'Build Your Own City' would be perfect for Sucarnochee and I agreed.

You just have to gather old cereal boxes, construction paper, scissors, glue and...Voila.

And it was kind of a hit. Folks of all ages formed a constant stream of builders.
This little girl pretty much camped out and single-handedly built an entire subdivision.

Sumter County ain't the most diverse place. It's basically Black, White, and Christian all over. When I see foreigners I tend to perk up.

I thought these wonderful young ladies might be South American but it turns out they're Native American. So who's the foreigner here, eh?
I love Alabama history and the deep Indian connection so I should've asked which tribe they represent but we were having too much fun cutting and pasting and gabbing it up.

I get a little cranky around crafty things. I'll forever maintain the snobby notion that Art and Crafts should be forever separated. I'm constantly reminding my students of the distinction between the two.
But I ain't gonna lie - crafts are an easy path to fun and you can't name one that isn't totally innocent.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Minor Artisans

I'd like my students to become more familiar with local and regional artists and craftspeople and more aware of accessibility.
I also hope to demystify art and art-making; to get them up close and personal with the makers; to break down that wall and widen the realm of possibility.

I've been putting the word out to professional artists and designers in the area and the response has been grand.
We had a 3-day Art exchange with local glass artist, Linda Munoz, who was kind enough to invite us into her studio to explore her process.

Linda specializes in stained glass, jewelry, and mosaics.
Working with college students at U. West Alabama, she started this mosaic mural in downtown York over a year ago. But due to circumstances she hasn't been able to complete it with them.

Our highschoolers enthusiastically stepped in and finished the job with finesse.
They added colored glass and pottery fragments and they repaired damaged sections.

Yahlah owns a space adjacent to Linda's on the main strip. She's currently renovating it to open an organic produce and sandwich shop sometime in the fall.
She was just passing by and decided to pitch in.
Yahlah's one of those people who grew up here, then spent a lifetime away, then returned to her roots for good.

Linda also introduced us to the tools and techniques of stained glass and jewelry making. We cut, chipped, and assembled our own pieces, firing them overnight in the mini kiln.

We converted our small but pretty cool-looking glass works into jewelry by applying pendant, pin, and earring hardware.

Linda gave us an excellent intro to the wonders of glass and its varied potential as both a large and small-scale medium. I think we all would love to return to it at some point.

Marilyn Gordon and Lillie Mack run Black Belt Designs, a hands-on fashion house based here in Sumter County. They have a highly inventive, folksy approach to clothes making, incorporating recycled materials and hand-painted fabrics.

Black Belt Designs commissioned me to fabricate a series of hangers for their exhibit at Webb Gallery in Livingston. I thought it'd be a great idea to involve students, staff, and anybody else with a hankering for hangers.

I cut 30 or so identical shapes out of standard 1/2 inch plywood and invited young and old people of all skill levels to paint a hanger.

No rules or limits were imposed. We left it wide open, sorta reflecting the eclectic style of the clothing.

Funny thing is, no one had any prior knowledge as to which outfit their hanger would be paired with. It was all chance. Marilyn and Lillie simply took what we gave them and managed to match things up quite nicely.

Didn't matter if a hanger was abstract, realistic, crude, or cartoony. Together they made for a wild but oddly harmonious display.


This here little dude is Travin. He lives next door and comes around any time he pleases. Never mind if I'm busy with something or other. He'll just march into the studio and help himself to whatever supplies, materials, and tools he can get his hands on and proceed to construct some far out scary thing.

This time it was a cardboard, wood, and cotton ball man with a huge nose and spindly legs. Looked like some kind of nightmare gnome or a supernatural fetish you don't want to cross. I questioned Travin about the figure's supine position and the red paint. He excitedly replied, "He's dead! I'm MAKING him dead!"

Travin once came in with a plan to build a box. I helped him with the drill and saw and he just went to town with it. He was clear that he had to have swinging doors so we rummaged around for some old hinges.

Once it was constructed, I advised him that he was going to have to put something IN the box. Travin gathered rocks, twigs, leaves, dirt, glue and paint to fill his box. I snapped a photo of him and we threw that in too.
"Now, what's the title of your box, Travin?"

"My Box"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Discretionary Viewing

Turn away if you're squeamish about ancient food preparation techniques. Go no further if you can't bear to witness what a thousand generations of YOUR ancestors had to do to ensure your very existence. Stop here if you don't want to see the way much of the world still lives.

I was driving the back roads of Alabama with New York designer and fashion icon (at least in my mind), Nneka B.
We naturally dropped in on Water Valley Lodge. It was supposed to be a ten minute stay but, as is usual down there, ten minutes turned to hours and before we knew it we're in another life-altering-holy-heck-I-never-done-anything-like-this-before situation.

But anyway, yeah, I was just showing Nneka the well-coiffed grounds of the Lodge and suddenly, somehow, we found ourselves in the deep woods in the deep night with a team of hardcore hunters in the rain. It was chilly out there too but the gunmen were all sweat, mud, and adrenaline.

They killed two whitetail doe and shot a buck but the buck got away. We tracked that animal for what seemed like hours. His bullet wound must have been minor because the trail of blood gradually diminished due to probable clotting.

But the beautiful silken females, so lean and agile, had met their ultimate fate.
Long live the whitetail deer.

With the carcasses dragged into the skinning shed, the butchering process begins.
Surprisingly, the dogs were just as fascinating to watch as the blood and guts.
We get to witness canine culture at its most fundamental.

The alpha dog steps forward to casually inspect the bodies.

The other assorted pooches hang back, guard the periphery, or just gaze longingly at the food they dare not prematurely approach.

Skinning requires a certain precision and a definite knowledge of anatomy and physiology.

The first cuts change the energy of the whole room.

The innards fall, the blood drops, and the dogs close in because the smell...wooo, lordy, the SMELL...

Can't exactly describe the smell - Not repulsive but revulsive. Not fecal but fetid. The kind of strong aroma that turns your head away then turns you right back toward it.

Our alpha dog favors the heart. He clamps it in his muscular jaw and scurries out the door and into the woods. The other dogs cue up to the flesh in order of status.

Don't let the size of these little dogs fool you. These are some tough, fearless, hunter/killer dogs. I've seen them in action and it is downright scary how blood-thirsty they are. I saw one of them murder and nearly gobble ten quail in a matter of seconds. I saw another chase down a mad skunk twice his size. They tackle, shred, and devour wild animals as a team. I will never look at little yappy lap dogs the same again.
Both of them even managed to usurp this much larger mutt.

The remaining viscera is placed in vats, thrown in a massive outdoor pit, and burned. But I think these jumbled organs have their own special appeal. There's something real perfect about them.

Red, Assistant-in-Chief, does the bulk of the carving.

He's a rugged, woodsy guy but he has a delicate hand.

I've had a few whitetail deer dishes. Cooked a stew myself. The meat cooks way faster than your average beef or lamb. It's easy to go too far and end up with gamey and tough rather than tender and sweet. Gotta keep a close eye on it.

We thank the glorious deer for their sacrifice.
And we apologize for lacking the will to vegetarianism.

But it was all worth it because I captured this iconic image, rivaling
'American Gothic' or anything by Norman Rockwell.

Red State/Blue State/Purple Gaze.