Birthday Girl

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Nellie Mae Rowe Where Did You Go?

Originally posted Sept. 2016.  Such an interesting woman from field worker to internationally known artist. I’m working on a non-fiction picture book about her and her work. What an inspiration!

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Back in the 1970s, driving down Paces Ferry Rd into Vinings (just outside Atlanta) was a completely different experience.  There were no high-rises or urban restaurants or coffee shops. There was no upscale shopping center named Vinings Jubilee.

Back then, Vinings was a quaint village with clapboard houses lining the streets, a train station, an inn with a small restaurant, and not much else.  The affluent residents lived on one side of the tracks and the not so affluent lived on the other side. Coming down the hill you drove through this “other side” in order to go into the village.

At the bottom of the hill, by the railroad crossing and just past the tracks, stood the old train station; just this side of the track, known as the other side of the track, up higher on a bank, sat a tiny white house with the weirdest looking stuff everywhere!  Bizarre relics scattered across the lawn from the porch to the road.  These colorful trinkets hung from the branches of trees and shrubs; they were strung across the porch and fence and any other place that could be found to hang. Dolls of all sizes, including heads only, were stuffed, stacked, and prominently displayed.  Rumor had it that the woman was a witch; but if not a witch, at the very least she practiced voodoo.

Always fearful, but completely intrigued by this woman and her lawn full of stuff, I would stare as I rode past hoping to glean some sense of reason for her display.  As the years went by, the landscape changed and so did the house. The woman died. The trinkets with all their pretty colors were taken down. The house stood unadorned for many years. It seemed lonely. Finally, the house came down to make way for newer and oh so much bigger homes.

On occasion, I would think of the woman and her trinkets and wonder after her. I decided to see if I could find out anything about her. As it turns out, in the art world, she has gained national and international recognition as a great American Folk Artist.

Her name was Nellie Mae Rowe. She was the ninth child out of ten, born on July 4, 1900 in Fayette County, Ga. Her father was a former slave; her mother was born the year of emancipation.

As a child, Mrs. Rowe worked the fields on the farmland her parents rented. In an interview (Armstrong, 1976), she put it this way, “I wanted to be an artist but I had to go to field. I didn’t have a chance to be what I wanted. I otta been in the field. I’d go hide and make dolls outta dirty clothes.”

Mrs. Rowe married twice and was widowed twice. She came to live in Vinings with her first husband, Ben Wheat. After his death, she met her second husband, Henry (“Buddy”) Rowe and together they built the clapboard house which she eventually came to call her ‘playhouse.’

About her artistic gift she said,” God gave me my own talent. He didn’t put everyone here to do the same thing. He did not. He put me here to do one thing. The talent he gave I have to use it.”(Armstrong, 1976)

Bless her, she certainly used it. She was a pioneer recycler with her chewing gum sculptures (only using gum she had chewed), her quilt-piece stocking legged dolls, and her crayon-colored drawings on cardboard, egg crates, and Styrofoam food trays. She used ordinary, everyday, at-hand materials; and she did it brilliantly.

Regarding the subject of her art, Mrs. Rowe had this to say, “I draw things you ain’t never seen born into the world and they ain’t been born yet. They will be seen someday, but I will be gone.” (Morris Museum of Art).

And seen they are. Mrs. Rowe’s first show in 1976 was Missing Pieces: Georgia Folk Art 1770–1976 at the Atlanta History Center. Her first one-person exhibition followed at the Alexander Gallery in Atlanta in 1978.

Her art continues to be collected and is shown in many traveling exhibitions. In permanent collections her works can be found in the Morris Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Library of Congress American Folklife Center, and the American Folk Art Museum in NYC. Nellie Mae Rowe has her own exhibition room at the Atlanta High Museum with over 100 of her art pieces on display.

I often wish I would have stopped to meet Mrs. Rowe instead of fearing what I thought; not because she became famous, although I’m glad she did, but because her spirit seemed pure and right, and full of God’s love. That you just don’t find very often.

 

 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Matthew 5:11

For more info on Nellie Mae Rowe
Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Linda Connelly Armstrong Film – 1976

Eclipse

I live in the last place on North America where the totality of the eclipse will overshadow, and darkness will cover this land for a moment.  My understanding is that the time of darkening, darkness, and relighting will be about 3 hours.

With safety glasses in hand, we’re hoping that the skies will be clear – though storms are predicted. Eyes will be covered but hearts will be exposed. With all the “science” abounding about a total eclipse, my spirit is compelled to dwell upon the day my savior died.  Creation bows to its Creator. Praise be to God.

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a] lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  Matthew 27:45-46

 

When Light fades

And darkness reigns

The briefest of time will pass

For as Light rises

Darkness is overcome

With a glimpse

of a tiny ray

.

Lady in Blue

I’m thrilled to announce that a poem of mine has been accepted and posted on a very cool project – The Erase-Transform Poetry Project.  This project started shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump as US President.

About the project in their words:

Erasure poems offer a way to take existing text and pull forth poetry. The ERASE-TRANSFORM Poetry Project is a platform for transforming the language issuing from the White House in the hopes that it will encourage and inspire other transformative actions.

Beginning with the inauguration speech, we seek submissions that take that rhetoric and draw out life-affirming poetry. As time goes by, newer texts will be offered.

I hope that some of you will consider submitting to this project. There are some fantastic poets out there and I would love to read how you all transform some of the White House rhetoric into beautiful poetry!

Thanks for reading my submission – Lady in Blue

Grits and Gravy

Only one booth was open when we walked into Ken’s Corner on Saturday morning for breakfast. We slid into the booth and grabbed the menus. We were hungry and the place was packed. Our waitress came over pretty quickly to take our drink order.

“Good mornin’,” she began, “I’m Kimberly Clark. What can I get ya to drink?”

“Really?” my husband responded.

“Yeah,” she replied, “I do this as a side job.”

I scratched my face in wonderment. I didn’t get it.

“I have all my millions stashed away,” she said laughingly.

Oh, now I get it.

“This is our first time here,” John continued the conversation with her.

“Well, where’ve y’all been?” she chided us.

“The place is packed,” I said.

“It’s real busy on the weekends…but that’s a good thing.” She left us to get our drinks and chat with some of her other customers.

 

Photos of the Blue Angels hung above the prep area. Originally, the place was a Huddle House. Ken Johnston owned it then and still owns it now.

 

“I heard someone ran their car into the restaurant,” I said when Kimberly brought our drinks to the table.

“No, not that I know of,” she answered. “I’ve been here ten years. I think I woulda heard about that.  Are y’all ready to order?”

“How’s your sausage gravy?” I inquired. Coming from a family of Tennessee mountaineers, I know good sausage gravy when I taste it.

“Ya wanna try some? Here let me get ya a taste.” Off she went.

 

Meanwhile, John went to the restroom to wash up, having already ordered his meal.

“Restrooms are clean. And, they have hot water,” he announced when he returned..

 

Kimberly brought back the gravy sample…mmm, it’s good…gravy and biscuits for me.

A young family walked in. She saw them and greeted them as they walked in the door.

“I was just thinkin’ about y’all. How ya been?”

The family sat in the booth behind us. She chatted with them for a bit.

 

According to Kimberly, most of the customers are regulars. Some come in two to three times a day. She works day shift now; but, she has worked the night shift in the past.

“At night, it’s a whole different place,” she told us.  “The bars (she points to the Village Market area next to Ken’s Corner) close and the people come in. They like their coffee and eggs after they’ve been drinkin’.”

 

Our breakfast arrived with our various idiosyncratic food preps prepared just as we asked – John’s burnt toast swimming in butter and my biscuits with a small amount of gravy placed in a dish on the side.

The food was good. My cholesterol rose with every bite…Ken’s Corner has all the makings of a fine restaurant.

The Passing of an American Tradition

On a June evening in 1958, a few days before commencement, Byron Herbert Reece finished grading the final exams of his students, then neatly stacked the papers and placed them in his desk drawer. He sat entranced. The crisp north Georgia mountain air blowing in through the open window reminded him of his home only an hour away. The distance seemed an eternity to him. He walked to the phonograph, put on a Wanda Landowska rendition of Mozart’s “Piano Sonata in D”, then sat down and poured himself another drink hoping to numb the pain nagging at his heart.

It seemed he’d been lonely all his life. He desired to marry, but how could he even consider it? No matter how hard he had worked, and he’d worked damn hard, he always came up on the short end of the stick. America’s greatest lyricist, as the critics acclaimed him, suffering from the same tuberculosis of which his mother had died – his father dying still – got up, placed a bullet in his .32 automatic pistol, and killed himself.

Byron Herbert Reece, a farmer poet, lived simply and wrote of what he knew best, religion and mountain lore. His life and death epitomized the passing of an American tradition: hard work and honest living reward one for his efforts. Accordingly, Reece died an appropriate death, a self-inflicted wound to the heart.

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/byron-herbert-reece-1917-1958

 

THE DAWN CAME DOWN

The round day was a circus tent

Across whose top the sun

Crawled like a fly on fiery legs.

But when the day was done

The night stretched out unendingly,

And I could scarce recall

Whether or not upon this spot

The dawn came down at all.

 

APPLE  PICKING

Autumn frosts the hedges,

The cricket plays his flute,

And high on ladder-ledges

The pickers pluck the fruit.

 

Before the sun has faded

Beyond the edge of day

The orchard is denuded,

The apples stored away;

 

Except those left to wither

And feed the sluggish bee

Because no hand could gather

Them from the tallest tree!

 

Ballad of the Bones and Other Poems – Byron Herbert Reece – page 69

More of Reece’s poems:

https://byronherbertreecesociety.wordpress.com/poetry-2/reece-poetry/