Wednesday, February 28, 2007

An Appalachian Ghost Town

Part of Toby Hollow Farm; Chuckey, Tenn.

This post from back in September has prompted me since to notice all of the half-standing derelict old dwellings that are scattered throughout the hills of Appalachia. When I first read the post, I was reminded of a spot in the woods behind my grandparent's farm that we used to refer to as "The Ghost Town," a small group of five old buildings that sits at the base of a flood-prone hollow, tightly squeezed between two long, steep ridges.

When I first learned of the Ghost Town, it was talked about in grave tones, but never seen. We were a young group of cousins, and our uncles had better things to do than lead a hyperactive gaggle of boys through the woods to a place where they would most likely contract tetanus or encounter the venom of an ornery copperhead. I'm sure it was much more fun for them to tell us sensational stories and watch us writhe in our desperation to see it. An aunt once told the tale of how she had the creepy experience of finding countless curing hams suspended from the old buildings and nearby tree branches. Of course, with its name and elusive privilege to actually see it, the Ghost Town fascinated us to no end.

Finally sometime when I was a young teenager, a few of us walked back and found the Ghost Town, in all of its anti-climactic nothingness. There were no ghosts, weird noises, occult symbols or dead swine hanging from trees. It was just a few old rotting buildings in the woods, but somehow it was still pretty cool.

Earlier this week I hiked back to again find our old Ghost Town. I had been told that those woods, as a matter of land maintenance, had recently had its large timber harvested. It would have taken no longer than an hour with heavy equipment to knock down and dispose of the ramshackle old buildings. Yet as I made my way along the curved damp meadow floor of the hollow there it was, neatly camouflaged in the gray winter woods, as if it wanted not to be found. I'm glad they didn't level the Ghost Town. It has no use other than in one guy's romantic notions of his Appalachian home. But that's enough to be glad it's there, I suppose.

To view the rest of the day's photos, go here.

Where Is The Fire

Fire on the Mountain
by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman

What does it mean to be a coal miner? Hillbilly Savants touches on the lives, the traditions, and the hardships of the coal miner community. Many of us remember a time when members of our family or mountain population walked through the door covered in black soot, eyes burning white against the sunken charcoal. The lifestyle of the miner is a part of our past and will be with our generations to come and in the grim darkness the power of a song is another side of the strength of that community. I saw it over and over again as those very same members walked in the door and pulled out an instrument. Music is as much instilled in our traditions, as is hard work. Music is a release, praise and an ending to the long day. It was a way to tell a story and to communicate with others. Now, from the acclaimed creators Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman comes a new fascinating play called “Fire on the Mountain.” From the reviews I come across this nationally recognized production on the lives of West Virginia coal miners is nothing but brilliant. Every article I came across praises Myler and Wheetman, “Narration so rich, the lively music awesomely compelling, the uncontrollable toe tapping, the dismal photos, I could actually feel dust in my throat… No American History book or PBS Documentary contains the capacity to grab the attention on the history of Appalachian coal mining, the lives of these fiscal poor families, dedication, family orientation, loyalty, suffering, threat of constant disaster, and love of the mines as do these people responsible for providing coal to heat homes and businesses during the later part of the 19th Century into the 20th. We, who flip a switch to warm our homes, grumbling frequently over the ever-present demand by the energy companies to raise the rates, live far removed from the mountain people flippantly called Hillbillies.” (Holly Bartges)

With 36 pounding mountain tunes the play touches on the realities and hardships of what it is to be an Appalachian. But, where is this playing in our very own Appalachians?
If you own or direct or even work in a theatre around these mountains you better jump on “Fire on the Mountain” as soon as you can.

Seattle Repertory Theatre

Northlight Theatre 2006

Volumn II Issue I
Spring 2003

The Practice Room

cultural cascades

kim crow

Coal Miner Musical 'Fire on the Mountain'
by Beau Higgins

FST’s Fire on the Mountain burns brightly.
By Kay Kipling

Poster Image

Monday, February 26, 2007

Blogs of Note

I'm always on the lookout for great blogs. Why? Well, besides the art, the photos, the political commentary, and the writing, I'm always looking for themes, ideas, and widgets to improve our own little blog, not to mention my search for more writing talent. Through the process, I build up lists of must-sees that I like to share. Enjoy them. Read them. Love them. Dammit.

Oh, and all the images below, the eye-candy? They are all linked from and creative children of the owners of the blogs adhered to their posteriors. Visit them, love them, link them. They're good folk.

Among the Hills
West Virginian Methodist Haiku
(Remember the Stadium Drive Rocky Top Soda, Reverend.)

Appalachian History
Smartness. And Barney Fife.

Asheville Area Music Scene
Music Described Using Adjectives Related to the Color "Blue." And This Squirrel.

Another Blog Using the Word Hillbilly. Also, There Are Pictures and Words.

Postcards, Cryptid Felines, the Smokey Mountain Cherokee Folk, and Clever Witticisms.

Knitting and Science in the Company of Marsupials

Smokey Mountain Breakdown
A Woman, Her Goats, and a Magical Floating Celtic Instrument

View from the Mountain
Beach-loving Canadio-Roanokian

If you-all know more, let us know - - - we are a community, after all.

Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition

Rock Castle Gorge, Patrick County, Virginia

I'm a few months late adding this entry for any aspiring photographers to enter the competition. It is unfortunate because some of our HS contributors have outstanding shutter skills and would have stood a good chance at making the show. Non the less, the 4th Annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition Exhibition opens Saturday, March 2, on the campus of Appalachian State University and will remain open through June 2. Hopefully, many of you reading this will be able to take in the imagery, be inspired to capture unique views of our mountains and share them with the public in the 2008 competition.

While you are at ASU, wander over from the Mezzanine Gallery to the Main Gallery of the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts and take in the other exhibit opening on March 2, The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice and the Environment 1965-2005. From the show's web site: This exhibition is a select retrospective of 40 years of international sociopolitical posters. Themes include dissent, liberation, racism, sexism, human rights, civil rights, environmental and health concerns, AIDS, war, literacy, and tolerance, collectively providing a window to an age of great change. Focusing on the issues of our turbulent times, these posters endeavor to show the social, political, and aesthetic concerns of many cultures in a single exhibition through delineating themes and contrasting political realities. I can see Eric drooling over this one.

Weekend Several: Trails of Appalachia

Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps help construct the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (Image from the National Park Service's online pamphlet, "Highways in Harmony: The Skyline Drive")

This evening I typed the word “trail” into my computer and cranked up the electro-whiz-bang thesaurus. Soon thereafter that rare breed of ancient reptile vomited, ahem, “path, track, way, road, footpath, route, footprints, footsteps, trace, imprints, marks, trajectory, stream, and line” and so on. Why, you ask, was I looking for synonyms of said term? To make you ask questions.

Okay, that and because I was looking for inspiration. How should I start my blog entry on the subject of trails in Appalachia? I thought about talking the big talk about how trails, whether they are institutionalized or not, are the physical manifestations of our progress in life. I considered quoting well-known quips, “getting there is half the fun,” and what have you. Heck, I considered posturing cleverly, citing cyclopean monstrosities from The Odyssey and dog-headed men from The Travels of Marco Polo and the occasional demon in the Inferno and a whole host of other fictional and non-fiction travelogues. But what I decided to open with was a different tack, an alternative salvo. What I settled on, though, were pilgrimages.

A pilgrim is defined as a religious devotee who travels to a shrine or holy place, a traveler who is attempting to fulfill some sacred quest. Their quests draw meaning from two different elements. On the one hand, a pilgrim seeks to arrive at a destination, a place that holds intrinsic symbolic value. On the other hand, a point often forgotten these days, the process of moving from one’s home to his destination carries value in and of itself. Ideally, the process of moving from point A to point B (often interspersed by a series of holy places) is a mystical process, a symbolic progression from normality to, well, something special, something different. After traveling down the trail of a pilgrimage, a pilgrim is meant to be transformed – he or she is reborn, metaphorically or literally. In pilgrimages, our homes are the wombs, and the trails, well, they are our birth canals, squeezing and pushing us until suddenly we have the ability to take the free air at our destination.

All of that said, Appalachia is a place known for its trails. Some of these follow the lines of the mountains themselves, others their valleys, tracing the outline traced by the Deity when continents collided before things that flew had feathers or things that walked had hair. Some of them follow the paths of our ancestors – some of whom were fleeing something, some of whom were seeking liberty, some of whom were literally dragged in chains, and some of whom were driven from land they had farmed and built upon and fought for over uncounted centuries. Some of our trails trace the evolution of the American culture, the convergence of European, Asian, African, and native American physical and artistic cultures, the birth of food cultures and musical cultures and language cultures from incredibly ancient roots.

I want to bring a few of these trails to your attention, and I have a couple of motives. Sure, I think they’re interesting. And yes, I want to encourage tourism in Appalachia, especially in areas, um . . . off the beaten path. Oi. But beside that I want to encourage a discussion. What other pilgrimages should we Appalachians have, where else should we carve trails, or merely reinvigorate those that already exist? Add’m to the commentary and I’ll update this entry accordingly. . . .

The Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Appalachian Trail Museum Society

National Park Service on the AT

Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club

Update! (Thanks to Mike Mason) Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club

Purebound on the AT

Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club

Trail Journals


The Blue Ridge Music Trail

The Blue Ridge Music Trail

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway Guide

The National Park Service on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Coal Heritage Trail

The National Coal Heritage Area

Wonderful West Virginia, “Coal Heritage Trail”

The Crooked Road

The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail

The Roanoke Times, “Going Down the Crooked Trail”, “The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail”

The Washington Post, “Twists and Twangs: Virginia Plots its Musical Heritage Along a ‘Crooked Road’”

The Hatfield & McCoy Trails

Hatfield & McCoy Trails

The New River Trail

The New River Trail Virginia State Park

The Midland Trail

The Midland Trail National Scenic Highway


Skyline Drive

Mile by Mile

The National Park Service's "Highways in Harmony: The Skyline Drive"

Skyline Drive Historic District


The Trail of Tears

National Trail of Tears Association

North Carolina Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association

Tennessee Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association

Sarah Vowell on This American Life

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail


Washington Heritage Trail

The Washington Heritage Trail

Washington Heritage Trail in Morgan County

West Virginia Hiking Trail Itineraries

The Wilderness Road

Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association

Wilderness Road Virginia State Park


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Appalachian Cagers

I’m a dude. As much as I love fine art, literature, the culinary arts (which if you saw me you would realize), musical skills and dissecting science, I love me some sports (by no means am I suggesting that being a fan of sport is limited to genetic dudes but rather a dude-like attraction to clocks counting backwards, whistles, scores and three color combinations reflecting regional pride, creating dudes and dudettes alike). Being a Southerner by breed, football is number one in my sport-o-meter but being in 3-year old ACC Country has intensified my interest in the game of basketball. This year has been particularly good for schools from Appalachia. I believe that the talent and skills are there for a school from the region to go far in the NCAA Tournament, the greatest sporting tournament in the history of collegiate competition. So, with that said, a few more weeks of round ball are still left to be played but I think we can expect to see the following schools involved in the National Title hunt…

Appalachian State
Virginia Tech

West Virginia
and maybe Clemson

Also, we can have a little fun here. The NCAA tournament is time where employers lose more hours to employees surfing the 'net and logging into pools, checking brackets and scores, more than any time of the year to employee web surfing. We can help contribute to this statistic by creating our own HS internet challenge once tournament time rolls around in three weeks. When the media web-sites start up their pool pages, we'll get one for all HS writers and readers to play. The winner will receive a deep-fried corn dog and a medal (similar to a Virginia High School Marching Band award, circa 1992) to wear for a year.

My home town and Chief Cornstalk...

A recent post on this site highlighted an Indian Chief named Cornstalk. See this article.

My home town, Oceana, Wyoming county, West Virginia is connect to this famous Indian Chief.

Here's how. In an official sounding article "COMPILED AND WRITTEN BY WORKERS OF THE WRITERS PROJECT WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION IN WEST VIRGINIA" published in August 1940, the connection is described. See the entire publication.

The first settler in Wyoming county was an Englishman by the man of John Cooke.

Indian uprisings in the western part of Virginia and along the Ohio River called John Cooke to military duty in 1774. A member of Captain Buford's Bedford County Riflemen, he marched with General Andrew Lewis to meet the forces of Cornstalk, Chief of the Northern Confederacy, at Point Pleasant. Before the actual fighting began in this battle, however, John, and others were dispatched to Fort Clendenin for supplies; nevertheless, he is listed on the Point Pleasant Monument as a soldier in that battle.
Later he and family returned.
Site of the first settlement, county seat for 57 years, and today the center of a developing industrial area, Oceana, in the drama of Wyoming County, has held the center of history's stage. In 1799, John Cooke, weary of his less adventurous homeland near the Narrows of New River, brought his four stalwart sons to the confluence of the Laurel and Clear Forks of the Guyandot River, and with axe and whipsaw built the first permanent home in the region.
And finally...Cassville, no Sumpterville, then Oceana...
William Cooke, third son of the first settler, donated the one-acre square, and around it surveyed a townsite of thirty, one-fourth acre lots, which were sold to relatives and friends. At first named Cassville to honor the American statesman, Lewis Cass, the town was renamed Sumpterville in a court order dated 22 November, 1851, because Cassville already existed in Wayne County. In 1853, Thomas Dunn English, author of "Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt", who was then practising law in Wyoming County, persuaded the court to change the name to Oceana to honor the younger of Chief Cornstalk's daughters.
So, first John Cooke fought Cornstalk then his town was named after Cornstalk's daughter...its a small world.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Spread the Word

Arts Alliance Mountain Empire
Art in Public Places
Outdoor Sculpture Competition 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

Knoxville: Old Gray Cemetery

The entrance to Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville, Tenn. The historical marker reads: "Old Gray Cemetery, incorporated in 1850, is the resting place of William G. Brownlow, Tennessee Governor and U.S. Senator, as well as two other U.S. Senators, eight U.S. Congressmen, 26 mayors of Knoxville, and numerous ambassadors, judges, editors, artists, authors, educators, military leaders, physicians and industrialists."

Any history buff just has to get a kick out of Knoxville, Tenn. Its past is much like the rest of southern Appalachia: Rich, weird and elusive, which of course makes it all incredibly interesting. Many of the characters that created that history now lie in a hilly, craggy old graveyard that sits just north of downtown called Old Gray Cemetery.

Named after English poet Thomas Gray, who wrote "Elegy in a Church Courtyard," the gentle slopes of Old Gray lie between what is now an adult bookstore and a cabinet manufacturer. Out of downtown, you take Broadway, a noisy four-lane that guides motorists through the blighted urban holes beneath Interstate 40. Just over a long hill from the highway overpass, the cemetery sits to the left. Pass through the narrow iron and marble gates of Old Gray and the noise and bustle of the city falls away. Old Gray Cemetery is peaceful, beautiful and downright creepy.

Here are a few pictures from today's excursion up to the cemetery. If you want to see all of them, go here.

The Grave of Evelyn Mabry Hazen. The house where she lived is also an historic site.

The grave of one of the more fascinating characters that lies in Old Gray, William G. Brownlow. A pro-slavery, yet strict Union man, Brownlow was a controversial national figure. His paper, The Knoxville Whig had a huge distribution, due largely to Brownlow's editorials. After the war, he was elected Tennessee's first Reconstruction Governor, and then to the U.S. Senate.

The grave of Charles McClung McGhee, railroad tycoon and founder of Knoxville's Lawson-McGhee library.

Old Gray's north wall. On the other side is Knoxville National Cemetery.

One of the Victorian ladies that keeps watch over the cemetery.

A Confederate soldier.

Looking northwest.

Two more ladies.

St. James Episcopal Church stands in the background as afternoon shadows fall upon Old Gray.

A broken headstone.

The grave of Charles McGhee Tyson, after whom Knoxville's airport is named.

Looking south.

Finally, for more information on some of the haints that call Old Gray home, visit here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Weekend Several: The Delaney Brothers

Unnamed Sketch by Joseph Delaney
(Image from The Art of Joseph Delaney at
the University of Tennessee - Knoxville)
My current "calm down the brain so I can actually sleep" read is an essay collection by my favorite Knoxville writer, the Soul of the Orange City, the Voice of the Rome of Appalachia, the Jack Neely. The collection, entitled From the Shadow Side and Other Stories of Knoxville, Tennessee, is chock full of little masterpieces (as are all of Neely's essay collections, frankly), but one in particular struck me as appropriate for bringing to you, especially given (1) that I'm trying to consciously bring in more art and artists here and (2) it is February, and February is Black History Month.

The essay is entitled "A Tale of Two Brothers," and it details the lives of two Knoxville natives, brothers Beauford and Joseph Delaney. Both were lesser-known painters of the 20th Century who, as fate would have it, are starting to gather a following in the quiet after their passing. While they probably would have denied it, the work of both artists echoes many of the same themes and trends - both, for instance, are obviously the intellectual heirs of the expressionist movement, and while Joseph's work remained largely figure-oriented and Beauford's largely leaned to the abstract side of expressionism, both dabbled in each other's compositional pond, and the work of both share key traits (I'm thinking their powerful use of linear composition, for instance). My recommendation? Read the essay first, then shoot south to the links, and peruse some other commentaries and, most importantly, some collections. Huzzah!

"Distant Horizons" by Beauford Delaney
(Image from the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts
exhibition Beauford Delaney from New York to Paris)
1. The Art of Joseph Delaney: This site, hosted by the University of Tennessee - Knoxville, is tremendous - simultaneously a collection (of paintings and sketches) and a whole series of commentaries. A great example of how a simple site can yield tremendous benefits.

2. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Beauford Delaney, From New York to Paris: To quote the webmasters:

Discover the fascinating career of Beauford Delaney (1901-79). An American modernist painter, Delaney produced engaging portraits, landscapes, and abstractions celebrated for their brilliance and technical complexity.

"Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris" explores Delaney’s dramatic stylistic shift from figurative compositions of New York life to abstract expressionist studies of color and light following his move to Paris in 1953. Approximately fifty paintings, including several never before exhibited, illuminate some of Delaney's most innovative years and firmly place his work among the dominant art movements of the day.

3. Beauford Delaney on Artnet: Nine works on display and on the market.

4. Museum of the City of New York: Painting the Town: A brief biography of Joseph Delaney and commentary on one of his works in the catalogue of the MCNY.

5. Amazing Grace: The Life of Beauford Delaney: This link is to the first chapter of the best known biography of Beauford Delaney - if you want to purchase the full text, you might want to check here.

6. Aaron Galleries, Joseph Delaney: A short collection of high-quality reproductions of Delaney's work - I particularly like "Gracious Lord Hold My Hand."

7. Knoxville Museum of Art, Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris: Outline of a recent show at our own KMA.

8. The Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell, University: Life in the City: The Art of Joseph Delaney: Another exhibition site with some high-quality reproductions.

Remember, definitely read the Neely essay - it will set the tone for you to understand the transformation of the brothers work over time, including their diverging tone and methods of their work.