Friday, November 30, 2007

Sunrise in Pembroke, VA

We had a very colorful sunrise in Pembroke, VA, on Thursday.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Handmade Holiday Trunk Show

The Woodruff Building in 2,000,000 BCE
(Image from the Downtown Grill & Brewery)


ooooo. . . . dramatic, eh? Hecks yes it is. Why? Well . . . it is art show time (support local art, dammit!), and you better get in there for the big dance. Here are the vitals, as passed on to me by show organizer Jill Colquitt. Ahem:

The Handmade Holiday trunk show opens this Thursday, November 29th at 4:00, make sure you stop in to check out all the great art and crafts, there are items for everyone on your list!
The reception will be on Saturday, December 1st, and the show will be open until 8:00pm, there'll be some music & great snacks for your holiday shopping.

The event features goods by Yee-Haw Industries, Dot-iris, Bird Dog Press, Duchess, & many other local & regional artists. Items include stationery, apparel, jewelry, accessories, pottery, tire planters, framed art, posters and one-of-a-kind prints.

Yeah. You're loving it, you're interested. You're giddy. But you need details - times, dates, places. Luckily I cut and paste them right below. Ahem (deuce):

Show Dates (Thursday - Sunday):
Nov. 29th – Dec. 2nd, Dec. 6th – 9th, Dec. 13th – 16th

Thursday & Friday: 4 - 8
Saturday: 12 - 6
Sunday: 1 – 5

424 Gay Street on the the Fifth Floor of the Woodruff Building
(home of the Downtown Grill & Brewery, home of delicious foods and brews)

That's pretty much the ticket. I was up there on Tuesday and the space is incredible, not to mention the selection of art work (prints, paintings, pastels, clothing, pottery, the list is seemingly endless) of every conceivable style (that's right - modern to, um, less modern). And, if you're interested, I have some paintings for sale up there too (you can see a few of them here - - - my site is still being rebuilt, but I figured, hey, why not give ya'll a look-see; also, I don't have a good slide-taking camera, so apologies for the odd shots). Regardless, go in, take a look around, and if you have a little extra money, buy a piece or two. On the way up (and down) grab a local beer from the DG&B and stop in.


Due to the SEC scheduling conflict, the reception has been moved to 1st Friday, Dec. 7th, for those of you that love football AND great handmade gifts. We will still have the wonderful Jessica Meyers tattoo event from 5-7 for those that will be shopping Saturday night!

Saturday, Dec. 1st: 12-8 Jessica Meyers skin transferable lithography/temporary tattoo event

Friday, Dec. 7th: 4-8 Reception featuring spirits from Downtown Grill & Brewery

And if you can't be there, not a problem! There'll be a similar event at the closing the show on Saturday, December 15th (same Bat-Time, same Bat-Place).

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Economist: "Dollywood Values"

Image by Peter Schrank, from The Economist

This long holiday weekend, as I sat in my in-laws' living room watching the "football" and sipping red wine, I flipped through a copy of that legendary publication all students of international politics are giddily attached to, The Economist. That is when I came across this article on two subjects near and dear to my heart: Dolly Parton and her happy little kingdom in Sevier County, Tennessee. It's a great little read and it gives me a taste of the happys. Let me give you a test paragraph:
Sophisticates sneer at Ms Parton's theme park. The Daily Express, a British paper owned by a man who also peddles pornography, calls it "tacky". But the values it represents are as American as a 3lb-pound slice of apple pie. Dollywood's calorific abundance is quite healthy compared with Hershey Chocolate World in Pennsylvania. Its patriotism seems restrained next to nearby Patriot Park, with its annual Patriot Festival. Its brand of Christianity is less in-your-face-than, say, the Holy Land Experience in Florida. It is tolerant, too. Ms Parton has many gay fans, who who hold unofficial get-togethers at her park. Her grandfather was a hellfire preacher, but Ms Parton has an empathy for sinners. As a girl, she thought the town hooker in her make-up and stilettos was the prettiest thing she had ever seen. "She was trash," Ms Parton tells interviewers, "And I thought: That's what I want to be when I grow up."
Good stuff.

Snuffy Smith creator dies

Monday, Nov. 23, 1942---

"The begetter of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith died last week in Manhattan.

"In many ways Billy De Beck lived a life as unreal as the comic-strip characters he fathered. When he was at high school in Chicago he drew imitation Charles Dana Gibson pictures, peddled them for profit. He did cartoons for a theatrical weekly and for several newspapers. But he stayed poor until he turned out a correspondence course on 'How to be a cartoonist and make big money.' He sold thousands of copies for $1 apiece.

Billy de Beck"He was doing a so-so successful strip, "Married Life," for the Chicago Herald at $35 a week when King Features hired him in 1919. Result: Barney Google. Before he died last week at 52 after a year's illness. William Morgan De Beck had a 14-room Florida house, a Manhattan Riverside Drive apartment where, once, he threw dollar bills to kids from the window until he was stopped by police.

"Knee-high, banjo-eyed, potato-nosed Barney Google and his wonder nag, Spark Plug, were to U.S. kids in the '20s what Superman is today. Barney Google ('and his goo-goo-googly eyes') was a 1923 song hit that sold more than a million copies.

"Three Barney Google musicomedies toured the U.S. for two years; a toy manufacturer sold $1,000,000 worth of Google and Spark Plug toys and dolls; many a Google catchphrase entered the language ('Horsefeathers!' 'Heebie-jeebies'; 'Jeepers Creepers!' 'Youse Is A Viper'; 'Bust Mah Britches!' 'Times a wastin!'). In the mid '30s De Beck abandoned Spark Plug, subordinated Barney, brought bodacious Hillbilly Snuffy Smith (also a slangy shorty) to the fore.

Snuffy Smith comic strip"Because of De Beck's illness, an understudy [ed. – Fred Lasswell] has been drawing the strip for months. Just as Andy Gump survived Sidney Smith's death (in 1935), Snuffy and Barney will survive De Beck's."

TIME magazine,9171,773938,00.html

related post: "Mammy Yokum, Pappy Yokum, and Fearless Fosdick"

Originally blogged at Appalachian History

New River Voice

Gutentagen, as they say in Boone - - - er, Bonn.


Sorry, sorry, I've been waiting for ages to use that one. Regardless, I have a publication to recommend to you ladies and gentlemen - the New River Voice. Oh sure, they've been around for awhile, but they're relatively new to the web, and as you all know, that's where our dance card is stamped. Now, before I run on and on (and off the subject) let me drop their self-description on ya'll:

The New River Voice is published biweekly from its offices in Radford, Va. The New River Voice is available free of charge at designated distribution outlets throughout the New River Valley and in surrounding areas. No one may have more than one current issue of the New River Voice without permission of NRV management. Theft of NRV publications will be prosecuted.
Okay - less descriptive than I'd hoped, but I can add some key jonx for you. The Voice is filled with great information for locals, be it in the form of articles, classifieds, and the essential community calenders (support local art, music, drama, and literature and take part in local politics, dang it!).

So here is the kicker. Check out the website. If you live in the NRV, pick up a copy of the once every couple weeks (if you're passing through, grab one for your hotel reading). But don't stop there kids. The New River Voice is looking for input, both in terms of constant updates on local happenings and for writers, particularly hailing from the smaller communities of the New River Valley - so budding writers looking for an outlet, start writing locally and sending'm some of your better edited works . . . you might become (magical stars) famous.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hillbilly Thanksgiving

We come from a region where the land makes colors like these.

Taken last week on Cherokee Bluff in South Knoxville, Tenn.

And for that I'm thankful.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Santa Train pulls into town

In Appalachia Santa Claus comes the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Since 1943, the Santa Special, more commonly known as the Santa Train, has traveled 110 miles through the mountains of eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and northeastern Tennessee to distribute loads of candy, toys and other goodies to eager bystanders, most of whom have made it a family tradition. The train typically passes through more than 30 towns delivering 15+ tons of goodies and Christmas cheer.

Joe Higgins as Santa ClausThis year Patty Loveless, a native of eastern Kentucky, will be taking her third trip aboard the train, during its 65th annual run tomorrow. Loveless grew up in Pikeville, where the trek begins. She rode the train in 1999 and 2002 and chronicled the trips in a song she wrote and recorded titled "Santa Train."

Train staffers throw candy, crackers, popcorn, bubble gum, cookies, stuffed animals, electronic games, hats, handmade gloves, mittens, toboggans, T-shirts, wrapping paper and other treats from the train’s caboose.

The Santa Special, a joint effort of CSX Transportation and the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, was the brainchild of the city's businessmen who wanted to show their appreciation to the people of the coalfields for their patronage throughout the year.

Santa Train Route
Santa Special officials have said that the first Santa Train pulled just one car and a meager load of gifts. It reached towns and cities that at the time had no other means of transportation. Some believe the train provided many children the only toys they received during World War II.

Joe Higgins played the role of Santa Claus in 1943-44 --- the run's first two years.


Originally blogged at Appalachian History

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ambling at Ijams

A walk around South Knoxville's Ijams Nature Center on a gray afternoon yielded a few photographs. I hope to go back soon and fully explore the relatively new section of the center that surrounds an old quarry.

Almost the very top of the Tennessee River.

The boardwalk.

Ijams is a quiet, beautiful place in the middle of a busy urban area. While enjoying the park, one is quick to forget that it lies on a major commercial waterway, and is bounded by industry, busy roads, residential development and a nearby airport: A diamond in the rough, as they say.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quiet Dignity

For Veterans Day I went to Andrew Johnson National Cemetery and took some pictures.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Stream Buffer Zone Rule under Review: Act Now to Protect our Streams

Thanks to Kathy Selvage, Vice President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, for bringing this important issue to our attention. Below is her explanation of why this issue is critically important to those who care about protecting our natural resources.

The Stream Buffer Zone Rule is a 1983 rule which prohibits coal mining activities from disturbing areas within a 100 ft. buffer of an intermittent or perennial stream. It states that coal mining activities cannot disturb these areas unless water quality and quantity will not be adversely impacted.

On August 24, 2007, the Administration proposed a change or clarification in the Stream Buffer Zone. Many people now fear the stream buffer zone rule will totally disappear leaving nothing to protect our stream beds and their headwaters from having mine waste dumped in them.

How important is water today? Just ask the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Given that the region is in a drought situation, our water resources, the health of the streams, and the health of the watersheds are vitally important to all of us.

Purity of water should recognize no political boundaries. We don’t often ask if one is a Democrat or Republican before we offer water. The quality of water and life in the watersheds can be embraced by all parties. It is too important for life itself to be merely contained in one party’s view.

We all must accept responsibility for the pollution and for the tremendous loss of streambeds already in Virginia. Between 1985-2001, 500 valley fills were permitted in the state of Virginia and 67.36 miles of streambeds were buried beneath those valley fills.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), a young environmental organization in Wise County, pursued numerous attempts to have a hearing granted in Southwest Virginia in Wise County to allow folks who care about their stream beds to express their opinion to their own government. Once again as in many other cases, the voices of the people were not granted permission to be heard as they were in WVA, KY, and TN. That request for a formal hearing was denied. SAMS did in the end accept an offer of a meeting on October 23rd in the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) offices in Big Stone Gap, VA (about 50 people attended) to express their views with the promise that voices would be recorded and placed in the record.

A small extension of time (30 days) has been added to allow the public to comment on the proposed rule change setting the cutoff date at November 23, 2007.

What can you do?

By mail, you may write to: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), Administrative Record, Room 252 SIB, 1951 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. 20240. Please identify your comments by RIN 1029-AC04. Tell them of the importance of headwater streams, water resources, and tell them you don’t want them contaminated!

Write to your U.S. Representatives and Senators and ask them to demand that OSM enforce the current law.

Write to your U.S. Representative and ask him to cosponsor the Clean Water Protection Act (HR 2169). It is interesting to note that its introduction was promoted by a Democrat (Frank Pallone of NJ) and a Republican (Christopher Shays of Connecticut).

Write letters to editors to raise public awareness.

Turn off some lights, shower with your spouse, and hug your kids.

Consider speaking out, standing up, or engage others in meaningful conversation about the state of our environment, the importance of our watersheds, and the way forward. It is our collective future, the future of all the inhabitants of the Appalachian region, which is at stake.

Kathy R. Selvage
V-Pres. SAMS

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Smoky Mountain Hike

I went hiking recently in the Smokies outside of Cosby, TN, along the Porters Creek Trail. It was a gorgeous fall day - perfect for being in the mountains.

This trail winds along the creekside, and passes an area that used to be occupied by settlers. It includes an old graveyard, with some rough-hewn stone markers.

These mushroom clumps reminded me of brains. Marshmallow brains, actually.

I noticed the shadows of these water gliders before I saw the insects themselves.

This is an easy hike, fairly level, and not heavily trafficked. Well worth the drive.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Author Gretchen Laskas discusses "The Miner's Daughter"

Author Gretchen Laskas caused quite a stir at the WV Book Festival several weeks ago in Charleston, where she discussed her newly published second book, "The Miner’s Daughter." We decided to find out what all the fuss is about, and ask her a bit about she’s up to in this young adult novel.

Gretchen Laskas

Esther French: You wrote another novel, "The Midwife's Tale," which was also set in West Virginia. Did you intend any connections between the books or any parallels in the stories?

The first rough drafts of each were written around the same time, but other than some of the crossover in terms of timeline and the research I was doing, the two novels don’t share many parallels. I speak briefly of coal towns in The Midwife’s Tale and use a little bit of my midwifery history knowledge in The Miner’s Daughter, but each is, to my mind, its own story.

EF: You call your grandmother "a true miner’s daughter," and your father was born in Arthurdale, the town where Willa’s family eventually settles. How much did your family history influence you when writing this book?

I don’t deny that family history influences my writing – I’m the oldest child of the oldest child of the oldest child of the oldest child. Far more of my extended family was living when I was growing up than not, an unusual situation in today’s world. I came from one of these sprawling, kin-filled worlds where we might argue amongst ourselves, but we could come together at the drop of a hat. This sense of solidarity and on-going communal storytelling definitely influences the work, although interestingly enough, this doesn’t mean the individual stories I tell are based on family ones. My family was not part of the original settlement in Arthurdale, although my family has been part of the community since 1943. But I certainly wouldn’t be a writer without the eight generation of West Virginians that came before me, and I owe a lot to both of my grandmothers in particular.

EF: The Depression is a key piece of the setting, and a major challenge for Willa’s family is keeping together through the tough times. How were your grandparents affected by the Depression?

No one has ever asked me this question, so I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s a good one for the novel. My grandparents had very different experiences of The Great Depression, all of which are in the novel.

My paternal grandparents were among those who like Willa, were more isolated and connected to the coal camps. But each family owned or was able to rent a little bit of land, which made food production easier. We see this in The Miner’s Daughter in references to the farm work the Lowells are able to do, as well as Mama’s ability to can and make the most of all food brought their way. The family is tied to the coal industry, but they came to the camps with more than one skill, which helps them in the selection for Arthurdale.

My maternal grandparents (who are Wayne and Ginny, the couple Willa meets in Fairmont) had very difference experiences. Growing up in the city, without a garden, husbandry or the skill sets of more rural areas, my grandmother experienced real hunger. At school, more affluent students’ dress made her own lack of clothing all the more apparent. Both of these emotions run through the novel: Willa’s black and white dress is taken from an actual blouse my grandmother made at this time, which I now own.

And my maternal grandfather had a life virtually untouched by the Great Depression. The family owned a home on Country Club Road; he had a car, a good job as an accountant, and enjoyed roaming around the country with “the fellows” attending college football games. My grandparents’ wedding video (imagine, a wedding video in the 1930’s!) was lost when the camera it had been taken on was stolen at the Army/Navy game. This is, of course, the world of Grace McCartney and her family.

EF: Willa’s discovery of poetry marks a new stage in her life. What was the awakening moment for you as a writer?

There wasn’t only one, but I remember keenly each and every person who believed in me. My seventh grade English teacher was the teacher I had who thought I’d grow up to be a writer. She taught me the poetry that Willa learns in the novel. I also had an outstanding middle school librarian, who made sure I read all the books to prepare me for life, no matter what choices I decided to make. Such small, everyday actions by adults can have large impact in a younger person, and I take them very seriously, now that I’m the adult.

EF: Willa struggles against government officials who are prejudiced against Americans who do not fit into the “white, native-born, and Protestant” mold. Do you see any parallels between the nativist ideas in Willa’s world and the anti-immigration movement of today?

There are parallels, and they are, to my mind, rather obvious ones. But what I find interesting is how little effort creatively on my part was required to draw them. Simply writing the words that were used at that time made comparisons to “the good old days” stand out. There were people I knew growing up who were prejudiced towards families that came from recently non-English speaking backgrounds such as Italian or Polish, and that was a full generation later. Of course, growing up in Pittsburgh, where it seems EVERYONE is from such a background, I longed for my own Ellis Island story. In that regard I “married in” – my husband is only two generations removed from Europe; none of his grandparents spoke English as their first language.

The Miners DaughterEF: You mentioned the Appalachian Writers Workshop in your acknowledgements. How did the workshop help you more clearly imagine the coal company town of Riley Mines?

The Appalachian Writers Workshop is a wonderful regional resource. I know of few other conferences anywhere in the country that bring such talented and professional writers together every summer in a setting that is energizing to any writer who takes her work seriously. Several people in particular from that conference have encouraged and strengthened me as a writer; you certainly need talent in this business, but in order to survive the process of writing and then publication, you need what might be called gumption (half courage, half a kick in the pants), and the Workshop gives you that a hundred times over.

EF: At one point in the book, Willa comments on the relative value of money when she says, “If anyone would have told me a month ago I’d be sad about getting only a penny for a treat, I’d have called them crazy.” How would Willa react to modern consumer society?

Good Question. In the Reading Guide, I ask how Willa might feel about our society today. Have we lived up to her hopes of the future? I think we have in some ways, but not in others. This is perhaps the question I hope readers find themselves asking the most. One of the reasons I love writing historical fiction is to ask readers questions like these.

EF: Miss Grace, Willa’s missionary friend, is very supportive of her. What kind of role did churches and missionaries play in 1930s coal towns, especially with regard to education?

Miss Grace has much in common with Mary Behner, a young woman who came to Scott’s Run, West Virginia to teach Sunday School in the 1930’s. She opened a library (of particular interest to me), started the first African-American girl scout troop in the area, and took children who had never left the coal camps to Morgantown to see a little of the world around them. She was one of many who came, and the work they began continues today in many areas of the region.

Eleanor Roosevelt was first alerted to the conditions of the WV coal camps by the Quakers. They had begun trying to revitalize handicrafts as a way for out of work coal miners to earn some money. Eleanor bought one of the chairs – a lovely piece of work that convinced her that anyone who could make a chair like this was well worth trying to help. That was the beginning of what would become Arthurdale.

EF: Willa’s older brother, Ves, wants to help organize labor unions. What shape did the 1930s labor union movement take in southern West Virginia?

In the West Virginia Mine Wars, in southern West Virginia, the Federal government armed itself against its own people and threatened them. And why? For unionizing and fighting for the right for better wages, work safety and fair treatment. To have the federal government turn around in the 1930’s and claim “The President Wants you to Join the Union!” would have been an incredible moment in time, and I understand why Ves and Johnny wanted to be part of that. My family came out of the northern VA coal mine unionization efforts, and my husband’s grandfather was blacklisted in Europe as an organizer, which was how he ended up in the US. My husband also worked for the AFL-CIO and interned with the United Mine Workers during law school. Our sympathies and gratitude for labor run very deep.

EF: When Miss Grace first meets Willa, she mistakes her for a “coal mine girl.” Why does Willa seem slightly offended at this label, when she willingly identifies herself as “a miner’s daughter”?

Believe it or not, my editor and I actually discussed this back and forth a lot. She was in favor of titling the book “Coal Mine Girl” and I was adamantly against it. First, Willa, to my mind, wouldn’t appreciate being called a “girl” after she has grown so much. Also, while the family can leave the mine behind them, we know that the father carries the mine (dust) literally within him. My grandfather stopped mining in the 1950’s, but that didn’t keep black lung from killing him years later. In West Virginia, at some level, we are all “Miner’s Children” no matter how many generations (if any) we are out of the mines themselves.

EF: Your first two books have been set in Appalachia. What’s next for you in your writing?

I’ll come back to West Virginia again – it’s simply too full of stories and characters that are waiting to be written. But I would like to explore some other places in my fiction, especially Pittsburgh, where Appalachian influences play a tiny, but vital, role. Or here in Washington DC, where every third person I meet comes from the region. I’m part of the great Appalachian diaspora, and that is also a side of our history and culture that needs to be told.

Originally interviewed by Esther French at Appalachian History

related post: "author Ted Anthony discusses 'Chasing the Rising Sun'"

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wise County Landmark Destroyed

High Knob Tower Burning

I learned with great sadness that the tower on High Knob in Wise County was burned by arsonists the night before Halloween.

It is really tragic for someone would lay waste to such a historic and frequently used local landmark. More information can be found at The Coalfield Progress and The Kingsport Times-News.

I did a post on the tower sometime back on HS. While the tower might be gone for now, I have a feeling I am not alone in saying one day it will be restored to its original glory.