Sunday, October 14, 2018


During my stay in Sewanee, Tennessee this year, I’ve noticed a lot of signage indicating places that lead to the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Yesterday, I read  in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger, Sewanee’s newspaper of note, that the TN Chapter, Trail of Tears Association and Franklin County Historical Society is sponsoring their first annual Trail of Tears walk. On October 27, the organizations will commemorate the 180th anniversary of the Bell Trail of Tears Detachment’s passage through Franklin County in 1838. Folks who’re interested in this walk will follow a 0.8 mile path on foot or horseback from the Old Cowan City Park, the original route that the detachment took, to the courthouse square in Winchester, TN.

During the 18th century, the Cherokee roamed the southern Appalachians for many years—Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, upper South Carolina and parts of Alabama, Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia. However, during the early 19th century, the federal government began to search for land in the southeastern U.S. that they deemed suitable for expansion and made plans to remove the Cherokee and other so-called “civilized tribes.” The Cherokees opposed this move, and 16,000 tribal members sent a signed petition to Washington, D.C. objecting to the proposed upheaval. The famous poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote a personal letter to President Martin Van Buren objecting to the plan, and Davy Crockett of Tennessee fame also voted against the removal plan.

According to Barbara Duncan, author of Living Stories of the Cherokee, the Cherokee nation had a population of 20,000 men, women, and children, boasted of a constitutional government, had its own language, and published a bilingual newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. Many members of the tribe were Christians, industrious farmers and plantation owners. No matter, the Cherokee were rounded up at gunpoint, put in stockades for months, and then began a march to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. Casualties reached as high as 8,000-10,000, and at least 4,000 Cherokee died on the trail. This tragedy has been documented in the outdoor drama, Unto These Hills, staged in Cherokee, North Carolina.

On a visit to Sylva, North Carolina, I discovered the aforementioned book, Living Stories of the Cherokee, which contains stories about “The Little People” of the Cherokee nation. I blogged about these tribal members called the Nunnehis whom the Cherokee refer to as “immortals.” According to one of the stories, they’re about two feet high, sometimes smaller, and are mischief making spirits, as well as protectors. Author Duncan includes a story that could spook readers: “As you’re out in the woods/you might hear something,/you might hear some music,/you might hear someone talking, and it’s the Nunnehi,/ and they’re reminding us/that they’re always with us…”

Storytelling is a strong part of the Cherokee culture, and thrives in western North Carolina; it survives in the free verse featured in Duncan’s Living Stories of the Cherokee, which makes the art attractive to me. The eastern band of Cherokee also keep their legends and myths alive by telling them in public schools and churches, at regional festivals like Mountain Heritage Day at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, and at powwows throughout the region. I enjoyed the story told by the author of Living Stories who says that the legends are often full of puns and carry a moral. “For example, if a child starts bragging, at some time, either then or maybe later that day, the story about the possum losing his tail will come up,” Duncan writes —sorta’ like Pinocchio and his nose growing longer each time he lies. I wonder if the Winchester trail walkers/riders will hear a few stories or encounter any Little People along the way on October 27.

Author Barbara Duncan won the 1998 Thomas Wolfe Literary Award, Western North Carolina Historical Association. She is Education Director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Cover illustration "He Tells the Creation of Our World" by Paula Maney Nelson (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) from cover of Living Stories of the Cherokee and photographed by Barbara Duncan.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


As I walked across a bridge spanning the river in Rome, Georgia recently, I looked down at waters not unlike the Bayou Teche in my hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana — they looked a bit muddy. However, I shouldn’t have been surprised because the silt from not one, but three rivers, flows through the area I crossed. The Oostanaula, Etowah, and Coosa Rivers meet in the area of downtown Rome, once center of a thriving cotton industry.

In its early formation, this town was visited by Hernando DeSoto and was occupied by Cherokee Indians who called it “Enchanted Land.” Early settlers named the city Rome after the Italian city with seven hills on the Tiber River, as the site in Georgia also boasts seven prominent hills above the city.

We had been attracted to this city while searching for a Little Theater production within a few hours’ drive of Sewanee, Tennessee, and had discovered a matinee performance of Alice in Wonderland at the DeSoto Theater on Broad Street, Rome’s main thoroughfare. The play, based on Lewis Carroll’s book, was an adaptation that featured an all-youth cast. The youngest actors and actresses were fifth graders, the oldest actress was a dual-enrolled college student, and among them were talented home schoolers.

Lindsey Chambers, director of the production, instructed this group in a master’s class that featured vocal work, diction, volume, character development, and intense script analysis, and the students rehearsed three months for their parts. Rylee Barfield as the Mad Hatter, became my favorite. Prior to the performance, I had read an article about the references to drugs in Alice in Wonderland, purporting that Lewis Carroll had been an opium addict, but I suppose highly imaginative authors who create fantastical characters in other-world settings frequently get bad press. Readers of Carroll’s world who allude to him as a drug user probably wouldn’t have liked the cover of the Rome performance: “We Are All Mad Here.”

Rome’s largest contribution to American education, from the 18th century to present-day, remains Berry College, an institution made famous by Martha Berry, a wealthy planter’s daughter who began to teach indigent children in her playhouse cabin near her home, and whose efforts resulted in a Boys Industrial School and the Martha Berry School for Girls. Later, with contributions from Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford, the Berry Junior College was established and expanded into a four year institution. Today, Berry College is the largest landmass college in the world with over 28,000 acres and 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

I was amused at a story in a Rome visitor’s guide about the Captoline Wolf, a bronze statue of a wolf reputed to have been a gift to the City of Rome from Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini, which has been correctly identified as a gift from Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi, the governor of Rome, Italy. Copies of the original, located in Rome, Italy are also found in Rome, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Brasilia, Brazil; and other sites around the world.

We photographed a statue of Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Ellen, who spent her childhood in Rome, Georgia and set up a scholarship at Berry College for underprivileged mountain children. During her years as First Lady, Ellen laid out the famous Rose Garden at the White House and wrote a bill to better the living conditions for slum areas around Washington DC. She is buried at Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome.

A list of notables who lived in Rome includes a literary find for me: Calder Willingham, Jr. I was browsing in Dogwood Books and Antiques on Broad Street and discovered a display of this author who lived in Rome and whose father owned a hotel on Broad Street. Willingham was once dubbed the father of contemporary dark comedy and was well-known among postwar novelists such as Norman Mailer, James Jones, Truman Capote who were important in the literary scene of Greenwich Village.

I had never read any of Willingham's work, but I picked up a copy of The Girl in Dogwood Cabin and began to read it. Last night I watched “Rambling Rose,” the movie script Willingham wrote for one of his novels. He was widely recognized for his work on the script for “The Graduate” also, and his novel, Eternal Fire, set in his native Rome, Georgia, established him as a major writer. Shelby Foote hailed him as “the only living American writer qualified to hold Doestoevsky’s coat in a street fight.”  Sadly, Willingham is now regarded as an under-sung American novelist and screen writer whose works are mostly found in rare and second-hand bookstores. 

Rome has also become a mecca for national industries such as Mohawk, Sara Lee, Kellogg, Suzuki and other commercial businesses. It’s another one of Georgia’s small cities that has preserved its heritage, particularly the buildings on Broad Street that are painted the colors of buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana: bright yellow, green, pink, lavender colors that accentuate the beautiful 19th century architecture.

P.S. It’s an ideal sized city with a population that equals my hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana.

Monday, October 1, 2018


Print of Frances Perea painting, The Storyteller

Yesterday afternoon amidst a cloud of family problems, delivered via telephone, I escaped to one of my usual refuges in Cowan, Tennessee — The Artisan Depot Gallery, an arts and crafts center sponsored by the Franklin County Arts Guild. It’s a small gallery facing the highway leading to Winchester, Tennessee and has the kind of atmosphere that uplifts me. The Guild provides artists in Tennessee a venue for their work in downtown Cowan and is run by members who volunteer their time to keep this gallery open. Those members organize shows and work to promote art education, including scholarships for budding artists and workshops for artists of all ages. 

Frances Perea is one of my favorite artists who exhibits her work at the gallery, and I was drawn to a wall where her "Santos" (saints) works hung. Perea was inspired by the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, and creates a variety of art that includes collage, mixed media, folk art, digital art, recycled art, and jewelry. She calls Frida Kahlo her "muse;" and a fellow member of the Artisan Depot says Perea was raised Roman Catholic, and the influence is portrayed through her Santos. She's also inspired by Latin American folk artists. One of her art shows at the Artisan Depot featured Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a traditional Mexican celebration that takes place in November and honors the spirits of the dead by inviting them to visit on that day.

I bought a happier picture, in which Perea "channeled" Kahlo’s spirit entitled "Story Teller." I stood before the work several times, absorbing the fun and light-heartedness of the rendering. It was bright, colorful, and representative of a playful spirit — just the qualities I needed to absorb. Perea keeps the originals of her work and sells only prints, along with pottery and furniture decorated with her designs.

Section of Silk Scarf created by Christi Teasley

I moved through the gallery leisurely and found a wall of silk scarves made by Christi Teasley, a Monteagle, Tennessee artist and textile creator. The scarves were products of a process called contact printing, eco-wrapping, eco-bundling, or eco-printing after an Australian artist, India Flint. The scarf that I purchased was dyed with onion, avocado pit, Japanese maple, string, alum, and iron mordant in which plants and cloth are heated, a fascinating technique also called "natural mark making" with plants on cloth. Teasley is an artist/educator who discovered the process of printing fabric as a high school student at St. Andrews Sewanee school. She continued her studies in textile dyeing at Rhode Island School of Design. She taught art at St. Andrews for many years and now teaches natural mark-making on cloth with plants at Shakerag Workshops (Sewanee) and operates Teasley Textiles, a textile design studio in Monteagle where she specializes in cloth created with ecologically-sustainable methods.

Miniature painted on rock by Diana L. Lamb

Diana L. Lamb, a member of the Artisan Depot Gallery, acted as a docent while I was browsing, and before I left, I couldn’t resist buying one of the rocks with miniature design on it that she creates. "I'm buying this," I told her, "because I admired the miniature art created by Irani artists when I lived in Iran." Lamb calls herself a craftsman, rather than an artist, but I chided her just as she had chided me when I said I wasn’t an artist. "What are you then?" she asked. "I'm a poet." She laughed and declared, "Then you’re an artist." Only one piece of Diana’s rock art had been displayed, or I probably would have bought a boxful. 

By the time I left the Artisan’s Depot, I had three pieces of art in hand, was considerably cheered, and found myself quoting a famous comment by Frida Kahlo that Frances Perea loves: "Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away."