Black Belt Teaching Artists and Partners Inspire Students During 2017-18 School Year

Schools out for summer! So, we have spent some time reflecting on the 2017-18 school year.

We are so pleased with the success of arts enrichment programs provided in a number of schools across the Black Belt region through the leadership of our Black Belt Teaching Artists.  These Teaching Artists were placed to meet the specific requests of the schools’ teachers and/or administrators with the goal of inspiring students through integrating arts and the curriculum.

Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center (BBTCAC) Art Programs Director Kristin Law coordinates the Black Belt Teaching Artists program. She was assisted this year by Jo Taylor and Stephanie Wilkins, both former classroom teachers, who have worked as DeltaCorps Service Members. The DeltaCorps program is a partnership of AmeriCorps and Delta Regional Authority which provides service corps members to impact change in communities across the Mississippi Delta and Alabama’s Black Belt region. Jo and Stephanie have been instrumental in coordinating the placement of Black Belt Teaching Artists in schools and with community partners during 2017-18.

All of these programs would not be possible without the support of community partners and BBTCAC’s generous funding partners like the Black Belt Community Foundation (BBCF), Community Foundation of South Alabama (CFSA), and ALA-Tom RC&D; with Teaching Artist training support through the Alabama Arts Alliance and the Alabama State Council on the Arts. In addition, education grants were provided to individual schools and school systems through Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Alabama Arts Education Initiative (AAEI).

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On December, 15 2017 four Black Belt Teaching Artists, Kristin Law, Sheila Hull, Stephanie Wilkins, and Jo Taylor arrived at Camden School of Arts and Technology in Wilcox County to demonstrate and teach the students various visual arts mediums.  Seventh and Eighth Grade students were taught watercolor and acrylic painting techniques, printmaking, and hand built pottery making techniques.

The photo below shows examples of clay faces that were created during Kristin Law’s lesson on face jugs.  This program was made possible thanks to a grant by the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Alabama Arts Education Initiative (AAEI) to Wilcox County School System.

Camden School of Arts & Technology - Face Jugs (2)

Various face jugs created by the students of the Camden School of Arts and Technology

In early February, Vassie Welbeck Brown was placed at Southside High school in Dallas County to teach, inspire, and model theatrical skills to the high-school drama team.  Photographs below are of Vassie in action! This program was made possible thanks to a grant by the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Alabama Arts Education Initiative (AAEI) to Dallas County School System.

On February 8, 2018, Emily Blejwas, author of Once You Know This, visited J.E. Hobbs Elementary School and Wilcox Academy to discuss the book and the writing and publishing process. The children shared their excitement following this program, and that they were greatly inspired by a “really famous author”. These programs were made possible through a grant by the Black Belt Community Foundation (BBCF) and ALA-Tom RC&D.

Also in February, 2018, Donna Pickens traveled to Dallas County’s Southside High School to teach and help the students create a mural that is now proudly on display for all to enjoy at Southside High School.  This program was made possible thanks to a grant by the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Alabama Arts Education Initiative (AAEI) to Dallas County School System. We are forever grateful for their support and funding to make these art instruction classes possible!

Sam Williams and Salaam Green made guest appearances at the Monroeville Elementary School for the Pre-K to Fourth Grade classes on May 11th.  Sam instructed students in crafting creative clay animals, while Salaam emphasized the southern tradition of storytelling.  Both guests were exciting and fun for all ages to learn from!  Thank you to the Community Foundation of South Alabama (CFSA) for providing a grant allowing these instructors to teach and demonstrate art to the students of Monroeville Elementary School!

On March 16th – Students from Selma’s Southside High School visited Gee’s Bend in Boykin, Alabama to learn about the quilt mural trail, the art of quilt-making from the Gee’s Bend Quilters, and watch the Gee’s Bend Play, which was performed by local actresses and actors from Boykin, Alabama.  This program was made possible thanks to a grant by the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Alabama Arts Education Initiative (AAEI) to Dallas County School System.

On May 14th and the 15th – Linda Munoz instructed and taught the Third Grade class of R.C. Hatch in Uniontown, Alabama (Perry County) the art of creating a quilt inspired mosaic.  Students enjoyed collaborating and creating a cohesive pattern using colorful glass tiles with Linda.  Thank you to the Black Belt Community Foundation (BBCF) for making this program possible.

Salaam Greene (pictured), Emilie Oglesby, and Sam Williams visited Uriah, Alabama Blacksher School third grade class on May 11th.  Emilie taught the students mixed media while Salaam enthralled students with the art of storytelling. Sam taught the Third Graders how to create imaginative, small, clay animals.  Thank you to the Community Foundation of South Alabama for their contribution to BBTCAC for  arts education in Alabama’s rural counties.

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Salaam Green entertaining the students with exciting stories!

On May 7th – 9th and May 14th Rebecca Koontz visited with the Third Graders at Greensboro Elementary School (Hale County) and created African masks and Wayne Thiebaud inspired food paintings.  The children enjoyed creating colorful masks and using media such as watercolor, to create a food inspired work of art. Thank you to the Black Belt Community Foundation (BBCF) for their contribution to BBTCAC for continued arts education  programming across Alabama’s Black Belt region.

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On May 2, Black Belt artists Andrew McCall, Kristin Law, and Jo Taylor led an Arts Immersion Day at Camden School of Arts and Technology’s.  The students enjoyed hands-on learning and watched Andrew demonstrate basket weaving, Kristin demonstrate wheel throwing, and printmaking with Jo Taylor.  This program was made possible thanks to a grant by the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Alabama Arts Education Initiative (AAEI) to Wilcox County School System.


The week of May 14th through 18th, Black Belt artists, Kristin Law and Jo Taylor taught students at Southside High School in Dallas County the art of relief printing.  The students learned several different techniques and created an assortment of original prints. This program was made possible thanks to a grant by the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Alabama Arts Education Initiative (AAEI) to Dallas County School System.

On May 14th and 15th Vassie Welbeck Brown (Storytree Company) entertained Pre-K – Third Grade Students at J.E. Hobbs Elementary School in Wilcox County.  Vassie’s animated and expressive stories captured the students and inspired the youth to understand the heritage and art of storytelling. During this time, Internationally acclaimed folk artist Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas led children in making their own folk art inspired sculptures. These programs were made possible thanks to a grant by the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Alabama Arts Education Initiative (AAEI) to Wilcox County School System.

Last but not least, BBTCAC has enjoyed a partnership with Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts this summer by hosting Living Democracy Fellow Laura Agee, a Camden native. Laura has engaged in building community through the arts! If you would like to read her weekly articles about Camden and people who are making a difference, visit

And just because it is summer…do not expect our staff and Black Belt Teaching Artists to be enjoying a vacation…

We have been busy with Summer Art Camps, arts enrichment programs (in partnership with Wilcox Artworks) at BAMA Kids and the Camden Community Youth Development Center, training sessions in preparation for the 2018-19 school year, and will be hosting an arts integration workshop for Black Belt area School Administrators in late July.

If you would like to learn more about joining our arts enrichment efforts as a Teaching Artist or Volunteer – please contact Kristin Law, Art Programs Director, at (334) 682-9878 or


#BlackBeltArt     #CultivatingArt

#DeltaCorps     #DeltaRegional     @DeltaRegional

#CamdenAL    #BlackBeltAlabama     #BAMAKids

@AULiberalArts    @DMCforCivicLife     #AULivingDemocracy

#ArtsAdvocacy     #ArtsEducation     #ALArtsAlliance

We’re Going on a Learning Journey…to NC!


Building Communities Through Craft

Sometimes, you see something and you just have that feeling. you know you share a connection. you just know…

We had that feeling when we first encountered Asheville, North Carolina’s HandMade in America. Now, don’t get me wrong, HandMade In America isn’t a new revelation to us at Black Belt Treasures. It was a model from the very beginning, and I have personally dreamed about visiting HMIA, Penland, and John C. Campbell Folk School for YEARS!!! But when we began working with Melissa Levy and her associates at Yellow Wood two years ago, we began looking at the HandMade model a little more closely. And we got that feeling.

And a few months ago, we learned we would have the opportunity to take a Learning Journey to North Carolina (thank you to Yellow Wood Associates and Deb Markley with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, and to the Community Foundation of South Alabama) and that feeling grew. We knew we were heading to hallowed ground, and that the future of Black Belt Treasures would spark from this journey.

Our Learning Journey is only a week away. We have assembled our team of creative leaders and partners from around the Black Belt Region. In addition to Sulynn Creswell (BBTCAC Executive Director), Judy Martin (BBTCAC Arts Outreach Coordinator) and myself (Art Programs & Marketing Director) We have partners from higher learning institutions, area community foundations, economic development specialists, artists, arts councils, and city leaders. We have a loaded itinerary (specifically designed for us by the HMIA staff) of sites ready and willing to share their successes and challenges with us. We are all doing our homework and researching all of the sites, and that feeling and excitement is growing. Read more about their Small Town Program here …

HandMade In America began their journey in 1995. “HandMade in America grows economies through craft and creative placemaking, transforming both individuals and communities through education, entrepreneurship and economic development. HandMade in America has a 19-year tradition for pioneering innovative ways to empower the people and towns of Western North Carolina through programs that educate and facilitate the needs of creative entrepreneurs and communities.”

Black Belt Treasures began it’s journey in 2005.”Black Belt Treasures’s Mission is to help stimulate the economy in Alabama’s Black Belt region through the promotion of regional art and fine crafts, provide regional artisans a means to promote and sell their products to a larger market, and provide arts education to area residents. Our Goals are to allow artists to promote their products to larger markets than most have been able to reach, through a gallery shop and e-commerce website; Provide arts education through art classes and courses, as well as exhibits and demonstrations.”

We share similar goals, we share similar visions. This is an exciting time in our Black Belt Region – we have a wealth of cultural heritage, artists, craftsmen, agricultural artists, natural enthusiasts, and passionate people ready and willing to take the lead for change through Creative Placemaking (remember this term or learn more at …

Where will this Learning Journey take us? What ideas will be sparked, what partnerships will be born, where will this journey lead?

We will leave Alabama on Sunday, June 1st and return to Alabama on Sunday, June 8th, 2014. Join us for pictures and more as we share inspirations from our journey each day.

Let’s Build OUR Creative Black Belt together – one county, one artist, one journey at a time!


kristin law

Kristin Law
BBTCAC Art Programs & Marketing Director


Black Belt Treasures Hog Wild For Arts Event

Black Belt Treasures Hog Wild For Arts Event

Black Belt Treasures will host its annual Hog Wild for Art Festival on Saturday, April 26, 2014, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., featuring kids art activities, demonstrations by artists and craftsmen from across the Black Belt region of Alabama, along with a cooking demonstration with acclaimed chef and cookbook author Scott Wilson.

In addition, the Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce will be hosting the Mark Curl Memorial 4th Annual BBQ Cook-Off in historic downtown Camden (, while Wilcox ArtWorks will be host to its 3rd Annual Juried Art Show (at Black Belt Treasures).

Guest Artist: Montgomery County Potter Margaret Barber

Each month, Black Belt Treasures Blog will invite one of it’s artists to share their thoughts and experiences about living and creating in Alabama’s Black Belt with you…

This month, we would like to introduce you to Margaret Barber. Barber was born and raised in Mississippi, but currently lives in Montgomery, AL. She credits the South and its natural beauty and the creek beds of Mississippi for shaping and influencing her life and work. As a clay artist, she finds joy and satisfaction in making a vessel from clay; satisfaction in knowing the piece is being used, and hopefully, incorporated into someone’s daily routine of life. “Joy is found in the making, embellishing, remembering; remembering  my grandma’s perseverance and the sheer joy of a walk in the woods with my granddad.” Margaret graduated from the Mississippi University for Women in 1986 with a BFA.  “For years, my love of art was pursued through ad agencies, in magazine production, and in jewelry design, before realizing that my desire for producing clay vessels was pulling me back toward those creek beds in Mississippi.”

As you wind around the tight corners of Conley Ridge Rd, you wonder if you’re going to make it before a heavy duty truck runs you off the road….the stress from the tight roads and  other demands of life melt away as you turn into Penland’s  property…The morning mist rises away from the lush fields and trees to reveal a stunning meadow with braided grass plaited by one of the students.  Homemade bread scents the air as students gather to share ideas and stories as well as a meal at ‘The Pines’ which also houses  a sweet little coffee shop.  The experience of place, the experience of stimulating atmosphere, the natural scenery, other artists, instructors, wonderful food, slide lectures in the evenings as well as impromptu banjo playing and singing, EVERYTHING worked to build an exciting and career changing experience for me.

Beautiful plant species in Penland's gardens

Beautiful plant species in Penland’s gardens

As a group of twenty, our class varied in experience, age, and reasons for attending.   We had an 80 year old Southern gentleman, (who brought three of his grandchildren to take classes as well).   We had twenty year old college students between graduation and grad school.  There were men, women, teachers, studio potters, a biologist, a real estate agent, all completely devoted to the two weeks of work, sweat, some intense learning and hopefully, the making of some beautiful pots.  The common thread is that we all love and work with clay.

Shot of class cup project the first few days of class

Shot of class cup project the first few days of class

Over the two week period, twenty folks made enough work to fill and fire (may have been more) three soda kilns and two salt kilns, along with the three chamber climbing wood fired gal,  we had all come to experience, named Rosie! If you work in clay and realize how many pots it takes to fill a regular sized propane fired kiln, our class made a LOT OF WORK!  Firing the soda and salt kilns were exciting and a huge learning experience for me. I only fire electric kilns, and my firing experience was very limited in college.

A shot of Rosie before she was loaded

A shot of Rosie before she was loaded

Firing Rosie...the noborigama

Firing Rosie…the noborigama

The anagama firing was also new for me.  Until attending Penland,  I had only ‘watched’ a wood firing. It was an experience I wasn’t really prepared for.  It is a huge amount of work and required a team approach.  We started a small fire in mouth of the firebox on sunday afternoon, and by late sunday evening, they moved it back farther into the kiln.  We were firing the noborigama! The workshop participants worked as a machine, tireless, reliable, everyone working a four hour shift, overlapping…for THREE DAYS!  We were serious; there was too much hard work in that kiln to risk losing it.  The kiln devoured wood stoke after stoke. By the end of the firing, the call for more wood was a dreaded sound.  But on  Wednesday  morning when witness cone 12 bent, Richard and Joe determined Rosie was fat and happy.  The unloading had to wait until Rosie cooled off….FRIDAY morning, we were shoveling out ash and coals from the firebox, careful not to melt our shoes.

Second chamber of the noborigama...loaded before ware was fired

Second chamber of the noborigama…loaded before ware was fired

Second chamber of kiln after firing and before we unloaded...

Second chamber of kiln after firing and before we unloaded…

The interior of the first chamber was still probably a couple hundred degrees.  We had to put boards down on the floor and sides so we could take out the shelves and wares.  It was like christmas morning!  Beautiful  flashing from the flames licking the pots…the ash settled on the heads and shoulders of pots and layered plates with a solid gooey looking lava!  The second chamber was just as beautiful with different qualities. There were more red browns and less ash. The third chamber had been given a good dose of salt at cone 12, and boy did that do its magic!  The salt introduced into Rosie’s belly belched and volitized to leave little spots where the flames blew the salt and ash along and out the flue.

Now the real commitment came. All the work had been removed from the kiln.  The excitement of opening the kiln was waning, and the reality set in that ALL the shelves and  posts had to be scraped, sanded and kiln wash reapplied, and there was a load of wood to be split and stacked for the next class coming in…wow!  Everyone was tired, but the group persevered.  I was working with some very good people.  It was reassuring to me that I had chosen my career wisely.  Creating with clay, participating in the firing and knowing the  potential permanence of the work of one’s hands is truly satisfying.  I can’t wait to build a (much smaller) soda kiln of my own!

Margaret stoking the big kiln!

Margaret stoking the big kiln!

Thanks for the opportunity to share my voice!

Margaret Barber

Margaret Barber

Margaret Barber

You can find Margaret’s pottery for sale in Black Belt Treasures’ Gallery (209 Claiborne Street in Camden, AL) or on her website at and on Facebook at

An Artist, A Folklorist & A Monk Walk Into A Barn…

Yes, really.

There is no punchline…just a short little story .

Last Tuesday, as I arrived at St. Bernard’s Abbey & Conference Center in Cullman, Alabama for the 2013 Alabama Community Scholars Institute, we went on a tour of the campus with  Br. Brendan Seipal, O.S.B.. We were supposed to go for a walking tour, but thankfully Br. Brendan suggested we take the golf cart due to the 98 degree heat. If you have never visited St. Bernard’s Abbey, I highly recommend it for your next meeting, conference, or retreat. They welcome “people of all ages and faiths…to find here a place of peace, joy and refreshment.”

During the tour, we stopped at the old dairy barn (which has been beautifully ‘re-purposed’ as a theater and event space) where…An Artist (me), a Folklorist (actually 2 – Joey Brackner from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and Mary Allison Haynie from the Alabama Folklife Association), an Educator (Wanda Robertson from University of North Alabama, and a monk (Br. Brendan) walked into a barn. (Ok. I know, the old joke takes you into a ‘bar’ and not a ‘barn’ – but…)

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We continued our tour of St. Bernards Abbey with a tour of the Ava Maria Grotto with it’s manager and the artist behind a large portion of the sculptures, Mr. Leo Schwaiger. This was my first visit to the Grotto, and it was so much more than I ever imagined. The sculptures and buildings are true Folk Art. Everywhere you look there are stones, seashells, marbles, re-purposed copper plumbing materials, and miniature hand-carved stonework. From the small roadside shrines, to Roman Basilicas, to Noah’s Ark, to the Great Wall of China – the grotto is filled with miniature works of art, each complimented with the most beautiful landscaping of ferns, flowers, and succulents (headed by Mrs. Schwaiger).

My words cannot begin to describe the beauty – that is why I carry my camera everywhere I go….

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Leo graciously shared many stories about how the grotto was created, while showing us the works he had ‘looked after’ since taking over the work in 1963 from Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey. We learned SO much more about Leo on Friday…and once we finish editing our interview, I promise to share. Until then, you can view a short video clip of our tour HERE.

This was all fun, educational, and beautiful…but why were we there?

The Alabama Community Scholars Institute  is part of the educational programming offered by the Alabama Folklife Association, and is graciously sponsored by the Alabama State Council on the Arts. ACSI is “a training program for people and professionals who want to research, document and present various aspects of Alabama’s traditional culture—the music, food, crafts, stories, celebrations, work traditions, etc., of their own communities.”

This is a huge part of what Black Belt Treasures does on a daily basis. We are collecting and sharing our regions rich culture. We are helping to revive the arts, crafts, stories, traditions, and cultural treasures of the Black Belt and pass them on to a new generation. We are teaching people to take what they have, what they have learned, use their natural talents and resources to make what they need, what they can share, and what can hopefully bring some sustainable income to themselves and their communities.

The Black Belt region is filled with stories. Everyone here has a story to tell.

We are trying to find ways to capture those stories from our artists and craftsmen for many current and future purposes…recording the stories for future generations,  for helping artists market their own work, for sharing these stories with those ‘outside’ our region, for improving the image of the Black Belt, and for many other purposes.

Each story is different, but each story tells so much about our region, our art, our communities and culture…and ourselves!

At the ACSI we enjoyed some amazing guest speakers…

We learned Best Practices and techniques from Kevin Nutt (Folklife Archivist at ADAH)

We learned Best Practices and techniques from Kevin Nutt (Folklife Archivist at ADAH)

We learned about current audio and visual recording technology from ASCA's Steve Grauberger.

We learned about current audio and visual recording technology from ASCA’s Steve Grauberger.


We learned about using social media tools to share our region’s stories with the amazing and fabulous Ginger of “Deep Fried Kudzu.”                                            Speaking of…I found this great cartoon the other day (below) that really explains how to use all of the different social media sites.


We learned to conduct our own Oral History Interviews - which each came with their own exciting lessons, experiences, and stories! We had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Boyd, who is both an Education Specialist AND a very successful Truck Farmer!

We learned to conduct our own Oral History Interviews – which each came with their own exciting lessons, experiences, and stories! We had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Boyd, who is both an Education Specialist AND a very successful Truck Farmer! Read more about Mr. Boyd HERE1015721_10200934823469242_786483648_o 

We got to tour some wonderful sites in Cullman – which is steeped in a rich German heritage and home to North Alabama AgriplexPeinhardt Living History Farm, and the Cullman County Museum, beautiful churches, and a thriving historic downtown district filled with unique locally owned shops and businesses.  “Well known to the state of Alabama for economic contributions in agriculture, Cullman is the center of trade and commerce for a vast collection of century and heritage farms that spread across the surrounding landscape.”

Peinhardt Living History Farm…

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Downtown Cullman…

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The Churches…

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 And of course…we enjoyed some great food… You cannot go anywhere in the south without learning what food that region is known for! And in Cullman we experienced BBQ from historic Johnny’s BBQ, German traditional sweets from our friends at Peinhardt Farms, a fabulous variety of fresh vegetables at St. Bernards Abbey (note the yellow, orange, and purple carrots below), and the piece de resistance – steak, orange rolls, and lemon pie from All Steak! Yum…

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“The genius of a folk melody or story [or art] is not the feeling that it’s original, but quite the opposite – the feeling that it has existed all along!”
~ American journalist, Susan Orlean

All in all it was a GREAT week. I returned to Black Belt Treasures with a better understanding of how to begin on our upcoming Black Belt Quilt Trail inventory, how to conduct interviews and assessments along the way, and enough inspiration, motivation, and ideas to last a few years! I made new friends who are working on similar projects across the state and into Mississippi who I know we will be sharing ideas and stories with soon.

So…if you know any Black Belt area quilters, historic quilts, or quilting guilds – please let me know ( We are looking to stitch together our collective quilt heritage, weave our stories together, and spread this quilting experience across our nineteen counties. We need community volunteers to help us collect and inventory these histories, to record the stories, and document our quilting heritage! If you have the time, enthusiasm, and desire to help us – we would love to have you!

Thank you for listening – and I hope to see you soon at Black Belt Treasures, attending one of our art classes, volunteering, attending Black Belt Reads book club, visiting our cultural arts partners, or supporting the arts and culture of Alabama’s Black Belt in your own unique way!

Thank You!

kristin law

kristins signature

Kristin C. Law
Arts Programs & Marketing Manager
Black Belt Treasures

Give Art A Try!

When I signed on to work for Black Belt Treasures in November 2004, I never imagined the artistic journey that lay ahead in the next eight years.

I have enjoyed visiting artists in almost all nineteen counties of our region.  It is amazing to see the ideas and the use of materials that exists in our Black Belt.  There are hundreds at work and it would take days to tell you about all of them.

While visiting with Odessa Rice in Mantua and enjoying her comfortable home and gracious hospitality, we chatted about her pine needle baskets and her plans for the upcoming Black Roots Festival in Eutaw.  Ms. Odessa is in her nineties but continues to use a fine twine and pine needles to create her masterpieces.  I pleaded my case for making a long drive, and really needing baskets, so she let me pick six or so for Black Belt Treasures. The rest she saved for the Roots festival.  Her remarkable example reminds me as a senior citizen to just keep on keeping on.

rice basket[Read more about Odessa Rice at:  and

Recently I drove to Marion Junction to see Freddie Epp and his lovely wife and daughter.  Freddie is now in his eighties and a member of the Field Trail Hall of Fame.  He is highly respected in the hunting dog world, but that is not all he does.  He designs and creates beautiful wooden art from fallen wood on his farm property.  Those items have been selling well at Black Belt Treasures and he was generous enough to donate a lovely clock for our silent auction this year. The last time I stopped by, he had visitors from Wisconsin, but was hard at work making a table for a wedding gift.

Black Belt Treasures, is working on art trails for our region and a Black Belt Quilt Trail is to be first.  Emily Blejwas from AU Economic Development Institute is helping, and Kristin Law (BBT) is doing an inventory of places to visit related to quilting.  If you know of anything, or anyone, that needs to be added to the list, please let her know. You can contact her at Black Belt Treasures at


Just a few blocks from my home in Marion, Ms. Mattie, Ms. Eunice, and four or five other ladies are preparing to be part of the trail.  They quilt every Tuesday on the campus of the former LincolnNormal School in a room that the UA Honors College have made more comfortable.  Each quilter has her own preference for technique, style, and colors and that is what makes quilting an exciting art.

I will tell you more about our artists another time.

By now you probably realize how much I admire our senior artists who overcome age and all the aches and pain that comes with aging.  It is art that gives them purpose and vibrancy.  Everyone can learn from them, so I suggest that if you are tired of television and depressing news channels, that you give art a try!


Judy Martin
Outreach Coordinator,
Black Belt Treasures





Celebration of the Arts

An evening of WOW moments!

That is how I would describe the Alabama State Council on the Arts Celebration of the Arts Awards Ceremony last week in Montgomery.

ducks at Shakespeare FestivalFirst of all, the setting could not have been more perfect – the Alabama Shakespeare Theater…beginning with the ducks swimming in the fountain outside! Every detail had been planned to perfection with the honorees seated in the balcony over looking the grand affair as if we were at the Kennedy Center Awards. For almost two hours, we were entertained with spectacular music from pop to folk and sacred harp, dance, dramatic readings, theater, and vocal performance. The most inspiring and meaningful parts of the evening were video clips of each awardee describing their contributions to the Arts in Alabama. Each have invested their lives first of all, in their individual passions and then in making “their Alabama” a better place in which to live through the arts.

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Congratulations to the awardees:

The Jonnie Dee Riley Little Lifetime Achievement Award:
Lyndra Daniel, Birmingham

The Alabama Distinguished Artist Award:
Rick Bragg, Piedmont

The Governor’s Art Award:

Gordon & Geri Moulton, Mobile

Jean Prescott Pierce, Birmingham

Sonia Sanchez, Birmingham

Kitty Seale, Montgomery

Dr. Wayne Flynt, Auburn

The Alabama Folk Heritage Award: 
Excelsior Band, Mobile

The Special Council Legacy Award:
Senator J. T. “Jabo” Waggoner, Birmingham

To read more about each of these honorees – please visit the following links:

For an online copy of Alabama Arts Magazine:

Alabama Writers Forum article on the honorees: news article:


Until next time,

Sulynn's Signature smaller
Sulynn Creswell, Director

Black Belt Treasures

A Resting Place of Quiet Solitude


Last Friday dawned bright and clear, but by mid-afternoon rain clouds were looming above the St. Wilfrid’s Episcopal Church in Marion, Alabama. Memories flooded my mind as I walked up the drive to take my place in one of the pews. Years before, as a college student, I had been given a drawing assignment which led me to the small cemetery behind the church. It is a place of quiet, solitude shaded beneath huge, old oak trees. I remember the peace I felt sitting in that place all those years ago – listening to the sounds of birds chirping, squirrels scampering, and the wind blowing gently through the branches of the trees. On this day I returned, not to complete a creative endeavor, but to celebrate the life of a literary treasure of Alabama’s Black Belt.


Many gathered…joining me with the same mission in mind…the celebration of the life of our friend, Mary Ward Brown. For some the relationship with her ran deep and wide, while others like me, had experienced brief encounters with this precious woman. All, however, had been touched profoundly by her gentle spirit, loving kindness, creative words, and transparency. Although, most of her days were spent quite simply on her family farm in Perry County, Mary T. (as she was called by many), was a friend to everyone. Our mutual friend, Carol Ann Vaughan Cross, wrote recently, “I loved her mutual admiration society with so many wonderful authors, artists, musicians, historians and “plain folk,” although she was anything but plain.” This was so very obvious to me, as I sat in the church last Friday afternoon. I saw representatives of Judson College (where she graduated in 1938), the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Auburn University at Montgomery, the University of West Alabama, the Black Belt Hall of Fame, and the Alabama’s Writer’s Forum as well as photographers, artists, writers, farmers, a veterinarian, a doctor, young people whom she had mentored, lifelong friends;  and of course, there was her son, daughter-in-law and beloved granddaughters. A church filled to capacity – a testament to this dear mother, grandmother, colleague, and friend who had invested her life so well. Her roots ran deep in this land we call the Black Belt, truly her presence, wisdom, and talent will be missed. Farewell dear friend.

Goodbye Buttermilk Sky

Just thought I would share a press release about an upcoming event (see below). Hope you can join us as welcome Julia Oliver to Black Belt Treasures!

Julia Oliver, author of Goodbye Buttermilk Sky, will be the featured guest during a Black Belt Reads event at Black Belt Treasures on Thursday, April 12, from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m. Oliver, a resident of Montgomery, is the author of four books, numerous articles and short stories, as well as three award-winning stage plays.

Julia Oliver began writing fiction in the mid-1980s, when her youngest child was in college. The next few years brought encouraging recognition: several stories were accepted by literary magazines (including Ascent, Southern Humanities Review, and the Chattahoochee Review); her story “The Ritual,” won first place in a competition judged by Ernest Gaines; and she wrote stage plays that received production awards. Oliver’s 1993 collection of fifteen short stories, Seventeen Times as High as the Moon, was a fiction finalist in the Alabama Library Association Awards. Her 1994 novel, Goodbye to the Buttermilk Sky, became a selection of Book-of-the-Month Club’s Quality Paperback Series. She later wrote her third book and second novel, Music of Falling Water followed by her fourth book Devotion: A Novel Based on the Life of Winnie Davis, Daughter of the Confederacy. She has also written a stage play based on the life of Montgomery Civil Rights activist Juliette Hampton Morgan. Her column, “The Literary Scene,” appears on the third Sunday of the month in The Montgomery Advertiser. Her reviews are posted on the Alabama Writers Forum website (

In an interview, Oliver stated, “I loved to write from the time I could wield a pencil, and studied creative writing at the University of Alabama while earning a Bachelor of Music degree. But my dream was to become a concert pianist. I briefly attended Juilliard before deciding that traveling around to perform in high school auditoriums was not for me. I came back to Alabama to teach music in Montgomery, where I subsequently married and had part-time careers as a journalist and communications consultant while rearing a family. I believe I had what Flannery O’Connor called “the habit of art” when I applied myself, at a very tender age, to the discipline of learning to play the piano. I had a similar mindset when I began to write fiction. Years of reading selectively and analytically equipped me to think like a writer before I became one.” Her column “The Literary Scene” appears on the third Sunday of the month in the Montgomery Advertiser. Her reviews are posted on the Alabama Writers’ Forum website.  Her reviews are posted on the Alabama Writers’ Forum website. Her column “The Literary Scene” appears on the third Sunday of the month in the Montgomery Advertiser. Her reviews are posted on the Alabama Writers’ Forum website.

Black Belt Treasures is a non-profit organization with the mission of promoting the many talented artists, craftsmen, authors, and musicians from the Black Belt region and of representing their products to larger markets via a gallery shop and an e-commerce website.  Beginning in 2005 with seventy-five artists, there are now over 350 artists representing nineteen counties in Alabama’s Black Belt region. The Black Belt Treasures Gallery is located in historic downtown Camden (Wilcox County) at 209 Claiborne Street. Goodbye Buttermilk Sky and Devotion are available through Black Belt Treasures, (334)682-9878 or

Black Belt Living

Writing a blog is something I never envisioned myself doing. As a matter of fact, I never expected to write more that a quick note on a sticky note. I do more writing at this point in my life than I EVER thought I would do! As a college freshman in my first semester, I actually did not do well in English composition. Oh, I passed but I certainly did not make a grade of which I could speak proudly. You see we were given creative writing assignments that semester and my mind just doesn’t think in those terms. If you want to know about the blue sky, then I can give you exact details but don’t expect me to find a whole imaginary story in what I see when I look up. My creative juices flow in totally different ways. With all that said, while I don’t consider myself to be much of a writer, I have come to appreciate good writing when I read it. AND, reading is something I love to do!

This morning when browsing through Facebook a friend shared a link to Black Belt Living magazine and a blog written by Al Blanton on Perry County resident Creg Rinehart. I remembered Creg from the ten years I lived in Marion so I decided to take a glimpse at the article. Instead of a quick glance, I became enthralled with the fabulous story Al had written about Creg and his impact on his community and the many students he has interacted with over the years. The story is great. I really suggest you take the time to read it.

If you aren’t familiar with the Black Belt Living magazine, check-out the website Al Blanton and his staff are doing a great job sharing the stories of the Black Belt with a focus on her people and places.

The April issue of Black Belt Living features articles about potter Allen Ham, writer/curator Jean Martin, faciliator Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson, photogapher Jerry Siegel,musician Quentin Lane, and bookstore owner Charlie Fleherty. Visit the web site for subscription information or to register to receive Al’s blog.

Once again today, I have been reminded of this rich place which I now call home – the Black Belt. Its richness is seen not only in its soil, the amazing art its people create, but in the every day life of its people. The sense of community here is amazing, friendships run deep, celebration of small successes is shared by all, and the heritage of creativity and determination is something which is often taken for granted but is definitely a part of what makes this place strong and vibrant! True enough, there are challenges – poverty, unemployment, racial divides BUT at the end of the day for me the positives far outweigh negatives! And, again today I am proud to say, “I am an adopted daughter of the Black Belt!”