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).

US Jones - basketweaving 2

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.

Salaam Green - Blackshur

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.

Rebecca Koontz (1)

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

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!”



I have several things to share today so get ready for a little rambling here and there through the Black Belt and beyond…

First, let me mention that our Black Belt Treasures web site will be getting a fresh new look this weekend beginning on Friday evening. Our friends at the University of Alabama have been working for several weeks to prepare for this new updated look and the unveiling will soon be presented…thank you Jackson and Shawn. Can’t wait to see the results of your labor!!!

Next, I traveled to Birmingham recently for a few days and while there decided to visit a great little shop in Homewood called Alabama Goods. You may wonder why I would mention them in my blog since in a way we are competitors. Well, I mention them because they are doing a GREAT job representing artists from across Alabama! It appeared to me that most of their artists were from the Birmingham and North Alabama area but as I was “shopping” (yes, I had to buy just a couple of great pieces!), one of our artists, LaFawnda Watson came in with a few items. LaFawnda has been a Black Belt Treasures artist for a number of years. She lives in Selma and is very involved in work with the Children’s Hands On Museum there. She recently has created jewelry from sweet potatoes. We have several pieces here at Black Belt Treasures and she was showing similar items to Sherry at Alabama Goods. I don’t know if her work was accepted by Alabama Goods because I slipped out with my purchase so as not to be in the midst of their business discussion. Regardless, we have LaFawnda’s Sweet Potato Jewelry here at Black Belt Treasures. Check it out when you have a chance. You may just find a perfect accessory to your Spring wardrobe and for sure, you will have a conversation piece!

On my way to Birmingham, my daughter and I made a visit to the campus of the University of West Alabama. Yes, I know that’s a bit out-of-the-way but it was well worth the detour! Our journey to UWA was for the purpose of attending the Black Belt Hall of Fame Induction of author Mary Ward Brown, musician Willie Earl King, and scientist/educator George Washington Carver. What a wonderful experience! The contributions of these individuals to the Black Belt region and the State of Alabama are immeasurable! I have posted a few pictures from this great event.

Rick Asheron (far left) and Debbie Bond (far right), of Alabama Blues Project with Willie Earl King's daughters following the unveiling of his plaque.

Mary Ward Brown, far right, with son, Kirtley, granddaughter, Mary Hayes, and daughter-in-law, Susanna.

Dr. Wayne Flynt and Dana Chandler, archvist, Tuskegee University, unveil George Washington Carver's plaque

I’m sure I am forgetting something so plan on hearing from me again in the near future! Until then enjoy this beautiful spring day. And, if you need a rambling experience of your own, plan a trip to the Black Belt and a visit to Black Belt Treasures. The beauty you will see along the way will amaze you!

Textile Arts Circle

Don’t you love it when you can say “I learned something new today!”? Well, that is precisely what happened for several of us who met today to form the Textile Arts Circle. Eight ladies met this morning at Black Belt Treasures with their textile/fiber projects – three knitted, one crocheted, one embroidered, one smocked, one refreshed her skill at rug hooking and ALL had a wonderful time learning and laughing (oh, and I almost forgot, eating delicious homemade chocolate chip, oatmeal, pecan cookies)!
The group plans to meet the second and fourth Thursday of each month. We talked about several projects we might like to learn together (i.e. tatting, felting) but decided for now to simply get together and enjoy the time working on our individual projects.
Join us on March 22 at 10 am. Remember this activity is FREE and totally flexible based on your schedule. If you can stay until 12 noon great!  If not, stay as long as you can. If you can’t make it on the 22nd, then join us on the second Thursday of April.
Anyone interested in starting an evening or weekend Textile Arts Circle, please let us know.

Cast-offs and Misfits

We hope you will enjoy this blog entry by one of our artists Lisa Lenox, from Montgomery. Learn more about Lisa at the end of her blog.

These little birdfeeders/sculptures are highly influenced by the same traditions that brought us bottletrees and shell-decorated graves and a few other really cool things. I have a great love affair going on these days with rusty and usually broken things – with cast-offs and misfits and just anything our society has grown weary of, whether said item has outlived it’s usefulness or not.

The African tradition of leaving something akin to a curse tied to trees around the home using found materials fascinated me. It spoke in dark, sultry words to my admittedly dark  sense of humor. And art without a sense of humor is just…something you buy in the “home” section at the local discount store. It’s pre-framed, pre-matted (if at all), and is most likely done in shades of blue and beige. (I have a whole theory of male behavior which centers around “bachelor blue and beige”- but that’s a ramble for another day).

So I find odds and ends, be it at home, at various thrift stores, or something really cool I wrestled from a large and aggressive squirrel at dad’s shop. The bird feeder/mobile/home protectors are made from found objects only. Preferably things which the family has used and abused over the years. It’s more potent that way. 😉

I twirled and twisted my odds and ends together with rusty old wire, or wire I  might have acquired  in a misbegotten way from a 4th cousin’s cow shelter down one of the last dirt roads left in the U.S., then made sure I had surfaces which birds would not be afraid to light upon and dine.

I know this piece will support smaller birds, because they have used and defiled this one personally. They are my greatest critics, and they have deemed it worthy. I have it on fairly good authority also that the birdfeeder/talisman has great juju – none shall pass without risk to life and limb, and not to mention fortune!

I trust that crossing the sacred boundary to your home will prove infinitely more difficult with these light sculptures guarding your home.

Learn about Lisa –

I was born and raised in Alabama-something which used to horrify me-but now is a source of infinite pride.  Montgomery has been my home for most of 50 years. The area in which we lived was rural – cows and horses chomped grass across the street. The man next door fished with great success – there were always incredibly large fish heads drying on his fence posts (don’t ask why – I have no clue). A murky stream ran through the property, so we girls spent a lot of time figuring out new and exciting ways to catch bigger and bigger crawfish. The Alabama River was a short ways away, and there was a civil war railroad trestle running across it. We were explorers and archeologists as well as artists.

Art lessons were not in the cards, so our trips to the library were used in large part to find books containing paintings we wanted to copy. Da Vinci was my favorite, and I became very good at copying his simple drawings.

AUM was my first true experience with the organized teaching of art. It was simultaneously intimidating and exciting. Between the art department and regular classes, I felt myself become…how do you say it?…well rounded? We’ll stick with that. Many years into my education (a stop and start affair), I found sculptural ceramics. Saying I came home as an artist is too mild a phrase, but let’s stick with it anyway. A year or so into sculptural ceramics, I discovered West African art as filtered through the culture of the South, and saw it as a heritage for not one skin color, but for all who had lived here. It has utterly suffused my work – a fact which makes me happy to no end.

I attended a lecture by Robert Thompson a long while back, and ended up buying his book, entitled “Flash of the Spirit”. Thompson unwittingly changed the way I viewed not only art, but the Southern world in which I grew up – the one which spawned and nurtured me, which up to that point had tried desperately to give me a definitive style – something of my very own to which people could point in horror and scream “Oh NO! Not again!”. Well, some do. Mostly my family, but they are a blurb for another day.

African art should speak to all of us – it is the original – it is our mother and father. If you care to look, you can find those elements in art all around you. We are all one people – something as trivial as skin color and location has only made us forget. One day we are all going to sit around a big cooking pot filled with gumbo or beans or something equally homespun, pass around cornbread and sigh as one people. There’s nothing like coming home.

Turn Your Radio On

On a wintry day in December, Anne Kimsey with the Alabama State Council on the Arts, visited the Black Belt Treasures Gallery. Anne came with the plan of recording an interview with me to be broadcast on the ASCA’s radio show sometime in January or February 2012. Anne spent a great deal of time exploring in the gallery, learning about our artists, and making notes for our interview. Finally at the conclusion of the afternoon, when all was finally quiet and everyone had gone for the day and no telephones were ringing, Anne and I sat down to begin our conversation. Let me just say, Anne is a fabulous interviewer. She was well prepared, organized, and guided me through the interview so that there were no surprises!

I hope you will tune in to the broadcast and listen, not to hear my voice, but to learn about my passion – Black Belt Treasures and Alabama’s Black Belt region’s art, culture, land, and people. I am a proud adopted daughter of the Black Belt and love to share the story of her talented people any time I am afforded the opportunity.

I recall hearing Kathryn Tucker Windham say one day a few years ago, “come and sit a spell and listen.” I invite you to stop sometime in the midst of your busy day (or night) and listen to the interview. Then feel free to share the link with a friend and help us spread the word about the wealth of talent to be found in Alabama’s Black Belt region!