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 (www.wilcoxareachamber.com), 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 http://www.margaretbarberpottery.com/about and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Margaret-Barber-Pottery/152620331426009

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 (kristin@blackbelttreasures.com). 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: http://greenecountydemocrat.com/?p=313  and http://txstage.ny.atl.publicus.com/article/20041203/TMAG07/41201008?Title=The-Basket-Maker&tc=ar

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 kristin@blackbelttreasures.com


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





Merry Christmas!

Tis the season to be jolly…and cold, and creative, and to get out and SHOP!

And Black Belt Treasures is ready to help you with all of the above!

Just walk into the store and “Jolliness” will come over you! Our region’s artists are bringing in new art every day – and holiday themed decorations, ornaments, food items, and gifts located throughout the gallery will bring a smile to your face.

Cold? Then join us for a cup of coffee while you shop…we have a variety of fresh flavored coffee’s available, or the full-flavored coffee connoisseur will enjoy a cup of french pressed coffee to warm their soul.

Feel like getting Creative? We have several art classes to choose from each week…from Adult Art Classes in Painting, Pottery, Chair Caning, and Jewelry Making to Youth Art Classes in Painting, Pottery, China Painting, and more…

Haven’t finished your Christmas Shopping yet…we have something for everyone. Our retail gallery located in historic Camden, Alabama, showcases artwork, sculpture, pottery, woodwork, baskets, jewelry, books and much more. Our Web site, www.blackbelttreasures.com, offers an opportunity to purchase many one-of-a-kind, handmade Black Belt products.


And don’t forget…all purchases are available to be gift-wrapped, proclaimed to be the most beautiful bows in town, and works of art in their own right!

Thank you – and we hope to see you soon!