A Resting Place of Quiet Solitude

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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.

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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.

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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 (www.writersforum.org).

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 www.blackbelttreasures.com.

Ramblings

                

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!