Mother Goose is my Muse

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In the crook of a road in Wabaco, Kentucky sits the Mother Goose House.   George Stacy built her over 60 years ago. This folk art house has been in my life well…. like forever. She is my muse. The house is pretty famous now. The goose has even been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Throughout the years, many artists have painted and sketched her. She has been represented on pillows and t-shirts as well.   I think I may be the first person to capture her likeness in clay.

A few years ago while I was studying ceramic design in art school, she inspired a series of ceramic casserole vessels that I made. My professor said: “Don’t go in that direction” and so I Did go in that direction. I sold these vessels all over Hazard, especially at the Black Gold Festival.   I have slowed down making them but still managed to create a few handmade gooses every year for special orders.   I recently added this sweet little goose ornament to the collection.

The Mother Goose collection is handmade and made to order. I can’t guarantee that you will have them in time for the holidays, especially the casseroles but I will try my darndest!

Contact me

cleo and mother goose

Photo op with Cleo and the goose

goose xmas

Sweet little goose adorning the Christmas tree. Ornament $10.00 + shipping

Mother goose casserole server on the shelf

Mother goose casserole server on the shelf. $60.00 + shipping

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Sorghum Narrative

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I made a small sculpture for an exhibition called Womanhood Inshrined.    A shrine is a holy and sacred place dedicated to a deity, a figure of awe and wonder.   My shrine is a simple box with birds perched on top and etched images of winged creatures in sorghum fields. A doll lays next to the shrine with tiny charms sewn into her dress.

This little shrine is inspired by meadows, fields  and houses with peeling wall paper.  Driving down roads throughout eastern North Carolina, I see fields in every direction.  There is a story in this land.  I imagine those stories as I pass weathered trees, tiny family grave yards and abandoned farm houses.   The truth is making a connection to the flat landscape of eastern NC has been a compelling journey  for me.  I love envisioning the stories in this remote and scrubby place.

Serving Up Stories

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I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus for the past few months. Life has been full and busy with museum work, summer vacation for my children and a whole ménage of other things including some trips to see my family.

When I started writing this blog last year I wanted it to include stories about life and family.  The inspiration came in a few ways.   Southerners have a gift for telling stories.  My family is no different.  My ancestors have lived in the south for…well… FOREVER.  Especially Kentucky. So we know how to tell a good story.   These narratives have come in the form of letters from Civil War ancestors to recent emails from my brothers.  I have been raised on stories  told by my mother who was  a bank teller for many years and came home after work with the latest community gossip and by my father who shared  adventures and mishaps at Patsy Jane, our family coal mine.

I love to write and I love visual art, so I guess it is fitting that I have a passion to carry on this story telling  tradition.    Writing is a great thing to multi task in between work, doing laundry, driving kids to activities and after dinner.  But lately I have been putting my writing aside and resurrecting my love for clay.  With an exhibition coming up this fall, I am busy creating ceramic functional work.  Incised into these bowls, tumblers, serving dishes and containers are narratives in the form of visual poems.  Three things I love are coming together: stories, clay and food.

The inedible accoutrements that we use for meals plays a role in how we taste and perceive food.  I recently heard on NPR a report from the journal Flavour about researchers who studied  how spoons, knives and other utensils we put in our mouths can provide their own kind of “mental seasoning” for a meal.  We all set a common table whether we are rich or poor or from whatever region we call home.  We make and serve our food in pots, pans, serving dishes that can range from a lucky find at T.J. Maxx to our grandmother’s beloved Sunday china.

I can’t think of a better way to receive a story than having it be the vehicle that serves our meals.

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The fairly mouse girl has a little bit of my Nanna in her. Bowl in progress!

Relics

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I have a doll.  Her name is Rosebud. 

She was given to me when I was ten years old after my Great Aunt Elizabeth passed away.    Elizabeth, known in my family as Aunt Wooba, lived in Hazard where she taught school. She was a teacher who ruled her students with an iron fist.  I know this because over the years, whenever I return home, someone occasionally tells me a story about her devilish antics directed towards children.  Wooba was born in Pineville Kentucky in 1893.   She had seven sisters and one brother, including my grandmother, Charlotte.    My grandmother’s family was comprised of eccentric musical women.  The sisters played instruments and went to college with the exception of my pianist grandmother. Wooba never married, although my father told me she was once courted by a taxi cab driver from Asheville, but other than her taxi driver suitor, she was a spinster who followed my grandmother to Hazard in the 1920’s.

As a child, I remember many times riding in the car with my mother and brothers and gazing out the window and seeing Wooba walking around town with her arms full of groceries or sometimes pushing a dilapidated shopping cart, heading up the ivy wrapped hill to her house on Sunset Street.  When my Mom saw Wooba walking, she would breath in deeply, stop and give Wooba a ride home.  My brothers and I watched Wooba with fascination as she talked about her afternoon adventures, which usually included an altercation with someone such as the check out girl at Bell’s Grocery Store.  At the end of the ride, Wooba tried to give money to my mother for the trip home.   My mom always refused. It was a choreographed interaction I observed so many times until one afternoon when we picked Wooba up in front of Jerry’s Restaurant.  It was a humid summers day, the kind of day where my bare thighs melted into the vinyl seat of my parent’s Buick. In the torment of having three children fussing in the car, the drive to Wooba’s house up the hill felt like an eternity to my exhausted mother.  So when Wooba pushed the wrinkled dollar bills into my Mother’s hand, she accepted just for the sake of getting her screaming children back  home as soon as possible.  Taking the money was never Wooba’s intention and fairly soon Wooba was on the phone calling every business in Hazard, including the insurance agnency where my mother worked, telling everyone that her nephew’s wife stole her money.

During these many rides to Wooba’s house, she talked about Rosebud.   I had heard stories about this doll but never saw Rosebud while Wooba was alive.  The doll was packed away somewhere in one of Wooba’s closets among old clothing and shoes but she talked about Rosebud and how one day she would be mine.  A few months after Wooba died, as my mother was cleaning out Wooba’s house, Rosebud was unearthed from the chaos of clutter.  She lay in a ragged rectangle cardboard box secured with a rubber band.  As my mother peeled off the rubber band and opened the box, there she was, a doll stripped down to the cloth of her body.  Tattered and slightly chipped.  Rosebud didn’t have a hair on her head.

I was a child who had watched one horror movie too many involving demonic toys, including an episode of Twilight Zone featuring a wind up doll called “Talking Tina”.  I was frighten of Rosebud but also fascinated by this naked creature.  As I reluctantly lifted Rosebud up into my arms, I saw that the doll had been lying on a bed of human hair inside the the box.  My Aunt Jeannette told me  this was Wooba’s hair, hair that once was long, chestnut and probably had grown well past her waist. A photograph of  a woman with her back turned to the camera was also in the box, a young Elizabeth with her beautiful cascading tresses.  Wooba’s hair cradled Rosebud, probably embracing the doll for decades, but tucked inside the nest of hair was something else.  I gently moved the locks away and saw hidden under the layers of hair was another doll, a small Chinese man who wore a red embroidered jacket and pants, two ponytails loosely hung off his head.

Opening the cardboard box that held Rosebud and the Chinese man was like opening a sealed tomb.   Magic, oldness, the spirits of my grandmother and her sisters were unleashed that day, a doll that opened me up to my ancestral past and memories.  I imagine those little Bell County Kentucky sisters gathering around Rosebud the day Elizabeth received the doll maybe for her birthday.

That night after we discovered her, I dreamed of Rosebud.  I dreamed of my great aunt holding her and playing with Rosebud as her long hair moved in waves.  I imagined my great aunt as a child and not just as the strange and eccentric old woman I knew.   I also think about the passage of time and the events in life that carve out our paths.

Still and possibly because I knew my Aunt Wooba so well, this doll continued to have an eerie aura, even after my mother had her restored to her original beauty with new clothing, a curly wig and a touched up face, I was afraid to have Rosebud stay in my room. Rosebud was a relic of my family’s past.

Just a few years ago my parents sold the house I grew up in and moved to a smaller home and along with so many other trinkets, Rosebud was packed away in a random box.  She is somewhere among the boxes that have never been unpacked.  So once again Rosebud is stowed away, and I can’t help but wonder where she is among the chaos of my family’s own clutter.  I want her back and I want to reunite her with the little Chinese man.

Holding onto a doll from the past feels good in my hands because I know I am touching something someone in my family before me has touched.   Family memories embodied in the form of a doll.

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My Grandmother and her sisters. Elzabeth is holding the baby

Elizabeth's  hair inside the box that held Rosebud

Elizabeth’s hair inside the box that held Rosebud

Someone Worthwhile

Magnolia Canopic Jar

Magnolia Canopic Jar by Catherine Coulter Lloyd

Artists need creative space in more ways than one.

This discussion came up when Catherine Coulter Lloyd was in Greenville a couple of weeks ago and we had lunch at Dale’s Indian Cusine on Evans Street.   Catherine (Cat) and I are old friends who met in art school and instantly created a bond over our mutual love of ceramics and craft- or basically anything handmade.  We are also both mountain girls with deep Appalachian roots, and we have spent much time bemoaning the swampy, flat and humid eastern North Carolina farmland and lamenting about our mutual homesickness for the hills.

Like many women who get together, a lunch date is an opportunity to have a “hen party”, venting and chatting about the ebb and flow of our lives.  What husbands are doing, our careers, books we have read, her two cats, my arsenal of animals, step children, nephews and the health of our parents.  One topic that almost always creeps up in our conversations is our need to create and the frustration of not having enough time in the day.     Catherine calls it her dichotomy, the way she has to split herself in two, which she literally did with the February opening of her exhibition of new ceramic work entitled, Entwined.

Clay seems to be the glue that binds Cat’s many worlds together.  She has told me on more than one occasion that working in clay connects her with a long and broad family chronicle that includes generations of gardeners, cultivators, landscape architects and creative workers.   The eloquent shapes and pathways of the flowers and leaves embedded onto Cat’s clay boxes and carved on tile murals are images that materialized from her love of nature and her experience of being raised among gardens, rivers and mountains.   It is through these images she is creating an ancestral and family narrative.

Cat’s day job is as the Visual Art Specialist at the Maria V. Howard Art Center in Rocky Mount, NC and like most art administrators, her work schedule is demanding and erratic which leaves little room for down time, so working after hours in her studio can go as late as 2:00 am.  Most of us who are driven by a creative force can understand the dichotomy of balancing art, work and family.  There is a determination to have something to say no matter how minuet or profound it may be, but finding a way to quiet our minds in a world that is loud and chaotic is not an easy chore and inspiration does not come spontaneously.

I recently read an essay by Silas House entitled The Art of Being Still.  In this essay he writes about what this is like for writers and their process of writing:  “We writers must become multitaskers who can be still in our heads while also driving safely to work, while waiting to be called “next” at the D.M.V., while riding the subway or doing the grocery shopping or walking the dogs or cooking supper or mowing our lawns.”

The same is true for visual artists.  We must carve out creative time the best way we can. We imagine and design in our heads- even while dropping our kids off at school or changing out the the laundry.  In addition, visual artists also have the challenge of designing a working space that fits their artistic medium.  My clay studio is in my garage.  It is not exactly fancy and I do have to maneuver around the shop vac, air compressor and some gardening tools to work, but this is my place to create.  I guess you could call my garage studio the artistic version of the “Man Cave” except no ESPN.

Cat and I have talked about where this struggle and accomplishment of our creative work is really going to eventually lead us.  I can see good things for Cat down the road as she continues to create these poignant works of art.   We become who we are, as my mother says, through a series of the choices we make throughout our lives.

The world would be better if we taught our children those types of things. Not how to wipe your mouth with a napkin so much as how to become someone worthwhile.

Woman Cave

Woman Cave

Catherine’s exhibition is on view at Strickland Art Gallery: http://www.stricklandartgallery.com/

Owl Eulogy

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On an autumn day over six-years-ago, the path around my old neighborhood is foggy and crispy with falling leaves.  I am on a morning walk with my dog Maya.  We are joined by a large Labrador mix named Bo.  Bo is my neighbor’s dog and he loves tagging along on early morning strolls.  This walk is a part of my daily ritual and I have an hour of quiet before my hectic day begins.

I am in the “zone” of walking and inhaling the rich earthen air, relishing my stolen moment of aloneness.  I am a woman who is juggling a full life complete with an overburden husband and a displaced stepson and these walks are my solace.    I march around the corner onto Lee street and a dark figure crosses my path, circling and then descending onto the road.  Large, russet, foreboding, confused- like he doesn’t know how he landed right in front of me, an owl, a colossal figure with large yellow eyes that focus upon me.  I utter under my breath, “This can’t be good”.   A flash of memory comes rushing towards me of one of my grandmothers.  Parlee says an owl that is seen in daylight means death of a loved one.  She calls these birds hobgoblin owls.   She knows all about folklore and signs.

The owl and I stand there for a moment, motionless staring at each other.  Even the dogs are frozen, until Bo emerges from his trace and rushes towards this bird, who immediately flies away up into a tree.   The owl is sitting up on a limb and far away from me now, but still staring as if he knows something that I do not yet know.

Trees surround my house and they are home to a variety of animals, so hearing the hoot of an owl at night is common, but seeing an owl during the day is a different matter. A little superstition runs in my family and my encounter with this bad omen makes my entire body shudder and gives me goosebumps.  Of course, I am a sane person.  I know there could be more rational reasons for seeing this creature, such as he is sick, hunting, or simply that he is flying to a new nest. The dogs and I resume our walk, and I carry on with the rest of my day.   November moves swiftly along. Sometimes on my way home, I look for that owl, but I never see him again.

After my husband died that December, people eventually got around to asking me if I had any warning that something was wrong.  I said “no” but what I wanted to say was: “Well I did see an owl one morning while I was walking…” but I stop myself because I know how utterly insane that would sound.    But truly, that was my first hint that something terrible was going to happen.

It is a little disturbing to know that this courier of tragedy could come in the form of a winged creature.  However, I have decided to accept my owl messenger, and anyway, I think there is more to this bird.  Athena has a companion owl on her shoulder, which revels unseen truths to her.  Arianrhod, a Welsh goddess, shapeshifts into an owl and with her large owl eyes, sees into the darkness of the human soul.  She moves with strength and purpose through the night and her wings spread comfort, solace and healing to those who seek her.  Owls see what others cannot and I am fortunate to have had this creature look me in the eye on that autumn day and try to warn and even protect me from the dangers to come.

The other night as I lay in bed, an owl called out and another answered from a distant yard, the rhythms of their voices were like a lullaby, singing me into a deep sleep.

For All Of You Readers Out There!

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It’s a few days after Christmas and I have enjoyed spending uninterrupted time with my family, eating rich yummy food as well as having some well-deserved lazy reading time. I love nothing more than the unscheduled time of flopping across a chair and becoming immersed in a REALLY good book.  Not everyone wants the over the top Christmas and New Years jubilations, especially me.  Christmas is an overachiever’s holiday and once it is over and the New Year is here,  I breathe a sigh of relief and feel proud that once again- I have survived Christmas.

So as the New Year approaches, I am thinking about some of the novels, essays and poetry I have read this year!

Novels

This year was INSANLY busy… I sold my house I lived in before I got married and my husband and I bought and moved into a new house- with two kids and two dogs and three cats in tow.   I traveled to a few cool places and the Museum was bustling with activity including dynamic art exhibitions.  It’s been a year of long days at work and few weekends off- as a result I didn’t read that many novels.  However, I did manage to read some pretty interesting stuff, here are a few:

  • Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) A review of this book on NPR completely hooked me.  I have a “guilty pleasure” love of a good mystery. For a voyeur like me, stories about dysfunctional families are CRACK but stories about dysfunctional marriages are an even better drug, especially when the novel is filled with so much psychological suspense.
  • The Cove (Ron Rash) Whenever I discover that Ron Rash has published a new novel, I either rush out to buy it or download it on Nook (yes, I own one of those evil devices).  He is one of my favorite novelists and poets.  In The Cove, the backwoods western North Carolina cove is where Laurel Shelton lives.  It is a place that was cursed long before the Shelton family settled there.  Rash creates a dark, spooky and forlorn atmosphere.  The setting is in Madison County North Carolina, a beautiful, mountainous and rural area.  This is a great book especially for anyone who enjoys reading a good love story.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson) This is a book that was made into a movie with a lot of hype around it, but then again, it doesn’t hurt having Daniel Craig as your main character.  I read this novel because I thought I should read it before I went to see the movie (which to date I haven’t yet seen).  I have to admit, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo captivated me.  It’s an “ugly” book and not kind to women but it is also smart, with a good story.  Lizabeth Salander is a damaged computer hacker with some serious intimacy issues.  This book has a lot of sexual politics, misogyny and a cold case that isn’t so cold.   Like a stray cat, Lizabeth is out there trying to survive.
  • Juliet Naked (Nick Hornsby) I read Hornsby’s novel, High Fidelity while working at a used book and vinyl record store years ago, so I felt I intimately knew those characters in High Fidelity since it is based on  record store employees. Like High Fidelity, Juliet Naked has an indirect focus on music and pop culture. The main characters are Annie and Duncan, a middle-aged couple, and Tucker Crowe, an aging musician in retirement. Annie and Duncan have a relationship-ending fight about the quality of Tucker Crowe’s new album, and Annie begins a correspondence with Tucker Crowe.  Juliet Naked is about regret- BIG, mid-life crisis level regret.  Annie and Duncan’s fight are really about the all too-quick passage of time and of wasted opportunities.

Short Stories

I read a lot of short story collections this year- Prefect reading for ME and my crazy schedule and life. The three collections I have selected below are all about Kentucky and North Carolina.  My two favorite places!

  • Kentucky Straight (Chris Offutt) This is actually a short story collection that I read a long time ago and decided to reread.   I love Chris Offutt.  He is the ultimate rambling man who was born in Morehead Kentucky, just up the road from Hazard.  Also for you True Blood fans, he also wrote some of the screenplays for that HBO series, but long before True Blood, Offutt wrote this short story collection.   If you like a good short story, great Southern writing, and want to be knocked on your butt by a writer’s sheer talent, then introduce yourself to Chris Offutt’s work.
  • Girl Trouble (Holly Goddard Jones) Jones is also a Kentucky writer but she hails from the western part of the state and is currently an English professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.   I can’t quiet remember how I discovered her work but I did read somewhere that Jones’ Girl Trouble, is a retellings of ancient Roman tragedies. All the stories are set in or just outside of the fictional town of Roma, Kentucky. Girl Trouble has many instances of physical violence, beatings, rape, killings of humans and animals alike, as well as emotional violence such as betrayal, punishment, and unkind words of the worst type—This book reads like classic tragedy, but the stories’ characters have a southern twang.
  • Let the Dead Bury their Dead (Randall Kenan) This is another book I reread.  It is set in Tims Creek North Carolina a fictional town in eastern North Carolina, governed by the rituals and rhythm of farming, something we know all about in the east.  Tims Creek reminds me of growing up in Hazard because to outsiders Tims Creek looks like a dull North Carolina backwater settlement.  The town was established by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders who are now farmers, shop owners, factory workers, and regular folks but Kenan makes clear in the telling of his thirteen stories, that nearly every dwelling in this fertile country houses a fascinating tale.  Kenan grew up Chinquapin, NC and his stories depict this unique haunted landscape.

Non-Fiction and Essays

Here are a few that I read this year.

  • Composed (Roseanne Cash) I love her music as well as her father and stepmother, so I decided to read Cash’s memoir. Rosanne Cash’s memoir is the testament to the power of art, tradition, and how all three transformed her life.  I love country music and good songwriters, so reading about Cash’s life was an easy and fun read.
  •  Townie (Andre Dubus III) I started reading Andre Dubus III because I liked his father, Andre Dubus’, short stories and –thought: “why not check out his cute son’s books”.  Dubus III is a great writer.  I recommend his fiction, but his memoir Townie is truly amazing.  His violent neglected childhood gives new meaning to the phrase my mom always says:  “jerked up” instead of raised.
  • Pulphead, (John Jeremiah Sullivan) Sullivan is an essayist whose work has been in various magazines over the years.  He writes extraordinary prose that contains offbeat insights about modern culture.  He is an incredible stylist and also a fellow Kentuckian, so I got to like him.  Also- if you happen to remember Axle Rose of Guns and Roses, then you will feel pretty darn sorry for Axel by the time you read Sullivan’s essay about him.

Poetry

Recent visits by two US Poet Laureates, Philip Levine and Natasha Trethewey -to the Greenville Museum of Art this past year rekindled my love of poetry.

  • What Work Is by Levine is a hymn of praise for all the workers of America.
  • Bellocq Ophelia by Tretheway is a book of poetry inspired by the photographer, John Bellocq’s 1900’s New Orleans portraits of prostitutes.

Online Stuff

Lastly, I dipped my toe into the waters of online journals this year.  Here are a couple of them that I like:

  • Still: The Journal   Contemporary literary writing of Central Appalachia, or the Mountain South

http://www.stilljournal.net/

  • Drafthorse A biannual online publication of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, visual narrative, and other media art where work, occupation, labor—or lack of the same—is in some way intrinsic to a narrative’s potential for epiphany.

http://www.lmunet.edu/drafthorse/

As the 2013 approaches, I am looking forward to discovering what this year will fetch, so bring on the GOOD BOOKS!!