Mountaineers Are Always Free: My Introduction to Roger May

When I travel I always endeavor to find something interesting to do other than the usual tourist attraction. This is especially true in places I’ve visited before.

Sometimes this involves music, like the time I happened upon a Billy Joe Shaver concert at an art opening in Houston. It was such a small event we were able to have a good long visit with Billy Joe (a national treasure). Other times it’s a museum exhibit. That is how I got to see the history of dresses (or something like that) at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

This week I was reminded of one of these experiences I had in Durham, North Carolina.

I was in Chapel Hill to see a friend and in a Google search prior to the trip I found an exhibit at a letterpress, graphic design, and print shop called Horse & Buggy Press. I had never heard of Horse & Buggy, and had no reason to, but was immediately drawn in by the name of the exhibit. It was called Testify: A Visual Love Letter to Appalachia by Roger May.

My childhood friend and I arrived at the print shop thinking this was as much an art gallery as a print shop. Not so much, but what we found was beautiful. While the majority of the first floor was a print shop there was a small lobby near the door that served as the gallery. Horse & Buggy printed Mr. May’s Testify, a limited edition, two-volume set of books featuring 50 photographs of Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Some of the photographs from the books were displayed in frames on the shop’s walls near the front entrance.


Mr. May’s photographs were stunning and moving. Many of his photographs in Testify were taken less than an hour away from my childhood home. He captured with great care scenes from Central Appalachia as it is and has been for most of my life. I immediately bought the books and currently display them on my living room coffee table. I see them every day.

I recently showed the books to my father, a life-long resident of Central Appalachia, who was a bit flippant about looking at them. I imagine he was thinking that I was forcing him to appreciate some silly art or weird music (he knows his child). That changed when he realized what he was looking at and then he slowed down, his face softened and he looked with interest and more care. He saw something he knew. He said “I drove by this last month.” It is an amazing thing to see the things and places that you love captured in beautiful and respectful ways. That is what Mr. May did in Testify and does in his work. He displays the truth and beauty of Central Appalachia, including its idiosyncrasies and flaws, in a caring and respectful way.

Mr. May’s description of Testify and its meaning is as lovely as the photographs –

This is my testimony of how I came to see the importance of home and my connection to place. After moving away as a teenager, I’ve struggled to return, to latch on to something from my memory. These images are a vignette into my working through the problem of the construction of memory versus reality. My work embraces the raw beauty of the mountains while keeping at arms length the stereotypical images that have tried to define Appalachia for decades.

Mr. May’s first run of Testify went on to sell out. Currently, there are not plans for a second edition (although I bet if Horse & Buggy gets enough requests they might just do one).

I had never heard of Mr. May until I stumbled upon Horse & Buggy. He describes himself as an Appalachian American photographer and is most recently well-known for his work on the Looking at Appalachia project. You can read about it in National Geographic and the New York Times blog. He has a fun Instagram feed (@walkyourcamera) and a giant tattoo on his chest that reads Montani Semper Liberi – Mountaineers are always free, the West Virginia state motto. He is serious about Appalachian and I love that.

This week on Instagram Mr. May announced that he is selling his personal copies of Testify on a first come first serve basis. That post reminded me of what a treasure I found in an unlikely place on a random afternoon in Durham.

I am grateful for Mr. May and his work and love for Appalachia. I am also grateful for adventures that lead me to wonderful new people and things.

First Stop: Toronto

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is the northeast anchor of the Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario – a horseshoe around Lake Ontario from Toronto to Niagara Falls. I arrived in Toronto on Friday afternoon after about seven hours of driving. I snagged a room at the Westin Harbour Castle with views of the lake and Old Town Toronto. Not bad for someone with only 3000 or so Starwood Guest Points.

I could not be bothered to spend much time in the room as I immediately realized that I forgot to pack a book (although I did remember my Bible). So, my nerdy little self decided that my first mission was to find a book store. Yes, really. Thanks to my trusty iPhone. I was able to locate a Chapters bookstore in the entertainment district (I would find out the next day that the building Chapters is in is worthy of a stop on the Toronto Architecture Tour). I set out to find the Chapters and some mealtime entertainment (eating alone = need book).

I know it sounds bizarre, you just got to the largest city in the entire country where there quite literally are a million things to do and places to see and you go to a bookstore. Yes, I did. But on the way to the bookstore I saw the entertainment district, The York Hotel (when it was constructed it was the largest hotel in the British Empire), the harbor front parks (including this huge sculpture that resembles the Death Star), a super cool grocery store in the terminal building (I like city grocery stores), various views of the CN Tower, and the general sights, sounds, and feel of the city. And such was my personal introduction to Toronto.

I made it to the bookstore, after numerous detours. The Chapters in the entertainment district is just around the corner from a row of brownstones and a small dining/shopping area with a very village atmosphere. The Chapters is a huge glass structure with a giant rubix cube on top (seriously, it was designed to be a rubix cube) with all red tiles. The building jumps out of the landscape from the smaller surrounding buildings. The store has very well-organized recommendation sections, which is awesome for someone who is looking for a book but not a particular book. There were popular, recommended, classic, etc. selections. I was looking for fun reading that would not require a lot of brain power – I chose I Don’t Care About Your Band. Mission accomplished.

Toronto, surprisingly, is a city that you can figure out easily on foot. It took one afternoon walk to figure out the primary streets and feel comfortable with the city grid. It was also easy to recognize that Toronto is truly an international city. Every single place I ventured you could hear languages other than English and French and see people from all walks of life. I recently read that nearly 50% of Toronto’s population is born outside of Canada – having just been there, I am not shocked. To use an Americanism, it really is a melting pot. But what can you expect, I am told that 100,000 new people move to Toronto every year.

En route back to the hotel I took a whole new path through the financial district. This is the most concentrated area of skyscrapers and it feels very New York. I enjoyed how different sections of Toronto had very different personalities and cultures. Very cool. As I walked on it became time to make the all important dinner decision. I opted to bail on my reservation at the fancy place in hopes of having a non-event dinner at a local joint. I approached the concierge and the sweet lady was kind enough to think carefully about where it is best to dine alone and where I could get a “grill” menu (translate: gluten-free). She sent me to a spot where she likes to eat alone – La Bettola di Terroni. She also reassured me that I was safe walking in the neighborhood. I love good helpful people the most.

Before dinner I took a trip up to the circular restaurant on top of the hotel and admired the lovely view of the lake and city. It was quiet and peaceful so I sat and looked and read. Unfortunately, this Westin tower restaurant does not spin like the one in Atlanta. You can’t have it all.

On the walk to dinner I walked past the hockey museum, which is in a beautiful old building with elaborate stone work and beautiful wood and iron doors. I did not go in but I certainly admired the structure. As you know, I don’t get hockey. I arrived at the restaurant and was extremely pleased. It was small and cozy with lots of little tables – perfect for one and its own DJ. I had a great experience there. The server was attentive, helpful, and reassuring that I was at an Italian place that could provide me a great,  gluten-free, experience. I had the best grilled tuna I have had in a long long time.

In addition to my book (which I unexpectedly found to be quite lewd) I was entertained by the Asian couple next to me who were very clearly on a date and so close to me that I could hear almost all their conversation. At one point they were examining the heels of each others hands to determine whose was the fattest. Apparently the size of it determines wealth or success or something like that. You just miss out on those kinds of details when you are traveling with others. I tried not to giggle aloud. The night time walk back to my Toronto home was gorgeous.

I covered some serious ground on first afternoon in Toronto, even if most of it was in search of reading material, and concluded with certainty that it is my kind of town. It is one of those places that is easy to love.

Fiber Art

Festival season as begun. Salomon Farm’s Fiber Art Festival kicked off my festival season.

I was convinced that I would see some beautiful, intricately designed, and original quilts at the fiber arts festival. I love handmade quilts. I have received several as gifts over the years and I treasure them – true art made by the hands of sweet ladies.

This is a quilt given to me as a graduation gift by my cousin Jim’s mother in law. It is my favorite, I keep in my guest bedroom so my guests can enjoy it. It is warm and pretty.

This quilt was made by my childhood pastor’s wife, Sister Della. I have had it since I was a kid and it lives on my sofa today – it is great for naps.

I remember being a little girl and our family’s seamstress, Mrs. Stacy, was a quilter. Mommy and I would go to see Mrs. Stacy at her home to drop off a pattern or something to be worked on regularly. Occasionally we would find the living room of Mrs. Stacy’s single-wide trailer filled with ladies and fabric. A quilting form was suspended from the ceiling and encircled by six or eight white-haired ladies with tall hair and long dresses chatting as they worked away on a new quilt. This memory made me even more excited about the fiber art festival.

Turns out, there are no quilts or quilting at the Salomon Farm Fiber Arts Festival. What do I know? Not a lot about fiber art, apparently.

I did find spinning wheels, yarn, silk worms, alpacas, sheep, and dulcimers. Not a bad replacements for quilts. Here are some snaps of Saturday’s festival. Enjoy!


The Big Little City

“A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.”  Aristotle

I am a small town girl.  My lovely little hometown has a population of 1500 or so in the town limits and around 25,000 in the whole county.  To give you a little perspective, on a any given Saturday in the fall there are over 100,000 people in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.

So, I am used to knowing everyone and everyone knowing me.  In fact, I am gifted in license plate memory.  I can identify the cars of many friends, family, and acquaintances at home by looking at their plate.  Scary.  I know.  Being the product of a small town means that you also have to get used to people knowing a lot about you.  I went to high school with people whose parents went on dates with my parents before they were married.  There are no secrets in a small town.  And, hey, if some people do not know something for sure they probably will just make it up.

It is different in the “big city” – only a small group of people know everything about you rather than the entire town.

When I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia I got my first taste of anonymity.  No one cared what I looked like at the grocery store, no one knew me at the Rite Aid, and no one told me that they remember me when I was a baby.  Next was Richmond, Virginia – arguably a real city with a million people downtown.  This was a bit different.  No one knew me but I began to see how small communities developed within big ones.  I may not know anyone across town but the 100 people who I work around and go to church with know all about me, or they think that they do.  Same difference, I suppose.  Enter the home of Neyland Stadium.  I was in Knoxville three glorious years.  Of course, law school being what it is – like high school – I was back in the fish bowl.  Where everyone that you interact with on a daily and regular basis knows you.  Then I moved on to a small Virginia town to practice law (where I happily met and bonded with the Cosmic Sisters, more on that later) and we are right back to knowing everyone in the grocery store and seeing people who knew you in diapers.  But, as I said, I am a small town girl and I get it.

Fast forward to 2011, I voluntarily left my tiny little town to set up shop in FW, a city of 250,000 in a state of six million or so (I am guessing).  I knew no one.  But as you have seen I have made a bit of a life of experiencing new things and the culture of the place that I now call home.  And one of the neat things about it is, despite being overshadowed by Chicago to the northwest, Detroit to the northeast and Indianapolis to the southwest, FW really has the feel of a big city.  No, not NYC or Chicago or Houston.  The skyline does not tower and the streets are not stinking and crowded, but it has a lot of big city-ness to offer.  I shall elaborate . . .

I had the pleasure of hosting one of my Cosmic Sisters for her first FW visit.  Sunshine arrived on a Friday bearing gifts from an Amish stop and the Lehman’s Orchard (hello, tasty cider) in Michigan.  The Cosmic Sisters are adventurous too.  Shocking.

An important fact to note is that Sunshine is a city girl.  She was raised in the Bay area near San Francisco, California.  She tells of growing up with kidnapping warnings that kept kids form playing in their front yards and small lots and just general city-ness.  Basically the complete opposite of my childhood experience.  (Also note, Sunshine is now living in a house with a yard, near a park so her babies can play in grassy fields and frolic in streams – she is a convert).  I was a bit nervous of what she would think of FW.  Would it be interesting enough?  Would she have expectations?  Would she be disappointed that the interstate does not run through downtown forcing you to drive 20 minutes to downtown?  Would she be a fan of my favorite parks and restaurants?  I am high strung, please understand.

After her arrival (love her heart, she drove in from Chicago), she rested up and then we spent the weekend hitting the town to cover my favorites . . . The Oyster Bar, J.K. O’Donnell’s, Granite City Brewery.  Oh, the fun of having your cosmic sister around.  There was of course constant communications with the remaining sisters, Daisy and Ruby Falls and one random email to a random dude in Wisconsin (long story).  We also covered a long walk with The Queen at my favorite park – Foster Park.  En route to the park, driving down Broadway, Sunshine proclaimed “you DO have a panaderia”.  Huh?  What?

For days before her visit Sunshine had been counting on being able to go into Chicago and find a traditional Hispanic bakery that reminded her of the ones she used to visit as a kid California.  Unfortunately, she decided to abandon that plan when she arrived in Chicago at 7:00 a.m. on Friday morning.

I, of course, had never really been in a panaderia.  I once walked through one in San Antonio, Texas, but I did not realize it at the time.  So, Sunshine took me on a cultural experience in my own town at a place that I have driven by tons of times on the way to the park or to drive around and look at the pretty homes on Rudisil.

George’s La Baguette located at Broadway and Taylor has traditional pastries, breads, and other treats.  All are made in-house and they are pretty and pretty tasty. Here is some of the fabulousness that we tasted, me for the first time.  It was great.

Post bakery, we hit up the Firefly Coffee House (Sunshine even scored some prizes for her babies and herself) where my prediction that it would be a favorite of the Cosmic Sisters was confirmed!  Then we went to a festival.  Another shock – a festival in the Midwest on a Saturday?  Of course, we did.  The Taste of the Arts is an event hosted by Arts United and takes place in downtown FW.  You can check out cool art and taste the food from all of the coolest places in FW.  One of the fine offerings was from The Harp Condition.  Who doesn’t love artists that travel in the “Cool Bus” and play the kazoo.  Sunshine took home a shirt.   Other artists of note were Dan Gagen from Albion, Indiana.  Mr. Gagen did the most gorgeous painting of Keith Richards (my favorite Rolling Stone) that I have ever seen.  Altra Design 2000, Inc. out of Huntington, Indiana made some super cool yard art (including the corn stalks below).  Also, Elizabeth Balzer, Ph.D., the owner of 3R Gallery in FW on Three Rivers East.  All pretty and interesting work.

The weekend ended much too soon.  Sunday morning left me tired and sad to see Sunshine go.  So tired that I took a four hour nap before church.

All my concerns about her opinion of FW were answered when on her way out she happily said that she was initially scared that she would find me amongst “strip malls and chain restaurants.”  She was happily wrong.  Alas, she was pleased to find me among interesting events, fun places, cool eats, and nice people.  She was won over by FW and is happy that I am here.  That is a big deal.

The moral of this story?  There is more than enough here in FW to please a bona fide city girl and just enough to make a small town girl comfy and cozy.  That, my dear readers, is pretty.

Ann Arbor Art Fair in Review

As promised, I have a full report on the Ann Arbor Art Fair (“Art Fair”).  The Art Fair is the largest in the country – to illustrate – the vendors list comprised four pages of the program, single spaced and in two columns.  It is large.  And fun.  And pretty.

The Art Fair is so big that it is not something that you want to do alone.  You need a partner in crime.  I was able to recruit such a person from work.  This lovely lady, we shall call her The Runner, left her husband and three super cute children at the lake (on their vacation) to join me in Ann Arbor.  Oh, and when I say The Runner, I really meaning running, as in serious running – marathons and all (including Boston).  She gets up at 4:30 a.m. and runs 13 miles before work.  Her discipline and dedication is awe inspiring.  Truly.  Especially since, as you know, I do not run.

So, we met in Marshall, Michigan and made our way to Ann Arbor. We made the very wise decision to catch the shuttle from Briarwood Mall into downtown for the bargain price of three dollars.  As you can imagine, the crowd is large so parking in the downtown area of Ann Arbor is very tight.  I recommend this strategy.

I also recommend taking your map seriously.  We did.  Upon drop off on Main Street we agreed upon a strategy.  We started at The Guild Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair near Main Street, then we moved on to the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original, then we hit the State Street Area Art Fair and then we finished up at the Ann Arbor South University Art Fair, which was conveniently located near our bus stop!  This is what happens when you have a lawyer and a pharmacist planning – hello Type A organization bordering on OCD.

I have to say that our plan worked flawlessly.  The only problem with the plan was that when you find that one piece of art or jewelry that you love at the 3rd tent you see and you pass on it, because it is the 3rd tent, it is a long haul to get back to it.  Luckily, the awesome reversible silver and stone jewelry we found in tent 3 was great but not so great that we felt the need to hike back.  Whew.

What we did find, in addition to that lovely jewelry, was an extremely diverse collection of art.  There was photography, pottery, paintings, mixed media art, polymer clay jewelry, glass work, giant outdoor sculpture (bunnies, sheep dogs, kids dancing and such), weird looking dolls that looked like I made them, lots of metal work, glass jewelry, woodwork, and tons more.

These lovely putters are gripped and ready for use. The perfect for the fancy lady golfer!

This jewelry is made entirely of polymer clay. It is uber lightweight and interesting.

Needless to say, it did not take long for us to make our first purchases.  The Runner and I stumbled off the main drag of Main Street, where you are sandwiched between white tents, to the sidewalk to look at some flowers crafted out of jello molds when we found Mr. Stephen Kinnard and his lovely framed photography.  Mr. Kinnard is based in Ann Arbor and does great work of the Great Lakes area and beyond. Both The Runner and I scored a framed picture.  The Runner bought a beautiful shot of three brightly colored adirondack chairs sitting in the dunes of Lake Michigan gazing toward the water.  I also got a lovely picture but I cannot describe it because it is a Christmas gift for a family member and my family actually reads my blog so I do not want to ruin the surprise.

We both went on to purchase more framed art and jewelry.  I made a personal purchase and some more Christmas gift selections with Ms. Kristin Perkins – she makes beautiful glass jewelry.  It is super bright and colorful and each piece is one of a kind.  The Runner found a stunning necklace at Hilary Hachey’s tent.  Ms. Hachey is a metal smith and her work is unique and pretty, it was hard to resist.

It was a win all around on purchases.  Below is a list of our finds – some we bought and others we just admired.  Please support these artists.  This is there way of life and what they do is pretty. And don’t you need a little pretty in your life?

Now, this would not be a proper Midwestern festival without the required food tents – and they were there like a great beacon for those of us who enjoy the fried, greasy, and cheesy treats that can only be found on the street.  I had a Wisconsin Dog – an all beef wiener with cheese, mustard, and jalepenos at 11:00 a.m.  I am ridiculous.  The Runner on the other hand eats like a normal healthy human and had a nice sandwich at Panera.  Of course, at Panera I had a frozen strawberry lemonade – that is healthy, right?  So I eat like a 12 year old, what of it.

This was the first time in Ann Arbor for both of us.  So, we were both interested in checking out downtown and the University of Michigan campus.   Luckily, the fair snaked through the Michigan campus and downtown Ann Arbor.  It was a great way to get the tour of town.  As the shuttle drove by the U of M football stadium both of us were giddy with excitement – seriously, we were like two little kids.  I can’t wait for college football to start!  But I digress.  The campus from what we were able to see is nice and has some beautiful buildings.  The Michigan Theater is also a great photo opportunity.  I like Ann Arbor and will visit again.

We completed our planned route by 3:00 p.m.  We had walked past every tent, we were sweaty, slightly dehydrated, and tired of lugging our loot.  So we decided that we had seen it and done it and promptly put ourselves in the long line for the shuttle.  It was a good thing, too, since that was when the good Lord decided to make it rain.  And rain it did, thunder and all.  But we had timed it perfectly and made it back to the car only slightly wet.

It was a great trip and a festival that I highly recommend for those who enjoy art of all shapes and sizes.  Both of us repeatedly remarked of the amazing selection of diverse art.  Art means so many different things to different people.  It is fun.  Speaking of . . . below is the short list as promised above.  Beware – the list is heavy on jewelry.  Enjoy!

Aaron Foster – he makes giant art out license plates.  It is super cool and I really wanted to buy one to go on the huge wall inside my doorway.  Unfortunately, my art budget was a little slim but I am keeping his information handy for future reference.

Jill Sharp –  She is from Roswell, Georgia and she makes some lovely jewelry.  As you would expect from a Southern lady – it is pretty.

Mary Filapek and Lou Anne Townsend – These ladies make beautiful metal jewelry that includes polymer clay inserts.  They can do custom pieces and each piece is one of a kind.  I purchased a pair of round silver earrings with a strip of black polymer clay in the center of the circle. They are very striking and pretty.  My Sister thinks they look like ear plugs, which I think makes them even more cool.  Go ladies go!

Pedra Chaffers – She has stores in Ann Arbor, Michigan and St. Croix and she makes beautiful beaded art that is framed.  Very unique.

Christy Klug – She is a jewelry designer from Austin, Texas (a super fabulous town and state).  Beautiful and unique jewelry.