THE SOUL OF THE SOUTH

Damn. The famous travel writer Paul Theroux was in Orangeburg and I didn’t know. It wasn’t to speak or anything like that, who around here would go?  He was doing what he does, this time in his own country.  My husband has been talking the past couple of days about an article he is reading in Smithsonian Magazine. Flipping through the article backwards this morning with coffee and hummingbirds, it is so long. Finally reaching the first page, there was his name. Of course! Only a guy like Theroux could command that much space in Smithsonian.

This article was long overdue. Other than the famous interchange from some years back between Bill Cosby and a woman from North, SC (Noo-ath), in a remake of the old “You Bet Your Life” show, this part of my South is pretty invisible.

We have our roadside curiosities.  I love the little old now vacant restaurant on 301 that is crowned by a large coffee pot.  I have tried to buy it before.  No luck.  Through the windows Edward Hopper and men in fedoras can be imagined.

coffee pot

 

The UFO Welcome Center on the other side of Orangeburg is popular.

another ufo

Or the home of our Govette is in Orangeburg County, for what that counts as.  Some think she is the next Sarah Palin.

nikki

Theroux does talk about the Orangeburg Massacre, a locally famous event, which gets more to his “soul of the South” topic.  It was what was happening here when the rest of the country was focused on Kent State. In the article, a Mr. Johnson, the man who told Theroux about the Massacre, to whom Kent State was mentioned,  said “But you know those kids that died were white”.  “People here understand how it is to need help, to be neglected”.  So we do.

Finding some pictures from the event, it was pretty amazing, and pretty tame to have had three students killed.

all star bowling alley

 

Above is the bowling alley where it all started.  The building looks just the same now, but vacant.  It is in a part of town that boasts lots of vacancies, and has since I have been around here.  The alley is about six or eight blocks from SC State University (College then).  That was the destination of the march.  Back home after being rejected service in the bowling alley.

marchers oburg massacreLook at the marchers, how well dressed they are and marching in a line!  Kent State did not break out like this.  For two days peaceful demonstrations called for integration of the business so students could use it.  For sure, there was not another place where they could.  They were turned away by an owner who did not want to integrate, and the third day of demonstrations got dangerous.

the t and d oburg massacre

Here is the front page of the local paper for Feburary 9, the day after the violent night.  There is a building named after the three on the SC State University campus.

NOT RACE, NOT CLASS, IT’S CULTURE

Still thinking about Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson mo 1978-3

I grew up a stone’s throw from there, in the 1960s, and there were no blacks to speak of. We were all middle class whites and were trained with middle class ideas. Most of us went to state institutions, middle class schools, for college. We knew the program.

ferguson mo 1978 -1

After graduate school at a second middle class state institution, I came south to take my first college teaching position. The only person I knew in South Carolina was the person who hired me.

Landscape, behavior, attitudes were all unfamiliar to me. And true, I lived (still do) in a county that is majority minority. There was some kind of political plan to make this county the way it is, and its shape is huge, and far-reaching to attain that goal. Both whites and blacks were confusing.

I was truly in a different pond. Could not understand why strangers spoke to me. What did they want? Someone was to pick me up “after church” and I thought, “Which service?”. Overwhelmingly, there is only one here, and it is at eleven. The details of life became unfamiliar.

Having later married into a local family, it was very early on that I realized they were playing a game for which I would never know the rules. That is a cultural difference. Neutral, not bad, not good. It got me in trouble sometimes. That description stayed with me; it exactly depicted my emotions. I meant no harm, was simply confused. My antennae did not work well here.

People, black and white, do what their parents and grandparents did; they are the models. Those traditions may seem very strange to the other. Cultures are different ponds. Should know better, but last weekend was sort of shocked by the organization of a local Democratic Party campaign event.

IMG_20140829_112911_627

The fish fry and meet and greet was to start at four. We got to the event at that time, there was not a soul around. We sat in the car until we saw some movement in putting up a tent in the parking lot. My oldest, with us, is always embarrassed by my activities. We walk into the building behind the line of signs, against his advice. There was a meeting in a glass office taking place, and about 40 black people sitting in chairs around the perimeter of the office quietly and politely.

williams one

It reminded me of the above event from last year when all staked out their seats in a covered picnic area, loaded with railroad collectibles hanging from the ceiling. The people were glued to their seats, and were not going to give them up until fed. Same thing for the fish fry last week. They had all evening, they would listen to all the speakers, and then they would eat. Never mind how slow the start was. We, starving, left to go eat pizza as the event had yet to be born. Should have learned this stuff by now. It made me think of the Old South and the new black voters and getting out the vote. And generations of black families doing as they had seen done before.

MANY SMALL WORKS

I first met Janet Kozachek years ago at the old House of Pizza in Orangeburg,  one of the only places to have lunch in that small town back in the day.   I was immediately touched.  She looked exactly like a character in one of my childhood story books.   It was about the golden goose, and how townspeople (in a long sticky line)  exhibited their greediness for gold by being unable to unhook from the chain of folks who tried to pinch a golden feather.  It is an old Russian tale.

golden goose

Janet looked just like the girl who was directly attached to the goose in my book.  It was stunning.  Russian in extraction, her almond eyes, and her Chagall-like wisps of hair connected me intimately with this old memory.

1-janet

Janet came to us with amazing recommendations:  she was the first non-Chinese person to earn a certificate of Graduate Study from the Bejing Central Art Academy (1985), and a graduate degree from Parsons School of Design (1991).  She studied ceramics in Holland in 1986, and also later with the granddaughter of Maria Martinez.  In 1999, she was the founding president of the Society of American Mosaic Artists.  And her work is just as broad as this mosaic of an education.

janet's building

All of this background is represented in her exhibition of small works opening at the Orangeburg Arts Center on February 11, 2014.  In most of the works, one can detect the influence of multiple academic experiences, but clearly created by western hands.

lee's teapot

The series of little vessels (there are seventeen), done in acrylic,  stand boldly and aggressively on their trimmed ground, allowing examination of their surface creatures.  One can find small worlds  pictorially within these vessel walls.  The grounds on which the vessels sit seem likewise worldly-influenced, and all nervously vibrates.  Janet creates these little wonders by paint removal and scratching as much as paint application and calls them painting/monoprints.

Tango dancers done in quick calligraphic-like lines exhibit Janet’s Chinese self, again combining a fertile gene-mixing of her history and coming up with a hybrid.  To some Janet has added Chinese cartouches,  containing characters saying (in translation) “Chinese tango”.

troll horse with red hair

The most unsettling and evocative works are a series of paintings of troll dolls (yes, the ones from the late sixties), the doll shapes again dominating the clipped ground.  The surfaces of these examples are brilliant and shiny, completed in oil made with Renaissance techniques.  The detail and description of the dolls is masterly, including both fronts and backs.  But why troll dolls?

1-troll doll

In a way, the brilliant colors used in the dolls seem like pure light and heat that needs to attach to something.  Simple, geometric, vibrating Amish quilts come to mind as similar in color “heat” if not in visual language.  The trolls can be spooky, but their description is not.  Here’s why they exist:  Janet was very ill when the group was created.

Janet has suffered through an undiagnosed illness for some years.  During the time the trolls were created, she was at a low point, could barely leave the bed, and could lean up to paint just sometimes.  These dolls were collected by her, at hand, and she could lift them.  Therefore, she painted them.  That simple.

Could one make an allusion to the boomer experience with these paintings?  Maybe, who else would even know about these strange beings?

In general, this exhibition is a tribute to the healing nature of art.  All these small works being done during the years of her illness, it is proof that the time she has had to be quiet was not lost.

THE PIG

This is the center of our community, if you do not count the solid waste collection site.  In both places, you will run into neighbors and exchange information.  Outsiders stick out like a sore thumb, and that’s why I love to take friends to the Pig after the Saturday morning flea market.  City people have no idea there are even places like this anymore.

1-the pig

Having been here so long, they are used to me;  they call me the “art lady”.  One Saturday the old retired guy who runs the solid waste site pulled out a framed print to show me.  It was a small version of a Van Gogh painting, printed on evenly textured board.  “Look at this”, he said.  Turned it over, and in pencil was written “Van Gogh”.  In pencil, that was the big fact for him.  “I have been offered 5,000 dollars for this”.  “Take it”, I said.  “And run”.

I could not make him believe that it was not real.  My reputation as an “art lady” fell several notches in his valuation.  “But ‘Van Gogh’ is written in PENCIL!”

Now when I see him, if not at the solid waste site, at the flea market, he is polite, but doesn’t speak.  Would like to know the end of that story.

The Pig houses the only restaurant for miles around here.  That is if you don’t count the Chinese carry-out, whose motto is: “Chicken is chicken but the wing is the thing!”  I don’t count it because you cannot sit down there.

1-restaurant one

This morning the restaurant in the Pig was jumping.  We had to wait a long time for our food, so did everybody, but no one minded.  It was cold outside, down to 33 degrees.  All the local hunters were there talking about the one shot they got at a deer this morning.  And all those other shots in the past which killed nothing.

1-waitress

The waitresses have traded in their “I’m big on the Pig” t-shirts for new ones with pink ribbons that say “I dig the Pig”.  Big change.

1-menu

Remember these hand painted advertisements from the your childhood?  They are still here, done with grace and competence.  On newsprint.  I wonder where in the world they get these done.

Only found two other examples from the web, and they are old considering the prices they advertise.  Look at the different styles.

another hand painted grocery sign

third handpainted grocery sign

This one is not from around here, for sure!  Organic?  Snow?