Monday, March 27, 2017

Lost art ~ My column from Sunday's paper

There are memories from my childhood that faded with time, but some are as fresh as cut flowers. One such memory is of my great grandmother working in her tiny kitchen.

During the summer, she canned fresh vegetables she’d picked that morning from her garden. The lines of Mason Jars filled with squash, tomatoes, peppers and pickles looked like rainbows on her pantry shelves.

She was meticulous in her approach to her work. When I asked her where she learned how to can food, she said, “There’s an art to it that I learned from my mother.”

Another memory is of my grandpa working in his blacksmith shop behind his house in Sloss Hollow. The ping, ping, ping of his hammer against the hot metal of horseshoes sounded like a broken bell. Again, when I asked how he learned to be a blacksmith, he said he learned it from an old friend.

A few years ago, we decided to restore some old chairs that we inherited from Jilda’s family. They were cane-bottom chairs, with bottoms long past their expiration date. We asked friends where we could have our antique chairs repaired. A friend told us about an older gentleman who lived on a back road between Morris and Pinson.

Loading the chairs in my truck, I wound my way to his house on two-lane roads. He greeted me in his front yard. We agreed on a price, and I left the chairs in his care. A few days later, he called to say the chairs were ready. When I arrived, he had them sitting out next to his driveway. They looked as good as new except they now had a story behind them. His workmanship was amazing. We stood in the warm morning sun and talked for a while about the art of canning.

When these craftsmen are gone, we will have lost something valuable.

I always thought there was a need for a folk school that taught these skills. A school that helped to keep folk art alive.

Several years ago, I heard about the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell. But a busy schedule kept me from pursuing the things they had to offer.

This past weekend, Jilda and I had an opportunity to attend the Alabama Folk School Songwriting Workshop. When we researched the presenters, we realized they were the “real thing.” Tom Kimmel and Sally Barris both are successful songwriters. They write the kind of songs we strive to write.

The rustic lodge where we stayed stood on the edge of a hollow overlooking a small creek. There were groups attending workshops on water conservation and blacksmithing, but these groups were in other lodges around the property.

Settling in, we found the area peaceful. Carrying our bags, I heard the soothing sound of an acoustic guitar somewhere in the distance. I knew we would have a good experience here.

One young woman looked around at the circle of songwriters and said, “This place feels like home.” She wasn’t just talking about the buildings but the people and the things we were learning. We all nodded in agreement.

Learning new things can be life changing. The Alabama Folk School is a good place to start. Check out the calendar of upcoming events at You may learn something new that will help keep folk art alive.


  1. "When these craftsmen are gone, we will have lost something valuable." That, my friend, resonates in my heart.
    'Must share this with a certain sweet lady I know, jus' south of y'all.

  2. I like the column. I am trying to figure, but it looks like that would take about 80-100 yards of material. I love the pattern. Yep the OLD pattern.

  3. You are so very lucky to have known your grandparents.
    And yes, when these craftsmen are gone we will indeed have lost something valuable. Very, very valuable.

  4. You might look at your local Library and I bet there are books on all these lost arts. Getting people to read these books is also a lost art. The canning craftsman sure did a great job. Enjoy your beautiful chair.
    Hugs, Julia

  5. Our grandparents way of life has changed for sure. I'm blessed to have many happy memories of mine. Like you my grandmother always canned food for the family to eat. Trips to the grocery store mainly bought staples like flour sugar and salt. Everything else was found on the farm. Eggs milk, vegetables and even bacon...

  6. I always admire any sort of creative skill. Love those chairs.

    1. He did a magnificent job on the chair. It is beautiful. Your story of canning took me back to memories of my mother. She canned every conceivable kind of vegetable and fruit. She also made pickles, jams, jellies, and fruit butters. She even made her own cottage cheese. All were better than any you can buy in a store.

  7. The chair looks beautiful. My mother canned so many things every year, and made pickles, tomato juice, etc. In the basement she kept rows and rows of food that she had canned. I don't have the slightest idea how to can anything. I don't think she showed any of my older sisters how, either. She was a do-er, but not a teacher.


  8. The chair looks wonderful! I would love to know how to can things. I've always wanted to make jars of Jelly. I have no one to teach me so when I'm ready to tackle it, I will have to use Google or Pinterest.

  9. Anonymous1:33 PM

    He did a beautiful job on your chairs!!

  10. It is kind of sad that these folk art is going away... that man does amazing work, the chairs are gorgeous... just wow Rick xox


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