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Outsiders, Eccentrics & Visionaries

The American South, including the Chattahoochee River Valley, is well known for its colorful folkways and intriguing people. Every small Southern town, every community, virtually every neighborhood in the South has had, or now has, local characters known for their eccentricities. Among them are certain people who, for varying reasons, produce highly individualistic artistic creations--extraordinary visions that lie beyond the commonly accepted bounds of artistic expression.

Pasaquan.Photo copyright by Fred C. Fussell.
Nearly every Southern town, every community, every neighborhood has its "character" who, for one reason or another, is "just different" from most folks. He or she is sometimes the "town drunk," or the high school "genius" who later went off the "deep end," or simply the person who "walks to the beat of a different drummer." Whatever the case, this type of personality is as solid a part of traditional Southern culture as grits and St. EOM. St. EOM (Eddie Owens Martin) of Marion County, Georgia, was the king of them all. He spent over thirty years creating a four acre visionary world of the future which he called "Pasaquan-- where the past, present, future, and everything else all come together."

Pasaquan.Photo copyright by Fred C. Fussell.
Some, St. EOM for example, have based their creative efforts on a singular emotional religious experience. Others, such as Jack Byrd, have built whimsical whirligigs or other outlandish contraptions "just for the fun of it." Still others, including Sylvester Toney, Jr., and James A. "Buddy" Snipes, have chosen to express themselves for reasons that are not so easily defined, even by them. But each one, without exception, is driven far beyond the ordinary to follow a demanding urge to create and to be creative.."

Jack Byrd and a Whirligig.Photo copyright by Fred C. Fussell.
The South is not alone in generating such creators. Others have arisen to fabricate eccentric art in Kansas, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, and other parts of the United States . Yet there seems to be some special empathy for such artists in the Southland, where, as in no other place, the likes of Howard Finster, St. EOM, Brother Joseph, Annie Hooper, Dilmus Hall, James Harold Jennings, Mose Tolliver, Sam Doyle, David Butler, Son Thomas, Bessie Harvey, Buddy Snipes, Butch Anthony, and many, many, others have each responded with great intensity to their own personal artistic passion and visions.

James A. 'Buddy' Snipes.Photo copyright by Fred C. Fussell. James A. "Buddy" Snipes

Traditional Crafts

Gus Daniel working on a white oak basket.Photo copyright by Fred C. Fussell.
White oak basketry is one of the oldest and most widely practiced folk crafts in the entire Deep South. Pictured here is Gus Daniel of Stewart County , Georgia, who for many years demonstrated his skills on a daily basis at Westville, the living history museum near Lumpkin, Georgia. Daniel, like so many other basketers, learned the skill when he a child on the farm.

The making of handcrafts that are based upon traditional forms and methods of fabrication remains a vigorous activity among the people of the Chattahoochee Valley. There are dozens of Valley residents who work wood, make baskets, build musical instruments, fashion bird houses from home grown gourds, assemble and sew quilts, knit, tat and crochet, work metal, or employ any of a dozen other methods, using a variety of materials, to produce handwrought objects.

Audio file clip for Molly Dear. »AU File, 231KB (29 Seconds) Molly Dear: Robert Saxon, vocal & piano; All audio files copyright 1981, George Mitchell; Distributed by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission.
MP3 file clip for Molly Dear. »MP3 File, 58KB (29 Seconds)

The only other means of traditional cultural expression in the region which may exceed the popularity of traditional crafts making are music making and home cooking. However, foremost among the popular traditional craftways in the region are two media--woodworking and quiltmaking. One or the other of these two divergent craftways is practiced by many scores of people in the Chattahoochee Valley.

Quilters.Photo copyright by Fred C. Fussell.
Of all the traditional crafts and skills that are passed along from one generation to the next among the citizens of the Chattahoochee Valley, surely the strongest and most widely practiced is quilting. There are literally hundreds of quilters at work today throughout the region. Many families are now taking "second looks" at the old quilts that have come down to them from long dead aunts, cousins, and grandmothers. Many of these sometimes long forgotten works of art have rightfully become treasured family heirlooms.

Quilting, and related needlecrafts, is extremely popular. Within the quiltmaking tradition, there are two major veins of expression which have developed during the past 150 years or longer--Euro-American and African American. While Euro-American quilts lean to precise and carefully planned and executed geometric patterns and color themes, African American quilts are typically more individualistic in their form and execution.

Audio file clip for Red Cross Store. »AU File, 173KB (22 Seconds) Red Cross Store: Lonzie Thomas, vocal & guitar; All audio files copyright 1981, George Mitchell; Distributed by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission.
MP3 file clip for Red Cross Store. »MP3 File, 43KB (22 Seconds)

However, as with virtually every other aspect of traditional expression in the region, there are few clearly delineated boundaries between the two groups, and a high degree of crossover in materials, pattern, and technique is frequently seen among Chattahoochee Valley quilters.

The availability of native woods in abundant variety must surely account, in great part, for the extreme popularity of woodworking. In addition to the longtime use of native pine, oak, poplar, beech, maple, and cypress wood for making houses and household furnishings, Valley craftspeople utilize native woods in the production of a great many other items. Skilled hands chip, chop, saw, split, whittle, hew, hack, carve, paint, shellac, and varnish wood in a seemingly endless variety of ways to create baskets, chairs, porch swings, hat and coat racks, boxes, bowls, chests, cabinets, spoons, and walking sticks. More often than not, the work that is produced goes beyond that of being simply utilitarian. It is formed into beautifully crafted and deftly fashioned works of art, made as much to please the eye and mind as to serve a particular function.

Made From Common Clay

The hands of Master Potter D.X. Gordy working on a creation.Photo copyright by Fred C. Fussell.
The making of stoneware pottery in the Chattahoochee region required both a thorough knowledge of chemistry and mechanics and a finely attuned sense of design. This knowledge was not learned in school, but was passed down in pottery making families from one generation to the next. Shown here are the hands of master potter, D. X. Gordy, of Meriwether County, Georgia. Gordy was a son, grandson, great-grandson, nephew, uncle, and brother of traditional potters in Georgia.

Pottery making in the Chattahoochee Valley has its local roots in the early 19th century. For many decades, stoneware jugs, churns, bottles, and bowls produced by regional potters were essential components of local households. The prohibition period of the 1920s and early 1930s was an especially busy time for regional jug factories, when the production of contraband "moonshine" whiskey was a major activity in the region. The end of prohibition and the later advent of inexpensive glass, paper, and plastic containers in which store bought goods were sold and stored, brought an end to the demand for utilitarian containers made from local clay. Many potters were forced to abandon their shops and pursue other trades. As early as the 1940s, however, a few shops, including that of the Gordy family in Meriwether County, turned to producing highly decorative wares, often referred to as "art pottery."

D. X. Gordy, along with his father, W. T. B. Gordy and several other relatives, focused their efforts on producing beautifully glazed and finished stoneware vases, pitchers, tea sets, and occasional figurative pieces.

Today, there are only a few traditional potters who remain active in the region. Notable among them is Stephen Hawks, who operates the replicated pottery shop at Westville, and Ned Berry, whose grandfather was a traditional potter in Girard, Alabama.

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