Arts & Culture

The Southern Agenda: February/March 2018

Goings-on from around the South and beyond

Photo: Tim Bower



“Having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own,” said Andy Warhol, who is celebrated more for his influential pop art than his conservation efforts. But don’t discount his love of nature, says Jennifer Rominiecki, the president and CEO of Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, which will transform into a Technicolor floral playground for the exhibition Warhol: Flowers in the Factory (February 11–June 30). The show documents Warhol’s surprising affection for the natural world, including his preservation efforts in Montauk, New York—the bulk of his Long Island compound is now owned by the Nature Conservancy. It also presents personal photographs, such as a series of the artist in a field of sunflowers. Four of Warhol’s silk screens of hibiscuses—created between the Campbell’s soup cans and the Marilyn Monroes—are also on display. In homage, mass plantings of hibiscuses and sunflowers bloom across the grounds, and the conservatory will be filled with bromeliads. The property is the world’s only botanical garden dedicated to epiphytes—the tentacled air plants that grow in trees, including orchids and bromeliads. While planting the exhibition, the gardeners realized something funny about one prized species. “Tillandsia tectorum is a white and fuzzy air plant,” Rominiecki says. “At a quick glance, it evokes Warhol’s unmistakable hair.”



Six dogs worked Westervelt Lodge’s very first hunt, in 1951. Since then hundreds have ranged the pine forests surrounding the ten-thousand-acre Pickens County hunt camp. For one weekend in February, forty additional pups (twenty each day) and their owners can experience this slice of Alabama’s storied Black Belt region during the Wildrose Continental Wingshoot at Westervelt (February 24 and 25). A collaboration with the renowned trainers from Mississippi’s Wildrose Kennels, the European-style tower shoot will offer a chance for seasoned dogs to sharpen their skills and finished dogs to fine-tune. After a fried-chicken lunch, participants will hit the sage-grass field, where ten blinds surround a central tower. Three hundred pheasant will be released, flying high overhead for a spectacular, challenging afternoon of shooting. Dogs will test their steady skills—holding as bullets whiz overhead before retrieving downed birds. Throughout the shoot, each dog-and-handler pair will get live one-on-one feedback from the Wildrose team. “Much like you might have a shooting instructor who helps you resolve problems and make suggestions for improvement, we’ll do the same for the dogs,” says Wildrose’s president, Mike Stewart. Toast the day’s work with a bourbon back at the lodge, where come bedtime, there’s no doubt you (and your pup) will dream of birds.




In New York City during the early sixties, a group of fifteen African American artists gathered each week to consider how they might contribute to the growing civil rights movement. They called themselves Spiral and met from the summer of 1963 through 1965, exhibiting only once. At one meeting, painter and cofounding member Romare Bearden suggested that they, as a symbolic show of unity, collaborate on a collage. The group did not take to the idea, but Bearden created one anyway, eventually going on to become, as the New York Times put it in his 1988 obituary, “the nation’s foremost collagist.” In the sprawling new exhibit Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville (February 3–April 23), see work from Bearden and his Spiral cofounder, abstract expressionist painter Norman Lewis, as well as pieces from portraitist Barkley L. Hendricks, sculptor Melvin Edwards, and outsider artist Dana Chandler, among others. Some depict the icons—Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Malcolm X—but many of the exhibition’s most striking pieces are more abstract, such as the stark white triangles on solid black representing roving Klansmen in Lewis’s Procession. Though the exhibit of nearly 150 works hails from London’s lauded Tate Modern, Bentonville is the show’s first stop in the United States. “These artists had a huge impact,” says Lauren Haynes, the contemporary art curator at Crystal Bridges. “Not just on the Black Power movement but on art at large.”



The pitch is straightforward: “We ask writers if there is an obscure writer or artist whom they admire that they want to honor by bringing to a new audience,” says Pearl McHaney, a cochair of Revival: Lost Southern Voices Festival (March 23–24) at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The answers are literary magic. This year, hear Georgia’s poet laureate, Judson Mitcham, read his favorite pieces by the Macon-born poet Seaborn Jones. Meet Lynn Cullen, the Atlanta-based author of the best seller Mrs. Poe, who will share stories about the African American novelist Zora Neale Hurston’s rural Southern childhood. Or listen to folklorist William Ferris spin yarns about some of his favorite lesser-known blues musicians. The entire event is free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged. Take the time to meander through the hallways outside the auditorium, where you’ll find a one-of-a-kind book fair peddling rare, out-of-print, and recently republished books from the authors you just discovered as well as current titles by the presenters.

Tim Bower



There’s a KFC outpost near the gates of Beijing’s Forbidden City, another overlooking the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, and nearly twenty thousand more locations around the world, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. But that famous fried chicken became a global phenomenon from inside Blackwood Hall, just off U.S. Route 60 in rural Shelbyville, Kentucky, where the Colonel and Mrs. Sanders moved in 1959 after they launched their poultry empire in Corbin. They sold the company a few years later and opened a modest sit-down restaurant, originally named the Colonel’s Lady, in 1968. The popular meat-and-three, now called Claudia Sanders’ Dinner House, changed hands in 1973 when the Sanderses sold it to their friends Tommy and Cherry Settle. Today, fifty years after its opening, the restaurant, which was rebuilt after a devastating 1999 fire, continues to dish out the Southern culinary hits: corn pudding, baked apples, stewed tomatoes, mac and cheese, pork chops, chicken livers, country ham, pies of all kinds, and yardbird, of course.



New Orleans throws down like no place else. Which means you can expect big things from the city’s Tricentennial celebration. There’s Mardi Gras (February 13), of course, but planners have much more in store all year long. Go ahead and ink these three events on your calendar. After Mardi Gras comes the Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo performance of Roméo and Juliette (February 24). The Prokofiev ballet reimagines Shakespeare’s doomed pair from the perspective of their ally Friar Laurence, says Jenny Hamilton, executive director of the New Orleans Ballet Association, which is hosting the world-renowned troupe at the historic Mahalia Jackson Theater. (For the cocktail-party conversation files: Did you know Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco Alice Heine was a native New Orleanian?) Then comes Up from the Streets (March 10), a concert at the Saenger Theatre organized by local producing legend Michael Murphy, which will showcase the city’s embarrassment of musical talent. For something more low-key, check out Making New Orleans Home (March 8–11), four days of symposia at locations around town, including Tulane University and Hotel Monteleone. Look for talks by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson, NPR’s Morning Edition commentator Cokie Roberts, and a plethora of scholars on subjects from European-Indian intermarriage in colonial Louisiana to the development of jazz. Chase all that academia with a Vieux Carré in the Monteleone’s Carousel Bar—one of the few Crescent City cocktails you can still order in the place where it was born—and toast the city’s next three hundred.

Tim Bower



Annapolitans embrace spring fever with childlike gusto, gathering to collectively shrug off winter’s frosty embrace at the Maritime Museum’s annual Oyster Roast and Sock Burning (March 24). You read that right. After digging in to fresh Bay oysters, Annapolis residents fling old socks onto a bonfire to welcome warmer days ahead—a.k.a. boating season. “Come spring, we don’t wear socks with boat shoes in Annapolis,” says Alice Estrada, executive director of the museum. “There are even some who refuse to wear socks all year, but that’s hard-core.” It’s not just locals with a burning desire for seasonal change, though; up to a thousand guests, including out-of-towners, bring everything from worn-out woollies to questionable-smelling gym socks to feed the blaze. The offbeat event is in its seventh year, but the tradition dates to the 1970s, when a yacht-yard worker had the idea to crack open a few brewskis and put flame to footwear in celebration of the equinox. Since the museum is dedicated to the area’s maritime history, continuing the rite made sense. Be advised: “There are some rogue sock burnings out there,” Estrada says. “But we’re the official one.”




In Merigold, Mississippi, nobody will call you a crackpot for standing in line to buy a cracked pot—so long as it’s from McCartys Pottery. Founded by the late Lee and Pup McCarty in 1954, the famed ceramics company crafts deceptively simple designs dipped in signature glazes of nutmeg brown, cobalt blue, and jade. (In the early days, the pair was granted free access to a clay deposit by William Faulkner himself, after he chanced upon one in a ravine on his property.) More than six decades later, people are still queuing up for the annual McCartys Pottery Seconds Sale (March 4–5) to buy pieces with an imperfection of some kind: over- or underfired, a hairline crack, or a slightly off glaze. Always on the first Sunday and Monday of March, at 1:00 p.m., the event draws hundreds with its heavily discounted wares. “People start camping out anywhere from a week to three weeks in advance,” says the McCartys’ godson Stephen Smith, who manages the business side of the operation. “We absolutely pack the warehouse full. There’s not a millimeter of space not utilized.” And all of it, he adds, sells. The typical wait lasts about three hours, with food trucks serving, folks grilling, and musicians busking. “It’s our own little Bonnaroo in Merigold,” Smith says.


North Carolina

During Art in Bloom (March 22–25), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh does the floral still life one better. Instead of two-dimensional canvases, the annual fund-raiser challenges floral designers and garden clubbers to create living works of art from roses, tulips, lilies, and other flowers. More than sixty participants, from across North Carolina and the surrounding states, look to the museum’s permanent collection as muse. “They may home in on a piece’s colors or lines or shapes, even its origin,” says Laura Finan, the museum’s coordinator of programs. Visitors can get in on the action, too. Weekend activities include a Saturday-night fete complete with models “dressed” in live flowers and a meditation hour to ponder “What kind of flower are you?” If your name is Daisy, Iris, Jasmine, Rose, or Violet, maybe consider reserving space in one of the event’s how-to workshops instead.



Norman Rockwell wasn’t called “the kid with a camera eye” for nothing. His nostalgic illustrations of everyday American life are praised for their hyperrealism and beloved for their humor and insight; he achieved all these effects using carefully constructed studio photography. Before committing an idea to canvas, he staged, styled, and lit the scene (he directed but never actually clicked the shutter himself), paying meticulous attention to every detail—even the width of a model’s smile. A new exhibit, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum (February 17–June 10) examines this underdocumented facet of his creative genius. More than fifty photos showcase his exacting process, many accompanied by their companion illustrations, including such favorites as The Soda Jerk and The Gossips. But not all of Rockwell’s work is lighthearted, as Mark Dolph, the museum’s associate curator of history, stresses. “He had the ability to draw people into the image on a deeper level, almost surreptitiously,” he says. Case in point: New Kids in the Neighborhood, which focuses on three white children curiously greeting two African American children moving onto their suburban street. “It’s thought provoking, and for me—someone responsible for helping visitors engage with history—this is important,” Dolph says. “We’re still facing some of these issues today. It shows Rockwell’s work is still relevant.”


South Carolina

Marriage in trouble? Barry Thigpen, chairman of the National Shag Dance Competition (March 8–10), now in its thirty-fifth year in Myrtle Beach, has some advice: Start shagging. (The dance, y’all.) Even if your relationship is solid, the shag—a dance that originated in Carolina beach towns during the 1940s and ’50s—makes a worthy extracurricular. If you don’t have an ounce of rhythm, don’t worry; Thigpen promises you’ll enjoy watching, especially at the national competition, an event he helped found to preserve and promote the distinctive partner dance. More than seven hundred spectators descend on the Grand Strand to see fifty couples ranging from age five to eighty-five compete in several categories. That the event (this year, held at the Spanish Galleon nightclub, just a half block off the beach) stays packed is about more than the moves. “People just love the music,” says Thigpen, who has been cutting a shag rug for decades. “There’s debate about what ‘real’ shag music is, but I say whatever you like to shag to, that’s shag music.” He’s less open-minded about the steps. “You can improvise some, but you can’t throw moonwalking in there.”

Tim Bower



Buddies Andy Mumma (owner, Barista Parlor), Bryce McCloud (owner, Isle of Printing letterpress company), and Mike Wolf (bartender at Husk Nashville) have shaken a dash of imagination with a splash of humor and stirred in a little whimsy to create a new tiki bar called Chopper, scheduled to open this February in Nashville. They plan to be serious about cocktail craft and service—but not much else. “There are so many bars where everything is dark and somber, and the drinks are so pricey,” Mumma says. “We wanted the reverse, so a tiki bar made sense. There’s not one in Nashville. I love what they evoke, and I love rum.” Set behind East Nashville’s Barista Parlor location, the bar and everything about it—from fruity libations and slushies made with fresh-squeezed juices to the patio Mumma calls a “jungle room”—aim to channel the easygoing attitude of the tropics. If you’re a rum fanatic, ask to see Chopper’s “secret” menu to get a swig from the bar’s stash of rare bottles.



Some say nothing in life is free, but fans of the Austin-based musician Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known as Shakey Graves, know that’s not true. Every February 9 since 2012—when Austin’s mayor declared the date Shakey Graves Day—the singer-songwriter, whose bluesy, rock-country sound defies genre, gives folks a chance to download any of his music for whatever price they choose. The tracks, including rare and hard-to-find cuts, are available on his website for seventy-two hours in honor of the “holiday.” “It comes once a year, like Santa,” Graves says. This year, he’s delivering multiple gifts: the music offering and a cheap-ticket live show in Austin on the ninth, plus a new album out later in 2018 with a sound he dubs simply “different.” Since the event started, Graves has stayed steady on one point: “It’s not about me; it’s appreciation for the people who love my music.” Plenty love it enough to open their wallets, paying more than a hundred dollars per song. Others, not so much. “I get emails from people who feel guilty for not paying,” he says. “It’s funny.”



Virginia native Randal Eller, now a renowned fiddle and mandolin maker in Chilhowie, spent much of his life as a carpenter, renovating houses and building furniture. After a chance meeting at a festival with Albert Hash, an influential luthier from Whitetop, Eller began a transformative apprenticeship with him. During that time, while working on an old house, Eller stumbled across an eight-foot plank of pristine cherrywood. The mandolin that he turned it into is now one of many stringed instruments that are part of The Luthier’s Craft: Instrument Making Traditions of the Blue Ridge (through March 4) at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol. The traveling exhibit examines traditional folk instruments along with the folks who fashion them—craftspeople such as Wayne Henderson (guitar), Audrey Hash Ham (fiddle), and Johnny Gentry (banjo). “These are people building instruments from scratch: cutting the wood, fusing the wood, all of it,” says curator René Rodgers. “Stringed-instrument making is a deep part of Appalachian culture. It also seems like every luthier has interesting origin stories for their wood: Like, ‘My grandpa grew this tree, then it fell, and my grandma kept it in storage. Now I’ve made ten banjos from it.’”


Washington, D.C.

In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge of North American flora, Bill McLaughlin, curator of plants for the U.S. Botanic Garden, has a cheerful prescription for getting through winter in Washington: “Come out of the chilly gray air and get a good dose of color.” And by dose he means dizzying Pixar levels of it. From February 23 through April 8, Orchid Spectrum, an exhibition of plants from the family Orchidaceae, takes over the garden’s conservatory. Walk into the first of fifteen rooms to see thousands of blooms hanging overhead (and all around); duck into a nearby space and immerse yourself in the desert landscape or hop over to the Mediterranean. In the tropical room, check out vibrant flowers that wind their way up the sides of trees. Ruby, orange, yellow, pink, green, lavender, and even nearly black species (and hybrids) spill over every surface. “You won’t see many common white and pastel orchids here,” McLaughlin says. “We want you to be surrounded by saturated colors.”

Tim Bower


West Virginia

Environmentalists don’t have any kind words for mountaintop removal (with good reason), a form of surface mining common in Appalachia in which summits are dynamited flat. But for elk—which went extinct in West Virginia in the 1800s, mostly from overhunting—the practice’s ruinous results presented an opportunity. The regal animals prosper in level grasslands—even if they used to be mountains. That’s why wildlife officials have chosen coal country to relocate sixty Rocky Mountain elk in March across a 2,800-square-mile area encompassing four southwestern counties and portions of three others. A subspecies of the North American elk and the continent’s most common, Rocky Mountain elk have the largest antlers of all subspecies. The animals, known for their adaptability, will be trucked in from Arizona. Building on the success of a 2016 test run in which two dozen were released, officials plan to eventually bring in around 250. Much of the motivation is economic, says Randy Kelley, leader of the elk project for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Kentucky, which claims more than 10,000 elk since starting a release program in the nineties, brings in millions of elk-driven tourism dollars a year, he says. Kelley hopes these animals bring a similar windfall. Late summer and fall, once herds have developed predictable habits, are the best times to get a glimpse. Follow the bugle call.