A Community Coverlet


Quilt Presentation, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 1983

Back in the olden days,
(Oh, how I love being able to say that)
 new people moving into Madison County
began a tradition of making and gifting quilts.
For weddings, or new babies, or friendship.
Receiving a quilt meant a certain acceptance.
An embrace.
You were part of the community.
A member of the tribe.

It's a tradition that continues with young people today.
And I think, how rare is that?
Except in places like ours.
Small, close knit, and hands on.

In this photograph Vicki Skemp, aka Vicki Lane, is
thanking her neighbors and friends for the
20th Anniversary Wedding quilt
presented to her and her husband John.
It's a Sister's Choice pattern, 
organized by Vicky Owen and Fay Skemp Uffelman.
It was a potluck day, of course.
This one held at Wayne and Fay Uffelman's farm on Paw Paw Creek.



Little Granny


Berzilla Wallin, Sodom, Madison County, NC 1975

Little Granny they called her. And,
by the time I met her in 1975, she was 83, and truly little.
Married to Lee, a job in itself from what I understand,
although I never met the man.
Mother to ten kids, I believe, might have been twelve.
She was a farmer and singer of the old ballads.
The whole family sang as did most families back then.
But the Wallins got some notoriety from it. 
Pictures on album covers. Collectors. Young people coming around.
Invitations to sing at big places.
Sons Jack and Doug had their own album and
Doug was something of a legend.
Many consider him to be the best, period.
But he'd tell you he got it all from his mother,
Little Granny, the Matriarch,
his best friend he told me many times,
who he stayed with 'til she died,
never marrying,
never  spending a night away.


Seldom Scene - Bonnie Chandler's Cookstove


Bonnie Chandler's Cookstove, Rice Cove 1976

My first years in Madison County, this was an universal and welcoming sight in most county homes. Still warm from morning biscuits and gravy, dinner and supper warming still. Pots with bubbling beans, both pinto and green; potatoes, creamy and rich with butter; applesauce; and water for coffee and washing. People who have eaten a meal prepared on a wood cookstove all utter the same thing: "It's the best eatin' I've ever had." Certain homes in Madison show this scene today, but not many, they are hard to find. Cooking on a wood stove is a lost art, one not taught in school, or by grandmothers anymore. There's smoke and ash to deal with, the time it takes for the stove to heat up. And keeping cookstove wood on hand is a chore most people shun, it's so much easier to just turn that knob and watch the eye get hot.


The Magazine


In addition to the new "Goin' On" tab that we just included in the "Me" section of my website, today we're introducing a "Magazine" tab located in the "Blog" section of the site. This magazine is dynamic in that it will change regularly. This first edition represents a mixture of my blog entries that contain the tag "Appalachia." 


Goin' On


As part of the ongoing website re-alignment, we've added a new folder titled "Goin' On" that is meant to give readers an idea of what is currently happening with my work - a news page of sorts. It's located in the "Me" tab, formerly the "About" tab, a title we deemed too lame. I will be regularly adding things to this page. Here is the link:  


And a photograph to look at.

At the 4th of July Party, Anderson Branch, 1985

- from Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean, Ohio University Press, 2015.


ShatterZone - Marshall, 1981


Marshall, Madison County, NC 1981

for Roger May

I've always wondered about billboards like the one above. Who are Linda and Eddie, and Edward and Tisha? We're invited into their lives, but to what end? We barely know them. What is the message here and what prompted it? What is the story? If it's truly a heartfelt tale of love and family, why is it voiced in such a public venue? And what of the postscript - is it more of an afterthought? And, ultimately, was the message successful? Did Linda keep the faith? Was she convinced of Eddie's love? Were Edward and Tisha left with a feeling of love from their father? Or were they all just words on a sign?


Adventures with Kate, Pt.1


Jamie and I have been working on website additions and redesign the past few weeks. This new gallery is the first of our published efforts. There will be more changes in upcoming weeks so keep your eyeballs peeled. 

click on photo below to view full gallery:

On the Road, PawPaw, 1993.

On the Road, PawPaw, 1993.


Kelsey - A Year After the Wedding


Last August, I did a feature story on Kelsey Green that included an interview and photographs that ran for five consecutive Fridays in the Asheville Citizen-Times. The series was also published on my blog and all five parts can be found in the overview section of my blog, August 2014: http://robamberg.com/overview/ One of the images was of Kelsey and Tommy's Wedding and is published here. This past Sunday the community had a baby shower for Kelsey, Tommy and their new baby, which is due in late August. 

Kelsey and Tommy's Wedding Day, Hot Springs, NC 2014.


Kelsey at the Baby Shower, Marshall, 2015.


ShatterZone - A Fiction


Our nights are quiet and dark, save for a pair of screech owls calling from either end of the holler, or, coyotes high on the mountain yearning for goats. The sky is studded with stars and when the moon is full the forest dances with shadows and shapes the daylight doesn’t know. Sometimes we lie on a blanket in the yard, smoking, sipping a shared Bulleit, counting fireflies, waiting for comets, and soon making love in the comfort of dusky light.


The 40th 4th


One of the points of consistency in my forty-two years in Madison County has been the 4th of July party held annually by Paul Gurewitz, Laurie Pedersen, and Gary Gumz. This year's event is the 40th consecutive party and while the personnel has changed over the years, the party hasn't, except that it's gotten bigger. I want to believe I was at the first one in 1975, but if I was I didn't shoot any pictures, which would have been unusual. These images are from the 1977 party. Music and dancing in the now mostly demolished Art Gallery, pizza cooked in the car hood oven, and plenty of children and dogs. I met my wife Leslie at the 1988 party so, in essence, this party changed my life and I'm forever grateful for that.

But this party also conjures up childhood memories of the 4th - gatherings of my extended Italian family, first generation Americans all, and proud of it, tons of food, badminton and horseshoes, fireworks, and heartfelt goodwill. 

Heritage of Hate


Klan Rally, Asheville, NC 1986


Klan Rally, Asheville, NC 1986

Klan Rally, Madison County, NC, 1976

Klan Rally, Madison County, NC, 1976


Heritage is tricky stuff. We all have it. Some of us honor a particular heritage, be it Southern or African-American, or anything else. Some of us honor nothing at all.  In my case I choose to pay homage to my mother’s Sicilian/Italian ancestry and culture.

One of the problems with heritage, I venture to say any heritage, is it comes with ugly stuff, incidents and histories we should despise and be nothing but ashamed of. And any objective reading of history would single out Anglo (white) culture as the absolute worst of the lot. We white folks have done our level best to abuse and exterminate every ethnicity and social group on the planet.

I love my Italian heritage. Rome has defined much of the world’s rich legacy of art, food, architecture, culture and much more. I, and many people I know, regularly celebrate some aspect of our shared birthright. We visit the old country. We know a few words of Italian. We cook the food and have recipes from our grandmother. We speak with our hands. And we honor our kin, even those that died fighting for the Axis powers in World War II.

But, I’ve stopped participating in Columbus Day celebrations. Yes, he is credited with discovering America and is ultimately responsible for bringing all of us to this country. But, the bottom line is, he is one of those ugly truths, a human stain that began the 500-year process of liquidating our Native societies. He was also a slaver.

I love the South’s pace, that slow meandering that serves to slow me down. I love the South’s music and literature, its landscape and stories, its food and its drink. I love the men and women, all of them, who have made it the place it is. I love the South’s heritage.

But I do not love, or respect, the part of the South’s heritage that promotes hate, a lack of tolerance, traitors, and reverence for stupidity and ignorance. Surely, by this time, we should understand the part of heritage that disrespects, dishonors, and promotes hatred should be thrown on the trash heap of history.  



Mermaids, in Marshall?


When I moved to Madison County in 1973, Marshall was a busy place. Three car dealerships, two grocery stores, two hardware stores, the Sunnyside and the Shadyside florists, the library, people lining the counter at Doc Niles's pharmacy waiting for coffee or biscuits and gravy, and an assortment of people attached to the courthouse - lawyers, deputies, criminals, families. Parades were held on Christmas, the 4th of July, and Memorial Day. The town was full and alive and rich with activity. I caught a Greyhound bus in front of the Old Rock Cafe and took it to Knoxville to meet a friend. It was a main route.

By 1983, the town was dying. Businesses were closing and buildings were boarded up. I had opened a studio downtown, Main Street Studios, on the third floor in what is now the Flow Art Gallery and eventually moved into the space. The town would empty by five o'clock, the quiet only punctuated by the regular arrivals of the Norfolk Southern train. As the 1980s passed into the 1990s, Marshall slowed even more, the town abandoned by county residents who now did their shopping, and hanging out, on the Bypass or in Weaverville. The solitary parade at Christmas was attended by fewer people every year. Marshall resembled small, rural Southern towns across the entire region, passed by in a societal rush to modernity.

New people began arriving in the 2000s with money, ideas, and energy. Buildings were purchased and renovated into apartments, offices and galleries. Music, art, weddings and parades brought people into town who hadn't been there for years, or ever. It appears Marshall has been reborn, albeit in ways many long-time residents wouldn't have predicted. Last Friday evening at the Mermaid Parade, there were more people in town than I've seen in many years. Businesses were making money, families were having fun, people visiting, music playing, it was silly and delightful and a precise definition of the word community.

I've heard some born-in-county folk and older newcomers say they just don't like what Marshall has become, what with all the tattoos and dreadlocks and beer. They wish it had stayed like it was and one can sense resentment among certain people. It's too bad, that attitude, and I hate to hear it. The reality is the town was near dead and little effort was being made to revive it. But that's not the point, what is regrettable is that people are missing the opportunity to participate in the rebirth of their town as a destination for something besides court. 









Jamie Paul, in my studio, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 2013

It's a rare thing when a person enters your life who profoundly influences you toward new thinking and action. When that happens in one's later years, with the tendency to become fixed in our ways, it's even better. And when the person is young, more than half your age, that's the sweetest of all.

I'm not going to list the details. To do so would make this an extra long post and one of the things Jamie keeps hammering in my head is to keep these ramblings of mine short. The secret is in the edit. 

Thank you, Jamie.

Oh, yes, jamiepaulmusic.com


Jamie at Old Ground Farm, Big Pine, Madison County, NC, 2013




Marshall Bypass, Madison County, NC 2015

For whatever you’re doing, for your creative juices, your geography’s got a hell of a lot to do with it. You really have to be in a good place, and then you have to be either on your way there or on your way from there.                                         Neil Young, 2012 interview with NY Times reporter David Carr

Returning home from trips, no matter the direction I’m driving from, there are particular spots along the highways where I sense the change. Something – the smell, the look, the taste in the air – signals “I am home.” I’m back where I can most be myself, my most creative self, my easiest self. Back to the place I know best, the place that knows me best.

It’s different when I leave. My longing is immediate and palpable for a place I’m already missing, even as the mountains recede in my rear-view mirror. But the expanse of the road ahead, new people and new places, they, too, have allure, especially when informed by my spot in the mountains and the knowledge I will soon return there.