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Stories about Modern Appalachian Life

I could tell you that Story Time with Uncle Scratch is like nothing you've ever seen. It would be true but such an understatement. This new comic series is about young Moses Hatch, a backwoods farm boy who is pulled, living and breathing, into Appalachian folktales woven by his otherworldly mentor Uncle Scratch.
According to Sean Coxen, the comic's creator, Moses faces "head to head scrapes with the supernatural, where he’ll have to test his mettle against the howling, gibbering forces that lurk, forgotten in the eastern woodlands."
Sounds like good reading to me!
While the first issue is short at just fourteen pages, its art is expertly drawn. The images are, first, beautiful, just a joy to see, and also energetic. They create a real sense of action and motion, which is helped by Sean's smart choices as a writer. He opens with a lie and closes with the introduction of Uncle Scratch, a character my eyes can't help but study.
With twigs for hair; a bushy, fox-like tail; and exposed ribs, Scratch is an enthralling mash-up that manages to look peculiar without ever becoming menacing. (At least not yet!) His oddness is compounded by what he does, which is to say nothing weird. Uncle Scratch sips a steaming beverage and talks to young Moses like a real uncle might. There's no hocus pocus, no dragging the boy into alternate realities. The normality of the scene somehow makes Scratch's debut that much stranger.
Personally, I can't look away, but I'm excited to hear what you think. Leave a comment below, and if you like what you see, consider supporting Sean's creation. You can donate to his crowdfunding campaign over on Patreon, a site dedicated to supporting artists.


Uncle Scratch page 1
Uncle Scratch page 2
Uncle Scratch page 3


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When Mark Green was nine years old, he needed to carry nuts and berries in something. That's not an issue most of us encounter these days, but in Mark's family, it made perfect sense. His Cherokee father and Irish-American mother valued traditional living. That meant no plastic toys, no running water, no phones, no car, and it meant a lot of foraging.
Luckily, his grandfather had an old-time solution to the berry and nut problem—simply peel bark from a tulip poplar limb, fold it half, and bind it with a reed. Boom, an instant basket!
[caption id="attachment_10002" align="alignright" width="244"]Handmade acorns are included on each of Mark Green’s baskets. Handmade acorns are included on each of Mark Green’s baskets.[/caption]
Nobody knows how long Cherokee folk have been making these handy vessels, mostly because they were as common as dirt. Bark baskets weren't art-pieces but instead utilitarian tools. More often than not, they ended up as kindling when they were done being used.
Today, we look at them a little differently. In an era of Rubbermaid and vacuum sealing, these natural containers—devoid of glue and chemicals—take on a special meaning. They connect us with our Appalachian heritage and remind us that not everything useful has to be made by a machine.
According to Mark's wife Kimberly, bark baskets have a hundred uses. "We have one on the spinning wheel for tools. Tooth brush holder. Needle holder," she says. "There is one in the Jeep tied to the air vent for pencils. One in the craft room for scissors and, of course, anytime we need a basket in the woods for blueberries, blackberries, or flowers."
I don't know about you, but there's something about seeing an old Cherokee craft alive and well that makes me smile. It also made me want a basket of my own. Mine is now holding dish towels and I guess I will buy more organization boxes and baskets. If you were to pick one up, how would you use it?


You can purchase Mark Green's handmade baskets online at Gallery of the Mountains (just email or call to place the order) or in the company's store inside Asheville's Grove Park Inn. They're also available at the store Chifferobe in Black Mountain, North Carolina and make appearances at select festivals, including the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair, Townsend Fall Heritage Festival, Tennessee Fiber Festival, and Carolina FiberFest.
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Photos provided by Aaron Blum.

Scan the rolling hilltops of West Virginia, and what would you expect to see—an old coal tipple, boulders, the crumbling remains of a settler's cabin? How about a gilded palace with colorful windows inspired by peacocks surrounded by an award-winning rose garden and a hundred or so fountains?

For over forty years, Marshall County has been the site of New Vrindaban, one of the largest Hare Krishna communities in the U.S. Filled with ornate touches—stained glass, real gold, and crystal—the temple at the heart of this community has been called America's Taj Mahal, but to photographer Aaron Blum, the people who live there have always simply been his neighbors.

"They just were part of my hometown just like anyone else," Aaron told me in a recent interview. He saw Krishnas as he was growing up, sometimes wearing their tell-tale saffron robes, and while they stood out, he didn't give them much thought until he was older, when he began encountering them at punk rock shows.


"The Krishnas were always there serving food, and as long as you would talk with them about religion they would give the food to you for free," he said and with a pause adding, "I am a sucker for pineapple chutney!"

It wasn't long before Aaron visited New Vrindaban, and he started doing so just like anyone else. Tourists are welcome.

"In fact, they're counting on it," Aaron said, "a large part of their income is based in tourism," but he visited so often he began to make friends and eventually secured permission from the community's head of public relations to photograph freely.

What emerged was a riveting collection of images entitled Almost Heaven.

These photos spotlight what, on the one hand, seems like an unlikely community for West Virginia but, on the other, is actually in keeping with many Appalachian traditions.

"When I’m there I’m constantly thinking about how so many others had come to the hills of Appalachia to isolate themselves for protection, religion, solitude, freedom," Aaron said, "and the Krishnas have a very simple lifestyle, like so many other country people."

rosegardner2 001

In spite of its emphases on simple living and its bucolic setting, New Vrindaban has seen dark periods. In the 1980s, two of the community's resident were killed by a third. The murderer claimed that the group's leader, Swami Bhaktipada, was behind the killings, and later, Bhaktipada did plead guilty of conspiring to commit murders-for-hire.

For a time, the group went into a tailspin, losing many members, letting its grounds fall into disrepair, and even being excommunicated from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

But thirty years can heal many wounds. It has at New Vrindaban, which is again a member of the Krishna's governing body and has a new leader, Jaya Krishna. This former Swiss businessman has revitalized the temple and gardens, and he is, at the same time, restoring the group's reputation."There is a completely new set of individuals there," Aaron said, "and they could not be more wonderful."

Today's residents form a unique melting-pot, adhering to Hare Krishna religious traditions while also being influenced by West Virginia culture. In Aaron's photos, you see how this plays out. Krishna robes are worn with Carharrt jackets and beaded necklaces with work boots.

"They exist in both worlds simultaneously," the photographer said, "so it is easy to see how they borrow from each lifestyle."

cowbarnwork 001

Want to see for yourself how the worlds of eastern religion and Appalachian heritage come together?

New Vrindaban invites everyone to visit. The Palace of Gold is open according to a seasonal schedule, and the community offers newly-remodeled guest houses to those wishing to stay overnight. If you go or if you've been before, let us know what you think. Are the temple and grounds as pretty as they look? How do you see the merger of cultures working? And what do you think of the Krishna chow?

Aaron says he's hooked on their samosas!

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This poem is for anyone who never had a pot to pee in; who shared a bedroom, shoes, maybe even a toothbrush because you couldn't afford more than one. It's for people who've said things like "a can of green beans works just fine as a chair leg" or "isn't one glove better than none?"


This poem is for penny pinchers and coupon clippers everywhere, and it's written by Casey LaFrance, a native of the North Georgia mountains. Casey teaches political science and public administration in Illinois, where he has a loving wife, two catkids, and a suit all his own. His poetry has also been published in Unfettered Muse.


Bobby's Suit Jacket

By Casey LaFrance

Where I'm from
a collared shirt
means you're going
Maybe to 'Lanna or
Knoxville or court.
It ain't something
you wear to push a
buggy in the A&P
and we don't even know
how to play golf.
But, Daddy went in half
with Bobby from the station
on a pitiful suit
from consignment.
They knew a lot of folks
who died or
whose kids were gettin married.
Problem was, they had to
make Superman changes in the gas station.
One suit to split.
So, Daddy would go to the reception
after Bobby left the wedding.
One would go to visit the
night before the funeral
and the other would turn up at the
Problem was, Bobby beat daddy
to coffin. I still remember
his words of sympathy
on the phone with Bobby's wife
begging for the suit jacket:
"Nobody will notice if you leave the
lid shut and I have
to be a pall bearer. Aw, hell, ok.
Can I at least have the pants?"
Daddy had to buy his very first
suit of his own.
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With the windows open at night, I heard trains. Even though the nearest tracks were some three miles away, their long, deep tones rolled across the Roanoke Valley. Cars riding the rails and the punctuation of locomotive whistles—these sounds took strange forms in my boyhood dreams. One night, they would morph into a growling beast. The next, they became the baseline to an imagined song.

If trains ran deep in my subconscious, it was because they criss-crossed my waking world. We couldn't drive two miles in Roanoke without going under a trestle or seeing a railroad crossing arm. Whenever we stopped for a passing train, I counted the coal cars and bounced in place, excited about the big finale—that jolly, red caboose at the end.
I didn't know it then, but my town was the exception. By the 1970s and 80s, when I grew up, highways had stolen nearly all passenger and freight traffic, and trains were growing rare in much of the country. As home to Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W), Roanoke provided a throwback experience, a window into rail's golden age.
[caption id="attachment_9636" align="alignright" width="294"]Window "Waving to No. 2" by O. Winston Link.[/caption]
Luckily, it still does. If you love trains, you can visit my hometown and see a functioning rail yard, complete with a factory—the East End Shops—where locomotives were once built from scratch and where, today, expert mechanics restore these machines, some as much as 25-years-old, into like-new models.
You can tour the Virginia Museum of Transportation, and board the world's most powerful steam locomotives—a massive Class A 1218, known as the Mercedes of Steam, and the sleek Class J 611. They are the last of their kind, reminders of an age when steam engine's revolutionized travel.
You can also visit the O. Winston Link Museum, and relive the final days of that age, the late 1950s, when diesel replaced steam and those locomotives were retired. Link, the museum's namesake, was a commercial photographer. Based in New York City, he took pictures of fashion models and body lotion for a living. While he was a fan of trains, he never imaged that he would take some of the most enduring rail images in history or that his career would reach new heights in Appalachia.
In 1955, Link visited Staunton, Virginia to photograph air conditioners at a Westinghouse plant. While there, he heard that a steam engine would be passing through Waynesboro. By that time, just one U.S. railroad still ran these old trains—N&W—so Link knew he could get some unique shots. What he didn't expect was the local rail depot. He said that when he walked through the door, it was like stepping onto a classic movie set—a bare bulb overhead, a telegraph machine, a clerk's eyeshade hanging just so. He realized that communities had developed alongside these tracks, special places that might not be around much longer. Link committed himself to capturing them on film while he still could.
What resulted were some of the period's finest photos—portraits on a grand scale, steam trains and children swimming, steam trains and teens at a drive-in, steam trains as seen through a living room window and from a gas station. The shots were as much about the people who lived around the trains as the trains themselves.
Mike McNeil, Director of the O. Winston Link Museum, says that he and his staff strive to reflect this vision. "We try and tie everything back to the effect that steam locomotives had on the local communities," he says, "We really explore what everybody's daily life was and how interaction with N&W affected communities throughout Appalachia."
Many of Link's intricate compositions were shot at night. He once said, "I can't move the sun — and it's always in the wrong place — and I can't even move the tracks, so I had to create my own environment through lighting." With help from assistants, he would craft complex arrays of mercury flash bulbs, stringing as many as eighty of them together with a trigger that went off just as the train passed.
[caption id="attachment_9640" align="alignleft" width="295"]"Waiting for the Creeper" by O. Winston Link. Shot at the Vesuvius General Store. "Waiting for the Creeper" by O. Winston Link. Shot at the Vesuvius General Store.[/caption]
At the museum, you can experiment with lighting too. "We have interactive exhibits, including sculpting with light," says McNeil, "which explores the effect that different flashes have on images."
You'll also find a reconstructed general store, one that Link shot in the town of Vesuvius, Virginia. The store's countertops, cash register, butcher paper dispenser, and scale are the very same ones seen in Link's photo.
The museum's building itself is even a treat. A former train station that was originally built in the Queen Anne style, it was dramatically remodeled by the renowned industrial designer Raymond Loewy. When construction was completed in 1949, the new N&W passenger station was a sleek modern building, complete with vast glass walls and Roanoke's first escalator. Today, it serves a fitting new use—displaying Link's fine photos, artifacts from the era, and also the sounds of steam locomotives. A man of many interests, Link dabbled in audio. While on shoots, he would record the same trains he photographed.
Below is an image and a clip that he captured in Rural Retreat, Virginia. It was Christmas Eve, 1957, and Link arranged for a local organist to play church chimes just before Train 42, The Pelican, arrived. The steam engine you hear, a Class J Number 603, was making one of its final runs from New Orleans to Washington, D.C. Seven nights later, the last steam engine in the U.S. would be retired.
Listening to it, what do you hear? What do you picture? What do you think life was like in this small Virginia town on Christmas Eve nearly sixty years ago? What would have been lost were it not for this one photographer's ingenuity?
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Long Man is a new novel written and set in the Smoky Mountains. It tells the story of three days in the summer of 1936, when a government-built dam is beginning to flood an Appalachian valley and, in the midst of the rising waters, a little girl goes missing.
I have to admit that this all I know. I've not yet read the book. I can give you forty-two reasons why—busy blogging, have to read a bunch of other books for my MFA program, been planting shrubs, working on a novel of my ownbut I don't want my literary slothfulness to stop you from learning about Long Man.
How about I let other reviewers tell you what they think:
"[Amy] Greene has taken the tale of a Tennessee town condemned by flooding and infused it with remorse and panic to produce an unusually poetic literary thriller." Ron Charles,The Washington Post
"The plot is simple but rich, and provides great suspense. One evening Annie Clyde’s husband, James, is trying to persuade her to accept the inevitable [flooding of their valley] and move to Detroit, but in the midst of their argument they notice that their 3-year-old daughter and her dog have disappeared. Annie Clyde saw Amos, the one-eyed drifter, in her field earlier that day and suspects he has taken her child. The hunt for Amos and the girl triggers conflict among the few remaining residents." Daniel Woodrell, The New York Times
"Two older sisters in town provide windows into the folkways about to be submerged, while a local police officer and TVA functionary represent the transformations to come, but Greene’s imagination is too fecund to make these characters mere symbols. Her novel fully inhabits the contradictions within each character and the ironies inherent in destroying a place in the name of progress...A smart and moody historical novel that evokes the best widescreen Southern literature. Kirkus

And here are some great quotes from the author herself:
“In my hometown, there’s Cherokee Lake. When the water goes down in the winter, you can see the tops of silos sticking out of the water. I remember when I was 9 or 10, I asked my mom what that was. She told me there was a town under Cherokee Lake. That was intriguing to me.” The Mountain Press
"When I went to Vermont [College low-residency program for writers], that's when I learned I was Appalachian. I had no idea I had an accent at all, but nobody could understand what I was saying. Everywhere I go, I take the mountains with me." Charleston City Paper
“I have a loyalty to this area. There is so much rich literary territory to mine.” The Mountain Press

Think you will you pick this book up? If so, any interest in writing a proper review for The Revivalist?
Guest posts are always welcome!
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Dolan Geiman likes to live in places where people were never meant to live. He was raised in a Civil War hospital in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. His father converted the building into a livable space when he was young, setting a trend for Dolan.
Artwork by Dolan Geiman.  Photo by David Ettinger.
When the artist struck out on his own, he moved to an abandoned warehouse in Stuarts Draft. Gutter punks were his housemates, and the streets of nearby Charlottesville served as a marketplace for his creations. It wasn't a bad setup at first, but then one person was stabbed in the sprawling warehouse he called home and then another. "It got kind of hectic," Dolan explains in the below interview, "I thought I better move out of there."
This time, the move was big, at least in one way. Dolan relocated all the way to Chicago, but he still ended up in another deserted warehouse. He turned this one into a live/work space that included a makeshift gallery, which served as a launchpad for his career.
Dolan's art sort of reflects this scrappy start. "I use a lot of found objects," he says, "but I don't use them for what they are. Like, I'll find a golf club and I'll cut it into thirty pieces and kind of rearrange those pieces, weld them together or tie them together and then nail them to a board or something like that...I'm not just taking something at its face value."
The result is remarkable. With nature themes drawn from his Blue Ridge childhood, his piece's are heartwarming yet unruly, like Dolan is some crazy quilter who decided that fabric just wasn't enough.
Artwork by Dolan Geiman.  Photo by David Ettinger.
Inspecting his work, you'll find an old ruler fashioned into a bear's back and a revolver barrel made of bullets. This delightful mix has turned heads across the country. You can spot Dolan's art in a slew of restaurants, hotels, and resorts, along with YouTube's Chicago office. It's been featured in Fast Company, on HGTV House Hunters, and in daily papers from Detroit to Miami. It even shows up in movies, including the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and let's be honest, when Freddie Cruger is splattering blood across your artwork, that's when you know you've really made it!
Ready to pick up one of Dolan's creations?
You can find them on his Etsy store and in shops across the country.
I'd love to hear which of his pieces is your favorite. And since Dolan is always looking for new ideas, what animal, person, or object would you like to see him make out of found materials next?
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Dear literati,
I read this week that New York City bookstores are closing at an alarming rate. While I'm sorry to hear it, it can't be much of a surprise. With tiny retail spaces in Manhattan topping $10,000 a month, how many booksellers can afford to stay?
At the same time, I noticed a slew of writerly events—workshops and festivals—in the Southern Appalachians, and it got me to thinking. What if you all just moved down here?
[caption id="attachment_9467" align="alignright" width="208"] Lovers' Leap outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo by Kay Gaensler on Flickr.[/caption]
I know. I know. It would be a big change. You'd give up skyscraper views and great public transit, but imagine all you'd get in exchange—waking with hazy, blue mountains right outside your door; watching a parade of wildlife—fox, deer, even bear—while you write; taking a mid-day break to swim at the base of a waterfall.
Even if you want an urban experience, we've got you covered. Asheville has gorgeous deco buildings and was named Beer City USA four years in a row. Roanoke has a world-class art museum, not to mention a bustling downtown with a daily farmers' market. Charlottesville has more restaurants per capita than nearly any city in the U.S. and an amazing book festival. Oh, I almost forgot Chattanooga; it's had bike-share for years, which I hear is all the rage in New York City.
Now, back to real estate. There's a giant deserted asylum in Staunton, Virginia (also home to a leading Shakespeare theater and a lively arts district.) I know it sounds a little strange, but the facility consists of breathtaking Georgian buildings that I bet would go for a song. With a little renovating, it could make a stand-out corporate campus for Harper Collins or Random House.
And all you Brooklyn hipsters, you're going to die when you see our old coal camps. Picture vintage wooden houses, each with a little porch, neighboring authentic, old-time storefronts. Can you imagine a better spot to open that apothecary-bar or cronut shop you've always wanted?
[caption id="attachment_9474" align="alignleft" width="276"]Tribal graffiti in Roanoke, Virginia. Photo by Jessica on Flickr. Tribal graffiti in Roanoke, Virginia. Photo by Jessica on Flickr.[/caption]
Here's the best part—you get all this charm and serious literary chops too. James Agee, Annie Dillard, Ron Rash, Barbara Kingsolver, Cormac McCarthy, Dorothy Allison, Charles Frazier, Thomas Wolfe—some of the world's best authors have called Appalachia home. Whatever you may have heard, we write and read a lot. What's more, we'd love to have you join us.
So how about it? Ready to dip your toe in the proverbial water?
The below events provide a perfect intro to Appalachian writers along with mountain living. If that's not enough, just ring me. I'm happy to show you around, and unlike those fancy moving concierges in New York, I'll do it for free.
See you soon!
Mark Lynn


Western Carolina University Literary Festival, March 31-April 4: Let's start with Ron Rash. With multiple best sellers and an upcoming film based on his novel Serena, he may be Appalachia's hottest writer, and here's a chance to see him on his stomping ground. Alongside Jill McCorkle, a perennial New York Times Notable author, Ron will read and share writerly wisdom on the campus where he teaches.
[caption id="attachment_9476" align="alignright" width="220"]Tower of books in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Zen Sutherland on Flickr. Tower of books in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Zen Sutherland on Flickr.[/caption]
Appalachian Writers' Workshop at Hindman Settlement School, July 27-August 1: Located at an historic center for Appalachian culture, this Kentucky workshop features Silas House, award-winning Appalachian writer and former NPR commentator. With sessions in poetry, fiction, memoir, and nonfiction, you're bound to find something you like, which might even include a spouse. Love bloomed for Pinckney and Laura Benedict (who might be called the first couple of Appalachian lit) when they met here in the 1980's, so why not for you?
Tinker Mountain Writers' Workshop, June 8-13: Want to ask Pinckney and Laura about their aforementioned romance? Here's the place to do it. Each year, they join other superb faculty members on the Hollins University campus, where they lead small group sessions of no more than 12 people each. Courses include advanced novel writing, getting unstuck, screenwriting, road stories, poetry, and more. The bonus prize is spending time in Appalachia's best kept secret—Roanoke, Virginia—my quirky, vintage sign obsessed, utterly charming hometown.
[caption id="attachment_9480" align="alignleft" width="289"]Malaprop's, a Guernica Editor's Pick bookshop in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Joe Schram on Flickr. Malaprop's, a Guernica Editor's Pick bookshop in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Joe Schram on Flickr.[/caption]
Appalachian Young Writers' Workshop, June 22-28: Young talent will find its place here. Rising 10th through 12th graders and graduating seniors are invited to enjoy a week of writing and reflection at Tennessee's Lincoln Memorial University. Daily workshops will explore literature from the region and also our unique mountain environment, culture, and music. The session culminates in a lovely anthology of student work
Tennessee Mountain Writers' Annual Conference, April 3-5: This mountain gathering offers all the writerly advise you could want in fiction, poetry and nonfiction plus it boasts special sessions on the business of writing. Publisher Kate Larken will advise writers on editing and publishing while literary event planner Kathy Womack offers marketing tips. If that's not exciting enough, the conference is held in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the once-secret city where fissionable plutonium, the main ingredient of nuclear bombs was pioneered. It will no doubt be (wait for it, wait for it) a blast!
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Karen Tunnell didn't plan to become a quilt artist. As a student at the Atlanta College of Art (now part of Savannah College of Art and Design), she majored in painting and dabbled in other traditional mediums. It wasn't until after she graduated—when 1970s "back to the land" fervor took hold—that she found her true inspiration.
"I wanted to create a really different environment, a world made by hand; the Appalachian mountains were full of people doing just that," she told me in a recent interview. "For a young woman from Winter Park, Florida, it felt like a foreign country!"
[caption id="attachment_9164" align="alignright" width="249"]My Boulders "My Boulders" by Karen Tunnell.[/caption]
Working as a traveling Head Start teacher, Karen visited families on hills and in hollers across Western North Carolina, and the one piece of art that she saw in nearly every home was a quilt.

"I'll never forget Jersey Cook," she said, "a neighbor in Little Laurel community, whose tiny cabin was full of dozens of unfinished quilt tops, all pieced by hand and smoky-smelling from years of her cooking on a wood stove."
At a time when many people still dismissed quilting as an old lady craft, Karen recognized the artistry in these pieces. She began to study under women like Jersey, joining quilters in their homes and around quilt frames that lowered from ceilings in little church meeting halls.

"As many artists do, I started by studying the foundations and history of my chosen media—both painting and quilting."
Over time the two disciplines merged, revealing a new media that has won Karen worldwide recognition. She calls it "quilted painting," and as you'll learn in the below interview, it has led her to push the boundaries of what a quilt can mean.  


TR: Karen, thanks for taking time to talk with me. When I saw your beautiful work, the first question that came to mind was "does she use these?" If we came to your house today, would we find one of these art pieces on your bed?

KT: My first quilts were for beds, hand sewn using ancient paper patterns.  After 45 years I still love hand work, but most of my pieces now are more like paintings than quilts and always hang in a frame on the wall.
TR: Now your quilting started in the North Carolina mountains. What attracted you to the area and do you still go back there? 

KT: Going from the Atlanta College of Art to quilting bees in Madison County, North Carolina was a dramatic move in the early 70s. Along with many others of my generation I was seeking a simpler, wholesome life in the mountains, so I happily embraced traditional quilting along with farming, cooking on a wood stove, and folk music.
[caption id="attachment_9168" align="alignleft" width="245"]"Turban Baby" by Karen Tunnell. "Turban Baby" by Karen Tunnell.[/caption]
While I have an electric stove now, what hasn't changed is my love of the southern mountains. I have a home in Midtown Atlanta and one on Lake Santeetlah in Graham County, North Carolina, where spectacular views continue to inspire most of my quilted landscapes.
TR: Over time, your work began to focus on environmental themes, which I think is enthralling. I've never heard of a quilter tackling big social issues before. How did that come about?
KT: In 2010, as the BP oil spill disaster was unfolding in the Gulf, I was in my studio experimenting with a hydro-printing technique called "spanish wave," which creates the illusion of a 3-D, turbulent surface on flat fabric. What came out of the tray that week was a collection of prints eerily reminiscent of oil on water. As a result, I began a series of pieces depicting birds, plants, and sea life affected by our sometimes disastrous quest for fossil fuel. This series of about 25 pieces I called "Oil on Water."
TR: Wow, 25 pieces. That's a huge collection and a big change in direction. Where did you go from there?
KT: At the same time I began to long for my first grandchild and found myself drawing peaceful little babies on fabric backgrounds that to me appeared polluted and threatening.
And back in the mountains, it was impossible to ignore the devastation of non-native insects, like the woolly adelgid on our hemlocks and firs. Coal-fired power plants contribute acid rain to the toxic mix.
As I drove through the Smoky Mountains National Park one day, I had a through-the-windshield view of miles of dead and dying conifers. My latest series, "Ghost Trees" tells this story in long panoramas of bare, bleached trunks.
TR: You've done so many beautiful pieces, some carrying deep meaning, others, like your kaleidoscope patterns, containing beautiful shapes. Which one makes you the most proud?
KT: Although my "environmental angst" seems to crop up in all my landscapes, whether I welcome it or not,  this is the work I'm most proud of, especially  pieces like "Ghost Trees" that convey the dual message of extraordinary natural beauty and the threat that we ourselves pose to its survival.
TR: Your work, of course, has already been displayed in galleries and exhibits around the world. If you could show anywhere new, where would it be?
KT: If I could display my work anywhere in the world, I would choose a museum of natural history over an art museum. I've had a few opportunities to do this and would like more. To reach a new audience, especially a young one, with art created to praise this world's beauty and challenge us all to preserve it.

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For some people, Super Bowl Sunday isn't about nacho plates and football jerseys, beer guzzling and fist pumps. Poet D. Gilson introduces us to one family whose darkest memories are bound to the day.
D. hails from the Ozarks—the Appalachians' nearest neighbor—and is a doctoral student in American Literature & Culture at The George Washington University. His chapbooks include Catch & Release, winner of the 2011 Robin Becker Prize for Queer Poetry, and Brit Lit, which—you guessed it—consists of poems about Britney Spears. With Will Stockton, his book Crush is forthcoming this March.


My Mother Plays Telephone

by D. Gilson

Because my oldest brother Marty died
on Superbowl Sunday, my mother makes
the round of telephone calls, checking
in on all of her children. First Carla,
the Jehovah’s Witness who lives
outside Leavenworth with her ex-con fiancé,
Sam, who everyone calls — without knowing
why — Daddy Rex. Then my brothers
Randy and Mike, who she knows will be
busy before long, watching the game
with their wives and children, licking,
not wounds, but the residue of Kentucky
Fried Chicken — coincidentally, Marty’s
favorite food — off of their thumbs
and forefingers, short like my own,
fat sausage digits that protrude from
every man’s hands in our family,
these calls to her oldest three living
children made quick, out of some mix
of love and obligation — my mother’s
words, not mine — which is sometimes
the recipe for everything we bake
in this life. When Mom calls my sister
Jennifer next, she always tells her
the story of when Marty rescued her
from drowning at the Aurora Municipal
Swimming Pool, pulling her tiny body
out of the deep end and performing
mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, a story
that always ends the same way —
I don’t even know where he learned
CPR. Then our mother finally calls
me, her youngest, and she tells me, too,
of the time Marty saved my life. When
we drove home from the lake and a car
almost hit us head on, but in a split second
Marty swerved into the ditch beside
the county highway, totaling his blue Ford
pickup, leaving the two of us, brothers,
with only some scratches and sore necks.
And when she says this, I don’t tell her
my truth of the story. That I was only five
and Marty, twenty-three. That we had
been at the lake not as brothers,
but as meth dealers. That Marty was
drunk. That he fell asleep at the wheel.
That I reached across the pickup’s cab
and grabbed it, sending us into
the ditch, yes, but not saving him, really,
not doing the thing none of us can.
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With the clock ticking, I still have blank spots in my Christmas list, and I just discovered a gift that could fill the last of them. The Mountain Came Aliveis a stand-out, new album from West Virginia storyteller Adam Booth. With an innovative mix of spoken words and songs, Booth covers a year in the life of an old, Appalachian mountain—its final year. The mountain is slated to be destroyed as part of a mining operation.
Booth developed an itch to merge traditional music with current issues while touring the country, telling stories. "I found that there were a lot of young folks who didn’t know quite know what Appalachia was," he said, "So I tried to put a lot of folk elements into this and also a lot of contemporary elements into it.”
The result is magical. The album opens with a nearly five-minute piece that celebrates all the creatures who call the mountain home. From hemlock to swirling vines to baby opossum to insects to fish and birds to people with different jobs and appearances and beliefs—they're all there, and they remind us just how much life one mountain can support. It's an inspiring opening that makes the rest of the story that much more heartbreaking.
In terms a child could understand and an adult can appreciate, Booth conveys the complexity behind mountain top removal. "Deep inside the mountain there are precious things that have high value, and there are some people who want to get at these precious things," he recites during "News Comes to the Mountain," and he continues with a simple line that shows the other side of this important issue. "But on top of the mountain, there are precious things that have high value too."
Following in the steps of children's art classics like the cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas, Shel Silverstein's book The Giving Tree, and the film The Red Balloon, Booth delivers powerful messages by presenting them in understated terms, and during this season of caring, he manages to remind us that all life—our species and every other—deserves our love and caring.
Here's a sample with lovely crazy quilt graphics. What do you think? Will The Mountain Came Alive fill some blanks on your Christmas list too?
* Thanks to West Virginia Public Broadcasting for contributing content to this post.
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I don't need more stuff. My house is fully furnished. My closet is overflowing. My car is paid off. Okay, I'd like a mountain cabin, but that's not exactly going to fit under the tree. For all intents and purposes, I have everything I need, and a lot of my family and friends are in the same boat.
That's why I've begun giving more and more experiential gifts. For instance, I gave my partner Ryan a Bob Ross class a while back. Remember Bob, the soothing, fro-haired painting genius from PBS?
He passed away years ago, but his unique "wet on wet" technique is still taught at craft stores across the country. Ryan would have never bought this for himself. For that matter, he'd never outright admit that he liked it—like a perpetual teen, he's too cool to gush over anything—but even he came home with a repressed smile and a lovely winter scene complete with "happy little trees."
Once you start exploring experiential gifts, the options are endless—from classical concerts to deep water fishing trips—but my new favorites are mountain-themed. All across the Appalachian South, cultural centers and local programs help keep our heritage alive. Many offer classes that are unique to our corner of the world.
Know someone who loves the sound of the fiddle? Think you have a repressed soap-stone sculpture on your list? Know any avid hikers who could bone up on their survival skills?
Then check out these Appalachian-based options. They will bring a slice of our regional heritage right into your holiday season, and, bonus prize, they'll save you money on gift wrap!
Also, we're dying to know—have you ever given an experiential gift? If so, what was it, and how did it turn out?


Cowan Creek Music School, Whitesburg, Kentucky: Hailing from the land of Loretta Lynn, this one-of-a-kind school draws on the deep musical traditions of Eastern Kentucky. Banjo and fiddle classes dominate—ranging from beginner to advanced—but other instruments are in the mix, including the mandolin and, one of my favorites, the mountain dulcimer. Also, don't miss the Monday workshops. Every week, the school hosts a ballad swap, a flatfooting lesson, and a local field trip.
Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School, Catawba, Virginia: Know someone who missed out on scouting as a kid? Here's your chance to help him or her make up for it. Mountain Shepherd's survival courses cover everything from wilderness first aid to building a fire in the pouring rain. It's held in beautiful Catawba, Virginia, just outside Roanoke, and it is the only experiential gift that might keep your loved ones alive in the case of a bear attack.
John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, North Carolina: Before there was a knitting revival or Etsy, there was the John C. Campbell Folk School. For more than 80 years, this Appalachian institution has kept folk traditions alive. Courses range from the merely traditional—like clogging and hand-forging knives—to the truly obscure. Anyone up for spinning yak hair?
Clifton Forge School of the Arts, Clifton Forge, Virginia:Nestled among Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the Clifton Forge School of the Arts offers a full range of classes, from painting to music, with many drawing from our regional traditions. The sculpture class, for example, uses stones from the only soapstone quarry in the U.S., which happens to be right outside Charlottesville. The stone's distinctive grey finish has become a signature look for Blue Ridge sculpture.
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