The Folk Art of the Suwannee River

When Stephen Foster wrote the song Old Folks at Home there was no music business as we know it. Sound recording had not been invented. Yet, in the small community of White Springs Florida, a state park is dedicated to his memory.  All because Foster  looked on a map for the name of a southern river which had two syllables. He had never seen the Suwannee River, but he liked the sound of the name and changed the spelling to “Swannee” to make the meter work. How’s that for poetic license?

382Last week my husband and I camped at the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park . It was founded as a memorial to Stephen Foster due to its location on the Suwannee River. (Remember, the river that Stephen Foster never saw, but wrote a song about?)

The Florida Federation of Music Clubs admired Foster and obtained contributions of land in White Springs.  Later a commission  formed to direct the building of a 97-bell carillon on  property which plays Foster’s music. The park opened in 1950, almost one hundred years after Old Folks at Home was published.

Did you know Stephen Foster is considered the pioneer of American pop music? He wrote two hundred songs between 1850 and 1864.  Old Susanna and Camptown Races  are two of my favorites.  These melodies are catchy. Once you start humming them, you can’t stop!

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During our stay we learned of the park’s mission to support folk art. What is folk art? Art that’s created by nonprofessionals.  In America, folk art might be considered blue-collar or rural art. It can be self taught, and is often functional. Quilting, sewing, and knitting are all examples of folk art.  Folk art also includes music which expresses a community’s values and identity. At the park I enjoyed meeting several folk artists who demonstrate their talent in the Craft Square.

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Richard Darlington, a resident of White Springs, creates affordable earings and flies for serious fishermen.

236 (2)Chris Jacobs from Miami crochets broomstick lace which can be worn as a scarf.

239Marie Longo sews baby quilts for the Pregnancy Care Center of White Springs.

240 (2)A quilt top hangs on the wall of the fabric arts cottage.  Someone rescued it from a dumpster in Live Oak.  This quilt top was sewn from remnants of old clothing thought to be over one hundred years old.

Antique shops are a great place for folk art.  The Adams General Store in nearby White Springs is worth seeing. Built in 1865, the building contains unbelievable finds. But go early, due to a lack of air conditioning.

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I can’t conclude this post without some mention of the Suwannee River. Unlike Foster, I did see it.

330The Suwannee is considered a black water river. Originating in Georgia, the river flows south through forested swamps. Decayed vegetation stains the water the color of coffee.  At Big Shoals, located outside of White Springs, a nine foot drop in elevation creates class three rapids. Here, the natural brown color of the water is more evident.

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At age 37 Stephen Foster experienced a persistent fever which resulted in his death. He died in 1864 with thirty-eight cents to his name.  And like the deep Suwannee River, Stephen Foster’s melodies live on today.

 

 

 

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The Gem of Winter Park

Summer is a great time of year to visit the Morse Museum of Winter Park, Florida.  The Morse Museum contains the most comprehensive collection of works by American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Exhibits include leaded-glass lamps, unique windows, and architectural elements from Tiffany’s Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall. My favorite part of the museum is The Chapel which Tiffany created for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Inside The Chapel, intricate glass mosaic surfaces reflect light from a ten foot by eight foot electrified chandelier in the shape of a cross. Sitting in the chapel makes me feel as if I’m in another world. Similar to the great cathedrals of Europe, The Chapel inspires me to consider the beauty and holiness of God. I am reminded that darkness will never extinguish the light.

Stained glass as an art form reached its height in the Middle Ages. The stained glass windows of medieval churches taught the narrative of the Bible to an illiterate population. During the twelfth century in England the Tree of Jesse Window  displayed the genealogy of Christ. Pictured at the base of the tree is Jesse, father of King David. On higher branches are the kings and prophets of Judah. At the top Christ and Mary are shown. This window shared Isaiah’s prophecy: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Branch shall grow from his roots.”

As America became more industrialized during the late 1800’s and cities grew, churches sought artists who could work in stained glass.  During the nineteenth century, pot metal glass was commonly used. Craftspeople often painted this regular looking glass with enamels.

Tiffany’s windows took stained glass to a new level. His invention of opalescent glass used chemicals to create the variations of color found in nature. The result was a more realistic looking product.   Tiffany’s windows fulfilled a long-desired American goal of countering the perceived artistic superiority of Europe. He mastered the art, and by 1900 America led the world in the production of stained glass decorations. Tiffany Studios produced a range of products including lamps, pottery and jewelry.

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Tiffany was inspired by nature and intoxicated by color.  Winter is an example of opalescent glass from the Four Seasons panel on display in the Morse Museum.

The process of creating stained glass amazes me.  Glass is made by mixing sand, soda, and lime. Color is created by adding metallic oxides. Heat and pressure are applied. Then after cooling, the glass is cut and placed into flexible pieces of lead and soldered at the joints.

I wrote Windows of Heaven, as a tribute to the Morse Museum and Tiffany’s beautiful art.

Windows of Heaven     

Earth fused with fire

minerals blend

amethyst stained

atoms suspend.

Colorful glass

fruit of the flame

cut into shapes

placed in a frame

Fastened together

images set

ruby and sapphire

form a rosette.

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Light iridescent

spectrum of grace

filling the darkness

my hiding place.

 

 

 

On Tuesday, July 4, 2017 admission to the Morse Museum is free as part of the Winter Park Independence Day Celebration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Church Built on the Rock

On the first full day of our Nova Scotia vacation we stepped onto the balcony of our bed and breakfast eager to view famous Peggy’s Cove. Except for a beacon from the lighthouse, visibility was poor.  Nova Scotia is known for variable weather. A thick fog rolled in overnight from the Atlantic Ocean. Hoping the fog would lift, my husband and I ventured out to explore the area.  The first landmark we encountered was St. John’s Anglican Church. An open door to the chapel intrigued us. Once inside, we were greeted by a volunteer from the parish who told us people of the cove have worshipped here since 1885.

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The paintings displayed in the chapel impressed me.  Our volunteer guide explained their importance. The first, Storm and Turbulence, features a group of terrified fisherman clinging to the sides of their boat during a terrible storm. One man points across a raging sea. The second painting, Calm and Serenity, depicts Jesus Christ walking on the water with his arm outstretched toward the fishermen. Like the biblical message of Matthew 14:25, the mural communicates the supernatural power of Christ to calm our fears.  The artist, William deGarthe lived in Peggy’s Cove for years. His work relates the dangers of life at sea and the faith of local fishermen. The deGarthe Museum in the village houses many of his works.

Our guide told us six families founded Peggy’s Cove in 1811. Lured by the rich fishing grounds of nearby St. Margaret Bay, these early settlers battled storms, fog, and jagged rocks to eek out a living from the sea.  Some say the village was named for the bay, I prefer the romantic legend about a shipwreck with a lone survivor named Peggy. The young woman fell in love and later married the man who rescued her.  People would come from miles around to listen to “Peggy of the Cove” tell stories.  “Peggy of the Cove” later became Peggy’s Cove.

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Besides their times of trouble on the water, the fishermen experienced hardships on land. The village sits on granite bedrock. Gardening is futile. Drilling is impossible.  For years the community obtained water through a process of collecting rainwater and purifying it with ultraviolet light. Even so, this water is not considered safe for drinking. We were advised to drink bottled water during our stay.

Due to these conditions, the population of Peggy’s Cove has decreased. Consequently, St. John’s Church has also declined in membership.  When faced with the possibility of closing the church, the few remaining members realized the unique opportunity of their location. Thousands of tourists come to the cove during the summer months to photograph the famous lighthouse and tour the quaint fishing village.

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Volunteers decided to open the chapel on weekdays to minister to tourists. Visitors are welcome to share their prayer requests. I felt led to submit a written request along with my  email address. A few weeks ago I received an email from one of the church leaders who thanked me for my visit and asked if I needed additional prayer support. According to his note, over four thousand visitors from all over the world signed the St. John registry in 2016. The tiny congregation is amazed at the way God is blessing their efforts.

St. John’s Anglican Church is a testimony to a statement Jesus made in Matthew 16:18.  “On this rock, I will build my church.”  You can connect with them through Facebook at Friends of Peggy’s Cove Church.

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Poetry: A Message in a Bottle

Rain Song       

The rhythm of the rain

God’s pattern of music

echoes divine favor

bridges heaven and earth.

Poetry is the rain

that soaks the senses

and sings the melody

which waters the soul.

(Debra Burton 2014)

 

“Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.” Carl Sandburg  Atlantic Monthly, March 1923

In case you forgot, April is National Poetry Month. During the month of April flowers bloom and butterflies flutter.  What a great time of year to recognize the significant contribution of poetry to our world. Maybe you haven’t given this art form much thought. Maybe you enjoyed reading poetry in school, but currently read novels instead.  Maybe you don’t feel like you understand what some poets are trying to say.  If you agree with any or all of these statements, please consider the following benefits of reading poetry.

  • Poetry helps readers grow intellectually. It teaches us to simplify complex ideas through the use of  symbolism and imagery.  As we read we draw a mental picture of what the poet sees.
  • When we engage with the emotions of the poet, we develop empathy. If we identify with the experiences of other people, we better understand ourselves.
  • Poetry infuses life with beauty and meaning, which increases our creativity.

Take a few moments to access these links. In her poem, Hope is a thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson compares hope to a bird that never makes demands.  Shel Silverstein grapples with the secret world of dialogue known to caterpillars in his poem, Forgotten Language.  William Wordsworth elevates his mood by contemplating daffodils in his work, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.  All of these poems connect with the reader’s emotions through the appreciation of nature. These poets make new discoveries as they ponder the small things which are often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of life.

Writing poetry is a vehicle for artistic self-expression. Who I am, what I think, and my experiences are communicated by showing instead of telling.  The poet paints with words, like an artist paints on canvas.

In his book, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, author Edward Hirsch refers to poetry as a message in a bottle. After the message is cast into the ocean, it drifts onto the beach waiting to be opened. The finder is the one the message was trying to reach. Once the finder opens it, words spill out from a distant place and time, yet still rich with meaning.

The following poems are my messages in a bottle. Cast out upon the waves, may these words reach the finders they are seeking.  

For My Brother

As night fell in the desert

We stretched out on our cots,

Saw distant constellations

Whose titles we forgot

Viewed streaks of falling stars

Pulled down by gravity

Like fleeting dreams of childhood

Which never came to be.

 

The howl of a coyote

Made such an eerie sound.

It cautioned all outsiders,

“I will defend my ground.”

We whispered to each other

And felt a tinge of fright

Like children telling stories

When Dad turned out the light.

(Debra Burton 2015)

 

A Hapless Hero

Flutter of butterflies hover on the scene.

Arizona thistles bow before each queen.

Flutter of butterflies crowned in orange and white,

Seated on their purple thrones surrounded by the light.

Flutter of butterflies lift your scepters up.

Raise the royal chalice, drink deeply from the cup.

 

One little butterfly caught so unaware,

Lunch for a roadrunner dashing to his lair.

Roadrunner, fierce hunter, slowing to a stop.

Overcome with dizziness, suddenly he drops.

Flutter of butterflies, your banquet is not done.

Your kingdom was saved by the sacrifice of one.

(Debra Burton 2015)

 

 

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Arizona Queen Butterflies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is Good!

During my teenage years, I admired people who could draw  and paint, but I felt inadequate to do either. So I started making collages. I loved cutting pictures out of magazines and piecing them together to create a new image. Afterwards I felt satisfied thinking, “This is good. This is art.” Because I knew that this particular collage could only be created by me.

God created us to be creators. After all, we were created in his image and he is the master creator. True, we can’t begin to compare our art with his, but seeing his creation inspires me to make something! Whether it is a poem, a painting, or even a photograph!

My new featured image was taken in the Canadian Rockies. It inspired my poem, Landscape Artists, which is featured under the poems tab.

Remember, your art can only be created by you. And it is good!

So, just what is Blueberry Street?

For me, Blueberry Street is a place of creative freedom. Until 2013, I thought my life depended on how well my students performed on standardized tests. Unfortunately, that is what education means these days. As a retiree, I have been fortunate to spend more of my time pursuing my interests. I discovered that I like to write! So the easiest way for me to express myself, besides journaling, is through poetry. Many people are afraid of retirement. They can’t imagine what they would do all day. My advice is to explore your interests. Blueberry Street is waiting for you.

This is my first blog! You will find that I’m not a long winded writer. (Poetry says much with few words!) My aim through this blog is to encourage people to think about pursuing their creative gifts that might have been squelched in the past. I’d love to hear from you!