Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Unexpected treasure...

A real find        I shouldn’t have. But I did. Almoat every time I venture to Hillsborough, NC, I visit Matthews Chocolate Shop and/or the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts. Both are irresistible sources for tasty treasures. Only original and hand made items are placed in bins or shelves, on tables or walls. Never have I been bored at either place; artists at both sites are willing to converse in a manner that is always exciting and informative.

But this time, this past Sunday, I was disappointed. Matthews was closed due to an expansion that wouldn’t be complete until early March. To alleviate pangs of dark chocolate withdrawl, I stepped into the Gallery of Arts. Instantly, I felt better; surrounding me were walls full of new pieces. A few grabbed and held me.

“Have you been here before?”

Just behind me came that kind voice, from one of the artist-owners of the gallery I hadn’t met.

“Hi! I’m Jude Lobe. Those are mine,” she said, pointing at the twelve 8” X 8” enamellings I was trying to resist.

“I love this one,” I said. “And this one.” I pointed to another. “And  these two,” I added. “But I didn’t plan to buy anything today.” That was the truth; I’d left my check book at home.

“They’ll be here a while longer,” she said. “Maybe when you come back...”

No pressure. Not that I needed to be pressured. If I’d had the money with me, I would have bought at least two of her pieces. I wanted to. I told her about the one I appreciated most. It was her most expensive, one of her most expressive, and, it seemed to me, creative. “How did you get this color?” I asked.

Her detailed explanation made it even more appealing. I asked for her card as I turned to examine a stunning stained glass sculpture of a whippet like creature. Immediately, I knew who’d created it, from the style and craftsmanship of the work. “I have one of her pieces,” I told Mrs. Lobe.

She handed me a card for that artist, Pam Isner. On it was a picture of the piece I had purchased.

Seeing the picture, I exclaimed, “That’s the one I bought!”

Mrs. Lobe brightened. “Are you from here?” Then, “Are you an artist?”

“Photography and writing,” I said, “and I’m from Danville.”

“I’ve been there,” she said, “submitted some of my work to the juried exhibition at the museum.”

“Me too,” I said. “I’ve written a book about the times when that place was displaying little more than controversy during the Civil Rights era.”

She asked about my book.

“No Gold Stars,” I told her, “based on my memoir about my desegregating the Greenville, South Carolina school that was Rev. Jesse Jackson’s alma mater.”

She wrote the name of my book on a slip of paper. “I remember those times,” she said. “In fact, I was in the Peace Corps in the late 70’s, and our group was sent to work ona farm in Epps, Alabama to learn about agriculture. From there, we were going to be sent out of the country.”

I mentioned the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird. “Was Epps like that?” I asked.

She was pensive. “We worked with black farmers there on a 300 acre farm. A few times we went to visit a white Episcopalian minister. Very strange. On his walls were of pictures of him, in Germany, with Hitler.”

She paused. I was more than a little surprised.

“He tried to get us to stop working with the black farmers. But we didn’t. Then one night he and a small bunch of other white men burned a cross in the yard of the place where we were staying.”

Riveted to her expression, I studied her face to see if she recalled the fear she must have experienced.

“It was frightening,” she told me. “I really didn’t understand it. But we never went back to see that minister again.”

I asked her to come to my class to tell my students her story.

“Don’t know whether I can remember enough about it,” she said.

“But it’s so important.”

She seemed to agree. “One of my friends who was with me then may recall more details. I’ll call her,” she said.

“Thanks,” I replied, as we traded e-mail addresses. I knew I had something extra to look forward to the next time my class and I viewed Mockingbird. Or the next time I visited Hillsborough.

B. Koplen 2/20/12                                              

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