Tuesday, December 25, 2007

His Friends Called Him Champ

he with camp stool and dripping umbrella slung on his shoulders, with broad slouch hat crushed down over his eyes, and a variegated panorama of the road along which he had passed painted by the weather upon his back--the artist, whose hands were filled with the mystic tin box; behold him! the envied cynosure of boyish eyes.
- Edward King, describing the artist James Wells Champney, who accompanied King on an expedition through the Southern Appalachians in 1873.

Artists have been looking at these mountains for a long, long time...

A thousand years ago they created the petroglyphs on Judaculla Rock.

A couple of centuries ago, naturalists like William Bartram sketched the plant life and other sights they encountered in these hills.

In the 1850s, William Frerichs explored the Blue Ridge and the Smokies to get inspiration for his majestic oil paintings. (A post from last year raises questions about Frerichs’ painting of "Tamahaka Falls" in Cherokee County, NC. )

After the end of the Civil War, magazine publishers had an insatiable appetite for travel stories describing the people and scenery of the Southern Appalachians. More than one scholar has opined on how these articles shaped and reinforced stereotypes about mountain people. But I’ve not seen much written about the artists who supplied the illustrations that accompanied the travel stories of the late nineteenth century.

Take for instance, James Wells Champney (1843-1903). He accompanied the writer Edward King on travels throughout the South and made more than 500 sketches during their journeys. Champney’s engravings were included in a recent post that featured King’s account of a trip from Waynesville, NC to Webster and Whiteside Mountain. The two traveled more than 25,000 miles together.

James Wells "Champ" Champney has been described as:

a prolific artist whose work was of high quality and broad scope. He was very successful as a oil painter of genre scenes, and later was perhaps the foremost pastelist of his day. A lecturer, illustrator, watercolorist and photographer, he was also one of the first Americans to grasp and utilize the spirit of impressionism.

Born in Boston, the artist studied drawing at Lowell Institute and took courses in anatomy from Oliver Wendell Holmes. Champney had already visited Europe for further studies and exhibited at the Paris Salon before he was commissioned by Scribner’s to illustrate the Edward King articles. Afterwards, he returned to Europe and provided figure drawings of American life for the French magazine, D’Illustration. By 1876, he settled in Deerfield, Massachusetts where he taught art at Smith College.

J. Wells Champney married Elizabeth Williams (1850-1922) in May 1873, just prior to his visit to Western North Carolina. Elizabeth Champney herself began to publish short sketches, poems, books on art, and romantic travel stories, some of which were illustrated by her husband.

After Mr. Champney opened a studio in New York City in 1879, the couple divided their time between Deerfield and New York, and made frequent visits to Europe. Further, we read:

He was an early and avid amateur photographer, and also used the camera as an aid to his work. He was fond of books and the theatre, was a member of a dozen clubs and artists’ societies, and with Mrs. Champney entertained generously at their Fifth Avenue home and at Deerfield. "When they arrived, and Mr. Champney was seen on the street, the old town always seemed to come alive," wrote one villager.

Champney was in great demand as a lecturer, as suggested in December 18, 1894. New York Times article:

The members of Sorosis had a pleasant gathering in the parlors of Sherry’s yesterday afternoon, when J. Wells Champney told them many interesting things about pastels… The bright and luminous tints of the pastel, Mr. Champney said, are due to the fact that ‘the integrity of the molecule is intact,’ and that there is not ‘gumming together,’ as with paints… He humorously recommended the pastel as a valuable health thermometer, to be kept by every family, for if the pastel showed signs of succumbing to its one great enemy – dampness – the welfare of the household should be looked after.

An 1899 story described Champney’s presentation at the Carlisle Indian School:

On Tuesday evening, J. Wells Champney, the famous pastel artist of New York City, delivered a lecture before the Literary Societies and a large audience from town in Assembly Hall. The lecture was replete with wit and interesting anecdote. From the beginning lines of a straight-edged pig the artist with chalk and crayon led up to the graceful curves of a child's face, and on to the picturesque in landscape, giving scientific reasons for changes of lines, in a most attractive manner which could never tire the listener.

On May 1, 1903, Champney fell to his death. Champney had gone to the Camera Club of New York to make some photographic prints. As Champney got on the elevator, a piece of walnut furniture was too large to be carried in the car, so the operator had placed it on top, where it shifted and jammed the elevator between floors.

The headline of the New York Times article stated "His Death Was Due to His Hurry and Disregard of Warning." As reported by the Times:

Against the protests of the elevator boy, he attempted to swing himself to the floor below. He lost his hold on the car floor and fell down the shaft….

Mrs. Champney was notified by the police of her bereavement, and showed great fortitude after learning of her husband’s death. "We were very happy together," she said. "He was one of the most beautiful characters in the world and was always lovable. His life was just like his work."

So here’s to Champ, and his summer in the mountains 134 years ago, when he looked around Waynesville and Webster, Cullasaja Falls and Whiteside Mountain, and drew the world he saw.
Illustrations (From top)
1. From The Great South, "The Judge", a member of the travel party, shows Champney’s sketch book to a group of mountain folks, illustration by James Wells Champney.
2. Judaculla Rock by firelight
3. Morning Glory, by William Bartram
4. Falls of Tamahaka, oil on canvas, William Frerichs
5. James Wells Champney and daughter, Maria, ca. 1874
6. Elizabeth Champney
7. Feeding Chickens, oil on canvas, James Wells Champney
8. The Poppy Garden, James Wells Champney
9. Mount Pisgah from The Great South, illustration by James Wells Champney

239 of Champney’s sketches from The Great South trip are housed at the Lilly Library Manuscript Collection, Indiana University.

Finally, a passage from The Great South, in which Edward King describes their mode of travel:

It is sometimes said that Western North Carolina is shaped like a bow, of which the Blue Ridge would form the arc, and the Smoky mountains the string. Within this semicircle our little party, now and then increased by the advent of citizens of the various counties, who came to journey with us from point to point, traveled about 600 miles on horse-back, now sleeping at night in the lowly cabins, and sharing the rough fare of the mountaineers, now entering the towns and finding the mansions of the wealthier classes freely opened to us. Up at dawn, and away over hill and dale; now clambering miles among the forests to look at some new mine; now spurring our horses to reach shelter long after night had shrouded the roadways, we met with unvarying courtesy and unbounded welcome.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Whoop up the Laggards

Our expedition grew rapidly after we left Waynesville, and our group of horsemen, followed by "the baggage train," toiling along the mountain roads, caused a genuine excitement at the farms by the way. One of our most memorable trips was that from Waynesville to Whiteside and the return.

Upon the beautiful country through which we were now wandering the Indian lavished that wealth of affection which he always feels for nature, but never for man. He gave to the hills and streams the soft poetic names of his expansive language--names which the white man has in many cases cast away, substituting the barbarous commonplaces of the rude days of early settlement.

The Cherokee names of Cowee and Cullowhee, of Watauga, of Tuckaseege, and Nantahela, have been retained; and some of the elder settlers still pronounce them with the charming Indian accent and inflection. The Cowee mountain range runs between Jackson and Macon counties, and the valley of Tuckaseege, walled in four crooked, immense stretches, includes all of Jackson county which lies north of the Blue Ridge.

The river itself, one of the most picturesque in the South, "heads" in the Blue Ridge, and swelling into volume from a hundred springs of coldest, purest, most transparent water, which send little torrents down all the deep ravines, it goes foaming and dashing over myriads of rocks, sometimes leaping from dizzy heights into narrow cañons, until it comes to, and is lost in, the Tennessee. Where the Tuckaseege forces its way through the Cullowhee mountains there is a stupendous cataract.

The little inn at Webster, the seat of justice of Jackson county, was none too large to accommodate our merry cavalcade. We came to it through the Balsam mountains from Waynesville, along a pretty road bordered with farms and giant mulberry-trees. In the valleys we saw the laurel and the dwarf rosebay, the passion flower and the Turk's-cap lily, and on the mountain sides the poplar or tulip-tree, the hickory, ash, black and white walnut, the holly, the chincapin, the alder, and the chestnut, each in profusion.

Webster is a little street of wooden houses, which seem mutely protesting against being pushed off into a ravine. For miles around the country is grand and imposing. A short time before our arrival the residents of the county had been edified by the execution of the only highwayman who has appeared in Western North Carolina for many years. The hanging occurred in front of the jail in the village street, and thousands flocked to see it from all the section round about.

Sunset came with a great seal of glory. Before the dawn we were once more in the saddle, en route for the Cowee range. Just below Webster we crossed the Tuckaseege river at a point where once there was a famous Indian battle, and wound up the zigzag paths to the very top of Cowee, now and then getting a glimpse of the noble Balsam left behind.

Now we could look up at one of the "old balds," as the bare peaks' tops are called. (The Indian thought the bare spots were where the feet of the Evil One had pressed as he strode from mountain to mountain.)

Now we stopped under a sycamore, while a barefooted girl brought a pitcher of buttermilk from the neighboring house; now a group of negro children, seeing a band of eight horsemen approaching, made all speed for the house, evidently thinking us Ku-Klux or "Red Strings" resuscitated; and now a smart shower would beat about our heads, and die away in tearful whisperings among the broad leaves. The mile-stones by the roadside were notched to indicate the distance; and from hour to hour, in the mountain passes, stops were made to whoop up the laggards.

-From The Great South, by Edward King (1875), illustrations by James Wells Champney

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Who Said It?

I happened upon a collection of presidential inaugural addresses. After browsing through the past fifty years of speeches, I’m struck by how similar they all are (with a few exceptions). Reagan’s addresses, (and to a lesser extent those by the Bushes), break the pattern a bit, marked by language and ideas that are less lofty, and more specific, than the typical inaugural address. That's my first impression after a quick reading. In any event, you'll probably have a tough time matching the right president to each of the following quotes. These represent all of the inaugural addresses since 1957 (Eisenhower through Bush), but in random order. Answers follow the quotes. Noble words come easy, eh?

1. The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

2. Together with the rest of the world, let us resolve to move forward from the beginnings we have made. Let us continue to bring down the walls of hostility which have divided the world for too long, and to build in their place bridges of understanding—so that despite profound differences between systems of government, the people of the world can be friends. Let us build a structure of peace in the world in which the weak are as safe as the strong—in which each respects the right of the other to live by a different system—in which those who would influence others will do so by the strength of their ideas, and not by the force of their arms.

3. America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom is our best ally. And it is the world's only hope, to conquer poverty and preserve peace. Every blow we inflict against poverty will be a blow against its dark allies of oppression and war. Every victory for human freedom will be a victory for world peace. So we go forward today, a nation still mighty in its youth and powerful in its purpose. With our alliances strengthened, with our economy leading the world to a new age of economic expansion, we look forward to a world rich in possibilities.

4. In America’s ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service, and mercy, and a heart for the weak. Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love. Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another, and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth. And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.

5. We live in a land of plenty, but rarely has this earth known such peril as today. In our nation work and wealth abound. Our population grows. Commerce crowds our rivers and rails, our skies, harbors, and highways. Our soil is fertile, our agriculture productive. The air rings with the song of our industry—rolling mills and blast furnaces, dynamos, dams, and assembly lines—the chorus of America the bountiful. This is our home—yet this is not the whole of our world. For our world is where our full destiny lies—with men, of all people, and all nations, who are or would be free. And for them—and so for us—this is no time of ease or of rest.

6. Beyond that, my fellow citizens, the future is up to us. Our founders taught us that the preservation of our liberty and our union depends upon responsible citizenship. And we need a new sense of responsibility for a new century. There is work to do, work that government alone cannot do: teaching children to read; hiring people off welfare rolls; coming out from behind locked doors and shuttered windows to help reclaim our streets from drugs and gangs and crime; taking time out of our own lives to serve others.

7. We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth. We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them. To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit. To find that answer, we need only look within ourselves. When we listen to "the better angels of our nature," we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things—such as goodness, decency, love, kindness. Greatness comes in simple trappings.

8. If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

9. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state. For the first time in this century, for the first time in perhaps all history, man does not have to invent a system by which to live. We don't have to talk late into the night about which form of government is better. We don't have to wrest justice from the kings. We only have to summon it from within ourselves. We must act on what we know. I take as my guide the hope of a saint: In crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things, generosity.

10. While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country. We do not accept this, and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity.

11. We have already found a high degree of personal liberty, and we are now struggling to enhance equality of opportunity. Our commitment to human rights must be absolute, our laws fair, our natural beauty preserved; the powerful must not persecute the weak, and human dignity must be enhanced. We have learned that "more" is not necessarily "better," that even our great Nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems. We cannot afford to do everything, nor can we afford to lack boldness as we meet the future. So, together, in a spirit of individual sacrifice for the common good, we must simply do our best.

12. How incredible it is that in this fragile existence, we should hate and destroy one another. There are possibilities enough for all who will abandon mastery over others to pursue mastery over nature. There is world enough for all to seek their happiness in their own way. Our Nation's course is abundantly clear. We aspire to nothing that belongs to others. We seek no dominion over our fellow man, but man's dominion over tyranny and misery. But more is required. Men want to be a part of a common enterprise—a cause greater than themselves. Each of us must find a way to advance the purpose of the Nation, thus finding new purpose for ourselves. Without this, we shall become a nation of strangers.

13. In serving, we recognize a simple but powerful truth—we need each other. And we must care for one another. Today, we do more than celebrate America; we rededicate ourselves to the very idea of America. An idea born in revolution and renewed through two centuries of challenge. An idea tempered by the knowledge that, but for fate, we—the fortunate and the unfortunate—might have been each other. An idea ennobled by the faith that our nation can summon from its myriad diversity the deepest measure of unity. An idea infused with the conviction that America's long heroic journey must go forever upward.

1. John F. Kennedy, 1961
2. Richard Nixon, 1973
3. Ronald Reagan, 1985
4. George W. Bush, 2005
5. Dwight Eisenhower, 1957
6. Bill Clinton, 1997
7. Richard Nixon, 1969
8. Ronald Reagan, 1981
9. George Bush, 1989
10. George W. Bush, 2001
11. Jimmy Carter, 1977
12. Lyndon Johnson, 1965
13. Bill Clinton, 1993

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Big News Roundup

It looked like a "happy news" headline last week in the Herald: "Sylva Celebrates Pinnacle Park Conservation Easement." But this week, a spokesman for one of North Carolina’s most powerful think tanks blew the cover on a sinister scheme behind the recent headline:

Long ago, Miles Copeland claimed the CIA had noted unnamed entities systematically acquiring lands containing certain resources. These resources were neither gold nor oil, but something more essential and obvious. He did not elaborate. Copeland, as an insider, published several books about the CIA during the Cold War, which may well have only been misinformation. Nonetheless, his claim reverberates in my mind as events like this [the Pinnacle Park conservation easement] occur at an accelerating pace.

When the black helicopters start landing in Pinnacle Park, don’t count on the local papers to let you know about it. But Leslee Kulba and the John Locke Foundation will. They’re on the case…

Speaking of sneaky local officials, how about the photo on the front page of the 12/06/07 Sylva Herald? The county is displaying a huge lighted cross in front of the old Jackson County Courthouse…on gummint property! Not good. Looks like a job for Barbara Goldstein. She kicked ass in Macon County a few Christmases ago, sent the baby Jesus packing, and all that...

Harrah’s Casino always commands the back page of the Smoky Mountain News. This week they got the back page AND the front page. Predictably, we read glad tidings of the prosperity bestowed by the glitzy gambling house. We’re ALL winners. A quick nod to the problem gambling hotline absolves the casino of any responsibility for the poor saps who’ve lost everything to those machines. Coincidentally, we’re told this week that former Buncombe Sheriff Bobby Medford went through $54,000 at Harrah’s. Then to pay off the gambling debts, he took kickbacks from video poker operators. Poetic justice, I’d say. At any rate, the lawman has been indicted and thrown in the slammer. Ahhh, if only he had dialed the problem gambling hotline before it was too late…

In another SMN story, we learned that some lefties want to soapbox from their very own FM radio station…to remind us Jackson County hillbillies how dumb we are, I suppose. If you get the chance, try listening to Asheville’s progressive radio station…invariably some stoner mumbling incoherently and playing lousy reggae records. If that’s progressive media then please keep it in Asheville. Those lefties claim they want clean air, and then they threaten to fill it with that progressive media stuff. Heaven help us…

Balsam Mountain Preserve continues to screw around with the county over $300,000 in fines for their excellent environmental stewardship leading up to the catastrophic failure of the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course dam and subsequent devastation of Scotts Creek. BMP wants to keep everything behind closed doors. Essentially, they’re negotiating the price…the price they’ll pay to purchase the rights to destroy Scott’s Creek (after the fact, of course). Several years ago a Highlands developer bought the rights to destroy a small lake that wasn’t theirs either (after the fact, as well). As I recall, the price was well over $300,000. Close the doors. Keep the public out. After all, what business is it of ours? That’s what gates and armed guards are for. To remind us that Balsam Mountain Preserve’s business is none of our business…

Speaking of which, it looks like Carolina Boulder and Stone just won’t take "no" for an answer on their quarry in Tuckasegee. Undaunted by the state’s denial of their application for a mining permit, the company has appealed the decision. After the filing, a company spokesman had words for the Tuckasegee residents opposed to the mining operation:

We’ve about run out of patience with that bunch. If they want peace and quiet so much they should just go buy a place in a gated community, like everybody else. What do they think makes them so special? This is 2007, not 1807.

He also announced that effective immediately, the company has changed its name to Sisyphus Boulder and Stone, and they intend to keep on rolling with their quarry. I kid U NOT…

That concludes this week’s news roundup.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What Do You Think?

Carl and Lilian Sandburg, 1923

Following is an early piece (ca. 1909) published by Carl Sandburg (as Charles Sandburg). I'd never seen this until today at Connemara.

What do you think about these things?

.To GET into the game of life, take chances, make decisions, and keep moving; to cultivate dispatch, eliminate waste, introduce system;

. To ACQUIRE friends with whom you can babble of stars, roses, coffee and the weather; to head for the open country, hills and the free, fresh sun and wind;

. To USE every possible tool and situation for the advancement of The Great Cause; to distinguish between intelligent discussion and futile rag-chewing: to make a slight effort every day or so at inaugurating a civilization that lays emphasis on the soul as the best man;

. To PITY the respectable and satisfied, and see in the heart of the jailbird your own impulses; to be patient with the stupid and incompetent, and chat reverently with the town fool about his religion; to give and take no job that involves human degradation; to realize that the grafter, the scarlet woman, Rockefeller, Thaw and the one-legged man on the corner selling lead-pencils, are each the result of conditions for which all of us are in part responsible;

. To SPELL Art with a capital A and enjoy paintings, poems, stories, statues and the silent benedictions of architecture; to love expression; to know when to behave and when to get reckless and forget that you're a gentleman; to hoe in the garden, split wood, carry out ashes, get dirty and be actually useful every once in a while if not twice; to pray and aspire and build and when you build, build strong;

. To LIVE in a bungalow, with bathrooms, music, flowers, a beautiful woman and children healthy as little savages; to be proud that you're human and aware that it's grand to be human; to help make life a chord of music wherein are blended the notes of companionship, love and ability - how about these things, Brother?