Alabama Rural Heritage Center, Thomaston AL

Alabama Rural Heritage Center, Thomaston AL

Av and I visited the Alabama Rural Heritage Museum in Thomaston last week. We got there about twenty minutes after it had officially closed (we weren’t sure what their hours were) but the director said that she absolutely wanted us to come in and take a look around. We totally didn’t want to keep her there after we learned they had closed, but she insisted that we come in…..not only did she let us shop, but she took us on a full tour of their facility, which is absolutely *wonderful*. Besides the space for local products, they have a large area for functions, a very large kitchen, and her office is great, too!

Alabama Rural Heritage Center, Thomaston AL

(Above: custom shelving for pepper jelly) Inside the shopping area are two levels – one for the really big items like woodwork, baskets, and Charlie Lucas sculptures, and another enclosed space for smaller things like food, dolls, paintings, and other more portable handcrafted objects. Both spaces are beautiful.

We bought a few small things – nothing huge, but I was just wide-eyed at how great everything is, and want to go back really soon.

The whole thing is just amazing. Not only their facility, but their purpose.

Alabama Rural Heritage Center, Thomaston AL

Outside this building is this sign:

Alabama Rural Heritage Center, Thomaston AL

The pepper jelly is important, because it was a project that Auburn University’s Nutrition and Foods Department put together for a “Do Something” grant they received, and the project became known as ‘Grow Your Own Jobs.’ The products that stem from that project – like pepper jelly and watermelon rind pickles – are called labeled “Mama Nems” (I guess as in, ‘how’s your mama & ’em?’), and the ingredients for the “Mama Nems” items are grown on-site, and cooked in the kitchen there in Thomaston.

Other items that are sold in the shop include everything from pine needle baskets to pottery, music boxes to quilts – made by people who aren’t well known, to people who are – like Charlie Lucas, Gee’s Bend quilters, and Jerry Brown. And more.

The Center’s brochure lists their six basic goals:
* To preserve and celebrate our rural heritage
* To protect and demonstrate diverse cultural contributions to our rural heritage
* To provide opportunitites for cultural enrichment
* To encourage economic development which enhances the lifestyle of rural citizens and small-town America
* To conserve, develop, and promote the unique handicrafts of rural life, exhibit and market handicrafts, and assist groups and individuals who wish to produce crafts
* To improve and enhance the quality of life for citizens of small towns and rural areas.

How could you not love a place like that!? Their director, Gayle – well, she is the exact right person for that job. Just wonderful. I told her that I’ve thought a zillion times about how much fun it would be to have a shop of Alabama-made things, and she and her foundation have really done it. I’m going to send off for us to become members, and I’m going to try to help them however I can.

They have a website here, but really it’s something to be seen *in person*!

Proceed And Be Bold!

Proceed And Be Bold! Rural Studio, Samuel

Proceed and be Bold! Poster

This print, by York Show Prints in York, AL was hanging in the office at Annie Mae’s Place (Burkville, AL) when we visited this weekend for the annual Okra Festival.

I had heard of York Show Prints before, as they’ve (or maybe more correctly, he’s) been represented at Kentuck Festival of the Arts before. York is run by Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. and the business doesn’t have a phone…so I’ll have to write him a letter (York Show Print, P.O. Box 154, York, Alabama, 36925) about getting a copy of this “proceed and be bold” print.

((Other really neat show print houses include Nashville’s ultra-famous Hatch Show Print and (I especially like) Yee-Haw Industries of Knoxville.))

“Proceed and Be Bold!” is a catchphrase used by the incredibly talented Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee, cofounder of Auburn’s Rural Studio (and winner in 2000 of a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant, among other awards).

The Rural Studio was developed within the Auburn School of Architecture with intent to get students out of the classroom and in to hands-on work with members of a community that would actually be utilizing their work. In the past, the students’ hands-on experience consisted of them building temporary works…a beam or truss, which would later be torn down. D.K. Ruth, who hired Mockbee at Auburn, discussed with Mockbee that one could take such materials and (rather than a temporary exercise) they could “build something substantial”. It was less pre-conceived notions of what architecture is – be it for glass skyscrapers or McMansions – and more noble architecture of decency for poor people – beautiful whether built with carpet squares, car windshields, or tires. Mockbee died December 30, 2001 but left behind were stunning, noble works for people in one of the poorest areas in the country.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Rural Studio, Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency:

…”And here we are in the twenty-first century,” Mockbee says, “and we’re still ignoring the problem and southern blacks are still invisible.” He concludes that addressing problems and trying to correct them is “the role an artist or architect should play.”

…”The best way to make real architecture is by letting a building evolve out of the culture and place. These small projects designed by students at the studio remind us what it means to have an American architecture without pretense. They offer us a simple glimpse into what is essential to the future of American architecture, its honesty.”

I have three books about Mockbee and the Rural Studio:


There’s a group on Flickr of Hale County.