River-Struck: Humans and the Haw

Posted by on Oct 4, 2018 in General | 0 comments

Last week in Bynum, the Haw River Learning Celebration kicked off its 29th year inspiring children and volunteers from around North Carolina to cultivate a friendship with the Haw. This week, the Celebration has inhabited Saxapahaw, and next it will travel to Camp Guilrock. Since 1990, the Learning Celebration has attracted over 40,000 fourth graders and 2,500 volunteers to be humans peacefully involved in the environment–an interaction which is often undermined by the bustle of today’s society. Each day, students gather with volunteers, educators, and performers at learning stations–nature art, stream ecology, animal exploration (featuring humanely collected pelts and bones!), and watershed cultural history–followed by a puppet show in collaboration with Paperhand Puppet Intervention, to explore methods of being collaborative with our river without blindly exploiting its offerings. Oftentimes, the Learning Celebration is a child’s first hands-on interaction with the river ecosystem.

I talked with Louise Omoto Kessel, festival founder, local storyteller, and director of Clapping Hands Farm in Pittsboro, about the experiences that drove her to create such a sweet part of our village community. In 1989, Louise was one of the forty Russian and American sailors and environmentalists on board the Te Vega, a schooner on a journey called the Soviet-American Sail. Two years before the Soviet Union dissolved, the Te Vega voyaged from New York City to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and back, serving as a platform (or deck) for cultural education, environmental research, and political activism. Their slogan, “We’re All in the Same Boat”, was a reminder that we share the oceans that divide us, and that in our ability to overcome our disunion and work together lies a peaceful future.

Louise says, “When I got back, I felt like I wanted to bring that experience home, and I also felt indebted to my community for giving me the [opportunity] to go. I get inspired by projects that bring people together and build community, especially people that wouldn’t otherwise find themselves together.” So, in late 1989, Louise got permission from the board of the Haw River Assembly (founded seven years earlier) to create a cultural, environmental, and celebratory learning initiative right in our backyards.

That first year, volunteers gathered to travel 110 miles with the river from the headwaters in northwest Greensboro to Mermaid Point, where the Deep River and the Haw join to become the Cape Fear. Originally, the agenda included seven sites, as compared to today’s three (Bynum, Saxapahaw, and Camp Guilrock), the first of which was a small piece of land behind a trailer park. Back then, there were few public places to enjoy along the river. Louise recalls fond memories of a jug being filled from the spring at the headwaters, hauling it the whole length of the river, and then setting the aged water free into the Cape Fear, casting the magic of the Celebration downstream. She recalls the long and playful canoe journey down the Haw, and her motivations behind creating such an immersive experience for staff. “I loved the idea of the Assembly personally inspecting every inch of the river each year, and it was much more intense of an experience for the volunteers than just going out on a paddle. People came back, I called it, ‘river-struck’. My highest priority was creating an experience for the volunteers, because I felt like if we did that, those were the people that were going to show up when the Haw needed something.”

And, though the Celebration has grown and evolved over its twenty-nine years, the spirit of it remains intact. Louise says, “When I’ve gone back and volunteered, I feel happy that the essential spark of that experience is very much still alive.” Seeing students’ expressions shift from uncertainty to pure joy as they experience earth in most natural form is inspiration to us all, and reminds us that our impact continues with them; that with our own two hands and a little bit of community, we can restore a kind, collaborative relationship with the earth.

The Haw River Learning Celebration works closely with community businesses and generous citizens to provide meals for staff and extra funding. To volunteer, donate, or provide a meal, visit Haw River Learning Celebration.

Community, Constructive Survival, and Fried Chicken

Posted by on Sep 30, 2018 in General | 0 comments

Community, Constructive Survival, and Fried Chicken

Haw River view

Legacies are made more visible when we take time to listen. We open our eyes, ears, our minds and we feel the energy of a life story. A life cannot be known in all of its facets in one story, and yet if we open our minds to William Blake’s famous thought “to see a world in a grain of sand,” we might sense in a blink the fullness of  life in its golden, organic determination.

Along with the High on the Hog nods to local writer and foodie, Randall Kenan, Saxapahaw, and our own popular pork loin sandwich, the July/August Carolina Alumni Review printed an “In Memoriam” portrait of Lydia Lawrence Ratcliff (’56 UNC graduate, and 84 when she died the day before Valentine’s Day).

Ratcliff is described as a “fierce advocate for the small family farm,” and the legacy of her life’s work shows it. She heard Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring message and made a plan. She left New York and bought a farm in Vermont. Her story says she had no intention of being a farmer at first, but accumulated animals and began growing food the way she believed they grew best. She made money in a publishing career before taking on the “sub-poverty income” of farming when that ran out. Though there were a lot of challenges, Lydia Ratcliff did not see this as a disadvantage: “I certainly wasn’t happier with a lot of money. I am my own boss.” In her farm-time she organized nearly 50 other farmers into cooperatives to join her in providing fresh products to top restaurants in New York and Boston. She did not take to formalities, and is remembered in tales of appearing in a fine restaurant kitchen in blood-soaked clothes with a carcass over her shoulder, speaking Italian and French to the chefs. Born in Manhattan, she later went to Ivy League schools and, when her family moved to Italy, spent her junior year in Paris at the Sorbonne before she came to Chapel Hill and UNC to finish her college education. In the Memoriam she is pictured on her tractor with her oxygen tank. “You don’t create things to disappear when you die,” she said. She left the farm to her manager.

Lydia Ratcliff’s deep turn and commitment to the farm-food lifestyle was sparked and fueled by her alarm when she read Silent Spring. Randall Kenan wonders about our state’s culinary future. Kenan’s wondering and musing is at another level, though related—lingering vivid memories of harvesting summer vegetables with his great-aunt who raised him. Kenan teaches a course on food writing and edited an anthology called The Carolina Table (Eno Publishers, 2016). He definitely gets the relationship of food, identity and place. The intersection of food and story is ingrained.

This community of farmers and food and Nature “advocates” gets it too –Our menu reflects the chefs’ seasonal inspirations along with their own memories and the tasty creative adventures that beckon. We love to share our adventures with our guests and to hear the tastes and memories that inspire them. From the “regulars” who order their Friday night pizzas, to the Hawbridge students who visit in an after-school surge, from the goat-burger and portabella wrap lovers to the Black Boss buyers—we all leave imprints, visible and invisible. We’re all part of the flow. This past week’s experience with Mother Nature and Florence’s effects reminds us, again, how we are all connected.

Mildred Council’s enduring legacy is another present reminder, also highlighted in the July/August Carolina Review. A Chapel Hill landmark since 1976, Mama Dip’s Kitchen is a place whose founder’s spirit lives on in her family’s commitment to stay true to their roots and to Mildred Council’s recipes. Council’s story highlights the passion and hard work required to establish a “home-place,” as she did. You can eat in Mama Dip’s and enjoy the smothered pork chops and fried chicken without knowing anything about the woman behind it all, but, as Psyche Williams-Forson said, knowing those stories helps us to taste the food differently because we’re tasting it with an appreciation for some legacies and some cultures that go into it. In our instant-gratification culture, packaging and presentation can make it easy to believe that creating and cooking are effortless and without context. This “World-Wide-Web” is not just digital.

If geography and culture are not bound by land, as anthropologist (and long-time UNC professor) J. Peacock writes, we surely enjoy this mixing and matching of cultures and influences here, where we live. The land and river and earth and sky invite us with each breath to savor more of where we are planted and what we harvest in all ways, every day. Spring is not silent here, and nothing truly disappears.

Though we never met, I am grateful for Lydia Ratcliff’s life and legacy, for Randall Kenan’s gifts and memories, and we at the General Store are thankful for this generous community which feeds us all.

P.S. Our local Himihead Buttermilk Fried Chicken is back on the Dinner Specials menu, and it’s meatloaf time again! Check our boards for ongoing new specials!

We’re Open Labor Day!

Posted by on Sep 3, 2018 in General | 0 comments

We’re Open Labor Day!

Store hours: 6:30am-9pm
Kitchen opens @ 8 am!

How does our History Register?

Posted by on May 30, 2018 in General | 0 comments

How does our History Register?

When John Newlin and his sons started construction of the cotton mill here in Saxapahaw in 1844, the mill used water from the Haw River to drive its machinery. The slaves that dug the millrace (the channel to direct the mill-wheel current) were freed by Newlin, along with their families, in 1850, and taken to Ohio, then a “Free State.” The Saxapahaw Mill operated for almost 150 years until Dixie Yarns, owners from 1978 to 1995, closed its doors in 1994. In 1998 the Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

How many of us are interested in the stories of a place and people, including our own? Freedom is an eternal lesson of power struggle and balance that we all live in cycles of our lives, and certainly in very different circumstances with different levels of challenge and opportunity. Our roots are this tree of humanity from which we all come, and everywhere we look, when we are willing, we can gain insight from the constantly flowing river of history and memory and human life.

Our grad, Patrick McCollum!

Last week young graduates and their teachers at our neighboring Hawbridge and other local schools shared with us the excitement of cycles ending and beginning, accomplishments, growth both in personal development and a broadening knowledge of the world and all there is to learn. This native soil is a part of what grounds them, what makes them up in unique ways, as the food we eat and grow makes us the mix of matter that we are. (Thank you, gardeners and farmers, for your vital part!)

The stories of our lives matter. It seems to me true that as we live longer, we become more alert and interested in the long trails and threads of stories that our elders have told and can tell us. Our own memories may come back to us, illuminating the glittering sparks of memories that connect us. Every age, every mind contributes to our collective story.

I’d never heard of Africatown, near Mobile, Alabama, until recently. This story was introduced to me by way of the release of the late great Zora Neale Hurston’s transcript called Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo. The transcript relays the story of a man, then 86, and his memories of coming on what was the last slave ship from Africa to the Alabama coast, where he and the ships-full before them were unloaded, bought and sold, and therefore settled. The year was 1860, and the slave trade had been illegal for more than 50 years. Still, Oluale Kossula — also known by the slave name of Cudjo Lewis — had been captured on the African coast, by African warriors, and sold to traders who perpetuated the profit and enslavement. Hurston’s transcript/manuscript was written almost 90 years ago. Some publishers were interested, but only if she rewrote it without the dialect, which she declined to do. Anthropologists, linguists, families. people who are steeped in the way-of-the-word to guide our history, daily life, and memories of the past, present, and future (as one) appreciate all that our language reveals and offers. Without the dialect, we lose vital elements of the human being whose story, both individual and collective, it is.

Lewis was enslaved for five and a half years, and after the Civil War, he and other survivors of the ship helped to found Africatown, a community of their own with a receding history.

This story may seem far removed from the Rivermill in our midst, but, as one reviewer wrote about Hurston’s Barracoon: “The reader who commits to that vernacular is richly rewarded for persistence.” When we villagers, community members, think about the persistent history of what came before us, what always flows through and past us, artifacts and stories appear before us all the time. They are as important as the air we  breathe, the ground we walk, the water we drink and paddle through. The soil which enriches and gives us the plants we cherish as we eat them and enjoy their beauty is the same chemical mix that makes us up — that our survival depends upon. The quality of our experience also depends upon our dreams and visions, what inspires us. The disciplines of life and what prepares us to move from one stage of life to another are important too. At least equally important, I believe, is what moves us, teaches us, inspires us. As Andrew Hartman, professor of History puts it, “…We should allow students to revel a bit in the things that inspire them.”  That may be the most fertile ground of all.

This General Store’s tenth anniversary, next month, is another profound reminder of the collective energy, time, and persistent commitment that is the creation of this place, and this Village, in its current form. For those of us who are part of it, this persistent commitment is its own reward, as we learn to appreciate daily creation in deeper and new ways. Stories improve us, and the sharing of our lifetimes of stories in any moment brings the elements that nurture a person, a place, a community to light, to life.  Hank Sanders, a high school student in a Portland, Oregon Culinary Arts class put it this way: “Eat one meal at the same table and change your perspective.

There is a lot Going On, Always Was

Posted by on Apr 11, 2018 in Community | 0 comments

There is a lot Going On, Always Was
There is a lot going on in Saxapahaw, as we tell all visitors to the Store.  There always was, depending on where you looked and who was looking. The Museum timeline of Saxapahaw (those events noted so far) spans two legal-size pages, including a list of Saxapahaw businesses. As you may have read or heard in remarks tossed around like surprise celebratory balloons, 2018 is the 10th anniversary of this space now called The Saxapahaw General Store.  Embedded in the middle of the village timeline’s second page are these lines:  2008:  Jeff Barney/Cameron Ratliff took over convenience store & renamed it Saxapahaw General Store; written up in N.Y. Times, Washington Post, etc. for its gourmet food.

Each season brings updates and more to make, including the opening of the new Saxapahaw Island Park. Rob Greenberg and his Hawbridge Science students, also making up the Earth & Sky Trail Club, have exciting plans for a two-year project creating multimedia trail-markers telling the area’s history and educating nature-lovers about the Sax culture through time.


The mill itself is full of stories. In the 8th century, Thomas Thompson built a grist mill on the Haw River at Saxapahaw; about 60 years later that mill was sold to John Newlin and his two sons, who established a cotton factory (1844). This was the year before Alamance County was formed from Orange County, before the Post Office opened its doors. In 1873 the cotton and grist mills (and more) were sold to Edwin Holt. Between 1880-1917 Holt and his company doubled the size of Newlin’s mill.  Churches “sprang up” to serve the community members.  In 1924 the White Williamson company, then the current owners, closed and a group of buyers, including B. Everett Jordan, purchased the company’s assets and incorporated as Sellers Manufacturing Company, a spinning mill, in 1927. Schools were founded, the River dam was upgraded, a still-active Boy Scouts’ troop began (1941), and, as pictures and memories attest, the 100-year-flood (1948) washed out the island and left its signature in the mill, the church, and beyond. In 1951-52 the dyeing mill, community center, and Ben E. Jordan (Jr.)’s home were built. More growth came, new cattle breeds were introduced, and in 1978 the Sellers Manufacturing Company sold the spinning mill and dye house to Dixie Yarns (Chattanooga, Tennessee). Dixie Yarns sold some of the land and company houses to the John Jordan family in 1978. The dye house closed, and the Jordans converted houses on the river’s north side into rentals, where many of our co-workers and friends live today. Other adventurous souls opened businesses, adding their own creative energy to the community.

In 1994 Dixie Yarns closed its operations, and the next year the Jordan family bought the abandoned spinning mill and dye house from Dixie and started renovation of the spinning mill (lower) into living space (75 apartments) and the dye house (upper) into commercial space, including what is now the Hawbridge Charter School (2013).

Jeff Barney, another day in the SGS creation story

We all experience the challenge of change in some ways every day, visibly and invisibly, so to take the longer view of the history of this mill space, and, in particular, the General Store space is to invite a deeper appreciation of all of the energy and effort that goes into such a “re-framing” that we call renovation. The vision comes first, however faintly.

After another near-100-year-flood, renovation of the upper mill began and the Spinning Mill, Cotton Shed & Boiler Shed entered The National Register of Historic Places (dedicated 1998). Activist Puppets came, the LaGardes seeded, planted and continue to branch out and bloom, and, amidst more hurdles, other businesses (The Eddy, Left Bank Butchery, Volt Salon, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, ShiftWork, and more) made their presence known in this small village. We’re zip lining now through time, to reach the 2008 mark when Jeff and Cameron took over the convenience store that had been known as Poppie’s, and renamed the space The Saxapahaw General Store (the five-star gas station!).

Great tidbits of history help illustrate the “if-these-walls-could-talk” reality of the space that is now the SGS:

An article in the May 8, 1972 Knitting Times announced the Sellers Manufacturing Company’s creation of a new yarn they dubbed Saxspun. This yarn was produced in what was then a brand new mill equipped with the latest machinery for processing worsted-spun yarns. The article includes several pictures highlighting the new high-tech machines. These machines were housed in what is now the General Store space. How perfectly the ideas come to life here in this village when we stop to look: a mill where yarn was spun, where fabric’s value was daily fare, where seeds were and are sown, of plants and the river and its native history and generations of living souls. Styles come and go. Saxspun lives on, in new forms.

Who doesn’t like a good story?

Saxapahaw is a great place for story-telling and I’m sure it has always been. Along with the Saxapahaw Current, there are several good books about this area, including Heather Wallace’s Saxapahaw (part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series preserving and celebrating the history of neighborhoods, towns, and cities); and also local notable Ben Bulla’s 1992 biography, Textile & Politics: The Life of B. Everett Jordan, from Saxapahaw to the United States Senate. (Our own Orin Shepherd, bookseller, says this one is not easy to find, so it’s a keeper!)

Many share memories of growing up in this town or its surrounds, working in the mill or hearing mill stories from relatives or neighbors. Just ask Wally Quakenbush, another multi-generational descendant. Hearing John Jordan’s memories of this timeline is a special treat as he is a true storyteller, an original problem-solver,  someone who seems at home with his waders, pets, logging beams, fishing, overseeing projects, enjoying family gatherings, and rubbing shoulders with all kinds. Like his father, John Jordan eases into daily life, and, perhaps like his father, is never unprepared. He makes his own way, and he loves Saxapahaw.

Jordan explains how the family wanted a “convenience store” in the mill renovation, or area, but they did not want to run a store.  They put in the gas station, and rented the store space to Steve Meyers, dubbed “Poppie’s,” as he was called by his grandchildren. Steve Meyers was a lineman who had come to the area from Pennsylvania. Poppie’s, unlike Jeff & Cameron’s version of the store, was not known for its “fancy, good food.” Poppie’s was a place, I gather, that celebrated “the hunt,” and offered a place where locals could gather and share stories, buy a hot dog, soda, or some other sundry, along with bait, worms, frozen and fresh. Poppie had a constant canine companion too. (Dogs still frequent the store, just not inside!)

The SGS still has the maple floors, the posts, and, perhaps, the ghosts of flesh and machine that “talk back,” telling their dramatic stories, building on what was to make what is, as the community stretches and grows. Hawbridge kids stream in when school is out in the afternoon, Crochet-and-Complainers settle in on Monday nights, the Catering branch of SGS plans and plots and expertly delivers, menus are created and changed, food is served (mostly locally sourced), creative local products are featured, and people from many places meet, greet, and eat as they compare life notes.

Questions and stories abound and rebound:  What happened to Sam the Alligator? And have you seen Saxapahaw Sam, the local four-legged legend? (Hints: look for his picture in the latest Saxapahaw Current, or ask about him at Hawbridge Farmhouse Ales? Who got Jeff and Cameron here? Why did they come? Where or who did the five-star designation come from? Was the General Store the Company Store? When did it close? How many states in these United States are proud to have an image of Saxapahaw Sam, the groundhog you may have seen while pondering the village’s growth, kudzu and all? Most recently, you don’t process animals in-house? Poppie might like that one.

News & Record, Jan. 16, 2011 – Claire Haslam, Jeff Barney, Cameron Ratliff (and Ella!), Tom LaGarde, Doug Williams, Heather LaGarde (and Holland!), Mac Jordan

If you’re here, you’re part of the story, so stop by, pull out a chair or slide into a booth. There’s a lot to share. And while you’re here, wish Jeff and Cameron, Store proprietors and jugglers, a happy Store anniversary!

Then visit the Saxapahaw Museum, with its delightful director and caretaker, Jane Cairnes, and learn some juicy history of this little confection called Saxapahaw, magical as ever, and full of the mud, music, memories, laughter, tears, dreams and labor of all who are here and all who tread this ground. We may not have ALL the bells and whistles of big-city life, but the museum has THE old mill whistle, which is being adapted and put back to work. John Jordan spoke about the new project in a recent Times-News interview: “The thought of knowing all the former employees whose workdays were influenced by this whistle inspired the museum to contact Roger Little of Alamance Metal Fabricators to look into whether they could make the whistle blow again. They are in the process of wiring it up so it will have a short whistle at noon Monday through Saturdaynot to go to work, but maybe eat at one of the fine restaurants in Saxapahaw.”

A river still runs through it.



What a Day, a Year, a Life it Is

Posted by on Feb 7, 2018 in Community | 0 comments

What a Day, a Year, a Life it Is

A New Year.

Lots of changes, many of them sweet.

Change, like love and life, comes in many forms, with complex rhythms, surprise joys, and unknown horizons. Including deep snow (for NC), and, days later, a burst of fleeting Spring!

Snow days offer us quiet time to think, to let ourselves absorb the beauty of Nature, especially if we are warm, fed, and loved. In the turning of one year into the next, they invite evaluation of all that was 2017, and, hopefully, an anticipation of all that 2018 may bring. A vision of all that is.

2017 included some spills and plate pieces, a new kitchen floor, a new General Manager, lots of laughs and good stories, introductions, lessons learned, playlists, kitchen choreography, colored pencil drawings, patio art, our patio cat (Scraps!), a few miscues, and lots of good food! 2018 has brought a wintry beginning, a new gas supplier, and continuing dialogue about choices and change as our local-culture value legacy expresses itself in daily ways. Roots need tending.

We may think we know all about life, but we make assumptions all the time, based on beliefs about ourselves, about others, about living, about food, about the world. We all have our stories—daily, monthly, yearly, every moment. Many experience hard times during the holidays, remembering losses, missing loved ones , aching for the sun’s warmth. Countless physical and emotional experiences fill and color our lives. The stories we all live are vibrant, expressive, and dramatic. The next time you are in the Store, take a moment to really look at the next person who enters, or the first person you see. Study their face (not staring, but studying). Think about all they might be living in this moment. Open your mind to the infinite possibilities there are. Maybe even introduce yourself. Ask a question. As we do this, we will all become more aware of not just each other but our own general health and well-being, and how important we are in the world. There is a difference between silently watching a parade go by, and feeling the excitement of all who are actively part of it. Feel the rhythms. There is much work to do, and much to celebrate. We influence each other every moment, and our choices matter.

Thank you, Steven Ray Miller, for these NC-heart stickers!

Growing awareness also helps us appreciate the “magic” of this place we call home. What makes Saxapahaw such  an alluring mix of soil and souls? Its people? The land? The river? Their convergence? Magical does not mean “out of thin air.” The recent Saxapahaw Current includes an article by Linda Pucci and Joseph Pio Asterita called The Magic of Saxapahaw.  In it, Asterita presents current thinking about magnetic forces called ley lines, and describes how they impact this village where we live and work.  The creativity, persistence, and motivation of amazing creators continues to fuel the life of this village, and the magnetism of these energetic earth forces may really be amplifying all of that wonderful attraction to continue our good growth. It’s fun to learn more about what makes us who we are, isn’t it? We are grateful for the keepers and sharers of our history. And we’re grateful for CeeCee King and Butterfly Bouquets, bringer of blooms to grace our tables every few weeks! (By the way, check out farmschool.com for information about next gatherings!  You will appreciate this expression of “home is where the farm is.”)

Just as learning does not just happen at school, the Saxapahaw General Store isn’t “just a store.”  Jeff Barney’s now-traditional winter video post driving in snow to the Store to show the Open sign is one of those wonderful little gems to remember.  As people tramped in from the snow, cheeks flushed from the cold, eager with the change in weather and routine, we welcomed them and enjoyed their tales of sledding and just having “bonus time” at home or with friends. We appreciate each of you who visit, whether you are a “regular,” or a first-time visitor. As Jeff indicated, our aim is our own kind of “community service”: to serve you, our community, as best we can, as we build this good energy of growth together.

February is here, so stay tuned for a busy month in the village, including events at the Ballroom and Culture Mill supporting our civic/human education and celebration during Black History Month! While you’re here stop by the Museum, the Eddy Pub, Left Bank Butchery, our local brewery–Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and Cup 22 too! We’re all making a little history every day.

Sugar and Spice

Posted by on Jan 2, 2018 in Community | 0 comments

Sugar and Spice

A little bit of history is like a little bite of dessert, whether before or after the meal. A little bite is a usually sweet, satisfying and enticing step from the staples into another art form, a treat. A special taste of art, craft, hand, work integrated into a new form that delights. At least that’s the idea. When the idea comes to life, Ah! Wow, we say. That’s delicious! The memory lingers exquisitely.

This holiday season Emily Hicks has been busy baking with a flourish infused with her excitement: tortes, pies, cheesecakes, scones, cinnamon rolls, some brightened by beautiful pomegranate seeds or sugared orange zest, some with rich chocolate and ginger.

Did you know sugar was once considered a spice not a sweetener?

Sugar, like the General Store, and like Emily Hicks and every other staff member, has its own history: of growth, processing, development, and consumption. We show ourselves our attraction to sweetness and all it can mean every day. The best aspects are, I believe, the purest ones, whether in relationship to people or substance:  to understand and appreciate their part in our lives.

Small packets, bytes, spoons full, may help us swallow and digest any temporary distemper or challenge that may face us. Our spirits lift. We delight in what is magical, in what stirs our senses in ways that we find pleasant, warm, and lovely, even delicious.

Knowing a little bit of history, I believe, adds sweetness to life, and to a community’s life. Designers and artists (including bakers) know that the story of the presented product or image is an intrinsic part of its offering, its beauty, function—its delights. This General Store, in its 10-year tenure with Jeff Barney and Cameron Ratliff, has its flavorful history too. From the process of perfecting the envisioned biscuit recipe to hosting amazing “pop-up” dinners; from envisioning and making a new footprint as a village hub with local-vendor supply to first-class catering delivery, flavors recede and emerge, as the river flows. Every day is a new day. The Store, staff, community “builders” and visitors have created a presence, an essence that continues to define itself organically as we envision, plan, and interact. The village that eats together grows together.

Along with the Saxapahaw Museum, the story of Saxapahaw’s growth is documented nicely in Heather Wallace’s Images of America: Saxapahaw (2009). Wallace’s book is a wonderful collection of photographs and histories of the people and places that are the Saxapahaw story. Just as industrial designer Richard Seymour describes, a pencil drawing of a flower and a butterfly evokes different or more intense emotions when we learn that the drawing was the last act of a five-year-old girl dying of cancer. Our stories live as we respond to and share them. As I read about the visioning, the building, the creation and revitalization of this Mill hub and look at the pictures of those whose labors generated new ideas and reinforced the bonds of a village as a “family,” I feel even more inspired as I recognize names and some faces in the pages. It feels good to learn and to celebrate each other more. Personalities are vital ingredients for growth.

From house-made biscuits and scones, to beautiful oyster mushrooms freshly delivered, to community greens, microbrews, and handmade soaps and tinctures, we are grateful to be in such a buzzing hub of love as work and constant creation.

Happy New Year, everyone, and thank you for your love and support!  We appreciate each of you and look forward to seeing you the next time.

Commitment, Community, and Value

Posted by on Dec 6, 2017 in Community | 0 comments

Commitment, Community, and Value

“To fashion powerful art is to realize the God within and thus to feel connected with enduring vitality and abundant generosity.” Eric G. Wilson

“I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s; / I will not Reason and Compare: my business is to Create.”   William Blake

Holidays remind me how interesting and important it is to absorb views beyond our daily routines, as wonderful as they might be. Weave in threads of voices, sounds we hear in a day—partners, spouses, children, teachers, colleagues, students, media, wind, horns, geese, roosters, water, machines, other music—with the internal voices of, What day is it? What time? Did I pick up the eggs? Am I late? How cold is it outside? What was I dreaming? That sky is beautiful. I hope X or Y slept well. These streams prompt, spark, prick, awaken our attention.

Anniversaries are also sparklers or milestones to encourage our review and, hopefully, celebration. Incredibly, 2017 is the tenth anniversary year of this General Store. Jeff Barney and Cameron Ratliff , its proprietors and our guiding lights and jugglers, continue to create with their custom color palettes. Approaching a new year always adds sparklers too, especially when the conscious theme of this tenth year is renewal of our physical, soul and spiritual selves. Renewal requires and inspires continual commitment, vision, and attention, just as our neighbor and Culture Mill co-director, Tommy Noonan, articulates.

Culture Mill’s year-long project Articulating Value in the Arts was a series of conversations among artists that culminated in a symposium and a book. (If you’re not familiar with Culture Mill, I hope you will introduce yourself to these artists and their amazing work.) Infrastructure may not be “sexy,” as I’ve read somewhere, but maybe that is in part because we do not yet effectively articulate and see the design of our support systems and their necessity. Watch dancers Tommy Noonan and Murielle Elizeon (Culture Mill’s co-directors) and appreciate the energy and beauty of their support systems. Without support, creativity recedes, which we know when we get hungry or thirsty or, dare I say, bored. Like our bodies and minds, this General Store, and this community, Culture Mill powers and sustains an ecosystem by drawing multiple energies in and spiraling new ones out—an ongoing creative process.

Artists are everywhere. We can see the beauty of woven wool and threaded fiber, for example, with our very own Crochet and Complainers (here in the Store on Monday nights, at Cup 22 Wednesday mornings), and exclaim over it without thinking of the passion and craft in each person and how they express it.

Holidays and anniversaries also urge us to think about and express gratitude. Myths, traditions, memories mingle. Interweaving is always present, with highlights, just as art is a stream and river that runs through and in us, a chemical composition we play as a symphony, a jam, band, a quartet, trio, solo, village, feast.

Like our 10-year anniversary, the slim volume from Culture Mill offers rich food for thought that anyone who cares and thinks about what it means to be human, an individual, a collective, a community, and an artist will savor and absorb in levels, dependent upon how honest we are and how we value our inspiration. These conversations and the choices to identify, articulate, and to act beyond our assumptions are powerful, and, I believe, vital to our human and community health and growth.

I like what Tommy Noonan writes in his section of this book (one of seven) called “Assumptions.”

“In my opinion, we artists walk around with a myth about our labor, which has two components: one is that we are special unicorns who live outside the normal rules and conditions of capitalism, and the second is that our love of our work precludes our right to be compensated for it. This myth is not only untrue, but it is harmful, because it enables the continuation of an exploitative system – because we carry it around in our heads and it conditions our behavior such that we enter into dubious, quasi-exploitative relationships with one another as artists and collaborators, once again, with the best of intentions. This is not entirely our fault, but it is, to some extent, our responsibility to address.”

Articulating dream, vision, and value openly invites us to examine our myths and beliefs about life, death, creation, community, and ourselves; what we love. I don’t think we can get more relevant than that.

Tommy Noonan: Perhaps one value of Art is that its networks can be a scaffold which takes shape around greater structural problems within society, and therefore a frame through which those problems might be revealed and addressed.

Perhaps it has to do with cultivating the curiosity to show up in other spaces, and not so much to construct new relationships, as to foster the conditions for new relationships to blossom across segregated social networks.

I think “we” can express something useful about value and the arts, even as the multiple unpredictable variables determine art’s social value. What we decide has value reflects infinite expressions and media. Everything has a history, context, or frame, which is vital to artistic expression and relationship. Take Wilson, North Carolina’s whirligig creator, Vollis Simpson, and the grass-roots efforts that emerged as plans to honor and preserve the unique legacy of this artist whose home is their home.  Hearing about the planned park and the story of its creation, and more about Simpson, led me to thinking about what the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) calls “creative placemaking.” Think of what it means for cities and towns to rally around their best art assets.

When motivation surges, we honor art and local history that we value. Creation and community mean something that can be defined and expressed.

Saxapahaw draws diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired. The history of this area is known by some, such as Wally Quakenbush, a man worth anyone’s time to meet and listen to, and the Museum is ready to receive anyone who wants to follow the trail of pictures, stories, news bits, artifacts, media, and narratives of all kinds. We all have the opportunity to more consciously contribute our own energy and narrative, what we value, to this place we love. Just look and listen.


Tommy Noonan articulates two basic conclusions he came to throughout the course of the Culture Mill conversation series.  First, there are no easy answers to any of the questions or topics of discussion; second, the operative characteristic in being a professional artist, of addressing questions of labor value, or of confronting the reality of a segregated arts community, is commitment.

Our choices reveal what we value. How do I (and we) encourage courage to be honest about what we value and why, what we contribute every moment to life and each other? As Tommy Noonan put it, “One is either committed to these questions or not; one either advocates for ethical practices or they do not; one either shows up in Other spaces, or they don’t.” Each thoughtful addition and insight about what we truly value enriches us in ways that we may not recognize until much more water flows under the Haw River Bridge.

Art, like any garden, is not accidental and often surprises.

Showing up is a first step.  To all who have shown up and share this journey, thank you, and here’s to us!


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This