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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Memorial Meeting On The Grounds Of The Elijah Smith Cemetery

Random Appalachian Cemetery Photo

On Sunday, September 24, 2017, my wife Candice & I attended a traditional Appalachian Memorial Meeting on the grounds of the Elijah Smith Cemetery in Dingus, KY, in Morgan County.  The service was conducted by Rev. Lonnie B. Wright and other ministers and members of the Enterprise Association Of Regular Baptists.  There were about forty people in attendance with most of the crowd tending toward the elderly side.  Several members of the congregation commented that the crowd was smaller than it had been in past years.  We attended the service primarily because Candice is friends with Shirley Robbins who also cleans our house and several members of her extended family are buried on the cemetery including her parents, Clint Howard and Ella Wright Howard .  We had known both of them and used to visit them before their recent deaths.  We also encountered a few other people we knew at the service including one of Candice's providers at ARH Physical Therapy in West Liberty.  I did not take any photographs of the service or the crowd since I was uncertain if anyone would object to being photographed.  

The cemetery is located on KY 437 off KY 172 between West Liberty, KY, and Crockett, KY.  The cemetery is located on a hillside but has a relatively good gravel road to the hill behind the cemetery.  The graveyard is fenced with chain link fence and has several benches made from 2" x 12" plank on cinder blocks.  There is even a lectern for the ministers although few of the Regular Baptist ministers ever stay stationary behind a lectern, podium, or altar.  The service began with several songs and eventually three ministers including Lonnie B. Wright preached in the typical rambling, unstructured fashion of the Regular Baptists.  Most of those ministers would say this style of preaching is about "letting the Lord lead you" or "doing what the Lord tells me to do".  The hymns are older, traditional, and not usually found in a Broadman Hymnal.  Most of the various associations of Old Regular Baptist Churches use some form of locally printed hymnal without music notation.  Here is a link to the one hymnal I can find online that claims to be designed for the Old Regular Baptists.  I do not personally own an Old Regular Baptist Hymnal and probably should find one for times like this.  

The service lasted about two hours and the crowd gradually wandered off after checking a few graves of people they knew.  Several of the graves had new flowers and other decorations which is usually more common around Memorial Day in late May.  It was interesting to see a memorial meeting on a cemetery which I had not attended in several years.  Many, if not most of them, have gradually died out.  Someone in the crowd mentioned that they "need to build a shed up here" which used to be common on Appalachian Cemeteries.  I grew up near one in Knott County Kentucky, the Turner Cemetery, which for many years had a building with a large roofed area of seating, stand, and podium which would have seated more than a hundred people.  But a forest fire got out near the cemetery and jumped to the stand and burned it.  It has never been replaced.  These meetings arose from the circuit rider tradition shortly after settlers arrived in the mountains.  People often died in those days and were buried without a minister being present.  Then, on his next pass through that area, the minister would hold a service on the cemetery for the recently deceased.  It is interesting to see the tradition being practiced in any context in today's world where so much of our Appalachian Culture, Traditions, and History are gradually disappearing. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lady Sheba--Jessie Wicker Bell--Knott County's Other Major Writer

Ever since I was old enough to understand who Albert Stewart, James Still, and William Howard Cohen were, I have been entranced by, consumed in, and a student of the literature of my native Knott County Kentucky.  In the time I have studied that literature, Verna Mae Slone came to national prominence, a couple of other Knott County natives published lesser books,  and I have been published in a variety of genres including fiction, poetry, non-fiction, Appalachian Studies, and mental health practice.  But about a month or two ago, while searching some Knott County history and genealogy, I stumbled across a major writer from Knott County whose name I had never heard mentioned in my entire life. 

Jessie Wicker Bell--Lady Sheba Photo by Amanda JH

While perusing the pages of the website Find A Grave to which I make volunteer contributions  regularly, I found the memorial page of Jessie Wicker Bell, known professionally as Lady Sheba. Jessie Wicker Bell was born and raised in Mousie, KY, where my father and his family were raised and most of them are buried.  As a child, we sometimes attended church at Ball Branch Regular Baptist Church, visited the graveyards around Mousie where my ancestors and other relatives are buried, passed through Mousie on most of our trips to the county seat of Hindman, and nary a word did I ever hear about a writer named Jessie Wicker Bell or Lady Sheba who was raised in Mousie.  Jessie Wicker Bell was born in Mousie on July 18, 1920, and died in Brown County Ohio on March 20, 2002.  I am also familiar with Brown County Ohio and have some Amish friends in the area.  But the name of Jessie Wicker Bell never crossed my attention span until two months ago when I found her on Find A Grave.  

Now that I have raised your attention level, I will explain why Jessie Wicker Bell, Lady Sheba, a nationally recognized writer from Knott County Kentucky, born, raised, and with her ashes scattered there in the Wicker Family Cemetery, was never mentioned in any discussion in which I ever took part about the literature of Knott County.  Jessie Wicker Bell, Lady Sheba, was a Wiccan, a witch, a writer, in fact the first important writer of Wiccan Literature.  Her book, "The Book Of Shadows", is a classic among the literature of Wiccans.  It is the first major work of Wiccan literature published in America because in the period before Jessie Wicker Bell came to prominence Wiccans passed down all their coven teachings orally.  In fact, Jessie Wicker Bell was ostracized by some Wiccans because she put Wiccan teachings in writing.  In all, she published three books, "The Book Of Shadows", "The Witches Work Book", and "The Grimoire Of Lady Sheba".  It is difficult to see just how many editions of her various books have been published. All of her books appear to be available on a regular basis on most Internet used book sites. If I am in error, please leave a comment with documentation in the comments section.

Now let me address the most likely objection which I will hear about because I wrote this post.  Many of you who subscribe to more traditional religions, whether those religions are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, are likely to object strenuously about this blog post based on your own religious convictions.  You are entitled to believe anything you wish to believe in your own search for religion or spirituality.  So was Jessie Wicker Bell, Lady Sheba, and any other person in America.  The US Constitution guarantees every person in America the right to Freedom Of Religion and further guarantees Separation Of Church And State.  Get used to it!  Support it!.  And, if you cannot accept and support religious freedom and separation of church and state, buy a copy of the US Constitution, read it until you actually understand it, and do not speak out about constitutional issues until you do understand it.  Also, rest assured, I am not a Wiccan.  I am an American Citizen who was raised in a home where the US Constitution was understood and supported.  I hope you were too.

Jessie Wicker Bell, Lady Sheba, claimed that she was the 7th generation of her family to practice witchcraft and that she learned it from her elders.  Today, based on recent research, most of her relatives in the extended family claim to be members of some form of Christian religion, usually Baptist.  Most of them seem dedicated to ignoring the achievements of their relative as a writer.  She also founded the first national organization of practicing Wiccans.  She incorporated the American Order Of The Brotherhood Of Wicca on August 13, 1971.  Her personal achievements both as a writer and a public figure are worthy of recognition.  Knott County, which in recent years has sought every tourism dollar it can grab, is passing up many dollars in Wiccan based tourism arising from the fact that one of the most important figure in Wicca grew up in Knott County.  Her ashes were also scattered, mixed with the ashes of a copy of her "Grimoire" in the Wicker Cemetery in her native Mousie, KY.  If you are a student of the literature of Knott County Kentucky, your study is not complete unless you have read the books written by Lady Sheba. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Brent Collinsworth--Appalachian Folk Artist

Brent Collinsworth has been a dedicated and well respected folk artist for more than twenty years after retiring from his first career.  He has lived his entire life on the family farm in Hazel Green, KY, where he spent his summer days as a boy helping to produce corn, hay, hogs, cattle, and tobacco.  Today, he spends his time turning the family farm into a walnut plantation for the future of his three granddaughters and producing works of art which find their way into museums and private collections throughout a wide section of the southeastern United States.  Brent paints and also creates three dimensional works of art using a variety of media.  We invite you to view the photos below of Brent's works.  Most of the works pictured here are for sale.  Contact us by E-mail or via the phone numbers which can be found on this blog.  

Brent Collinsworth & Some Of His Art Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Riverside Street Scene Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Death Rides A White Horse Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Wash Day In The Bottoms Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Evolution Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Detail Of "Evolution" (Above) Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Native Harpooner Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Trump Throwing The First Mexican Over The Wall Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Trump Throwing The First Mexican Over The Wall (Side View) Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Trump/Wall (Detail) Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Tower Of Bable Photo By Roger D. Hicks

All art pictured in this blog post is the sole and original work of Appalachian Folk Artist Brent Collinsworth.  All of this work is for sale on a first come first served basis.  Prices will be quoted on request.  Call Roger D. Hicks or Brent Collinsworth at the following numbers: 606-743-2087 or 812-621-8536. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Loyal Jones' Reflections On "Appalachian Values" Forty Years Later

 Roger D. Hicks and Loyal Jones September 7, 2017-- Photo by Candice Hicks

On September 7, 2017, in addition to touring an art exhibition by Connie West at the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center in Berea, KY, my wife Candice and I had lunch with Loyal Jones at a local restaurant and talked about various aspects of life, Appalachian Studies, and the writings of Loyal Jones.  Loyal brought me a copy of a recent reflection he had written at the request of Berea College on his classic book "Appalachian Values" which I have written about at length and frequently recommend to others who wish to learn about Appalachia.  Over the last couple of years, Loyal Jones and I have become acquaintances, and I hope on some levels, colleagues in the field of Appalachian Studies.  I hope we still have time to become friends.  During our lunch, Loyal suggested that I might also reflect in writing on his recent reconsideration of his classic work.  Yes, I was flattered.  In an E-mail prior to our lunch, he had said the following: 
"I have just run across your review of it again, and I am much obliged, as my father would have said, for your kind words. That book is still being used in a course on cultural diversity here at Berea College, And last year, they asked me if I would like to reflect on the essay after 45 years from when it was first published as an article. I  agreed, and wrote a seven-page reflection, in which I had to admit that all of these values have diminished in the general culture and also in Appalachian culture. If you are interested In reading it, send me your address, and I’ll send you a copy. I want you to know that I greatly appreciate your kind words about Appalachian Values.  It is indeed the most-read thing that I have written."
First of all, let me say that, in my opinion, "Appalachian Values" should clearly be the most-read thing that Loyal Jones ever wrote.  It is a deceptively brilliant piece of work which is often mistaken for a coffee table book because of the beautiful photographs by his collaborator, Berea photographer Warren Bruner.  The ideas which Loyal Jones expressed in that book were precisely on point at the time and most of them still are today.   But, in his recent reflection, Loyal Jones also discussed some areas in which Appalachia has changed significantly from the period in which the book was written and published. In some of those areas, I agree completely with Loyal Jones. In a few, I take slightly different positions.  Let's reflect together on what I see in our culture today in light of Loyal Jones' writing from fort-five years ago.

Loyal Jones September 7, 2017 Photo by Candice Hicks


First and foremost, Loyal Jones brings up the changing diversity of Appalachia since the original publication of "Appalachian Values".  He is absolutely correct in that statement.  Every state in the region has had an influx of foreign born persons over the last forty years along with significant interstate immigration of native born American citizens.  This changing demographic is also reflected in the religious distribution of both church members and particular types of religions and denominations.  Loyal Jones mentions that "we are far less religious than we were two generations ago,... and we are probably the most tolerant of religious differences." On some levels I agree with Loyal Jones in this area and on some others I must respectfully disagree.  We are seeing the construction, incorporation, and proliferation of mosques, temples, and synagogues all over Appalachia with the influx of Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taoists, Rastafarians, and Hindus.  However, I must insist that the recent swing in Appalachia toward the extremist politics of Donald Trump and the Right Wing Radical groups and their members who support his extremism is causing a proliferation of verbal, physical, and criminal assaults on these religions, their members, and their places of worship all across the region.  This incredibly dangerous radical shift of opinion in much of the region has been primarily a response to the extremism of Donald Trump.  He has allowed members of the Right Wing Radical coalition which supports him to believe they are free to say or do anything they wish to anyone with whom they disagree.  Hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Traditionalist Workers Party, Aryan Nations, and all stripes of white nationalism are all growing in numbers, openly challenging the civil and religious rights of immigrants, and staging rallies and membership drives in any community which is willing to tolerate them.  This shift in public opinion is, however, not universal and many, including myself, are standing up to and speaking out against their vitriolic, virulent, and violent ideas.  The regular occurrence of hate crimes such as the Mother Emmanuel mass murder just outside the boundaries of Central and Southern Appalachia and the vehicular attack against peaceful protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the heart of Appalachia, is becoming more commonplace.  This is a sad and terrifying aspect of a minority of the people living in Appalachia today which must be confronted, resisted, and stopped in its tracks if we are to remain the socially tolerant and ideologically progressive region we have generally always been.  

Independence, Self-Reliance, and Pride
In his discussion in the manuscript of Independence, Self-Reliance, and Pride, Loyal Jones discusses the recent shift in population dynamics from rural settings to cities and towns and states "Urban life perhaps requires more interaction and cooperation than individualism and self-reliance." On the face of it, this statement is correct.  But I would suggest that the computer age with the proliferation of wireless, hand held devices and social media as the primary focus of the lives of many of our citizens has caused widespread isolation even in congested cities and towns.  Today, we do not converse on street corners and park benches.  We might sit at the same bus stop without ever speaking, with all parties engrossed in their video screens and ear phones.  The rise in incidents of both distracted driving and distracted walking support this contention.  However, this type of self-centered activity does not make its practitioners self-reliant and independent.  It makes them socially isolated living with the illusion (I might say delusion.) that they are a member of a large social group.  But, in my case simply as an example, of my 204 Facebook Friends less than a handful would actually be likely to leave their homes to give me a ride if I called them to say I was stuck on the roadside with a flat tire or an empty gas tank.  I realize that my paltry number of Facebook Friends does not compare to the size of most people's lists on social media platforms but I have recently pruned my list down to eliminate most of those whom I do not actually know on a personal level.  But I insist that the same holds true for nearly every person in Appalachia and the world who uses social media.  If you don't believe me, send them all a message stating one of the above emergencies and see who offers to assist you in your hour of need.  We are a socially isolated population living under the lie that we are incredibly well connected.  In his discussion of Pride, Loyal Jones states his agreement with the writer David Brooks in his book "The Road To Character". In the book, Brooks "...has warned against the modern weakening of humility and modesty in today's society".  I agree with both David Brooks and Loyal Jones and I am, at this moment, awaiting the arrival of Mr. Brooks' book in my mail  box.  

Neighborliness and Hospitality
The Loyal Jones manuscript discusses Neighborliness And Hospitality by saying that "...we have become less trustful of strangers...our manners and customs have changed, so that we may only invite friends and neighbors we already know to meet for a meal."  He also mentions the increase of crime across the region as a factor in these changes.  Loyal Jones is absolutely correct in these statements.  The widespread drug epidemic and related crime wave across Appalachia has made us all afraid, to one degree or another, of anyone we don't know or who might appear to possibly be under the influence of any drug or alcohol.  Home invasions, robberies, burglaries, kidnappings, child murders, and all categories of violent crime are more common in the rural areas of Appalachia today than they were when "Appalachian Values" was first published.  It is far worse than it was even 25 years ago when I was working as a door to door salesman in Southern West Virginia and South Eastern Kentucky. In the late 1980's when I was a salesman, I was regularly invited to eat meals in the homes of total strangers in the region. Two of my most precious memories involve such meals. I cannot imagine what it would be like to spend a day knocking on doors in those regions today, meeting total strangers in their homes, and attempting to gain entrance to those homes to conduct a sales presentation.  That would be a tough proposition today even if one was working on what are known as qualified leads, calls to people who want to see your product and know you are coming or to whom you have been referred by family or friends.

In his modern discussion of Familism, Loyal Jones states simply that "...the modern family is different from the old, rural, close-knit family."  Once again, Loyal Jones is absolutely correct.  Familism still exists today in Appalachia.  To a degree, native Appalachians do maintain strong family ties and will assist family members more than some other cultures.  But the degree of contact is more limited.  The levels of support freely given are far more restricted.  The willingness to travel back up US23, US52, or US421 to grandma's house on a holiday weekend is weakened.  To put all these statements in older, more easily understood terms, I would surely hate to have to call any of my cousins to go my bail for a misdemeanor in today's world in Appalachia.  You can rest assured that none of them bring me or mail me fruit cakes and pies for Christmas anymore.  

In his recent discussion of Personalism in the manuscript, Loyal Jones discusses at length the changes in attitudes of strangers on the streets of his wonderful, beautiful, and broadly diverse hometown of Berea, KY.  He bemoans the fact that Berea College students rarely speak to him on the streets and are absorbed in their hand held devices.  He writes about not knowing many of the people in his small town today, a town that is often spoken of as an exemplar of all of Appalachia.  To some degree, that same shift in attitudes has occurred in my own hometown of West Liberty, KY.  However, five years ago in West Liberty we had the good fortune, relatively speaking, to be struck by a devastating tornado which both destroyed much of our community and bound us more tightly together in our mutual effort to save our beloved community.  In that respect, we are much luckier and more Personalistic than Berea and the rest of Appalachia.  Just before finishing this paragraph, I walked through the 2017 Sorghum Festival in West Liberty to buy a funnel cake and an apple dumpling from two churches and was spoken to by name on two occasions.  The seller of the funnel cake and I had a personal, joking interchange.  But West Liberty is an exception in these times primarily due to the closeness the tornado forced on us.

Love Of Place
Loyal Jones concludes his discussion of Love Of Place in the manuscript with the following cogent sentence: "We may encounter the value of home and place only at bluegrass festivals where musicians express their desire to return to the old homestead."  As Jones notes, we are more mobile.  We move away more freely and do so without that lingering glance in the rear view mirror which almost leaves us driving into Old Homeplace Creek instead of off to the industrial north.   Holiday weekends no longer see the long streams of cars returning to Raleigh, Knott, Sullivan, Dickenson, or Yancey Counties.  Distant aunts, uncles, cousins, and even grandparents are often buried today without the attendance of a single representative of the displaced extended family who drove off northward to work years ago.  Nowadays, there are even occasions when those relatives who did die in the industrial north and wished for their remains to be brought "back home" have made advance arrangements for those remains to be cremated in the north and mailed to a local representative or undertaker who scatters them among the briers on the old family graveyard or in the yard of the now collapsed home place.  To misquote the classic song "South Of Cincinnati" by my friend Morgan County Kentucky Native and Bluegrass songwriter Clarence Kelly "now there is [no] slow train moving south through Cincinnati".  

In his discussion of Modesty, Loyal Jones states that now the lesson "not to put ourselves above others...has been lost in much of our modern political and capitalistic culture".  The first related story that pops into my head about this loss of modesty in Appalachia involves an elected county official who had no police powers but recently followed an attractive young woman in his vehicle for several miles and approached her on foot when she finally stopped in a public institution's parking lot whereupon he attempted to use his influence as a county official in a crude attempt to intimidate her for gains which we can only imagine.  That official, without a shred of modesty, claimed innocence when she had him arrested and took the case to trial where he was convicted on only one of several charges.  I would offer that Modesty meant less not only to that official but also to the members of the jury, the judge, the prosecutor, and the entire community which has allowed him to remain in office to this very day.

Sense Of Humor
Loyal Jones, in the unpublished manuscript, discusses the success of four books of Appalachian Humor which he wrote with his friend and colleague Billy Ed Wheeler as an indicator that "Appalachian humor is still being enjoyed here and throughout the country."  On a superficial level I agree with this assessment but on deeper levels I tend to doubt it.  I regularly listen to WSGS Radio FM 101.1 in Hazard, KY, which is owned by the descendants of Ernest Sparkman and I have written about WSGS on this blog On WSGS for many years, Ernest Sparkman played an Appalachian character known as Greasy Creek Bill who regularly delivered 15 second to 1 minute one liners of Appalachian humor on the station.  Today, Faron Sparkman, Ernest Sparkman's son who runs the family group of radio stations, regularly plays the sound bites of his father's humor more than seven years after his death.  Faron Sparkman has also for many years done a morning radio show with several co-hosts over the years which plays classic country music four days a week and devotes Friday morning to "Crazy Friday".  "Crazy Friday" is comprised of random humorous sound bites and country music humor by artists such as Jerry Clower, Jerry Reed, The Moron Brothers, String Bean, and Wendy Bagwell.  I should note for the record that all these performers are not native Appalachians. But it is pertinent that WSGS is a 100,000 watt super station with a transmission tower situated on one of the highest mountains in Kentucky.  Its signal blasts out over a region which covers the eastern half of Kentucky, and chunks of East Tennessee, Southern West Virginia, Western Virginia, and Western North Carolina along with occasional reports from listeners in Southern Ohio.  There is no more Appalachian radio station in the country when examined by the demographics of its listeners.

Both Loyal Jones and I have always been followers of Appalachian Humor and I would contend that we both understand it better than the average person who is not performing as a humorist full time.  I should also note that for a long period Loyal Jones was regularly hired as a humorous after dinner speaker all across the southeastern United States and has co-authored four books of Appalachian Humor. In my work as an auctioneer, I use a lot of spontaneous one-liners to hold the attention of my crowds. I grew up listening to comedians like Grandpa Jones, Bashful Brother Oswald, Wendy Bagwell, Speck Rhodes, String Bean, and the Duke of Paducah.  I still listen to their work today and frequently watch reruns of "Hee Haw" and "The Porter Wagoner Show" on RFD-TV.  But I note for the record that most of the writers on "Hee Haw" were Canadians which probably comes as a surprise to many of my readers. While Appalachian Humor survives today in limited enclaves, I do not believe that it is as strong today as it was when "Appalachian Values" was first published.   I cannot name a single Appalachian comedian under the age of twenty-five or thirty who is making a regular living on a full time basis as a humorist.  Most country music television shows of recent production do not bother to use a comedian in a regular slot. The RFD-TV show "Larry's Country Diner"does have a regular cast member who is a female working as a comedian known as "Nadine Nadine, The Church Lady".  Her website does not give any accurate biographical information as to her birthplace or home.  Her comedy is stilted, shop worn, and generally of poor quality.   "The Moron Brothers, a Bluegrass comedy band from Kentucky, are the only regularly working full time comedy music act to my knowledge.  I would also state that most of the so-called Appalachian Humor I hear today is actually hillbilly jokes which are not humor to me anymore than Black Face Comedy is humor.  The word "hillbilly" is an ethnic and cultural epithet which is personally offensive to me and, in my opinion, should be offensive to any native of the Appalachians or Ozarks. I consider the word "hillbilly" to be just as offensive as the "n" word, the "q" word, the "k" word, or the "f" word.   I must say that, in my opinion, Appalachian Humor is fading unless Loyal Jones and I are having lunch together.

In his manuscript reflecting on "Appalachian Values", Loyal Jones reminds us of the incredibly high numbers of native Appalachians who have joined the military, fought in our wars, and continue to do so.  He states correctly that about 8% of American military personnel have consistently been Appalachian but they have received "18% of the Medals Of Honor in Korea, and 13% in Viet Nam".  He also reminds his readers of research which has shown that "...if you were an Appalachian soldier in Viet Nam, you were 50% more likely to be killed than your comrades from elsewhere."  In my blog post on Patriotism, I also published very similar statistics about volunteerism, casualty rates, and rates of combat awards involving native Appalachian personnel. These statistics have been amazingly similar in war after war and, in my opinion, there are several reasons for that in addition to a natural proclivity for patriotism in Appalachian people.  Most of the Appalachian states and counties have had exorbitantly high rates of unemployment, under employment, and poverty over the last 100 years which always results in higher volunteerism simply to seek a steady paycheck.  There is also a link between deeply held religious beliefs and patriotism.  Religious people are more likely to seek to defend their country.  People who have grown up on stories about David and Goliath or  Joshua and the Battle of Jericho are more likely to emulate those heroes. Appalachia has produced numerous heroes in our wars such as Sgt. York, Jessica Lynch, Chuck Yeager, John Bob Elwell, and William Barber from my hometown of West Liberty.  It is highly likely that whatever, wherever, and when ever America fights its next war Appalachians will be on the front lines whether those lines are in a armed combat setting or on computer screens in hidden bunkers.

Sense Of Beauty

In his reflections on "Appalachian Values", Loyal Jones speaks about his appreciation for Appalachian artists and performers such as Chet Adkins and Doc Watson while he has also benefited from performances from others who were recognized world wide as great performers or artists.  I can say the same thing.  I have admired multiple works by the Appalachian wood carver Edgar Tolson covering an entire wall in the Milwaukee Art Museum and I know that he has works in the Smithsonian even though I have never seen them.  Another famous Appalachian Folk Artist and acquaintance of mine, Minnie Adkins from Sandy Hook, KY, has received the Award of Distinction from the Folk Art Society of America in 1993.  Several of her works also adorn museums nation wide.  The Bristol Recording Sessions in Bristol, TN/VA, in 1927 laid the ground work for Country Music in America.  Nearly every time I am in the University of Kentucky Hospital or the Kentucky Clinic in Lexington, KY, I slow down to enjoy the dozens of works by native Appalachian Folk Artists hanging on their walls.  A sense of beauty rooted in the mountains, streams, and wild flowers of Appalachia permeates our people and they carry that sense of beauty all over the world.  I have written at length about the Big Sandy River Valley stretching from Ashland, KY, to Elkhorn City on the Virginia border and how it has produced an astounding number of famous musicians, actors, and public figures.  And now I must admit that the blog post to which I just provided you the link is already out of date.  Another famous musician has sprung up out of that valley to world wide fame.  In the time since I wrote that post, Chris Stapleton has burst out of Paintsville, KY, and won awards from the Grammy's, Country Music Association, and the Academy of Country Music.  In that same time frame, Pauletta Hansel, from Breathitt County Kentucky has been named the Poet Laureate of Cincinnati, Ohio.  My old friend and mentor, P. J. Laska, was a National Book Award Finalist in 1974. It is also pertinent to mention that both Pauletta Hansel and I attended Antioch Appalachia in Beckley, WV, where P. J. Laska, Robert "Bob" Snyder (Billy Greenhorn), Don West, Tom Woodruff, William "Bill" Blizzard, Jr., and Rod Harless were all faculty members.  The student body also included other published writers in addition to Pauletta Hansel and myself: Gail Amburgey, Joseph "Joe" Barrett, and Robert "Bob" Baber.  Shall I go on?  

I do not believe based on our writings and our conversations that either Loyal Jones or I would make any blanket statements that Appalachian Culture is alive and well at the level it was in the early 1970's when he first wrote and published "Appalachian Values".  Acculturation and deterioration of native culture is occurring every day in the region.  The long term effects of interstate highways and outward migration are taking a toll on our language, our native arts, and our culture as a whole.  Yes, we are benefiting from the inward migrations of several thousand people of widely diverse backgrounds such as Mexicans, Indians, Syrians, Japanese, and Americans from the other forty or so states which lie outside Central and Southern Appalachia.  But that also comes with a cost.  Appalachian Culture is being diluted and not enough native Appalachians are working to keep it alive.  I spent this past Sunday, September 24, 2017, with my wife at a Memorial Meeting on the grounds of the Elijah Smith Cemetery at Dingus, KY, in Morgan County.  The service was conducted by ministers of the Enterprise Association Of Regular Baptists.  About forty people attended and several commented that the crowd was "smaller than it used to be".  Such services are becoming more and more rare today in Appalachia.  Our music, once rooted in the glens of Scotland and Ireland, is being diluted by an influx of reggae, rap, and opera. Our manners, hospitality, and openness are being destroyed by the digital equipment to which so many of our people are now addicted.  There are fewer and fewer young men and women in Appalachia who know how to make chicken and dumplings and include the egg bag of the hen they killed to make them, invite the neighbors and an occasional stranger to come in and help eat them, and then to carry the left overs down the hollow to the sick old woman who used to stand in her yard and wave at every passing car whether she knew you or not.     

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"The Original Wisdom Of The Dao De Jing A New Translation And Commentary" by P. J. Laska--Book Review

Laska, P. J.: The Original Wisdom Of The Dao De Jing A New Translation And Commentary (Green Valley, AZ. ECCS Books, 2012)

P. J. Laska Photo by Warene Hobson

Please allow me to preface this review and/or commentary by saying that what I know about the Dao De Jing would not fill a thimble.  This is the first time I have ever read any translation of the Dao De Jing other than whatever small sections of it which might have been included in an old classic called "The Bible Of The World" edited by Robert O. Ballou and published in 1939.  That little classic and its subsequent replacement, "The Portable World Bible" also edited by Mr. Ballou and published in 1976, are both classic texts for the students of both religion and history who want to understand the complexity and diversity of the world's religions and their effects on world history without doing a full fledged doctoral level piece of research.  I was first introduced to "The Bible Of The World" by Dr. Billy Rojas, Ph.D., who taught history at Alice Lloyd College for a few years in the 1960's and 1970's.  Later in about 1974, I met my friend, professor, and mentor, P. J. Laska, who wrote the particular version of the Dao De Jing which I am attempting to address in this review, and he further broadened whatever understanding I have of the world's religions.  Laska published this version of the Dao De Jing in 2012 after having studied the Dao and Daoism for more than forty years.  It is also relevant to this discussion that P. J. Laska holds a doctorate in philosophy.  

The Dao De Jing is generally defined as "...a famous Chinese philosophical text attributed to the authorship of Laozi (Lao Tzu) (sixth century B.C.E.), and highly influential in the religion of Daoism."  Like most major religious texts of the world, the Dao De Jing must be studied regularly and frequently in order to be understood.  I do not presume to understand it. Laska has told me in our personal communications that:

"...I'm not interested in Daoism (the religion), which is what most of western writing is about.  I found the older wisdom tradition conveyed by the Dao De Jing to have a lot in common with the naturalism that evolved in early Greek philosophy.  Then I was puzzled by the phrase "wei wu wei" (ddj 3 &  63) and spent a lot of time trying to make sense of other translations before I realized they were passing off "act without action" and other contradictory nonsense as something subtle and mysterious.
I started exploring this phrase which asks the reader to bring opposites together.  Then it struck me that the opposites are "wei"=human action, and "wu wei" =non-human activity, or natural process, and it fell into place.  The ancient wisdom is about balancing these two, to achieve sustainability.  

The main difference between human activity and natural process is the intellectual and artistic design that's present in human action, whether it is called thought or idea,  or consciousness that gives our action its end or goal.  I call it 'desiging (sp) action' to set it apart [from] the processes of nature that go on without this conscious design.  This is the key to the ecological reading that guides the commentary -that and the anti-imperialist thread, which you will see in ddj 80 the paradigm for a sustainable community is a small state with few people." Personal Communication from P. J. Laska to Roger D. Hicks 2017.

As I understand our prior and subsequent communications about this book, P. J. Laska's intention was  to produce an ecologically based translation of the Dao De Jing.  I do not wish to further speculate as to whether or not I believe that Laska achieved his goal.  Or as they used to say on Beaver Creek when I was growing up "I reckon I jist don't know nothin' about that there stuff."  I did find the Dao De Jing sufficiently interesting that I might go so far as to reread Laska's translation in a more studious manner by following all cross referenced sections which appear in his notes and commentary which will be an even more time consuming task.  I read it this first time in what some might consider a fairly close effort and actually read every note or commentary section throughout the entire text.  I did find it somewhat disconcerting that there are notes at the end of most of the verses, stanzas, chapters, or sections and there are also commentaries in a separate section at the back of the book each of which is designated by an asterisk at the end of the particular stanza or chapter.  I would have found it personally more effective if both the notes and commentaries had been combined in a single note at the bottom of each stanza or chapter.  

I must also say that certain small sections of the text struck me as particularly pertinent to life and world politics in the highly dangerous world in which we live today.  I refer the reader to stanza or chapter 30, found on page 37 of the book, states in part: 
"Those using [the Wisdom of] the Way to assist a sovereign in governing do not employ force of arms. This will likely provoke the use of arms in return.  Where troops set up camp, thistles and thorns grow.  Where great battles are fought, years of hardship will follow.  Those adept [in the use of the Way] do not risk using force.  They succeed without vanity and without aggression, and get results without arrogance, gain, or use of force." 
This language is more pertinent today than it could have been at nearly any other time in world history.  I am writing this review on the day after the particularly ignorant, inflammatory, and ill advised speech before the United Nations by the TRAITOR and International TERRORIST Donald Trump.  There are other equally pertinent sections of the text of this book which can be applied to world politics today in general and in particular involving the Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate which is currently illegally occupying the White House.   But, to return to my discussion of P. J. Laska's book:

This is a book worth reading especially for the practicing Daoist or student of Daoism. It is also worth reading for the student of world theology and, perhaps, even for the person who is in that life stage of seeking peace of mind and a personal spiritual world view.  I would not presume, and I do not believe that Laska does either, that this edition of the Dao De Jing is a be all end all edition that will give the reader release from the need or desire to read other editions.  In fact, if I ever finish all the other projects I am working on to which I assign higher levels of importance I just might read another more commonly used edition myself.  Maybe, to that degree, P. J. Laska might have achieved one of his unstated goals, to initiate the reader into a further study of the Dao De Jing.  However, let me end this piece the same way I began.  What I know about the Dao De Jing would not fill a thimble. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Connie West Art Exhibition--Loyal Jones Center--Berea, KY

Photo By Roger D. Hicks

On September 7, 2017, my wife Candice & I traveled to Berea, KY, to see an exhibition of art by Connie West at the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College.  The exhibition is the first to my knowledge of Connie West's work since her death in 1990 at the age of 81.  Connie West was the wife of my professor, mentor, and friend Don West, the Appalachian poet, preacher, teacher, union organizer, and social activist.  She was also the mother of the late folk singer Hedy West.  Connie was a highly accomplished woman in her own right.  She held degrees from Lincoln Memorial University, the University of Georgia, and the Baltimore Institute of Art.  She had met Don West at Lincoln Memorial University when they were both undergraduates there in the 1920's.  Connie was also always active in the social justice causes which Don worked to accomplish.  She had been active in the founding of both the Highlander Folk School and the Appalachian South Folklife Center.  Connie was also a brave example of the thousands of women who fought against cancer in the 1960's through the 1980's, a period when successes against cancer were rare and treatments were not nearly as well developed or effective as they are today.  

Photo By The West Family

It is sad that many of the paintings of Connie West were lost in a fire at the Appalachian South Folklife Center in 1974. At that time, many of her paintings were exhibited in the dining hall of the Folklife Center and an accidental fire destroyed the building along with many of Connie's paintings and a sizable collection of artifacts from the lives of both Don and Connie West many of which were also historic items in the progression of the field of study known today as Appalachian Studies.  Don West made a dangerous and heroic attempt to save as many of Connie's paintings during the fire as possible.  He did manage to save a few and suffered minor burns and smoke inhalation in the attempt.  I was living and working at the Folklife Center at the time and attending Antioch Appalachia in Beckley, WV.  When the fire occurred, three of us who lived at the Folklife Center were in class in Beckley and received a call that the building was on fire.  We left class and raced over the mountains to arrive after the building was a total loss.  It was the only time I ever saw Don West cry in the twenty years I knew him.  I will never forget standing beside Don and Connie with Connie crying openly, Don with silent tears streaming down his cheeks, his eyebrows and much of his hair singed from the fire, and openly weeping at the loss of both Connie's paintings and much of their lives work.  

Portrait Of Don West By Connie West Photo By Roger D. Hicks

As a result of that loss to the fire, the exhibition at Berea is of high quality photographs of many of Connie's paintings taken by Wes Harris.  Her surviving paintings are scattered through the collections of Wes Harris, her daughter Ann West Williams, and a few individuals who were lucky enough to own some of her work.  Even though this exhibition is of photographs and not the actual paintings, it is well worth seeing especially for the student of Appalachia and Appalachian Studies. This may well be the only chance many will ever have to see Connie's work.  Connie West painted primarily portraits of persons she knew and considered to be worthy of memorializing.  Subjects include her husband Don West and a sizable number of native Appalachians who had accomplished lives of distinction.  Attend the exhibition and make note of the fact that the online web page to which I provided the link above states that the show ended at the beginning of September 2017 but it is still hanging as of September 20, 2017.  I have been informed by personnel of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center that the exhibition is likely to remain open to the public until December due to the lack of another scheduled exhibition in the Long Wall Gallery.  I would also suggest that my readers find time to obtain and read the works of Don West and the James Lorence biography of Don.  Don't collected poetic works have been published twice.  The first book is called "In A Land Of Plenty A Don West Reader" which was published by West End Press in 1982.  The second collection of his work, published posthumously in 2004 by the University Of Illinois Press and was edited by George Brosi and Jeff Biggers under the title "No Lonesome Road Selected Prose And Poems".  The James Lorence biography is an excellent work with highly detailed scholarship and fine writing.  It was published in 2007 by the University Of Illinois Press under the title "A Hard Journey The Life Of Don West".  All three of these books will give the reader a deeper understanding of the many accomplishments of Don and Connie West and their joint importance to Appalachia and the field of Appalachian Studies. 

Appalachian Quilter Pipestem WV by Connie West Photo By Roger D. Hicks