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Friday, February 17, 2017

Sapelo: People and places on a Georgia Sea Island

What a beautiful book. What an informative book. What a beautifully informative book. This book is a perfect read for all who are interested in American coastal areas, Georgia Marshes,  the Sea Islands of Georgia, early Georgia History, oceanography, etc. Well you get the idea, but it is especially a must for those interested in the history and geography of Sapelo Island.

Readers meet interesting islanders with histories that cannot be found elsewhere. They learn of trials and tribulations of the past, present, and the future. They learn of the ecological past, present, and future. They will come away with an unanswerable question, "what will happen to Sapalo and the islanders." One resident comments, "we don't want a sign reading Hog Hammock was here." "We want a sign reading Hog Hammock is here."


From the book's blurb:

"With this book, Buddy Sullivan covers the full range of the island’s history, including Native American inhabitants; Spanish missions; the antebellum plantation of the innovative Thomas Spalding; the African American settlement of the island after the Civil War; Sapelo’s two twentieth-century millionaire owners, Howard E. Coffin and R. J. Reynolds Jr., and the development of the University of Georgia Marine Institute; the state of Georgia acquisition; and the transition of Sapelo’s multiple African American communities into one.
Sapelo Island’s history also offers insights into the unique cultural circumstances of the residents of the community of Hog Hammock. Sullivan provides in-depth examination of the important correlation between Sapelo’s culturally significant Geechee communities and the succession of private and state owners of the island. The book’s thematic approach is one of “people and place”: how prevailing environmental conditions influenced the way white and black owners used the land over generations, from agriculture in the past to island management in the present. Enhanced by a large selection of contemporary color photographs of the island as well as a selection of archival images and maps, Sapelo documents a unique island history."

We like to think that any author, editor knows what he/she is talking about. Buddy Sullivan certainly is an expert on Sapelo. He wasw the manager of the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve from 1993 to 2013 and is a native of McIntosh County in coastal Georgia. He is the author of twenty books about the history of Georgia and coastal Georgia, including the comprehensive Early Days on the Georgia Tidewater and The Darien Journal of John Girardeau Legare, Ricegrower (Georgia). His recent books include Georgia: A State History and “All Under Bank”: Roswell King, Jr. and Plantation Management in Tidewater Georgia. Benjamin Galland, photographer and partner with the h2o Creative Group in Brunswick, is the photographer for Jingle Davis’s Island Time: An Illustrated History of St. Simons Island, Georgia and Island Passages: An Illustrated History of Jekyll Island, Georgia (both Georgia).The photographer is Benjamin Galland, a respected nature photographer.


The book has a page count of 352 pages at 10X 9. There are 117 and 80 black and white photos and 2 maps founds in the book. It is a visual treasure as well as an authoritative text.


I love the Georgia/Carolina sea coast, the marshes and the shore. I know many Georgians who should own this book as individuals. I also think it is a must for colleges, high schools, middle school libraries, for many science classrooms, and for public libraries. I think it is a winner. Thank you Net Galley for allowing me this early look at the book.

Available through the University of GA Press, Amazon, and major book distributors. Publication date March 1, 2017.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Remembering Ann Lowe during African American History Month

    Ann Cole Lowe, 1898-1981
                                                                   America's forgotten fashion designer.



For months I researched a little known African American designer. She designed for many but was known only to that circle. She was, in her own words, a "design snob." But she was, oh, so much more. Here's my story of the research that allowed me into her social circle.

I met her in an airport last fall. I was in the airport, she wasn't. She died decades ago, but as I was 'surfing the net' I came upon two sentences about her. A 'did you know' kind of post. I was blown away, for no, I didn't know and I thought the circumstances were such that I should.

Born in 1898, the great-granddaughter of a slave and a plantation owner, the granddaughter of a slave and a free man of color, she entered the world in a small, rural Alabama town. Through talent, determination, and a desire to reach a goal, she refused to let the circumstances of her birth keep her down. She didn't preach; she didn't march, she didn't give up. She allowed a dream to be born in her heart and in her own personal way, she overcame all obstacles and achieved her dream.

When I began my research, I was writing an historical fiction. Soon it became clear to me that her story, her true, unvarnished story had to be told. It was, at that point told only in bits and pieces and often with the bits inaccurate and  the pieces changing with each retelling. I began my research to clarify things for myself and found myself getting to know a strong woman from a family of strong women. I decided that I could not do her justice in fiction. I could not get in her head and speak in her voice. I wanted her to speak for herself. And so she does.

Here's the blurb from the book cover:
"For any designer, designing the wedding dress to be worn by Jacqueline Bouvier, future First Lady of the United States, for her marriage to John F. Kennedy would be a lifetime achievement. For Ann Lowe, it became a statement. The iconic gown would become the most photographed wedding gown in American history proving that (in Ann’s own words), “a Negro can become a major dress designer.”

Years earlier, as the sun rose on the morning of Ann’s birth, no one in the small town of Clayton, Alabama could have dreamed of the heights she would achieve for she was born a squirming, scrawny, little black girl in the Jim Crow South, but from an early age she recognized her dreams.

Her path would not be easy, and any success she might have was certain to be achieved only with steadfast effort and fortitude on her part. Armed with a great inner strength and natural talent, she rose above all obstacles and forged her own future.

When she designed and produced Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress, very few knew her name. No one but her staff knew of the disaster that preceded the delivery of that now-historic wedding dress to the home of the bride. Even fewer knew that she was the granddaughter of a former slave.
Even today, few know her story."




    




Ann was descended from a long line of seamstresses and designers. Her great-grandmother was a slave and her great-grandfather the plantation owner. When a baby girl was born of them, that baby girl became a seamstress and, by law, a slave. She was purchased in her teens by a free man of color and from them came the line that today can claim Ann as their own.

She designed for a first Lady of Alabama, for Gasparilla patrons of Tampa,  for an Oscar winner and for the socially elite of America. In the 1960's she appeared on the afternoon talk show, The Mike Douglas Show. Mike asked her what drove her to work so tirelessly. She remarked that she "wanted to prove that a Negro could be a major dress designer." From this statement I found the title for my book, Something to Prove, A Biography of Ann Lowe, America's forgotten designer.

The biography is now complete. Along the way I have learned to marvel at what she overcame, and at the people she met. This woman who under normal circumstance might not be welcomed in their homes, became a darling to the Duponts, Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Lodges, Posts, Auchinclosses, the Bouviers,..well you get my drift.

As I researched her life, I found beautiful gowns, and their owners. I have been in touch with some fascinating people. A concert pianist now living in Belgium, an academic in Ohio, a lovely socialite who invited me to her home, the daughter of a novelist whose works became the story for several John Wayne movies, including the unforgettable, Shane, and a lady who has the distinctive sound of my mother-in-law on the phone.

I've tramped through graveyards, seen homes falling down, visited with ladies who still speak of the members of her family with their family nicknames as if they are just around the corner, and driven through beautiful rolling hills only to find an improvised town at the end of the road.

Now, I think, I can write an historical fiction, not with her as the main character, but with her as the inspiration for a historical era, but first I must help her tell her story. Through almost 60 photos and dozens of interviews, I hope I have done that.

I had fun with this research, even when I was pulling my hair out trying to find the beautiful brides, debutantes, and socialites from the 1950's and 60's. That's the beauty of research, you never know where the path will take you or who you will meet along the way. I love it.


Interest? Read more in one of the three additions available at

https://www.amazon.com/Something-Prove-Biography-Americas-Forgotten/dp/1532909306/ref=pd_sbs_14_3?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=2MBD8QSHWPY6KQE3FA7Z











Wednesday, February 1, 2017

LISETTE'S LIST by Susan Vreeland: My review revisited for Leah. Thanks Net Galley

Susan Vreeland's Lisette's List, has been available for over a year now. If you have not read it, what are you waiting for? It  is a work of historical fiction about art, war, and love  It is a work of historical fiction that I fell in love with and is in itself a work of art.

From the book's blurb:
"In 1937, young Lisette Roux and her husband, André, move from Paris to a village in Provence to care for André’s grandfather Pascal. Lisette regrets having to give up her dream of becoming a gallery apprentice and longs for the comforts and sophistication of Paris. But as she soon discovers, the hilltop town is rich with unexpected pleasures.

Pascal once worked in the nearby ochre mines and later became a pigment salesman and frame maker; while selling his pigments in Paris, he befriended Pissarro and Cézanne, some of whose paintings he received in trade for his frames. Pascal begins to tutor Lisette in both art and life, allowing her to see his small collection of paintings and the Provençal landscape itself in a new light. Inspired by Pascal’s advice to “Do the important things first,” Lisette begins a list of vows to herself (#4. Learn what makes a painting great). When war breaks out, André goes off to the front, but not before hiding Pascal’s paintings to keep them from the Nazis’ reach."
                                                              
My thoughts:

When visiting art galleries, there has always been one gallery that I could speed through. That gallery would be housing Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, and Marc Chagall. I simply did not understand most of their paintings. While I still do not understand all, Lisette's story helped me see things in the paintings that I had not, seen before. In fact, I became so enthralled when Lisette would learn of the meaning of or the reasons for the paintings, that I would come to the computer and research that painting. Often I would simple have the painting on screen as I was reading about it. Wow! Most books do not do that for me. Two of the eight paintings discussed in the story are not actual, but this in no way detracts from the novel. Additionally, the book is so well researched that Ms. Vreeland uses passages from known writings or discussions by the artists themselves.

The blending of the horrors of WWII in France and the life and times of these artists, and of  the other characters in the book, make an evocative read. Lisette is a Parisian embodying all the glamour and free spirit of that word just before WWII. She is enamored with the art scene in Paris and wants to work in a gallery. She has just received the opportunity she so desires when change occurs.

Suddenly, this young Parisian must move with her husband, Andre, to Provence in the south of France to care for his dying grandfather. Grandfather Pascal introduces Lisette to more art and art history than she could ever have learned in the galleries of Paris. She learns that in his early years Pascal was a color pigment salesman representing his beloved village which mined the materials needed by artists. Through his work he became friends with the artists of the day.

His humble cottage in Roussillon, Provence, France, was sparsely decorated but did feature a wall of paintings given to him by those friends from the art world in Paris. He leaves these to Lisette and her husband Andre. He also leaves them his memories, both written and oral. These works of art and the artists who painted them are lifelines that help Lisette get through life after the war takes Andre's life and Lisette must live along and learn to survive as a provencial woman.Through necessity she becomes a fighter, facing shortages, sufferings, and starvation.

My only small complaint would be that, too many times, we had to read through Lisette's mixing of various items to achieve color pigments that she wanted to duplicate. Since colors and pigmentation were essential to the story, I understand these inclusions. They did not detract from the overall story.

Beautifully written with vivid and colorful descriptions, thoughtful insights, and life in Provence, what more could a reader ask?  I highly recommend  Lisette's List. I think book clubs could have stimulating discussions about the book. This is my first Susan Veerland book. It will not be my last. I received an advance reader's copy of the book from Net Galley.





After publication of the book, Vreeland again toured the lovely French settings of the book, this time with a group of readers and admirers. Regrettable, I was not part of that group, but have enjoyed the photos of the trip shared by Mimi Placencia. Check out her photo below.