Fading Away

Mark asked me why I took so many photos of places, landscapes, trees, buildings: was I planning on being a professional photographer when I got out of the Army? Really. I hadn’t really given it that much thought. “Why do you take so many pictures of people?” I asked him. Thirty plus years later, I think I am beginning to know why.

My time as an enlisted soldier stationed in Heidelberg, Germany during the mid-80s was a great time to get out, see the world. Who knew if I would ever be back there again? As circumstances have played out, I haven’t returned. But my brief two years there were filled with work and travel. England, France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein: these were all a bus tour or train ride away for a weekend visit or a four-day vacation.

Fading away. It’s not just the photo prints that are beginning to fade. Mark convinced me to switch from print film to slide film. The slides from that time still look bright and crisp; the prints have begun to fade, the colors blending towards yellow. Scanning and a bit of photo editing has brought back much of their original color, I think, but I’m not sure.

No, it isn’t just the colors that have begun to fade. It seems I never was one to label things or write on the back of photos (thank you Mom for the photos you captioned years ago!) Looking back, younger Me must have thought he would always remember the names of places he went and the people he went with. And certainly he would have remembered those dates! Not so, not so.

Since the advent of the iPhone, I have used its prodigious data collecting capabilities to help me remember where and when my photos were taken. With facial recognition it helps me search for pictures of my granddaughter or other family members, even geocoding where the picture was taken. 

Like many people, I upload quite a lot of photos to a third party site “in the Cloud.” I have been using Shutterfly not primarily for photo storage but to print out photo books of our trips and family events. For me they have replaced the ancient slide carousel (remember those?) and the boxes of prints that seemed to never make it into a photo album. The books are piling up on a shelf, and I know the children will likely throw them out when I’m gone, but for now they help to stave off the effects of fading memory. Our trip to Spain is up there on the shelf as is my 60th birthday celebration at DisneyWorld. Well, my 70th birthday is also up there,  but who is counting birthdays anymore?!

Old photos fade, memories fade, events recede in time and eventually fade from our recollection.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

Baking Christmas Bright

By no means do I consider myself a “baker.” In fact, on my list of culinary skills, I would probably put baking near the bottom, perhaps just above “candy making.”

But there is something about the holidays and having grown up with a “we’ll just bake a few pies for Thanksgiving” Mom, that I tend to feel overconfident when it comes to Christmas in the kitchen. 

We have several friends who have taken cookie baking and decorating to new heights, an Olympics-level of skill that I could only hope for in my wildest dreams. Jennis, Leigh-Ann, and Jennie seem to effortlessly produce art with flour, sugar, and butter and their decorating often leaves me in awe. Whether birthdays, weddings, celebrations or holidays, they constantly amaze me with the photos shared on social media. My “Groovy 70s” cookies were made by Jennis Horn and they were a highlight of my birthday party. Her Christmas cookies are always amazing, you can see more of them on her FB page here.

But I digress. I stay away from cookie baking much like I would avoid trying to create French macarons. But I have found that simple quick breads are more my style. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve made nearly two dozen mini pumpkin spice breads; throw in a couple of pies for Thanksgiving and I might begin to consider a career switch. Along with a few packets of instant hot chocolate mix they have made great gifts for our neighbors. 

With Christmas approaching I’m considering switching up my recipes. Flipping through my copy of The Joy of Cooking” cookbook, I found a few handwritten recipes from over thirty years ago. My sister-in-law had shared a Bishop’s Bread recipe that might be fun to try again. There is a cranberry walnut bread that sounds like it would make a great appearance on a Christmas buffet table. I would love to find something pepperminty, though I suppose I could just sprinkle candy cane pieces on a chocolate-chip bread. That sounds tasty! 

Happy Holidays friends. Whatever you make, it’s better shared with friends. And don’t forget the neighbors! 

The Forbidden Forest

Harry Potter, A Forbidden Forest Experience is currently engaging fans and friends of the Wizarding World at Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia. It’s hard to imagine the scale of the amount of effort that has gone into this production, from creating the animated props to laying gravel paths lined with Bose speakers, fog machines, and theatrical lighting through the forest of the park. 

As we walked thru it, all I could think of was, hats off to the designers and other creatives (and the IT Department!) who had managed to produce something this massive, involving so many people and cross-disciplines, during the time of Covid.

The Forbidden Forest Experience operates on two entirely separate levels for me. There are enough vignettes—Hagrid looking out into the dark night with his dog Fang next to him for instance— that a fan of the books will be happy, lead along the trail hoping to discover what’s next around a bend or over a hill. But I’m more drawn towards the production side of the experience. LED lighting in the trees, gobos along the paths, the enchanting lighting effects of the field of mushrooms for instance. 

Walk-thru experience have become more common recently. Christmas lighting displays are hugely popular and have grown in complexity the past few years. And really, aren’t we all fans of dinosaurs and the recreations of them? The Jurassic Encounter (https://nova.thejurassicencounter.com has plenty of dinos but they are the main attraction, not the environment.

The aspect that sets the Forbidden Forest Experience apart from any other outdoor adventure I’ve experienced lately is, literally The Forest. There are activities, vignettes, owls, spiders, centaurs and unicorns placed along the trail for everyone to enjoy. But it is the forest that becomes the main character in this drama. Dark, spooky, mist-shrouded or brightly lit in reds, greens, and blues, fallen trees or clustered oaks, white sycamores etched against the moonlit sky: the Forest is the King here. Playing throughout the experience is music from the movies and it really enhances the overall effect.

After searching online for the design group responsible for this adventure,  I came across Thinkwell Group. The tagline on their website really spells it out, “creating custom, content driven experiences in the physical world.” Lighting effects were created by Adam Povey Lighting. I was surprised to learn that there are several other locations of the Forbidden Forest Experience currently available to see, one in Westchester NY; one in Cheshire UK at Arley Hall and Gardens; and one in Belgium.

There is food available and a merchandise tent at the end of the trail— it is Harry Potter and Warner Brothers after all.  This isn’t a recreation of the Harry Potter World at Universal Studios (no theme park rides) but you can get butterbeer and a souvenir mug, t-shirts and hoodies, and of course adorable stuffed animals. We took home one of the Nifflers; keep an eye on your jewelry! If you consider going, ticket prices seemed a little high for what we are used to, certainly cheaper than Wicked tickets at the Kennedy Center, but more than what you would expect for an experience where you are doing most of the work, or at least the walking. There are family ticket prices. Take a lot of pictures: many of the participants came in costume and really added to the excitement. It is a non-cash event (credit only), something they do announce on their website. The parking lot as well as the road leading into the event area was well marked and well lit. Parking was an additional fee.

When we were there the evening temperatures couldn’t have been better. It was the day before the full moon in early November and a light jacket (wizard robes) was all we needed. The flashlight I had brought was unnecessary and the path could easily accommodate strollers. 

Seeing Double

We lived in several houses growing up in Reno. Until my parents divorced we lived near Wooster High School. Later after my Dad remarried, we lived in a small home off Peckham Lane in the Smithridge area. 

In the living room of both homes we had a fireplace and over the fireplace hung a painting. George Carter painted many Nevada scenes during his lifetime, some of which may have been inspired by Nevada magazine covers. The view of desert and mountains that we have was purchased from him in 1964 while Mom worked at Brundidge’s in downtown Reno. It now hangs in our guestroom and of all the paintings, photos, and memorabilia—this painting most reminds me of Nevada. The dark layering clouds over snow-covered mountains, mountain peaks catching the light, the scent of sagebrush in the dry air.

In my Dad’s home we had a different painting hanging over the mantle. Painted by my stepmother’s sister, Maxine Randall Peters, it depicts a red barn surrounded by gold-leafed trees in autumn, snuggled up against the foothills of Mount Rose. It’s a readily identifiable location in Washoe Valley. It appears Maxine had painted a lake or pond up close to the building in order to reflect the brilliant yellow trees and that gorgeous red color. 

The two paintings capture two very different views of Northern Nevada, one looking possibly towards the Sierra in the West, the other a view of the foothills from Washoe Valley, both areas I was familiar with growing up.

Though I now live in Virginia, my wife and I return often to visit family in Reno. I’ve joined a number of Reno and Nevada-interest Facebook groups, most of which feature photos of the amazing landscapes for which the state is known. Some of the sights are new to me (wild horses seem to be everywhere now, rarely seen when I was growing up there); other photos are of familiar areas such as Pyramid Lake, the Truckee River, or Lake Tahoe.

But I stopped immediately when I came across a familiar image on Facebook last month. Incredible! The red barn from my aunt’s painting, pictured in all the golden glory of fall, in a group of photos by an FB group member. Impossible! Maxine had created her  oil painting back in the 60s. The barn was old then, how could it still be standing?! I’ve framed the photo and it now hangs in my Nevada-themed guestroom. It’s a brighter version of the scene Maxine painted years ago; the cottonwood trees dominate the image and nearly obscure the barn at the center of the photo. The barn isn’t red like our painting; perhaps it never was, maybe that was just another embellishment of the artist. I like it.

While I was searching online for more photos by Lee Molof, I came across another painting by George Carter dated sometime during the early 1960s. And then another. A third and now a fourth.

All five images bear striking similarities: the pyramid-shaped mountain in the middle ground, mountains to the left of the image, sagebrush in the lower right foreground. All of them are overshadowed by immense cumulonimbus clouds. Of the four, I prefer the overall coloring in ours: the coral-tinged mountains are a little closer to the viewer; the arroyo or dirt road in the center has a slate grey that mimics the snow covered mountains in the distance. Orange flowers dot the foreground and place the image as perhaps early spring, snow hasn’t yet receded from the mountain peaks.

I’m curious to find the original location that Carter used as reference material. If it is indeed from a Nevada magazine I would like to get a copy of it, perhaps a nicely framed photo to go with our painting. If civilization and the expansion of Northern Nevada suburbs haven’t destroyed the view, I think it would be great to pair the photo and the painting in the same room. It’s a bit of Double Vision, a nod to the past as well as the present. I like it.


Just to be clear, I don’t own the four paintings in the collage above. All of them were found on online art auction sites. In most cases, Carter oil paintings sell in the mid $500-800 range. Mom says she paid $30 for ours and bought it directly from George Carter when he would come in to Brundidge’s for art supplies or to have paintings framed.

What’s Cooking?

My Dad loved to hunt, that’s for sure. The earliest photos I have of him on the Whitbeck Ranch in Smith Valley show him proudly holding up two pheasants on display for the camera. He is dressed in khakis (seldom wearing jeans) and a plaid woolen jacket. I found the photo several years ago in a box of memorabilia from my Mom, that and a slew of photos of my older brother Dave on the ranch. There is a photo of Mom as well, her arms wrapped tightly around her from the cold, standing in front of the foreman’s cottage they were living in at the time. Over the picket fence is a set of deer antlers.

Dad loved to hunt. Whether it was pheasants, or geese out in the fields near Fallon, Nevada, or deer in Elko County: he loved the outdoors and getting away with a few of his hunting buddies. It’s October now, deer hunting season in Nevada, and I’m taken back to those years in the 1960s by a sudden memory this week.

Ruby Mountains in Elko County NV

I went deer hunting with my Dad only once that I can recall. It was local, the pinion pine-covered mountains outside of Virginia City. It’s where we would go each year to cut our Christmas trees. The photo of us with that year’s tree shows my younger brother Rick, one of his friends, and my Grandfather, along for the ride. But the climb thru these mountains wasn’t anything compared to the mountains in Elko County that Dad and his hunting buddies would head to in the fall. I can imagine that my complaining about the hiking, and the sitting quietly, and the waiting…would be the reason I didn’t go again. My brothers don’t hunt either so maybe it wasn’t just me, who knows now.

But last week I was given a frozen slab of venison. And Dad’s old recipe for venison stew was what I made. He always used a pressure cooker to start the process and tenderize the meat. I just left it in the pot to cook slowly for several hours before adding the potatoes, carrots, onion and green peppers. Dad like stewed tomatoes but I didn’t have any so, we left that out. Plenty of salt and pepper. Bay leaf of course. It could be my Dad’s recipe, or it could be my Mom’s beef stew recipe that Dad repurposed. We always had venison in the freezer and truthfully, I only remember Dad cooking it.

I saw online recently that The Sportsman in Reno had published a cookbook. The recipe might have come from it, we loved the Sportsman and would go there for everything: fishing and hunting licenses, all our gear, or just to hang out with old guys talking about the weather. It was that kind of place, years before Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods took over the sporting goods retail industry. (photo courtesy Karl Breckenridge)

I texted a friend of mine while I was thinking of the past and deer hunting. Pat is an avid bowhunter and I thought it would be great to hear from him, how his season was going. He texted back from his hunting cabin that he hadn’t seen anything yet, and though not as enthusiastic as he had been in the past, still he goes out every season. I can’t remember a year when my Dad didn’t come back with a deer. The mule deer in Nevada are huge compared with the whitetails here in Virginia, but their numbers don’t compare.

I frequently see deer in my backyard here in Virginia (eating the hostas!), but I doubt whether I would have had the patience to hike, sit, sit some more, and eventually hike back down the mountain with a 200 lb deer, especially in that crisp mountain air. I’m more the camera guy, sit back in my recliner, have a hot cup of coffee while I reminisce. But thanks for the memories, Dad. And a love of plaid shirts.

Plaid Shirts and Wrangler Jeans

I’m living between two worlds these days. Our present, which includes Starbucks coffee, Korean BBQ restaurants, and trips to our local Saturday Farmers Market. But I’m also drawn towards my — mostly reimagined — past and it’s rural roots. Pickup trucks, country music on that truck radio, home-canned foods and venison stew. 

Our life on an actual ranch was brief; I was born in a small hospital in Lyon County not far from the ranch on which my Dad was forman. We moved into town later that year when the ranch-owners son returned from the Korean War. 

Dad with pheasants

Dad’s college degree was in animal husbandry. He must have been preparing for the country life even then, though he seldom spoke about it years later and he seemed content with how his change in careers turned out. But we were in the mountains outside Reno whenever possible, either after firewood during the summer, camping, or deer hunting in the fall. I never took to hunting, Dad would go for a week to Elko and the Jarbidge Mountains with several of the men he worked with. That’s Phil Martinelli’s jeep next to my Dad’s chevy pickup in the photo below, their camp gear spread out in the foreground. 

1960 Chevy

I spent most of the day yesterday cutting up tree limbs and wrestling with logs too heavy to lift, sections of three trees we had taken down back during the summer. The leaves are all off now and it’s a little easier to see what I’m dealing with: these things are a lot larger lying down than they first appeared! Too close to the house, my concern was that they would come crashing through our roof in the first winter storm. So I had the experts come in and take them down.

But I had been overly confident in my ability to limb branches off walnut and tulip trees with my little electric chain saw. I’ll have to wait until I get a bigger chain saw before I can cut the trees into smaller sections, until then they can lie where they fell.

I’m wearing a plaid long sleeve shirt today with imitation pearl snaps, two pockets; wrangler jeans from Walmart. No boots, sneakers from our local Sketchers outlet. I drive a grey pickup truck: it’s a Nissan, not a Chevrolet. Probably underpowered if I were to ask Dad. I’ve tried my hand at canning recently (mostly jams and jellies, a few bottles of pickles) but we haven’t been too successful yet in growing food. The neighbors have chickens who have stopped by. I’m hoping they will have enough eggs to sell. Dad often wore plaid “cowboy” shirts. Jeans of course, and boots. It seems we are more alike than I thought.

Meet the neighbors

Second Chances

I know, I know. I said that we were downsizing. And if that means anything, it means decreasing what we own and definitely NOT buying more stuff.

But since I discovered online estate sales last year, I have definitely taken a turn for the worse.

Today I went through my invoices to see exactly what all I have been bidding on (and winning). I’ve lost out on any number of things by not bidding high enough to secure them as the timed-bidding ran out. But I’ve won quite a bit, some things of value; some things I think (or thought) I needed; some items I just thought would be fun to have.

A few things, after I’ve picked them up from the home where the estate sale was being held, turned out to be, shall we say, not quite what I had expected. To be sure, nothing online has been misrepresented and for all of the auctions we have followed, there has been an in-person preview period. Those I generally forego as I don’t want to drive the distance twice. But wheels have needed to be replaced. A Nikon camera I bought wasn’t a digital format, that one is on me. The deer-antler-handle carving set was a win.

Over the past year it looks like I have concentrated on indoor furnishings, vintage furniture or decor. But more recently I have looked for garden tools, garden furniture, cement planters or garden sculpture. There is a wide variety of just stuff available through online estate sales. The company we have been bidding through will list everything in your home, from the contents of the silverware drawer to everything found in an outdoor shed. And under the deck as well. And the linen closets.

I’ve come to realize that, while there are many good deals to be had (we just recently picked up an unused toaster oven), there are also things that have left me scratching my head and wondering. Why? Why did l bid on that? Hmm?

The savvy collector will seek out comparable items to determine the worth of an item. I found myself bidding on something when luckily I was outbid and thought, “Did I really want to spend that much for a used item?” and Heaven help you if you have bid more than what an item is worth new because you hadn’t done your homework. But I’ve also let a few things get away that I hadn’t set an appropriate upper limit to my bid. Bids generally increase by $2 but at some point that increment can jump up to $10 or more. And I have lost out on something by $2 simply because I had set my max bid too low.

Over the year I’ve bought several mahogany picture frames, an antique Lane cedar chest, an antique Victorian mahogany wash stand which I refinished; several tables; a couple of wingback chairs; a beautiful sleeper sofa which we ended up taking to the dump; binoculars; a handpainted floor lamp; a metal detector that needed a new set of batteries; concrete garden planters; iron garden table and chair set; garden carts and a wheelbarrow and more I’m sure.

Have your participated in any online estate sales? Or perhaps have been thinking that a sale (really it’s a silent auction format) would be a great way to downsize? I look around at all that we have and shudder when I think how little our stuff might actually be worth. On the other hand, I’m pretty excited to get a nice garden cart–in need of new wheels– for only $15. It’s all relative.

A few of the fun things I’ve purchased over the past year. The gorgeous Victorian mahogany frame is still waiting on a decision to paint it or leave it natural. And I have a couple of tables that are waiting on refinishing, other than that we are in a good place. But maybe it’s not quite the time to really downsize.

Learning to Drive

Taking the tractor for a spin

When did this happen?

I’ve been watching carefully, noting the approaching birthdays on the calendar, celebrating holidays and vacations away, attending ballet lessons and cheer practice. But somewhere, at some point, our first granddaughter seems to have grown up. 

This year she turns 15. I don’t think we will celebrate a quinceanera, we will likely wait until next year and celebrate that Sweet Sixteen party. But at some point between this fall and next spring, she will likely begin driving lessons. 

The thought is at once intimidating and liberating.

I was 15 when I began learning how to drive. My Dad had a 1960 Chevrolet pick up truck, three speed manual transmission on the steering wheel column (remember those? Classic H pattern). I doubt that it could do 60 mph on a good day but it was a work horse. When it wasn’t outfitted with the camper shell, we would use it to haul firewood back from the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains. Long stretches of gravel roads were an opportunity to learn how to steer a truck without the distraction of other vehicles on the road.

We practiced parking in the vehicle storage lot that my Dad had access to on the weekends. That, and driving in circles to kick up a little dust really was the extant of my supervised learning. Again, no distractions and I seriously don’t remember if the truck even had a radio at the time. I never took a driver’s training course in school since that would have been an elective. And who had time for that?

Dave and the red Corvair

My older brother Dave purchased and drove a Corvair after high school graduation. Later, after he had joined the Army, he left us the vehicle. It’s unclear whether or not we were “gifted” or sold his car; I don’t believe money was ever exchanged but I drove that car throughout our high school years as did my younger brother.

Reno didn’t have any freeways back in the mid-60s. Heck, we didn’t even have an overpass until 1968 from what I remember. But somehow I learned enough to be able to negotiate the mountain roads around Northern Nevada, the long empty stretches of desert highway out to Pyramid Lake, and eventually the freeway traffic of Sacramento and San Francisco in California. I survived all those miles, and years, with a minimum of tickets and I believe only one minor traffic accident. But the traffic here in Northern Virginia? Oh that is something else.

Copilot

I’m looking forward to one day being driven around by our granddaughter, my sitting in that copilot’s seat watching her take the curves. I no longer have the PT Cruiser convertible but I think we will find something fun to drive. Somehow it feels like I’ve come full circle.

What Do You Want to Do When You Grow Up

Cowboys

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” Or maybe the question was, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”

Thinking back on our conversation, I’m not really sure I heard the question correctly, or maybe I just heard what I thought was being asked. Nevertheless, I found it an odd question to ask someone who had recently turned 70. So I answered as truthfully as I could, that I am who I wanted to be when I grew up.

So is the question, if asked of a much-younger me, what do you want to Do with your life? Or should the question more appropriately be, what kind of person do you want to Be when you’ve “grown up,” at whatever age that seems good to you?

A Fireman. A Doctor or Lawyer. A Soldier. A Pilot. A Pharmacist. A Cowboy. A Rancher. A Teacher or a Counselor. We have at least one of these professions represented by someone in my extended family. But that really isn’t the question to ask anymore, is it? Because we all know that these professions don’t often last a lifetime, that our career paths may change at some point, and that wanting to be a Fireman as a young boy might actually lead one to a career as an EMT. 

But what do you want to Be when you grow up? that is really the question we try to answer for ourselves if we are at all self-aware.

Recently my wife and I took a communications course through our church. If you haven’t been exposed to the temperaments vs. personality discussion before, I can not more highly recommend this course. Information about the workbook along with accompanying videos are available online here, but I would say, take it with a group through your business, church, or other social group. 

I Said This, You Heard That” really helped me begin to understand some of the differences between personality (that which is changeable and often what we present to the world) and temperament, that which is hard-wired in and not changeable.

I bring this in to the discussion because what we do, and who we are, flow from our temperaments more than our personalities. So for instance, I am sanguine: I am an extrovert who enjoys people more than tasks. But for a great deal of my career I was employed in creative, yet very task-oriented professions. For years I had thought that the “what do you want to be” question could only be answered with a “what do I want to do” statement. I want to Be an Artist is not the same answer as I want to do art. 

So back to my friend and the question over our Starbucks. My answer to him was essentially, I am who I want to be when I grow up. I want to be kind, caring of others, not entirely focused on myself. I want to be a person who knows Jesus and the scriptures, who has a desire to lead others in their discovery of Him. I want to be a person who cares about the environment, and politics, and upcycled furniture, and flowers in the garden, who enjoys the world God created. I want to be a person who is generous with his time, knowing that all that we have is a stewardship and not owned by us. 

Have you given it some thought what (or rather who) you want to be when you grow up? Where are you on your journey of discovery? Or are you at a place in your life now where you want to pivot, less doing and more being? I raise my vanilla latte to you and say, all right, let’s talk!

Hand Made

I was in 10th grade when I first started to make hand-lettered signs. Professionally that is; before that I had been your go-to guy for all types of posters and blackboard art in school. But it was in high school that my career, as it was at the time, really took off.

My journalism teacher at that time and her husband helped out at the local Little League baseball field. He may have been a coach though I don’t really recall much other than boxes of sporting equipment in their garage and station wagon. My job however, was hand lettering the many advertising signs that were mounted to the fence surrounding the playing field. 4ft x 8ft plywood signs, mostly painted white, hand lettered with your business name, perhaps a logo, and a phone number and an address. Occasionally we would put two businesses on one board and the text got a bit smaller, but overall it wasn’t a difficult job making four inch letters look legible from the outfield.

Signpainter

That skill helped me quite a bit when I took a job after college in San Diego. Working at Robert Keith Giant Inflatables, I was part of a team of artists who hand painted logos on twenty foot tall vinyl beer bottles and cans. (I wrote about that previously here.)

However most of my graphics career was spent in the screenprinting industry. The billboard posters I printed had a handshake relationship with old-school lettering in that the projected image of text was drawn by hand and then a stencil was cut by hand using an exacto blade. Those paper stencils were used to produce hundreds of identical prints, whether they were yard signs for elections or 30 ft billboards for casinos in my hometown of Reno. The screenprint produced a much cleaner, sharper image of text than my admittedly shaky brushwork ever could. 

All of which brings me to our recent visit to Tennessee and the opportunity to enjoy two vastly different exhibit experiences which showcased basically the same material. 

The Museum of Appalachia twenty miles north of Knoxville in Norris, TN is a wonderful collection of relocated early American frontier buildings, from one-room log cabins to sheds and barns filled with memorabilia. Several larger new structures are jam-packed with an overwhelming assortment of photographs, personal items, home goods and cottage industry crafts, guitars, banjos, dulcimers and small exhibits devoted to favorite sons such as SGT Alvin C. York (WW1). 

Much of the collection appears to be pre-industrial revolution items or shortly thereafter. But what captured my attention wasn’t the time period or the quality of craftsmanship displayed: it was the sheer quantity of materials they had on display! And nearly everything came with a simple hand-lettered caption label. So much stuff! All labeled! Beautiful, shaky, fading-to-grey black ink on sepia colored cardboard labels. Admittedly they were hard to read, but they looked like letters or postcards from a forgotten era.

The next day we toured the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend TN. A beautiful structure with engaging exhibits, the Center appears to be well funded. The exhibit casework is new and reflects our current design trend of color-coordinated thematic divisions. Essentially a book-on-the-wall exhibit experience, it is clean minimalist design. All the body text and object labels are printed (likely off a digital printer, those having superceded screenprinting technology) and there is a curated sense of purposeful arrangement to the items on display. The overall sense here is one of Story, what do these objects tell us about the past and the people who lived here.

The two locations are only 50 miles apart. They couldn’t be farther apart in their differing approaches to presenting and helping us to understand the past and how we are related to it. For all the years I spent in the museum exhibit design and production industry, I have a built in bias towards the clean uncluttered presentation style of the Great Smokies Visitor Center. 

But I have to say, those hand-lettered display signs and labels on all that stuff at the Museum of Appalachia really have me reminiscing. And who doesn’t like the thrill of discovering something tucked away, much like going through an old trunk or your Grandmother’s photo album, only to find pictures of…you?