Had to run to town today for a prescription at the drug store and nothing else. Thought I'd drive to town and return without stopping anywhere else. Upon arriving in town, I decided to drop by the Mangum-Cater pottery shop across the street from the drugstore. Saturday morning. I stay out of Sparta in the second half of the week, which is when the shop is open, Thu-Sat. I'm in town Mon-Wed due to the latter half of the week characterized by a lot of traffic and lines. Of course, friends from Atlanta visiting, we drive through Sparta and I bitch about the traffic, and they say, What traffic? Telling you that when I drive in Winston-Salem or Charlotte I about lose my mind from all the traffic, waiting at red lights that seem like ten minutes, several lanes of traffic, all of them full. After a little bit I settle into it, then I'm back on the highway. Last trip to Winston-Salem, the interstate about put me to sleep. I struggled to stay awake in the drone situation of keeping same speed in same lane for an hour. Dreading the interstate drive back home, I took hwy 67 from W-S to Elkin. What a difference, only a few cars and them very seldom, even driving through three small towns. I decided this is the way I'll go to and from W-S in future. I'm finding in my slower lifestyle I don't like driving 70 for an hour staying in place in my lane. It tends to put me to sleep, so I fight sleep on the interstate. Not a good place to be drowsy. On state highway I feel fresh all the way, landscape of farms, houses and occasional forest, changing speed, not required to go 70 by all the cars around me. Im not one who can travel in the right lane and let everybody pass. It goes against my nature. I'd not seen Rob Mangum and Donna in quite awhile and hoped one or both might be there. Plus, I'd not been inside to see what they'd been doing since I was in there last, probably a year.
Donna was taking care of the store. I was glad to see her, hadn't seen her in too long a time. It felt refreshing to walk in the door and stand among the beautiful art works of people I've known for a good many years, feel like friends though we only see each other with years between. They live in another part of the county. I tend to stay at home and they do too. Though I seldom saw Rob and his previous wife, Bet, who cancer took away to the chagrin of a whole community. Rob and Bet came to the mountains from southern Alabama, in fact grew up with a friend of mine, Bill Foy, from Eufaula, I'd known years before I came to the mountains. Rob and Bet have felt to me like my closest friends, though we rarely saw each other. Every time we'd meet, we'd catch up on what's been going on since last time. Bet was too charming a human being to leave us so soon. Now, I miss her with all my heart. Donna came into Rob's life; to me and everyone else, it didn't seem right somebody with Rob besides Bet. I'd been curious to know Donna, though too seldom see her. We used to run into each other at the coffee shop and I've about the same as stopped going there since the people I go there to see don't go anymore. Donna and Rob have slacked off going to the coffee shop too. I see pictures of Donna riding her horse on facebook, a beautiful horse, and pictures she took riding the horse. I was glad to see Donna in the shop today, happy to be able to spend time with Donna to talk about whatever came up. Yesterday I was driving through Galax with friend Dana, who suggested we stop at a new art gallery just off Main St. I confess I was wondering what kind of art they'd have in a provincial mountain town. Whatever I was anticipating, what I saw through the window before entering lit my fire. I wanted to go inside and swim among the beautiful paintings, every one of them extraordinary. The place was called, Gallery Oneseventeen, at 117 W Grayson St, downtown Galax.
Rob and Bet came to the mountains the same year I came to the mountains. They had begun making pottery and wanted to make pottery in the mountains. It was rough going for them for awhile. They traveled to shows all over the South, setting up a booth, hoping to sell enough to cover expenses. I've seen them both grow and explore. By now, Rob is making things like this one above, as well as utilitarian plates, bowls and cups. This example does not characterize Rob's work any more than anything else he does. Seeing his work grow, I can spot his hand in almost everything he does, though somebody seeing his work the first time might think it was three or four different potters. Both Rob and Bet proved themselves over time to be not just artisans, but artists. As you can see, Rob's work is art. It's way beyond craft. The rest of his work, like this above, has feeling. And in the line of a true artist, Rob is as humble a man as can be known. Bet had the same humility. I feel like I'm seeing Donna evolving into her own humility. She came here from a city, and I can't think of an exception among people who come here from cities, including self, who doesn't feel kind of extraordinary in a world of such plain seeming people as the mountain folks. In my early weeks I felt like I was more educated than the people around me and they were lacking. Quickly I found that in the presence of anybody I knew of these hills, they knew a whole lot more than I did. I knew information. They knew life experience, and I had to learn life experience living among them. They became my teachers from the start. Donna came here a countrified city girl, and by now the city is gone, she's a country girl who makes guitar music with her man and sings with him. They make pottery together.She said she is still doing utilitarian things like plates and bowls, learning from the master. She has fallen into the rhythm of a quiet life, what she came here for, like me and many others.
Daniel Cater came here from Houston many years ago, fell in love with a woman from Roanoke, whose sister he knew here. Married, they decided to live in this county. They took up making pottery at the same time, learning from the Mangums. I have seen Daniel evolve so fast it makes me want to live longer to see what he'll be doing in twenty years. This piece by itself does not represent what Daniel is doing any more than another piece might, but it does represent that he is creating clay sculpture for indoors and outdoors. He had several pieces in the shop, this the one I chose to represent his work with. Anything else would be just as good. Robin, his wife, teaches yoga, plays guitar and sings so beautifully that when I hear her sing I tend to stare at her in awe, like you have that in you all the time--wow. She, herself, is a bright light, and I don't mean just a light. A bright light. It's her spirit. Robin is such a radiant spirit that the first several times I was around her I questioned the authenticity in her mildly effusive radiance. Then, one evening, I saw that Robin really is a dancing spirit in human form. She's in touch with her true self, and her true self is beautiful. Since that experience, too long a story to tell in a sentence, I imbibe her presence when I see Robin. I see her a gift to everyone who knows her. I best characterize my appreciation for Robin by saying she is wide open and not silly. She's not so open-minded her brains fell out. Her brains are intact. I'm having a good time telling you about these people. I see on reflection that these are among my very favorite people of my life. I felt joy in the shop in the presence of so many beautiful possibilities in clay, all of them by friends I have seen grow from artisan to artist. As in the characters of these four people, not any work by any of them has even the remotest ring of fake. Before I started today's writing, I read over yesterday's. It ended saying I believed a chance encounter in town can be as great a spiritual experience as praying at a tomb. And today it happened. Thank you, Donna.
For the curious, here are some websites for illustration:
Mangum Pottery, www.mangumpottery.com
Cater Pots, www.caterpots.com
Gallery Oneseventeen, www.galleryoneseventeen.com
mangum cater pottery sparta