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- This time on "Tennessee Crossroads," we discover the ancient secrets of the bonsai tree. Then check out the menu at Sweet P's BBQ in Knoxville. We will discover a Scott County living history project created solely by students. Then finally, meet a Memphis artist who uses the city itself for inspiration. Well, hope you're inspired to stay with us the next 30 minutes, I'm Joe Elmore. Welcome again to "Tennessee Crossroads." Say, are you looking for an addition to the family? Something low maintenance, beautiful, with a potential lifespan of 100 years? Well, how about a pint size tree? Miranda Cohen recently investigated the ancient art of cultivating bonsai trees. And yes, that is the correct pronunciation according to Creekside Bonsai. - This one's way overgrown, I'm cutting back to bring it back in and unpack it. - [Miranda] John Cole is the owner of Creekside Bonsai on Nolensville Road. And yes, as the president of the Nashville Bonsai Association, he assures us, that is the correct pronunciation. - Bonsai, bon means tray, and sai means tree. So you basically had a tree planted in a tray. Everyone loves a little tree in a pot. - [Miranda] And the fascination with miniature trees growing in small containers is taking root - It has been going crazy. I've never seen anything like it. It's way beyond my expectations. We're going to work on our trees a little bit today. But the first thing you have to do before you can work on your trees, is get to know your tree. - [Miranda] Today, John is teaching a class in the art of delicately shaping and coaxing the foliage to reveal its own personality. - I think everyone living in more of an urban environment these days they need a connection to nature, or they're looking for one. They feel like they can do this through bonsai. The ones like this- - Clip that right off. - Cut that run off. - The students may be getting younger but the Japanese art form is ancient and revered. The art of cultivating bonsai trees has literally been around for thousands of years with the very first one dating back to Japan in the year 760 Now, they haven't been in this country that long but if cared for properly, they will truly become a part of the family. They can live for hundreds of years. - [John] They can live almost indefinitely, as long as you are taking care of them correctly. Growing something in a shallow tray can be a challenge. - [Miranda] Cole says every tree is different and must be cared for differently. Everything from drainage, substrate, light and humidity can all affect the vitality of the tree. - [John] This was one of my favorite little trees. This is a saju elm. And what makes it so nice, it has a really nice, fat trunk for its size. And really what really helps is the scale of the leaves are so small, which helps make this look like an older tree, a mature tree. - [Miranda] Arthur Lee Yago is both a student and a teacher of the craft. An engineer by trade, he is drawn to the meticulous detailing of gently guiding the branches and allowing their natural beauty to take shape. - It's really intrigued me as the ultimate intersection of art and horticulture and engineering and all of that just kind of smashed together, 'cause it's, in essence basically sculpture, but it is dynamic. It's living. It's the only living sculpture that I really know of. - [Miranda] And interest is growing as quickly as the trees themselves. Cole says his classes are getting bigger and more in demand. - [John] They'll take one class and then they want to take the next one too. Well you have to have patience, definitely. 'Cause it doesn't happen overnight. Some trees you can style immediately. Like the young junipers that I use in my classes. One of the reasons I use those is 'cause you can style those and leave with something that looks like a bonsai immediately. - [Miranda] And this new generation of bonsai enthusiasts are learning a lesson, as old as the trees themselves. The true secret of the living sculpted tree is in the peaceful and focused process itself. - When I'm in the zone, it makes me feel sharper. It makes me feel more in touch with my hands in particular and what I'm doing, and every single motion needs to be deliberate, and you need to have a plan and really know what you're gonna be doing with every single way you move your hands move your body around the tree, navigate the tree. - It's just such an enjoyable experience. It is very relaxing. It's amazing. I can have so many things going on in my life, but then when I sit down and start working on that tree, you just forget about everything else. Everything else is just gone, melts away. - Thanks, Miranda. If you haven't been to downtown Knoxville recently, well you might owe yourself a visit. After years of revitalization efforts, it's a vibrant bustling place that's attracting tons of new businesses. Gretchen Bates went on a little shopping spree there recently and had to refuel with a little Southern barbecue at a place called Sweet P's. - It's a state thing. And not just region. Because even within a region in the South, you've got Memphis ribs which are dry rub. And then, on our side of the state, people like sauce on it. In North Carolina you've got vinegar sauce. In South Carolina you got mustard sauce. In Texas, they do beef. So I think barbecue is state to state. See how these look - When it comes to barbecue, Chris Ford has paid his dues as owner and operator of Sweet P's. He's had years of experience running a successful restaurant. But it was during his time on the road that he was seduced by the smoky succulence of this Southern staple. - I actually started in the music business. And I had toured all over the United States, concentrated in the South. And that was just kind of one of our hobbies, eating barbecue. We had a road manager from Asheville and he cooked barbecue, kind of taught me how to do it. We had a big, large group of people we had to feed. So between feeding the guys are on off weeks, and traveling and eatin' at every great barbecue place this country has, I felt kind of like once I got out of the business, I knew a little somethin' about it and went from there. - [Gretchen] And there turned out to be Chris's hometown of Knoxville, a city surrounded by a wide variety of barbecue styles which is reflected in Sweet P's menu. - With our close proximity to North Carolina and because that's kinda my favorite barbecue, we do what I like to call kind of a mix of North Carolina and Tennessee. So I love Memphis ribs. So we do dry rub ribs. Our original sauce, we call thin sauce. And I based it off of North Carolina sauces. We also have a thick sauce though, because around here people do like a tomato based sauce. So we're kind of a mashup of what I think our location is. Knoxville's never really had much of a barbecue style. So I just tried to do the best of what I think of Tennessee barbecue in North Carolina. So what we've got here, our St. Louis cut ribs, and that is not a style of cooking. It is the way the spare ribs are cut and squared off. Like I said earlier, we do a simple dry rub. Dylan here gets 'em rubbed up. When these come off, all we'll do is finish 'em with a little bit of our rub, no sauce. If the customer wants the sauce, then that is their prerogative. Really, they are perfect when you eat 'em, it doesn't really need sauce. - [Gretchen] Chris's creations also pay homage to the Lone Star State. - We sell a lot of brisket actually. Now that brisket is really not just a Texas thing anymore. Obviously they are the holy grail of beef barbecue. But we sell a lot of brisket. Another reason I got into this, really wanted in the Knoxville food scene to have more scratch made stuff, stuff that you put your heart and soul into every day with the best ingredients. And we really try to live up to that. The smoker runs 24/7, 7 days a week. You're always gonna get something fresh. All the recipes are made in-house. We don't bring anything in. And I think we do a great job not just with our meats, but with our sides. It's a complete menu. - [Gretchen] Don't leave without sampling the pie or other sweet treats - We do a chocolate chess pie. We do chocolate chip bacon cookies. Try to put a little pork in everything. And of course, banana pudding. You can't have a place in the South without banana pudding. - I've never had the banana pudding, but my siblings die for it every time. They say it's the best part. So I've heard the dessert is really good. - [Man] The banana pudding was perfect. - Hey guys, how was everything? - [Gretchen] Whether you ask a regular or a first time customer, there seems to be a consensus. - It's been fantastic. The brisket was perfect. They put a dry rub on it. - [Woman] I'm a big fan of the chicken. - [Man] The macaroni and cheese was baked or something on top of everything else. And it was just perfect. - And I love the staff here. They're super friendly and they're super nice. And the food is just incredible. - [Gretchen] The great food is complemented by a fun cozy atmosphere that Chris calls- - Shabby chic, that's kind of our look. Our whole brand is as an ode to Knoxville. We collect World's Fair memorabilia. In 1982, Knoxville had the World's Fair which I think is kinda hilarious. We were featured on "The Simpsons" for it. So we really embrace that. - If you prefer outdoor dining, just head upstairs. - [Chris] We have what we call The Trailer Park where we do our Live Music Series. And it's just a great space for relaxing. East Tennessee has great weather in the spring and fall. And so it's kind of an ode to '70s trailer park. - As Chris said, Sweet P's covers a multitude of barbecue styles. In fact, they've gone international with their world famous barbecue burrito. - [Chris] The burrito's one of our best sellers. Well, in Memphis, they've always done barbecue nachos. You see barbecue spaghetti. So when we started the menu, we really wanted a signature dish. And the burrito was just something we came up with. As an Knoxvillian, as a Southerner, I'm really proud of where I'm from. And I think when you leave here, again, like I said, it's an ode to Knoxville. I'd like you to learn a little something about our city, and about Southern culture. Southern foods, I grew up on it. That's what I love to eat. It's another reason why I started this kind of restaurant. I think when you come to Sweet P's, you are getting a true slice of Knoxville. - Thank you Gretchen. It's an understatement to say a teacher can make a difference. Sometimes the difference can be extraordinary. This is the story of an imaginative teacher in one of Tennessee's poorest counties, a teacher whose vision and determination led to a one of a kind historical attraction, one created solely by students. - Right there, that'll work. Now nail it. When we're gettin' ready to put another one, he's just gonna take some off. - [Boy] Yeah. - [Gary] Hey, put that notch down, Morrow. - We even tell people today, we have a museum, and they look at us and they go, yeah, okay. You have a museum. That's so nice. And then we bring them here and show them this. And they really don't understand. We leave with a lot of Slack jaws, and a lot of wide eyes. - [Joe] You really have to behold it to believe it. A state-of-the-art historical museum and sprawling frontier village that reflects the heritage of Scott County Tennessee. The amazing part... - Too long? - Yeah. - Well, we'll cut it. - [Joe] It's the only living museum designed, built and curated by high school students. - If you think about it, a high school has probably more facilities to put a museum together than museums do. All our carpentry work is done in-house Our cooking. We actually do our own cooking. Our drama classes will dress in character and they will be docents, as we call them, for elementary tours when they come. We have just about included every curriculum in your school that you can think of, I think, except for foreign language right now. - [Joe] Gary Paxton's vision made all this possible. Beginning in 2003, the former football coach saw the game-changing potential for students getting hands-on vocational training while bringing local history to life. - You're not seeing the instructors doing anything. You're seeing the students do everything. That's really our concept. We supervise. And what I tell the instructors that are involved in any project, you hold veto power. Students usually have great ideas and we let them go with that. But if it's not a good idea, then your job's really to veto that and send 'em on different direction. But your job is not to do the project. Let them do the project. So you walked throughout the museum and you see all the things you see you gotta remember, we're not hiring anybody to do this. And our adults in the school aren't doing this our students are doing everything you see. - And they're actually learning things, mathematics, science lots of those different things, but they're learning it in relevance. These guys better over here working on the porch right now, you can imagine the type of math that they're having to learn and use to learn where the two by fours go and actually drive that nail in. So they're doing it, but they don't really realize that they're doing it. Some of those students who don't necessarily thrive in the traditional classroom they really come out here and find a home. - [Joe] The centerpiece is a museum that chronicles the archeology of the region and features student-made exhibits that depict everything from wildlife to Scott County's coal mining heritage. The students also built an interactive children's museum where youngsters can play and learn. And it's absolutely free of charge. Another freestanding building is a tribute to hometown hero, Senator Howard Baker Jr, a replica of the law office once used by his grandfather, and later by the senator himself. There's also the USS Tennessee Battleship Museum. It's got models of the ship built by the Navy in 1943 and by a local historian. It houses the largest private collection of military photos of the USS Tennessee in the world. Gary tirelessly enlisted the support of local business people to make his vision of all this a reality. That means no tax dollars. - [Gary] And it really works out well because it gives our vocational classes an out to do something that they need to be doing hands on. At the same time, it's not costing anybody money because we use no taxpayers' money. It's all private donations. And as a credit to the county, 98% of our donations comes from the local people right here in the county who may own businesses, or just regular old folks come in, leaving money in the donation box. And we're able to take that money. And with our free labor and the student's learning, we're able to do a lot of things with it. - [Joe] During our visit, students were getting ready for their annual fundraising festival. This group was stripping sorghum they grew on campus. While this hardy group was splitting wood to be sewed for split rail fences. They're good at what they do and glad to offer visitors a chance to pitch in. - Gettin' another wave? Are you done? - I think I'm done. - That's the way I want. - The educational benefits go beyond vocational training. - I remember the students dressing up in the costumes being a pioneer woman or a coal miner. And it just started a spark. And it made me want to do this too. - [Joe] This student guide is on track to become a professional curator. - I believe I'm blessed to go to the high school here that has this kind of program, almost a jumpstart, jumpstart me. - Gary who is also a musician, even directs a student music group called the Highlander Bluegrass Band. They record their own CDs and entertain at festivals around the region. - And they're pretty good. They play at other performances. They were at a Bluegrass Festival two Saturdays ago and on stage, they make their own CDs. We actually do that, sell 'em at the festival. So that's part of the program also, music. - [Joe] Most of these students will have to leave Scott County after graduation to find jobs. Gary sums up his hope for their ultimate takeaway, this way. - [Gary] Teamwork and reliability, accountability, those are the things we really try to stress here. And then some skills that they may be able to use later online in life. - Sometimes there's nothing like taking a walk for some fresh air, exercise, and time to clear your mind. Well, Ken Wilshire met a artist in Memphis who takes regular walks and she uses them to capture new ideas for her next works of art. - [Ken] When Memphis artist Martha Kelly takes a walk with her dog Mr. Darcy, it's not only for exercise. Martha finds inspiration for painting along her journey, with every step and sketch she takes. - I just really like the landscape that I grew up in and walk through and look at every day. I just walk to church and I see something different that I want to paint. - You see, Martha calls this Midtown neighborhood home. She finds beauty here that many Memphians often take for granted. - [Martha] I like old houses. I like walking places. 'Cause I walk to church. I can walk to Overton Square. I walk to restaurants and I can see things that I want to paint, when you're going really slowly instead of zipping past in a car. I just really like this neighborhood. I like parkin' my car and not using it for several days. - [Ken] And when a house or landscape catches her eye, this may be all she needs to sketch a plan for a new painting. - [Martha] It's a way of transferring the beauty that I see around me. And I think especially in Memphis, we have an awful lot of people here who think oh, I'm going to work really hard for about 50 weeks. And then I'm going to go somewhere beautiful. And I spent a lot of years just painting both the city of Memphis and the beautiful rolling farm lands with the big old oak trees. And I really want to show everyone the beauty that we have here. - [Ken] It all started in her teenage years. When she took a class in painting and discovered the beauty of watercolors. - I took a summer class for young teens over at the College of Art. And I was painting a watercolor of a statue over there that's still sittin' out front and the colors mixed on the paper in a way that was better than anything I had expected. And I thought, wow, that's what I want to do. I want to do that. And I really think at that point I started workin' towards being an artist. - [Ken] Adding even more dimension to her approach to art, Martha studied religious history in college. This is when she became fascinated with the imagery of the Bible. She served as Artist in Residence at Idlewild Presbyterian Church where she could express her spiritual side. - I don't usually use a lot of texts in my work. This has really come from printmaking. I never did this in painting until I started printing and using the type. But for this particular work and to have some scripture referenced in the work that's hanging in our worship space it seemed right for this particular project. - [Ken] Martha gives life to her sketches with watercolors. She blends in her education, experiences, travels, and faith. So now rather than painting, she's prepared for printing. - [Martha] I will sit and I will look at my watercolor and my drawing for a while and make sure it's exactly what I want. And then I use a carbon transfer paper and I trace the back of the drawing and transfer it to the block. And then I just carve it with little gouges. Once you carve it out, everything that you cut away stays white and everything you leave catches the ink. So you roll the ink. You're making a really big rubber stamp, basically. You roll the ink on it. You put the paper down and somehow you put pressure on the back of the paper. And if you're lucky enough to have a press which I am now, that's a beautiful thing. - [Ken] And once it's off the press, the anticipation is over. Well, not really. It's usually back to the carving board for fine tuning until it's just right. Martha's beautiful linoleum prints vary from landscapes and people to posters and cards. But it's this 100 year old printing press that seems to conjure up all kinds of new creative possibilities. - [Martha] It's a 1909 treadle operated press. And I bought it from a guy who bought it from a press restorer. And he had traced back the history of the press. And it was bought by a minister in St. Louis who used it to print his church bulletins. It's just neat to have a press that has that kind of community history. I really see myself more as a caretaker for it than an owner. I'll be passing it along to somebody and keeping it in good shape and making sure it survives. 'Cause it's a stunning piece of machinery. It's made to last. - [Ken] And to make sure it does last forever, Martha must constantly maintain its gears and moving parts just like preserving historic, old neighborhoods on canvas and in prints, she wants to preserve this old piece of machinery for future generations. - This is meant to last forever. You oil approximately 37 oil ports. The owner's manual was a paragraph because they expect every printer to apprentice with a printer. So you didn't need an owner's manual. So they don't even tell you where the 37 oil ports are, approximately. But if you oil them, then the metal doesn't grind on metal, and it just keeps moving. - And so does Martha. She keeps moving around the inner city neighborhood she loves. Yes, they may be homes, businesses, parks, or schools, but to Martha, they represent more. It's the spirit of community she tries to capture every time she and Mr. Darcy take a walk. - I really do just walk out of the house every day and think, oh, this is beautiful. I live in a gorgeous place. And I just want to be able to show people the world that I see. And the best compliment, every once in a while somebody will call up and say, "There was a gorgeous sunset. And I thought that's a Martha sky." Or "I saw these clouds and that's a Martha sky." Or This reminded me of your work." And I feel like if I can make people look just a little more closely and differently at the world around them, then I've done a really good job as an artist. Well, it's hard to believe, but our time is just about up. Gotta remind you though, to check it on our website. When you get a chance, TennesseeCrossroads.org, follow us on Facebook. And of course, join us here next week. See you then.
October 22, 2020
Season 34 | Episode 15
Miranda Cohen learns the secrets of the Bonsai tree. Gretchen Bates checks out the menu at Sweet P's Barbeque. Joe Elmore goes to Scott county where a teacher's dream and dedication led to an amazing living history project, created solely by students. Ken Wilshire meets an artist in Memphis. Brought to you by Nashville Public Television.