Retro Crossroads 0109
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- This time on "Retro Tennessee Crossroads", we're starting out in 1992. In fact, we'll go to Beech Grove to meet folk artist, storyteller and practical joker Homer Green. Al Voecks finds a Clarksville man and his talented birds of prey. We'll take you up to Cosby, Tennessee in the eastern part of the state where folks celebrate a mountain plant called a ramp. And finally, Jana Stanfield discovers a Kingston Springs artist who captures the signs of olden times. So that's the lineup for this episode of "Retro Tennessee Crossroads". I'm Joe Elmore, welcome. Well, Becky Mcagura and I are here in the studio at NPT again and we're gonna be watching these segments along with you and we'll share our reactions. - I can't wait. You know, Homer Green sounds like quite the character, Joe and I just can't wait to see this older segment of yours. Well, that was a fun one and probably one of my favorites at 35 years. Well, you know, to find Homer Green we had to head the Beach Grove community in Coffee County. We found him hard at work in the outdoor studio of his front yard. That's where this colorful character stayed busy creating works that made him an unassuming yet celebrated folk artist. - The hills of Coffee County, Tennessee roll on just a little north of the Cumberland Plateau. Along the pristine countryside, roads wind, cows graze and people wave. Now if you stop and get directions you just might find this roadside view that's one of the areas most scenic, where across the road you'll find a yard that's one of the most unusual. It's the hilltop home of folk artist Homer Green who at the age of 82, creates some of the strangest artwork ever to dot a country hillside. And strangest of all people from around the south have come up here to buy it. Now, Homer's been too busy making it to think too much about that. His colorful front yard gallery changes almost every day. - Yeah, I'm doing something every day. May not be this. It's out in the woods getting stuff to work with. - He says it all started out of boredom and grew, especially after the loss of his wife in 1979. Now, he never set out to become the Beach Grove folk artist. No one's more surprised than him that his weird works have attracted buyers. Where have people come from to buy your stuff? - All over the world. - All over the world, huh? - All over the world. I don't state in the world, but what they've been somebody here. - What do they think of this place? - Huh? Just like what you said about it. prettiest place I've ever seen. - Well, have you made a lot of money doing this? - Not too much. No. I've burned up about five chainsaws. - You spent a lot of money huh? - I've spent a lot of money. Well, I made bears and made everything can be made outta wood, I reckon. - How do you decide what you're gonna make? - Just get out there and make it. - Homer's been everything from a blacksmith to a dairy farmer but it was supposed to be retired after suffering a back injury working in a factory. What does your doctor think about doing all this? - Huh? He don't know it. It don't working. If he does, I don't give a damn. I can't sit in the house and I ain't going to. - Now, in case you can't tell, Homer Green tells it like it is. And while he likes to talk to you about everything, he's least comfortable talking about his creative calling in life, which called rather late. Would you consider yourself an artist? - No. I sure don't. - But what do you call this? - Just painted woods, what I call it. I don't know what the other people call it. No, it ain't I don't think. But everybody but I don't think so. I just got out there and got the done this. It's just a pastime. If I had something else to do, I'd be doing that. - Now, if his colorful menagerie of art doesn't keep your attention, his humorous stories about life in the hills will, but beware. Homer Green is also a notorious practical joker. Why? He led me here supposedly to show off some more artwork. - Help lift it. It's kind of heavy. Get that, oh look out there. What's wrong with these people? - He got me then, but even worse, he got me later too. Some of you fellows read pretty good. Ah, fair, huh? Yeah. Now tell me what that little ticket that says on that thing's nose. - Right here? Yeah. What the hell? What did it say? Man, I'm kidding. I dunno what's wrong with these people. - Homer Green loves a joke almost as much as he loves to stay busy carving these critters out of wood and making these strange sculptures out of discarded junk. Although some of his works have found their way into museums around the country, he's really not sure why. Well, what do you think about being famous for all this? You think you'll be famous someday? - Nah, I don't want to be famous. Didn't start this to be famous. That's the last thing I want to be. I was raised up and I want to die just like I was raised and I don't care a thing in the world about being famous. - Later on, Homer led me to the location of his most important piece of work up on a hill a few yards from his house. It's a guardian angel he made to watch over the grave of his wife with whom he shared his life for 58 years. - 58 years. I bet you miss her. - Hell yeah. I still miss her. - Well, there's no doubt that Homer Green's craft and the visitors it attracts keeps him busy and well keeps him going. It certainly keeps the landscape here on the hill colorful and interesting and just may be the kind of stuff that folk legends are made of. How long you think you'll keep doing this? - I don't know. I quit after my wife died and people come in. Some my friends are bagging me to cut them a piece of this, that and other. I got started back. I don't know how much longer I'm going do it. - Wow. Joe, that was from the '90s, early '90s. And Homer, did he really play that trick on you - Absolutely, I had no idea what was happening. - Did it freak you out when he opened the coffin? You opened the coffin? - Absolutely it did. - Well, I can't wait to see the next show. - Well, I'll tell you what. Game hunting has been part of Tennessee's culture ever since well, settlers hunted to survive. Al Voecks discovered a different spin on hunting though up in Clarksville, well, many moons ago. In this type of hunting, the hunter's well-trained assistant does all the work. - When people think of pets, they usually think of dogs or cats. Now people do keep other animal life, but dogs or cats get the most attention. Bobby Arneson has a dog. This is Odie. So he fits the usual mold of a pet owner. But Bobby also keeps something else. He keeps birds. Well, there is nothing too unusual about that. A lot of people keep birds, but not these kind of birds. See, Bobby has a Harris hawk and a red tailed hawk. Bobby Arneson is a falconer. - A falconer is a term that goes back about a thousand years or about 6,000 years. And basically what it is, is a person that trains birds of prey to hunt. Now granted, birds of prey know how to hunt regardless of any human trying to teach them. So basically what we do with them is get them used to us as human beings and then they allow us to hunt with them. - Can anybody be a falconer? - Anyone that wants to put in the time and effort and that that's dedicated could be a falconer, correct. - Are these trainable? - Oh, most definitely trainable. Sure they are. By getting their confidence first, their trust. See, these birds are never punished at all. They can't be punished. They don't tolerate punishment. So what we do is condition them to gain their trust. - As far as the hunt is concerned, how do you go about it? - Well, when we take 'em out to hunt, basically we let them go. We take 'em out to a field and let 'em go. They'll fly to a tree that they like. And then what we do is we walk around underneath them trying to get things to move. Rats, rabbits, snakes, squirrel, anything that they might consider prey. Okay, go to it, little girl. Go get 'em. - How long did it take you to gain your trust in these birds? - Well, these birds are incredibly smart. In about two or three days, you can get a basic trust from them by treating them correctly. And then about two or three weeks after that. And then the bond only strengthens after that. - Their eyesight must just be incredible. - It is eight times better than ours and very intense. They actually have two phobias, which means that they can focus on two different areas at the same time. - Will they ever fly away? Do they always come back to you? - Well, they have so far. This sport is not exacting as that. We give them that choice almost every night we fly 'em. If they think that they're better off in the wild, they will fly away. If our bond has been accurate and they still trust me, they'll come back to me. - Now, as far as a hunt is concerned, is she better off up in a tree or on your arm? - Sometimes she would, when it's real thick brush like this she likes to sit on the arm. Out in the open field she'll sit up in the trees. Rabbits have a definite advantage in this real thick brush. Mouse, actually rat. - Well with Shawna safely back in her cage. And after a successful hunt, it's time to bring out hunter number two, Skye, the red-tailed hawk. Bobby, what is the difference that we'll see between Skye and Shauna? - Well, Skye is a bird that's from the wild. He's a little bit more intense. He might be a little bit hungrier. His last major meal was Saturday night where he ate an entire rabbit. So we've had a couple cool evenings and I think he's very ready to hunt. - Let the hunt begin. - Good girl. - When you go on vacation, obviously somebody will feed your dog. Who feeds your birds? - I do. I have not taken a vacation since I started this sport without my birds. They go everywhere I've gone. I've never gone anywhere without 'em. So they've logged about 50,000 miles in the last two, three years. - Hey Bobby. - Yeah. - I don't know about this sport. The bird sits in the tree and we're sitting there beating the bushes. - Yeah, you wanna see the sweat? - Listen, it's a little different. - Yeah. I'm realizing this. - At this day and age, when you hear a lot about animal rights do you have any people question the fact that - You keep these? - Oh yes, very much so. Not only in keeping them, but in hunting them as well because they seem to think that we're pitting one animal against the other. But I guess what they won't understand or can't understand unless they actually go on a hunt with us, is that these birds are doing everything in nature as they would with or without us. The only thing falconry does is it allows us to be a part of it. We can watch the bird actually eat the prey where in the wild, if you came upon a red tail eating prey and it saw you it would fly away. - Sky, come here, sky, come here, come here. Yeah, well I tell you what. Wasn't the best of days. Three rats, three missed rabbits. But hey, don't worry about it, Skylar. Even Jimmy Holt lets a few get away every once in a while. You know, this is a different kind of sport. The bird does all the sitting around and the master does all the work, you know and I will admit it is kind of thrilling to see this bird soar from tree to tree. Good Skylar, go. What is your feeling when you see that hawk fly away, sit in the tree and then do what it's going to do and come back? What, what kind of feeling do you get in the field watching your pets actually, right. - Good boy. There's no feeling like it. I can't explain it because it gives you a pride to know that you're part of nature. That you've had a hand in this. That the birds, as majestic as they are, trust a human being to the point where they would allow it to come near it. And to me, that's just a pride that's unequal. - Joe. That was such a fun segment. You know? Have you ever had one of those falcons land on you? No I haven't. And I'm not in a hurry to. - Well, you know the folks in the Tennessee Park System I know at Cummins Falls sometimes they'll do these educational exhibits and it is so cool. They'll do it on them but then they'll show you how it can land on you. - Oh boy. - And it's just trippy. But how amazing to see that happen. - Well, I'll tell you what, I'd rather go to a nice quiet festival. - Oh, I love festivals. - In fact, there's a festival in Tennessee for everything from strawberries to cornbread, from banana pudding to ramps. What's a ramp? Well, that's what we wondered until we headed up to the mountains of east Tennessee to discover an edible plant that grows wild there and has become the source of an annual celebration. - A few miles north of Smokey Mountain National Park the Appalachian Mountains touch a little town called Cosby in a region of unequal beauty and lush vegetation. There's a plant that grows wild around here at elevations of 3000 feet and higher called a ramp. Now a ramp is crossed between an onion and a garlic. Pretty much taken for granted until about 1954. That's when the folks of the region decided to raise the lowly ramp to celebrity status. A few days before the festival, volunteers gather up to 50 bushels of ramps from the nearby forest, most of which are chopped up like this for a dish the festival has made rather famous. Although they're a novel feature to outsiders they've been a way of life to locals like Billy Ball. - I've made 'em all my life. - Think they're good for you? - I don't know, but I like 'em pretty good. I like the taste of 'em. - Although full of flavor, ramps have a reputation for their rankness. - When I was pregnant with my first child I came to the Ramp Festival and ate ramps all day long got home in an hour, went into labor and had Cindy and Dr. Mim said this child just couldn't stand the ramps any longer. - Dr. Jack Clark, who grew up in the region says the ramp has a history of health benefits as well. - It was really medicinal. The ramp was felt to be an herb that would keep you from having colds and having flu. And now we know that it does lower blood pressure. If your blood pressure's too high you can eat ramps and they will lower your blood pressure. They're good for you. I've never been sick a day in my life. - HC Reese presides over the culinary preparation of a ramp specialty. He and his wife Evelyn make sure this ramp and egg concoction is just right. So who is the real expert here? You or HC? - He probably is. He introduced me to these things. - So you just do what he says, huh? - No, not really. - Well, you have your old ideas about cooking ramps? - Yeah. - That's bacon grease. You've gotta get your grease in there. Bacon grease. It's gotta be hot. You put your ramps in like we've got over here and after they cook then you put your eggs in on top of them. Then you salt them and it makes a delicious eating. - A ramp plate also includes Cornpone, which is the type of cornbread also cooked in bacon fat topped off with a generous serving of fat back, which is all bacon fat. There you have it. I'd estimate about oh 200 fat grams. But so what? The Ramp Festival is only once a year so why not forget your cholesterol count and enjoy. - They're just not like anything else in the whole world. They're just different. They have their own flavor. - Of course, the fat-free way to enjoy ramps is to eat 'em raw. This is the way they've been consumed in the mountains for generations. - We just gather them and peel them off like you would an onion and eat them raw. This is a good way to do it. - You wanna show me how you do that? - Well, certainly. And they're very good. Would you like to join me? - Well, I, you go first. Try one. Oh, they're, no, they're very good. Just like that. They're very good and they have a different taste and a different They are pretty good. Yeah, they're very, very good. Can you tell they're a little, they're sweet and can you tell they're a little stronger though than the regular onion. Yes. Regular spring onion. - Although I should have been looking for mouthwash I was searching for the festival stage. That's where they had the Miss Ramp contest. This year's winner was Randy Lynn Hale of Knoxville. A ramp festival is all about old fashioned mountain style entertainment complete with Cloggers. It's all about families and babies and traditional patriotic pageantry and folks who gather once a year to celebrate a unique plant that's a special part of their heritage. - People ask me all the time, how do you describe the Ramp Festival? Well, in one sentence, I guess I would say that it's just like an all day singing and dinner on the ground. Everybody, it's a family oriented show. Everybody comes up and just kicks back and enjoys a day of beautiful music, good scenery, and good food. Proceeds from this Ramp Festival go to help some very important charities here in the Cosby area. Now, some folks here tell me that tomato juice will help your breath once you eat these ramps. I'm not sure about that, but I do know they grow wild in the mountains through the month of May and you can come pick your own. - Joe. You know, Tennessee is known for festivals as you well mentioned, and I can't wait to learn more about this Ramp Festival. It's now called the Ramp Tramp Festival and it celebrates its 65th anniversary this April. You ought to - Go up there. - Well, you know what? I think I will, I'll just tramp and look for some ramps. - Okay, well let's ramp up to our next story. You know, it's astounding to ponder the many changes to city landscape since 1987 when we first hit the airwaves. That's when new modern structures started to go up and old historic ones went down along with the iconic signs. Well, Jana Stanfield met a national artist who saw it coming and decided to save those old precious signs on canvas. - You could call these signs of the times. It's sad but true that someday we might be calling these neon signs things of the past. That's because the cost of creating large neon signs has increased while the space that cities allow for signs has decreased. Fortunately there's a local artist who loves old neon signs. In his own way he's saving as many as possible. It's hard to tell many of these paintings from the real thing, except that in many cases the original neon signs have been torn down. Painter Van Cordell is preserving pieces of the past by capturing neon masterpieces on canvas. 37-year-old Van Cordell lives in Kingston Springs with his wife Jamie and their dogs, Boston and Shelby. For four years now, he's been painting neon signs - The old neon signs downtown that just sort of stood out and caught my eye and I just fell in love with them. You know, these old neon signs with the paint flaking off and the broken neon tubes and some of 'em had fallen down and are sort of bent up and then bent back. Those were real unique things. - Van spends a lot of time taking photographs of neon signs. It takes two to three months for Van to paint the sign from the photo. He's taken dozens of pictures of neons in Nashville and other cities. He's in a hurry to capture them before they're gone. - Back in the early '20s, '30s and '40s the ordinances were such that they could do a lot of creative things with these signs. They can't do that anymore. And some of the old signs that are real impressive, some of 'em are landmarks. They're just being let go. They're deteriorating. They're being torn down by new businesses. So we're losing a lot of this heritage. - Van Cordell didn't grow up wanting to paint neon signs. In fact, he had no interest whatsoever in art and no training. He grew up in Kentucky. He became a pilot and landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico to give flying lessons. When no one wanted lessons, he found himself sitting around the airport with time on his hands. - I just started doodling. I didn't know anything about art. Didn't know any anyone who was an artist. Never had any formal education in that area at all. And I just started doodling and some of the first things that I did, I still have 'em. I'll show 'em to you, are pretty amazing. And that got me going. - His first doodle was a pencil drawing of a famous western painting. After that he started copying pictures he found in art books. Yeah. How did you feel when you were first realizing that you had some talent? - Well, you know, I, well so what, you know it's a nice picture. You know, I had never, never entered my mind to ever want to be an artist or, or do this as a living. I was just creating some neat looking things there. You know, it wasn't until started working on my first original oil paintings that it's like I guess the third oil painting that I did that I realized that, well I could, you know there's this talent here, you know I could do something with it. - Van's paintings are now on display in galleries and private collections in Atlanta, Memphis, Los Angeles and in Europe. In Nashville his work was recently shown with artist Renee White at the City Club and can usually be found at either Local Color or the Bennett Gallery. Although he often takes commissions to do portraits or reproductions, he looks forward to painting his next neon as though he is on a mission to save them. - We've lost a whole lot of these old artworks. You know, I look at 'em like they're artworks because they are, they're things that are disappearing that we're not gonna see anymore. - Van Cordell and his wife will soon be parents. Van Hopes to create a book of his neons so that his children and his children's children can enjoy these long gone neon signs of the times. - Well you know, Joe I love traveling the blue highways or those back roads and seeing those old iconic signs are such a treasure. I know there's one out on Highway 70 in Putnam County, the old Southern Motel. - Oh yeah, I've seen that. And you know, I'm just so glad he captured those on canvas 'cause maybe they're not there now but they'll always be in your heart, right. And on canvas - And like our old stories on camera. You know, I hate to say it, but that's about it for this edition of "Retro Tennessee Crossroads". But we do advise you to join us on our next trip through the archives the first Sunday of next month at 6:30 PM. - Or you know what? You can watch on demand anytime with the PBS video app. - We'll see you next time. - Absolutely.
Retro Tennessee Crossroads
March 05, 2023
Season 01 | Episode 09
We're time traveling on this episode of Retro Tennessee Crossroads. We'll go to Beach Grove to meet folk artist and practical joker Homer Green. Al Voecks finds a Clarksville man and his talented birds of prey. We’ll take you up to Cosby, Tennessee, where folks celebrate a mountain plant called a ramp. And Jana Stanfield discovers a Kingston Springs artist who captures signs of olden times.