Arts

Remembering Rufus

14 Thats Rufus In this time of political rancor and hate, it is nice to find something that old time politicos agree on regardless of political affiliation, when they answer this question: Who is North Carolina’s most colorful political figure?

The answer today is clear: It is Rufus Edmisten, Democratic nominee for governor in 1984, attorney general, secretary of state and author of a recent book, “That’s Rufus: A Memoir of Tar Heel Politics, Watergate and Public Life.”

Edmisten begins his book not with his birth and growing up on a farm just outside the mountain town of Boone but with his favorite story. In 1973, he served the president of the United States with a subpoena on behalf of the Senate Watergate Committee, which was led by another North Carolinian, Sen. Sam Ervin. Serving the president with this demand for the records ultimately led to President Nixon’s resignation. Edmisten’s position as Ervin’s right-hand man made him a nationally known personality that he leveraged into political stardom.

Edmisten makes the story a good one. He describes the frantic rush to prepare the subpoena document, including a heated discussion about using correction fluid to cover a mistake and a ride to the Executive Office Building where the president’s lawyers respectfully accepted the subpoena. Then the cheeky Rufus reached in his pocket, pulled out his copy of the Constitution and gave it to the president’s lawyers in a pointed message that they should study it.

This incident and Edmisten’s work with Sen. Ervin were the launch pad for his political career.

Edmisten’s prelaunch story is set in the North Carolina mountains on a farm near Boone, where he grew up tending cows and pigs and working fields of cabbages and tobacco. He made extra money plowing garden plots for his neighbors and used a tractor to visit his kinfolks around the mountains.

After success in athletics, Future Farmers of America, student politics and academics in high school, and almost winning a Morehead Scholarship, he landed at UNC-Chapel Hill. From there, he made his way to Washington, D.C., teaching at a Catholic high school, attending law school at George Washington and securing a low-level job on Sen. Ervin’s staff. Edmisten soon became one of the senator’s full-time trusted assistants in the Watergate-Nixon impeachment matter.

The “That’s Rufus” chapter on Watergate is good background for those following the current battle between Congress and another president.

He returned to North Carolina in 1974 and mounted a successful campaign for attorney general. His triumph over a host of prominent Democrats gave notice he would run for governor someday.

That day came in 1984 when Gov. Jim Hunt ran for the U.S. Senate and a host of Democrats lined up to run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Edmisten won in a brutal primary runoff against Eddie Knox and then lost the general election to Jim Martin.

Some believe he lost because he made disparaging remarks about barbecue. His version of that incident is, by itself, worth the price of the book. But Edmisten says it was Ronald Reagan’s “sticky coattails” that “swept both me and Jim Hunt away from our dreams. We were not alone, either. The sweep was broad and far reaching.”

Edmisten felt crestfallen and abandoned. “The ache in the bottom of my stomach was so great nothing appealed to me except finding some dark place to crawl away and hide,” he writes. “I swear I saw people cross the street so they wouldn’t have to talk to me.”

“That’s Rufus” describes how Edmisten came back from that defeat, won election as secretary of state, lost that position in disgrace, came back as a successful lawyer and lobbyist and learned lessons that will be important for every citizen.

In a future column I will share some of that wisdom.

Cumberland Choral Arts presents ‘A Night at the Opera’

10 Choral ArtsThe recently rebranded Cumberland Choral Arts, formerly known as Cumberland Oratorio Singers, is set to debut its 2019-2020 concert season with “A Night at the Opera” Friday, Oct. 18, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, located at 1601 Raeford Road. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

 “A Night at the Opera,” featuring opera choruses both familiar and obscure, will be the latest of CCA’s more diversified musical programming. Among the more familiar pieces will be a “Porgy and Bess” medley performed by guest soloist, Dr. Denise Payton of Fayetteville State University. Selections from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and the chorus popularly known as the “Can-Can” from Offenbach’s operetta will also be among the featured performances of the evening. Less familiar choruses scheduled to be performed are “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from the Verdi opera “Nabucco” and “Chorus of the Servants” from “Don Pasquale” by Donizetti.

 Since CCA Director, Jason Britt, took a leave of absence during this season’s first quarter due to health reasons, Ryan Pagels, director of music at St. John’s Episcopal Church, is filling in as interim artistic director. “I am very humbled to be conducting this concert, especially one programmed with such special music,” said Pagels. “It is no secret that some of the most iconic and memorable melodies in opera come from the choruses. This program is very much a celebration of the art form, and full of melodies that will stick with you as you leave the concert. I am especially excited to feature Dr. Denise Payton from FSU as a guest soloist, as well as some of the members of the CCA.”

 In addition to the CCA choir, there will be performances by the Cross Creek Chorale and the Campbellton Youth Chorus. A pianist will provide the only instrumental accompaniment of the evening.

 Sponsors for “A Night at the Opera” include Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, Cumberland Community Foundation, Cumulus Media, Up & Coming Weekly and many others who will be listed in the program.

 “I cannot speak highly enough of this ensemble’s dedication to creating beautiful, moving music, said Pagels. “They are a delightful group of people, and you will not be disappointed.”

 Tickets for this concert may be purchased at the door for $15. Also available for purchase at the door will be $45 season tickets, which will cover the four regular-season concerts. Visit www.facebook.com/CumberlandChoralArts for additional information. 

 In addition to the CCA choir, there will be performances by the Cross Creek Chorale and the Campbellton Youth Chorus.

North Carolina authors help us cope

The knotCan the struggles chronicled by four North Carolina authors help the rest of us deal with our own everyday challenges?

A wife whose beloved husband is crippled by a botched medical procedure? An African American judge breaking through centuries of institutional racism? A grossly overweight man’s daily struggle to lead a normal life? A teenaged girl tossed suddenly into a part of her family she had not known before?

These stories will be featured on UNC-TV’s "North Carolina Bookwatch" during October.

In  “Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap,” Charlotte’s award-winning author Judy Goldman tells how a newspaper ad and a doctor promised a simple procedure to give relief for her long-suffering husband’s back pain. Instead, it led to paralysis and a new set of pains, which changed the lives of her husband and Goldman. She tells the poignant story of how they and their marriage survived this challenge.

November 1971 Gov. Robert Scott appointed High Point lawyer Sammie Chess Jr. as a superior court judge. Such appointments are always special but this one was historic. Judge Chess was the first African American superior court judge ever to serve in North Carolina. His story of how he came from a cotton field tenant shack to the judgeship, through poverty and racism, is one every North Carolinian should remember. That story is well-told by Joe Webster, a lawyer, judge and Chess’s admiring friend, in “The Making and Measure of a Judge.”

When Judge Chess was asked how he was able to get beyond the Jim Crow situations of his youth and early law practice, he said,  “You treat people the way you want to be treated, not the way you are treated. I didn’t let them set my standards. If a Klan member can bring you to his level, then you are not well rooted.”

Tommy Tomlinson is a terrific writer with a big fan club from his more than 1,700 columns in The Charlotte Observer and compelling stories as a freelance writer for Esquire, ESPN the Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Forbes and Garden & Gun.

He also had a terrific problem that he summarized as follows: “The government definition of obesity is a body mass index of 30 or more. My BMI is 60.7. My shirts are size XXXXXXL, which the big-and-tall stores shorten to 6X. I’m 6-foot-1, or 73 inches tall. My waist is 60 inches around. I’m nearly a sphere.”

In “The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America,” Tomlinson speaks to all of us who have trouble resisting Krispy Kreme doughnuts, bowls of ice cream, M&M's, hot dogs, cinnamon biscuits and Chips Ahoy cookies, all the while being worried about getting or staying fat.

In her 14th novel for young adult/teen readers, “The Rest of the Story,” Sarah Dessen introduces us to Emma, whose father is taking his new wife on a long honeymoon trip to Europe. Emma’s mother is dead, but somehow Emma winds up with her mom’s family in a working-class section of a resort called North Lake, where her mom grew up. Her dad’s family had vacationed in a wealthier section.

Emma’s struggles to find a place in her mother’s family, along with the usual adjustments required of a teenaged woman make for an inspiring story. There is a strong sense of place in North Lake, which Dessen says was inspired by her family’s vacation trips to a popular North Carolina vacation spot, White Lake, in Bladen County.

All four books have inspired this North Carolinian to put his life’s challenges in perspective.

Losing something special

13 SMOKE LORE“You shouldn’t be so worried about the transition in the barbecue world.”

Jim Auchmutey was trying to reassure John Shelton Reed and me about our loss of old-time barbecue restaurants, including Wilber’s in Goldsboro and Allen & Son in Chapel Hill.

Auchmutey wrote for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years, specializing in stories about the South and its history and culture. His new book, “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America,” is a must-read for barbecue fans and social history students. Retired UNC-Chapel Hill professor Reed is one of North Carolina’s barbecue gurus and co-author of “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue.”

Auchmutey understands how we are grieving the loss of our barbecue icons, but he urged us to consider some positive developments. “Young people who have been on the barbecue contest circuit have learned the science of heating and cooking meats. They are better than some of the old masters, and they are opening up restaurants where the barbecue is more consistently good than some of the old masters.”

He pointed out that the young restaurant owners are expanding their menus. And not just with ribs and beef briquettes. They are experimenting with wood-fired dishes from all over the world, adding opportunities for expanding the palate.
Reed and I conceded that there are some fine new restaurants, such as Picnic in Durham, where young owners have delivered outstanding results, thanks to careful sourcing of the meats and consistent cooking methods.

But, we told Auchmutey, there is a problem. The new places have to charge higher prices to cover the increased rent, new cooking equipment, loan payments and compliance with new construction and environmental requirements.

Higher prices and fancier menus mean we do not get the same mix of construction workers, white collar people, students and folks of modest means. Reed held out Stamey’s in Greensboro as the ideal, where a simple barbecue sandwich with fixings can be within the lunch budget of almost everybody who works for a living.

These newer places, Reed said, don’t give us a place where people from all walks of life can come together for a good meal at a modest price.

Something like what is happening to barbecue restaurants here in North Carolina is happening to other diners across the country according to a story by Steven Kurutz in The New York Times last month.
Kurutz describes the Oakhurst Diner in Millerton, New York, as “a living time capsule.”

“Housed in the original 1950s Silk City dining car, it screams classic diner: crimped stainless-steel facade, Formica counter with stools, pink-and-blue neon sign, specials scrawled on chalkboards.”
“But,” he writes, “the nods to midcentury nostalgia mostly end there.”
He explains that the menu includes a bowl of seaweed and brown rice, kimchi, and a hamburger made from “grass-fed and grass-finished” beef. That fancy hamburger costs $16.

It is the “same look and vibe as the classic steel original, but the food has been upgraded to reflect current tastes.”

“And,” mourns Kurutz, “So was born the greasy spoon serving avocado toast and deconstructed chicken potpie.”

Kurutz introduces and quotes Richard J.S. Gutman, author of “American Diner Then and Now,” who explains the current appeal of the old diners. “You feel at home in the diner whether you’ve been there dozens of times or it’s your first time. There’s a buzz inside. There’s a kind of energy when you’re sitting stool to stool, cheek by jowl, asking for the ketchup. That feeling, that place you’d go with your grandpa or your auntie, where is that anymore? There’s something so democratic about diners. They’re part of the community. I think that’s what people are craving.”


It is also what Reed and I are craving and what we are missing as our old-time barbecue places bite the dust.

‘The Small Things that Fit ... Works by Cornell Jones’ at Gallery 208

11 01 Profile Series 9In contemporary art, the subject for an artist can range from the decorative to the political, the profane to the sublime, or stark minimalism to excessive detail. For local artist Cornell Jones, “the works are an extension of myself — a record, a reflection. Making new work answers questions for me and keeps me constantly in the mindset of observing the world around me.”

In his one-person exhibition titled Small Things that Fit ... Works by Cornell Jones, opening Oct. 1 at Gallery 208, visitors to the opening reception will preview a body of work that reveals Jones’ sensibilities to the world around him.
Raised in Alabama, he attended Troy State University and then spent time in New York City, working in art organizations, social work agencies and community organizations after earning a Master of Fine Arts in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York. He later returned to our region and presently works as an elementary art teacher in Fayetteville and an adjunct member of the faculty at Fayetteville State University.

Jones distinguishes himself as a Southerner and an American of African descent. He noted: “My cultural identity influences both my artwork and the process through which I create. It is extremely important to me that I reflect my community, experiences and beliefs in the work that I present.” What the artist does not state is how the idea of identity is the common thread throughout the works in the exhibit.

Although Jones’ heritage is fixed, meaning in each work is fluid, and he leaves us room for interpretation. The exhibit conveys conditions for abstracted circumstance, change and influence. In most of the works, the figure is totally obscure or partially obscured, allowing the viewer to re-examine the identity in each work. Is the figure you, someone you know or a stranger?

How the artist would like us to see something about his “community” is subtle and influenced by his history. Although we do not need to know influences on the work, knowing the influences does alter our perception of meaning, and we are able to connect to the artist; we are able to understand something about his “community” in the works.

Jones described the influences from his childhood: “My process of exploring materials is directly inspired by the time I spent with my great-grandmother as she made patchwork quilts. Often, as a young boy, I found myself threading needles and sorting through her bags of colorful fabric scraps. I still enjoy searching, but the fabric has been replaced with hand-painted and found papers.”

11 02 Profile SeriesKnowing his history of watching his great-grandmother select parts of fabric to create a whole, we can easily understand how according to  Jones, “discarded or fragmented pieces are assembled to create something new into my artistic practice, whether it be drawing, painting or collage. The traditions, rituals, landscape and memories of my Southern upbringing are deeply rooted in my process and product.”

Within Jones’ busy schedule and his many responsibilities, he still finds time to be a practicing artist. A testament to the creative impulse within him, Jones noted he creates new works because he is curious. “I study things that I might have overlooked, and I enjoy the process of developing or growing an idea from a sketch to a finished piece to a body of work. As a teacher, I also find it necessary to continue creating so that I can talk to students from a place of current experience. I stay active in the creative process by making, learning new skills and researching the ways other artists perceive the world that are outside the way I think about it.”

Jones is not only an excellent educator and a family man, but he continues to share his work with the public in exhibitions. His work has been included in exhibitions in New York and North Carolina. Most recently he was selected to exhibit in 2017 at the Arts Council in Fayetteville/Cumberland County for the 10:10:10 exhibit.  Jones’ works have also been exhibited at the Delta Arts Center in Winston-Salem, the Greenhill Center for North Carolina Art in Greensboro and Ellington White Contemporary Gallery in Fayetteville.

For Jones, due to his professional and personal obligations, the greatest challenge is setting up a routine he can follow to create new works. Although his creative time is often interrupted, he noted how he still tries to be consistent and routinely returns to the studio to create new work.

The routine of making time to continue to be an artist may have been influenced by his upbringing and watching his great-grandmother making quilts. One cannot imagine a clearer view of his creative impetus, he is still the innocent child at the table with his great-grandmother, exploring and assembling materials. For Jones, like his great-grandmother, the creative experience is “following ideas … artmaking is an exploration in materials and concepts. I reflect. I record. I draw. I paint. I cut. I assemble,” said Jones.

Everyone is invited to meet Jones at the opening reception of his exhibit, “Small Things that Fit ... Works by Cornell Jones,” Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Gallery 208, at 208 Rowan St. in Fayetteville, between the hours of 5:30-7 p.m. The artist will do a short presentation at 6 p.m. and share insight with everyone about his process and the content of the works in the exhibit.

For anyone not attending the opening, the exhibit will remain up until Dec. 15. For information call 910-484-6200.
 

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