w w w. 1 6 b l o c k s m a g a z i n e . c o m
b l a c k s b u r g ma i n l ee art 13
a r t s
back to pl ai d 18
c u l t u r e issueno.21 fts fest 24
t h e v i n y l h o use 2 6
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b l a c k s b u r g
a r t s
Main lee art
back to plaid
fever to sing
c u l t u r e issueno.21
Not just a gallery: this new downtown space is a place where creativity lives.
VTâ€™s answer to James Bond and Indiana Jones fights tigers, totalitarian thugs, and shallow news media!
Three days of bands and workshops sweep downtown.
A new recording studio and collaborative music space, minutes from Main Street.
What else is inside? 06 The Verbalist 08 Cooking With Trent 10 The Grain: Irish beer! 20 Joy Huffman
22 Logos: Psychopomp 24 Art Spotlight: Allie Kelly 25 Idle Minds
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NO.21 16 Blocks
Arts and Culture Magazine MARCH 2010 Issue #21 A division of 16 Blocks Media LLC. Contact us for subscription rates, general questions, corrections, if you’re interested in submitting short stories for our Logos Section, letters to the Editor, or if you just want to say hey. firstname.lastname@example.org www.16blocksmagazine.com myspace.com/16blocksmagazine Check us out on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter @16blocks P.O. Box 279 Blacksburg, VA 24063 No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission of the publisher.
What’s new with Ellen Stewart - Director, Blacksburg Farmer’s Market
ill there be some kind of event to celebrate the Spring and warm weather?
We will be having a Gardening Day on May 15, with lots of lovely bedding plants for sale, a Master Gardeners clinic for all of your gardening questions, and some great live music. Any other new additions in the new Season? We are excited to be going into our first season at the new Market Square Park. If you haven't been down to check it out, you don't know what you're missing. It is a really great addition to downtown Blacksburg, with a striking timberframe structure and a lovely greenspace for people to gather and enjoy their community.
Also, great work on your poster designs. Who's the artist? Chris Pritchett, who teaches screen printing at Virginia Tech. You can view the posters and some of his other amazing work at steampoweredprinter.com He also did the graphics for the New River Valley Food Directory, and is currently working on a mural project for Market Square Park. Anything to add? Lots more to come this season - cooking events (including Breakfast at the Market on July 17), children's activities, live music, and, as always, the best fresh food from within a 50 mile radius of Blacksburg. Market hours are Wednesdays 2-7 & Saturdays 8-2.
Main Lee Art’s Day Studio photo by David Franusich
Editor in Chief, Publisher
email@example.com David Franusich
Head Print Designer, Art Director
firstname.lastname@example.org Christina O’Connor
Director of Photography, Art Director
email@example.com Amy Splitt Editor
firstname.lastname@example.org David Williams Webmaster
email@example.com TYLER GODSEY
Business Development Mgr - Roanoke
firstname.lastname@example.org Melanie dowell
Business Development Mgr - NRV
email@example.com KEVIN FITZGERALD Head of Distribution
Trent Crabtree - Features Writer Jeff Craley - Features Writer Matthew D. Lucas - Features Writer Danny Flad - Features Writer Anna Roberts-Gevalt - Features Writer Danny Phillips - Illustrator Aerin Toler - Illustrator Klaus Schmidheiser - Illustrator Roger Gupta - Photographer Jeffrey Pillow - Guest Writer Charles Smith - Guest Writer Business Development Associates Melanie Knoth Stephanie Knight Jillian Sullivan
Kim Kirk of Neighborhood Services, Town of Blacksburg, tells us about the downtown mural project
e've been hearing about the downtown mural project. Can you briefly describe the mural project and STENCIL PROJECT and what inspired them? Blacksburg's Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services is working with local businesses and homeowners that have experienced problems with tagging and other unsolicited forms of painting to the exterior of their property. A pilot program was developed in fall 2009 that encouraged volunteers to clean the tagging and other forms of graffiti art. This connection identified that there was actually some very attractive art, and while some businesses wanted it removed, others liked it and wanted to keep their unique selection of artwork. This inspired a team of students, working on recommendations to abate graffiti, to conclude after a semester of research that the most successful way to address it is to embrace a relationship with the local non-professional artists and develop opportunities to display their art in a way that could be appreciated, and help clean up the appearance and improve first impressions of areas in town otherwise known to be vandalized and experiencing habitual litter and debris problems. With the support from the Town of Blacksburg and downtown business Blue Ridge Realty, targeted areas will recieive a face lift. Taggers and graffiti enthusiasts will be asked to submit their ideas to help raise the awareness of graffiti as an art form. In addition, in an effort to raise awareness for the need to protect our water sources, the Town is marking stormdrains to educate residents not to litter or dump anything into drains, streams, and other water resources. To accomplish this goal,
artists are encouraged to participate and share their ideas for a stencil to be used that would be painted next to all stormdrains in town. Guidelines are currently being developed to be published in the next issue of 16 Blocks Magazine. Where are the locations? Locations include: 1. The parking lot retention wall at the intersection of Jackson Street and Draper Road; 2. The concrete area of the Old Town Hall located off the Progress Street parking lot at the end of Church Street and Jackson Street; 3. We are working with other downtown businesses .... but there has been no confirmation yet. Are there any specific themes involved? Themes will be at the discretion of the artists. The guidelines will cover submission size, location, deadlines, and guidelines to displaying art in public. How is 16 Blocks going to be involved? 16 Blocks has been following this issue since the hosting of the graffiti art contest at Ceritano's Restaurant in May, 2009. That event inspired the student project that I mention above. The work that 16 Blocks started by raising awareness of the difference between tagging and graffiti is innovative and of interest as communities work hard to improve the appearance of their historic and business districts. You started it! You fired up some students to want to show their work and not have to be a criminal to do it.
A Fork & Cork update with Diane Akers - President, Blacksburg Partnership
ow’s the festival coming together? This year’s festival is coming together nicely. We have 15 wineries signed up so far and will recruit a few more. We’re also recruiting restaurants and artists for the event. Last year’s seemed like a fine success, anything specifically stick out in your memory from the debut? Last year’s festival was a great success. We were pleased with the combinations of food, wine and art. Anything that didn’t work out so well that you’ll be changing this year? The cooking demonstration was a good addition that we’ll continue this year. We’re planning to have more seating for everyone to enjoy the demonstrations. The wineries will also be spread out a bit more to allow better access to each tent. How’s the art vendor section coming along, and will that be inside the tasting/band area this time? The art vendor section is coming along nicely, but we’d love to have more artists participate. There’s still room and still time to register.
15 wineries last year. We have 15 wineries so far for 2010. We will allow up to 5 more, but we’re already happy with what we have so far. What’s the best way to enjoy Fork and Cork, by the bottle or by the glass? Both! I’d recommend sampling all the wines and then buying a bottle of your favorite. Who do you have on stage? We have three great bands this year. Bruiser starts out the day, followed by MonkeyFuzz, an outstanding band from Roanoke. Blacksburg’s own 3 Minute Lovin’ finishes out the event. The music will be fun and upbeat. What’s the best and worst parts of running big festivals? The best part is seeing everyone having a good time. The worst part is that we get so busy, there’s not much time to partake in the event ourselves. We’re happy to host the festival though.
How many wineries last year and how many wineries this year?
Anything to add? This year we have a t-shirt design contest to select the winning design for our shirts. We hope to get lots of entries.
Local Documentary to Screen
ART PATRONS: Get Involved!
The Lyric, March 27th, 3:00 PM.
Showing two times only, this is the Southwest Virginia premiere of the latest documentary by award-winning filmmaker and Virginia Tech film professor, Ashley Maynor, who also screened the film at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. A half-hour documentary, For Memories’ Sake investigates the life and work of Angela Singer, a Southern homemaker who has taken an average of a dozen photos a day for the last 35 years, compiling a mysterious and strange archive of over 150,000 photographs of her daily life. The film will be followed by a Q&A with the film’s director, Ashley Maynor, and producer, Paul Harrill.
YMCA at Virginia Tech needs your help in reaching two important goals. Their first goal is to finish the Y Pottery Studio that will provide affordable art classes & workshops to the NRV. The studio includes a glazing area, handbuilding area, 12 pottery wheels, kilns, and ample work space. Traditional pottery classes and a new pottery pass system will provide pottery and art opportunities to hundreds of community members each year. YMCA is close to their goal and needs to raise the final $75,000. Please consider supporting this fantastic community resource.
CALL FOR ARTISTS 16 Blocks is looking for artists interested in being a part of a collective Art Gallery downtown. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
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Something semantic, something pedantic: Time marches forward, but don’t forsake February! by Lucas, M.D., Esquire
illustration by Aerin Toler
thought perhaps my seasonal affective disorder was waning when again the valley was precipitously plastered with alabaster precipitate. Observing the dense, wet pack caused me to ponder not just my spatial surroundings but my temporal one as well -- the runt of a month with a seemingly silent r: February. This compact epoch is where the western calendar crams not only an extra twentyfour hours every so often, but also honors presidents, saints, and ground-dwelling psychics of spring. Februalia was once the celebration of Februus, the Roman god of death and purification. I can see these two notions entwined as this month's snow now melts, and the pure, cold crystals slowly reveal seemingly lifeless soil. This was also the time to laud Faunus, or Pan, who wrapped his hairy goat legs in a sheepskin to seduce Selene, the moon herself. In spring, a young man's fancy should aptly remember such wrappings! After luring a celestial body, a Presidents' Day mattress sale is surely warranted, and animalistic implications do not cease. Pan's name may derive from Pusan, a Vedic pastoral god who nourished and multiplied cattle. This is also the feast of Lupercalia whereupon Romulus and Remus suckled at the teat of of a she-wolf who was aided by a woodpecker. It is also Imbolc, a Celtic celebration when the emergence of serpents and badgers is said to prognosticate the coming spring. Which is trickier: Pennsylvanian Punxsutawney or Gaelic Thig an nathair as an toll? I would be remiss of course to ignore the hallmark of St. Valentine. Unfortunately, the legends vary. He may have been imprisoned by Claudius II, and the letters he sent there-forth the first “valentines.” I can only surmise that he was a conveniently-timed martyr for Rome's conversion. Winters and empires, it seems, need occasional reminders of an amorous nature. Cupid's tale is one of such a love-ly premise. His mother, Venus, jealous of Psyche's beauty, commands Cupid to strike her rival with a sweet barb. He scratches himself instead, and only Venus' bitter drops entered Psyche. To make an epic story column-length, the eventual daughter of Cupid and Psyche was named Pleasure. After a season of frigid darkness, being bundled in bulky clothes, and anticipating spring, any cause for carousal is justified. Though we fight against the lingering winter and look boldly to spring forward, let us not march for Mars' sake. In March we must beware the Ides, the lion, and the lamb. We may instead reflect upon the abbreviated last month of winter with its sweet scratches, she-wolves, serpents, goat-legs and other sun-slumbering, slightly enlightening precocious celebrations.
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by Trent Crabtree
photography by Christina O’Connor
omemade hot cocoa – even the words bring up nostalgic feelings of warmth and comfort. It’s a staple in the winter months and one of the perks of winter. Many people use the term hot chocolate and hot cocoa interchangeably but the fact is, cocoa is healthier for you than chocolate. Hot cocoa is made from chocolate that has been pressed to remove the fat from the cocoa butter whereas chocolate bars melted down or ground into a powder still retain the butter fat. It is widely believed the ancient Mayans were the first to create this chocolatey treat, which was then passed on to the Aztecs. The Mayans called this xocolatl while the Aztecs called their version cacahuatl. However, xocolatl or cacahuatl was much different than our modern version of hot cocoa. It was a cold, bitter beverage made from pounded cocoa beans, mixed with water and chili peppers and sometimes cornmeal. Occasionally vanilla beans and honey were added but that was as close as it got to modern day hot cocoa. The Spanish were introduced to xocolatl upon their invasion of Mexico. They began experimenting: adding sugar and milk and taking out the chili peppers, they introduced the world to what we know as hot cocoa. Here’s one of my favorite recipes for homemade hot cocoa.
Ingredients for 4 servings: • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder • 3/4 cup white sugar • 1 pinch of salt • 1/3 cup of boiling water • 3 1/2 cups of milk • 3/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract • 1/2 cup half-and-half cream Combine the cocoa, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Blend in the boiling water. Bring the mixture to an easy boil then turn down to simmer while you stir for approximately 2 minutes. Make sure that it doesn’t scorch. Stir in the milk until very hot but not to a boil. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Add the cream to each serving to bring to you desired drinking temperature. Add marshmallows if desired. The variations on hot cocoa that can come out delicious are endless. Try adding some coffee, cinnamon, or Irish cream. A dash of peppermint schnapps adds surprising richness. Or if you’re adventurous, add a pinch of cayenne pepper to your mug before adding the hot cocoa. It’s slightly spicy but the combination of the chocolate and the hot pepper combine for a rather surprising effect, if not slightly spicy. With all the variations you can think of, there's absolutely no way to get bored with hot cocoa once you start making it yourself.
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The Fashion Merchandising and Design Society presents
April 8, 2010 • Squires Commonwealth Ballroom Doors open at 7:30PM • Show at 8:00PM • After party to follow A portion of all proceeds will support freeing victims of domestic violence.
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A Toast to Spring Irish beers aren’t just for St. Patrick’s Day by Danny Flad
he amateur revelers have cast off their plastic shamrock beads and sequined green derbies, but it doesn’t take a holiday to enjoy the flavors of the emerald isle. Any day can be a good day to get together with some friends and celebrate the great traditions of Ireland. May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be at your back, and may you find a great Irish beer to celebrate with. one of Ireland’s great stouts, ales, or lagers. The all-irish black and tan First fill a glass halfway with Smithwick’s Irish Ale or Harp Lager, then add Guinness Draught or Stout (from the can, bottle, or tap) pouring it slowly over an upside-down spoon placed over the glass to avoid splashing and mixing the layers. If you’ve done it right, voila, an all-irish black and tan! Drink up!
Guinness Stout A freshly poured pint of Guinness will form a beautiful cascading mixture that eventually settles into a jet black glossy brew with a stark white collar of head floating on top. Take a sip and relish the mild, toasty flavor and surprisingly silky texture. Although Guinness might seem like a heavy beer at first glance it actually has a smaller calorie count and lower alcohol content than Budweiser. Guinness is also much less carbonated than other beer and is pressurized using a blended gas that mostly consists of nitrogen. As a result, it is much less filling and a great session beer. When poured by a true professional, Guinness is best on draft but an untrained bartender, poorly engineered draft system or dirty glass can really ruin what would otherwise be the perfect pint. It is also available in cans and bottles featuring Guinness’s patented “widget” system, a device inside the can or bottle that correctly pressurizes the beer when it is opened. When it is not available on draft, some Guinness drinkers will opt for a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout, a different recipe originally brewed by Guinness for shipment in bottles. Guinness is often mixed with or floated on top of other beer to make such specialty drinks as the “Black and Tan” (see inset)and “Half and Half” and is even mixed with Irish Whiskey and Irish Cream Liqueur to form the popular “Irish Car Bomb.” Other similar Irish Dry Stouts include Murphy’s, Beamish, and O’Hara’s.
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Smithwick’s Irish Ale Ireland’s oldest ale has a deep red hue and thin filmy head that dissipates quickly. Its nutty aroma, reminiscent of lightly toasted bread, grows stronger as you drink it and the ale warms up. It has a warm, toasty flavor with hints of pear and apple, a creamy, lightly carbonated texture, and a surprisingly crisp finish. A hint of bitter hops is detectable but far from overpowering. Smithwick’s is harder to find on draft than Guinness but is available at many restaurants and grocery stores in bottles. Even more difficult to find is Smithwick’s creamier, silkier cousin Killkenny which is just beginning to enter U.S. markets. Killkenny has very similar flavor characteristics to Smithwick’s but is nitrogenated like Guinness for a smoother, more velvety taste. Harp Lager If you grow squeamish at the sight of the dark stouts and ales of Ireland and can’t resist the urge to run back to the American light beer you’ve spent years acquiring a taste for, why not try a Harp Lager instead. First brewed in the early 1960’s at the Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk, Ireland, Harp was created in response to the growing popularity of imported lager from mainland Europe. Its deep golden color and crisp, malty flavor are sometimes better suited for those who like their beer on the lighter side, but American light beer drinkers will find Harp to be richer and more flavorful than what they’re used to. Harp has a low hop profile and lacks the flowery aroma and bitter bite one might find in a Czech Pilsner or German Pils but its pleasant, bubbly texture and wonderfully clean finish make it a great addition to any celebration.
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Spring 2010 Michael Cooper’s
Masked Marvels and Wondertales Saturday, April 10, 3pm
Michael Cooper is a Poet of the Stage an eye-popping visual artist and a virtuoso mime whose exquisite performances of humor and poignancy, nimble speech and eloquent gesture have dazzled audiences of all ages for almost thirty years. Tickets will go on sale February 26th. $15 Gold / $12 Silver
Saturday, April 24, 8pm Wild, energetic and unpredictable, these self-proclaimed purveyors of “acoustic mayhem” perform an eclectic arrangement of bluegrass. Tickets will go on sale March 20th. $20 Gold / $15 Silver Cash Bar Available
Call 540.951.4771 or visit us at thelyric.com
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OFFICE S U P PLI ES
y Meeker P “Missing” A floating 3 -d silk virtua l sphere and ink drawing s about the hole left in our landsca pes and our lives by the people who are no long er with us, fo r whatever re ason. AKING FRAMING TM M RIN
THE GALLTHIS MONTH AT P S E ERY AT MI A I L I NTIN UPP SH MISH G S D a rc E
135 College Avenue, Blacksburg, Virginia
L Props for Main Lee Art by Hart Fowler photography by David Franusich
ike a champagne bottle across the stern of a new ship, the grand opening to the Main Lee Art Gallery was a smash. As I walked through the door, a vase of flowers fell from a counter to the floor spreading glass, water and a fine bouquet to the floor. The situation was greeted with calm smiles and laughs and clinking wine glasses. Such was the pleasant mood of the modest and mostly older crowd of downtown business owners, Virginia Tech faculty, and their friends and family in attendance. Photographer Cedric Rudisill, one of the seven artists with a studio in the space, found the mop and broom and the handsome wood floor was returned to its shiny new polish. Main Lee Art is a downtown house for exhibiting, producing, and teaching art. A photographer, a ceramicist and sculptor, a bookmaker, a weaver, a painter, and an illustrator have come together to make it so. “It’s an easel. My husband, Dan, came up with that name from the crossword. The clue was ‘Art Supporter,’” says illustrator and pen and ink artist Pam Sable. Her trademark style is the use of a single line to convey a visual expression of the sound and motion of musicians and dancers. Sable is a longtime Blacksburg resident who regularly shows her work at Art Pannonia. She is also the original force that brought
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Main Lee Art, located at 201 S. Main Street in Blacksburg, is open to the public Wednesday to Saturday 10 AM - 6 PM
together Main Lee Art, and her husband is its primary investor. Pam was looking for studio space closer to town after working out in the community studios in Newport, “which is isolated, but it’s an isolating profession.” She was looking for two things: studio space close to her home, and a place where she could be with her own kind. “I thought, wouldn’t that be great if we could do that in one place,” she says. The idea evolved, and then came together as a community arts center. She put out a call to artists. She didn’t actively solicit the mix of artists, but, “It just turned out that we got such a variety.” The distinct styles of the seven artists, the open studios, and open spaces for rent make Main Lee Art look promising. The true question is whether Blacksburg citizens and visitors are interested in buying art. Relying solely on art sales to keep the lights on makes for a risky gamble. Add to the equation current rent prices downtown and the recession and you’re looking at high risk. Main Lee hedges their bet by following the suit of similar spaces; The Torpedo Factory in Alexandria and The Jacksonville Center in Floyd. These
spaces cover the risk by not relying solely on art sales, but utilizing other methods of generating revenue and sharing costs. The artists rent their studios, which occupy different rooms of the house. The gallery exhibits work by in-house and guest artists, sold on commission. One large, rectangular room is also available to rent for lectures, group meetings, seminars and
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workshops. “I feel like I’ll sell more workshop seats than books,” says Becca Obert Imbur, putting her lunch aside on the big desk she sits behind in her ground floor studio. “When I say I’m a book artist people don’t really know what that means.” Self described as a mixed-media, collage, paper and book artist, Imbur fills the pages of her handmade art books with scraps of coffee filters, comic book pages, and other found objects. She also makes blank personalized journals on commission. She has recently begun applying intricate stitching techniques to the binding of her books. Main Lee offers their in-house artists an atmosphere similar to a salon or retreat. It is inspiring to be around other working artists while one is making art. The spaciousness of the house offers that togetherness tempered with a degree of separation, and artists can also find time, specifically during non-gallery hours, to work in the beautiful sanctity of solitude. “I usually work by myself. I know interacting with the public while working with a book can really mess up a book,” Imbur says. “But the more interaction with the public the better off and that's what Main Lee will be, understanding that is what we do. I'll con-
“It's an exciting thing to get involved with. Creating an art center is creating something for the community.” tinue working on projects at home, or also work here on days when the gallery is closed.” Located on the corners of Main and Lee Streets (hence the title) at 201 South Main, the location is the best of both worlds for the public and the artists. There's the hum of downtown traffic coming across a fine front yard from Main Street, with parking in the back. There's great access to restaurants, while comfortably away from the downtown weekend shenanigans of drunken undergraduates. The spacious twostory house house was formerly “For the Birds” and most recently a Hokie apparel store. Situated between Cabo Fish Taco and the Main Street Inn and across from Kent Square and Tech's Experiential Gallery, the new art space is adding to downtown's growth down South Main. A block further South there's the Gourmet Pantry and the already popular new yoga studio, as well as the town's new municipal space. If the eyesores of Food Time and the old middle school are ever developed, this area might gather more foot traffic and nearly double the main strip of downtown. “It's an exciting thing to get involved with. Creating an art center is creating something for the community,” Cedric Rudisill says from his secondfloor gallery space that contains a couch and his com-
puter. He has worked as a professional photographer since he left the military, where he learned the trade a few years back. The walls are filled with prints of his mostly local pastoral scenes as well as high definition and subtly manipulated close-ups of flowers. Main Lee's doors had been open for just two days, and he had already sold the second of two prints of the same
photograph of a rustic red barn. “One of the things that attracted me to move here were places like the Cascades and the Blue Ridge Parkway,” says Rudisill. He often camps overnight in places he's scouted out previously, hoping nature will cooperate. “When you live here for a long time you don't notice things as you do if you've just moved here,” he adds. Representing local heritage as well is weaver Christine Manhart. Her studio space houses an upright piano-sized loom as well as a spinning wheel and yarnmaking contraptions whose designs date back centuries. The night of the opening I came with a friend who brought her six year-old daughter to see Manhart's loom, and the weaver demonstrated how Sleeping Beauty was pricked by the enchanted spindle. “Imagine Grandma rolling yarn by the fire,” says Manhart, whose loom produces shawls, scarves, and rugs. “It's always good to know historically where something came from; it's also fun and relaxing.” Hearing the hum of wheels and the machine spinning is relaxing, unlike the whistling teapots coming every hour or so from Simone Paterson's collection
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of short video-pieces that cycle through on a monitor in her studio space upstairs. The teapots are an example of Paterson’s video work, one of the media she teaches as a professor at Virginia Tech. She recently sold a piece at the prestigious Air Gallery in New York City and was commissioned to film one of the final performances of the late art world icon and choreographer, Merce Cunningham. “This is first time in my life I haven't had to cut fabric on the floor,” says Paterson in her lilting Australian accent. Her demeanor is warm and down to earth as she works at the large table in the middle of her studio. “And here's one reason to never throw away your old waders,” she adds, looking at a set of her sculpture pieces: whimsical figures with and galoshes for feet, handbags for heads, dresses embellished with ladybugs and cicada shells. Paterson's highly stylized multimedia approach and extensive academic experience inform her work, which is noneheless accessible to any viewer. The open house concept behind Main Lee Art invites the community to interact with the artists as well as their art. You can stop by for an hour and if the artist is in, you can learn what a coptic stich for book
binding entails, how scarves are woven, where Simone found the ladybugs, where Cedric camps out for the perfect shot, and why Pam paints musicians. Main Lee Art offers space for workshops and meetings as well as art for display and sale. In this it differs from the traditional working commercial gallery. It joins a growing community of art-focused downtown spaces: the Community Arts Information Office, Theater 101, the Experiential Gallery, and the Armory Art Gallery's still recent renovations. The expanded YMCA workshops on North Main which will soon house a large ceramics studio alongside its own workshop spaces, as well as art displayed in mainstays such Miller off Main, Matrix Gallery, Art Pannonia, and Mish Mish. Bollo's, Gillie's, and She-Sha also form part of the constellation. Add to all of this bounty the massive new Art Center scheduled to open in 2012, a few hundred yards from downtown on Virginia Tech's campus, it is clear that Blacksburg is seeking a new identity as an arts destination. Perhaps that broken vase at Main Lee's opening was a symbol of cracking the full vessel to bless the voyage that builds upon, and is separate from, the success of our sports teams and the Hokie Nation. Cheers, indeed.
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NOTE: By presstime, we were unfortunately unable to interview two of the seven artists with studios in Main Lee: Sculptor and painter Darcy Meeker and sculptor Christine Kosiba. Interviews with them as well as more about Main Lee Art will be featured on 16blocksmagazine.com. For more information about Main Lee Art, including workshops, openings, and exhibiting your own work, visit them online at www.mainleeart.com or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Late Night @ Gillieâ€™s sic tic Mu day s u o c s A Thur Ever ySaturday and 00 pm @ 7:
Fri Mar 19 | 10:00P Chicago style blues/rockabilly featuring Chickenwings & Gravy
Fri Mar 26 | 10:00P Athens funk/jam
celebrate First Friday with
Mountain Legend Express Fri Apr 2 | 10:00P high energy bluegrass
Trachy/Lacy Collective Fri Apr 9 | 10:00P experimental jazz
Deadline for Spring 2010, April 30th.
Time Wave Zero
Fri Apr 16 | 10:00P local funk/rock
visit us online: www.myspace.com/gilliesmusic 153 college avenue | downtown blacksburg | 540.961.2703
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Plaid Avenger creators John Boyer and Klaus Schmidheiser on the meeting of art and information, and taking a knowledge-starved audience beyond the daily news. by Amy Splitt illustration by Klaus Schmidheiser
delightful evening with John Boyer and Klaus Schmidheiser, writer and illustrator, respectively, of the Plaid Avenger comic book and website, with the addition of Kelley Coleman (makeup artist for filmmaker Jack Bennett's thriller, Caprice, for starters; also married to Klaus). All interviews should be this much of a party. There was so much more to this Q&A than ended up in print. If it were recorded in digital format, I'd podcast the whole thing.
takes a chunk out of what you're able to do. [It's like that sometimes] with 16 Blocks, and there are more of us than there are of you! JB: I was just about to say, and with you guys, this is work too, but you guys get advertising. We're just doing this shit! We don't get a damn dime!
16B: Your first issue launched December 2008.Â Why so long between issues?
KS: Basically we hope to sell enough to pay for the publishing, and the rest is just what we can do in our free time to get stuff out there. We have a lot of different ventures going on. The website itself is a lot to maintain.
JB: We all have real jobs. KS: I usually stay up till 2 in the morning finishing up a lot of this stuff, and we had a lot of stuff going on last year. We launched a completely new website, we created profiles for a bunch of different world leaders -JB: Taught about EIGHT THOUSAND students...
16B: The website is pretty great. I've been perusing it a bit and I love the Plaidcasts, it's a great idea. One thing I like about it is that you have a very frequent videocast about current events, and it puts it into historical, geopolitical perspective, and that's something that's missing from a lot of news.
16B: And you're doing it by yourselves. That really
JB: Exactamundo. To quote the Fonz.
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16B: ...And it's relatively easy once you have the structure to keep that up every day or so, right? JB: Actually, you're being far too kind, it's more like weekly. I guess with the Haiti thing, I got into a roll on that, I had that structured, so that all kind of came together. But I'm working on a story on Iran right now. It's killing me. ...I think it's going to be a 2-parter, but it'll be the first time I do a 2-parter that I don't claim as a 2-parter, meaning, that I'm going to talk on one issue about Iran tomorrow and there will be another, it'll be back to back episodes where they'll both be about Iran, but semi-unrelated.
16B: Cause that was just kind of an explosion, with Iran and the so-called Twitter Revolution... JB: ...[T]his is a midlife crisis for Iran. 31 years old, and they're in a midlife crisis! And people don't understand, they're all like, 'They're repressive, they're doing this and that, they're hardcore, they're 'Islamic' and it's like, they DON'T KNOW what they are, they're a 31-year-old
male who's just bought a Ferrari, because they're not quite sure what the next decade's gonna bring, and it sounds bizarre, but this is what I do, I frame things in this irreverent way that people understand very quickly. This is a society that's still figuring itself out.
16B: When you put things into terms like that, that are kind of simple on the surface, do you feel like you're dumbing it down to an audience, but you're kind of sneaking the raisins into the cereal? JB: I don't know that I do either one, because frankly I do this for smart people, because I feel there's this huge portion of Americans, if not people in the world then certainly Americans, that want to know what's going on, and what fucking avenue do they have, to really know what's going on in Iran? Their avenue is, go figure it out by yourself, which means going and figuring out what books to read, reading them, and trying to figure out critical analysis, and that's fucking hard, because all of us have full time jobs! And so Option 2 is Plaid Avenger.
about social justice, and how your comic is furthering knowledge. KS: The coolest thing about working with John is that I've been educated so much about political issues. I mean, I do my own research on the internet, and I learn as much as I can, but it's even more interesting getting to hear all the history behind it. It's getting me more passionate about it. Like, in this latest issue we've done about the Burmese government, it's amazing what that country's been through. Aung San Suu Kyi is someone I probably would have never heard about and now I notice when I hear about her in the news so much because of that one mustard seed of recognition I first got from John. She's been through so much in her life. It's just great to be a part of something that
16B: John, you talked in your last interview with 16 Blocks about your interest in social justice, and how teaching is your way of bringing them into, not making decisions for them, but making decisions for themselves, and what are we, as Americans, doing. I was going to ask you, Klaus, whether you guys have a lot of talks when you're doing the comic about global issues,
KS: Aung Sun Suu Kyi, second issue! We wanted to make the reference, but we didn't want to be overt: originally we had kind of joked about whether or not Aung Sun and Plaid Avenger had had some kind of romantic history. We weighed on the side against that because she's this amazing political figure.
KS: I'm about as strong a feminist as a guy can get. My co-workers make fun of me all the time, but at the same time as we're trying to pay homage to this 70's era style character [of Plaid], and as much as we don't care about offending anyone, we want to point out these strong female figures as well, and Aung Sun is a great example. We follow the whole background of her childhood through what happened to her country and her political activism. She's an amazing character. JB: Hillary will be in one of these issues... KS: And Merkel will always be...
KS: I guess we have a couple of different strategies, and the thing about the comic book that makes it different from the Plaidcast is that the Plaidcast is up to date, current events with the history built in, and the comics are strictly more about history. Like, it's really about the history of what's going on in these different regions in the world to explain the current situation, so they're really more like, something you can collect. It's not going to come and go. It's a little slower, but we really would like to move it to monthly. Right now, we're trying to figure out how we make this business work.
KS: Our big thing has always been, at least within the past half a year if not a year, we've been acting on giving away content for free, actually the comic is online, it's free. We don't even have advertising on the pages, we just want to give everything away for free and create a fan base that really wants the product. That's our approach, which hopefully could work out.
16B: One final question: ...I understand the Bond references in having Plaid attended by hot chicks, but I have to ask, any plans for female counterparts who do more than dogsled in a fur teddy and serve drinks?
JB: Well, YOU wrote it out! I was totally willing to do it.
16B: I was going to ask if you were thinking of finding a way to have the comic books come out monthly and therefore have them as a supplement to your teaching the same way the Plaidcasts are...
16B: If you knew one person at Esquire, one person at Playboy, one person at Gawker, you would have so many pageviews. ...You guys are surfing on that cresting wave of “what is the future of publishing?” What you're doing is really current, and what you're trying to and want to accomplish and the space between the two is the question, “What exactly are the capabilities of our genre? How does this stuff get out there? What is distribution?”
heard these names, they didn't mean anything to me, but the more I learned about them the more they developed their own [comic character] personalities. Like Putin, in the real world, he's into martial arts, horseback riding, all these crazy things, so we developed a character who's basically this bad ass kung fu fighter who's very stern and with Hugo, he has a parrot who wears a beret. You can't make this up.
16B: I was going to say Merkel doesn't count! But she is awesome. I didn't know she was a scientist.
can promote somebody who's done so much, through the only thing I really know how to do well, which is art, and then having someone who can really drive this story, explaining the story behind this woman's life. As an artist, you're often used as a tool, but having a great story to narrate has been awesome. It gives me greater purpose and drives me to educate myself even more about world events. It gives me purpose to create that kind of art. JB: This would be so much sweeter if we were talking about Green Lantern or intergalactic pirates. KS: ...I kind of lost interest in telling the next Spiderman or Superman story, because I think those stories have kind of been told, and this is amazing because I get to talk about things that actually happen in real life, but at the same time, create this pseudo-world with Plaid Avenger, where real people have their own characteristics, which in the Plaid Avenger is a heightened sense of their own personality, and I try to do that with the art to create a caricature of each person that is reflecting what's happening in the real world. For instance, Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin. When I first
JB: Hard core! KC: And Yulia Tymoshenko... JB: Unfortunately she lost the election. ... I understand [the Ukrainian] political system pretty good, she still may be in national politics, she's certainly not going away, but she did not win the election. Yakunovich got it! ...Yakunovich is the guy who won the election 7 years ago but it was then called a fraudulent election and everyone went to the streets, that was the Orange Revolution.
16B: And the other guy, Yushchencko, got killed, right? JB: NO! He got poisoned by dioxin, his face was all fucked up. I really wish... see, if we were rich, I would have done so many Avenger stories already on this. This fucked up dioxin face, that's a story waiting to happen. The motherfucker got poisoned by the KGB! And then won the presidency! KS: We want to make all these amazing stories... JB: They're REAL! I don't know why people bother with fiction. Plaid Avenger #2 is available for sale at The Easy Chair coffee shop and bookstore at 801 University City Boulevard, #17. Read the entire ‘Back in Plaid’ interview online at www.16blocksmagazine.com
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by Anna Roberts-Gevalt photography by David Franusich
“I have now lived through my early years, my middle years, and I suspect that I am living in my last years. Being at this stage of life, I feel qualified to pass on a bit of information I have learned by trial and error; to be truthful – many trials and even more errors.” -- Introduction to The Diary of Mattie Grey
he lives in a simple brick home on an ordinary country road in Pembroke, Virginia, gardens lying dormant under the snow. Author Joy Huffman greets me in her doorway, a small, smiling woman in her eighties, standing in her socks. She welcomes me inside, bids me sit in the rocking chair in her living room. She watches me perch for a moment at the edge of my chair, and then asks me with a startling directness to lean back. “Stay awhile, won’t you,” she says, “Make yourself at home.” I ease in, lean back, and begin to listen. Joy is a captivating speaker, a country philosopher I wasn’t expecting. Amongst an unedited stream of anecdotes and ideas, she drops the most elegant of phrases, kernels of wisdom. She is a writer, a gardener, a proud mother, an eager hostess and a firm believer that life is what you make it. In 2008, she self-published a book, The Diary of Mattie Grey, a meandering 80 pages of tender, poetic observations told through the perspective of a mouse. The book chronicles Mattie the mouse as she grows old, watching the changing of the seasons, the trials and triumphs of her animal neighbors, through a knothole. “My knothole was the main source of the information I was gathering each day; the bits and pieces, the facts and questions. These were like the corn nuggets I saved in the jar, and so the diary grew.” (9) Though she came to the practice late in life, Joy writes now almost every day, recording stories
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and thoughts as they pop into her head. She’s a selfproclaimed poet, though she remembers a time “when I was so embarrassed to even think of the word poet in relation to myself. You have to be some kind of person to qualify as a poet.” Over the years, she convinced herself that the title fit. Huffman grew up in Craig County, born in 1928 into a small farming community that had seen little industrialization. “We made playhouses and mud pies decorated with flowers and berries. The sun rose every day to warm the earth. It really was a magic place.” There were hardships, she says, but her memories revolve more around the changing of the seasons, the rushing of the creeks, explored with the knowledge that there “was plenty to eat, and warmth.” “I saw the magic of nature,” Joy tells me, “more than most children. I remember standing in a deep snowfall… the snow was still coming down. And there is a silence in snow, that is deafening. ... We all have different gifts, and mine was seeing the wonder of nature.” Her appreciation of the outdoor world in Mattie's words still holds that sense of naive awe, tempered by gentle irony, perhaps the gift of age. “Mrs. Crow is black and beautiful and to be perfectly honest, I have had to work hard not to be envious of many of her attributes. Her ability to fly almost defies comprehension” (43). Joy is an avid reader. “Oh, I love everything to do with books,” she exclaims to me: the reading, the
She began to write thoughts and little stories that came to her head, one after another. Her own hard-won lessons come through in the moral tenor of her narratives. writing, the pen and ink. She shows me her calligraphy, drawing bold letters, later that afternoon. She is currently enraptured with the writings of conservationist and explorer John Muir, a lover of the American wilderness, in the way he describes and appreciates the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it, along the lines of her own philosophies. When it comes to her own writing style, she says, “I don’t feel any kinship with anybody that ever wrote.” She writes what comes to mind, she explains, “What comes out of me is very simple, very country, and very whoever-I-am. And, incidentally, I still don’t know.” “Mr. Toad is a neighbor who has stood the test of time. I still remember the first time I saw him. Just as he hopped upon the doorstep, I was sweeping the house – and with one sweep, I sent him flying out into the yard. It was such a funny sight, I could not help laughing” (28). We move to her dining room table and drink tea with lemon and honey while she tells me of her family, her career as a nurse, her son Michael who lives in Nashville, writing songs. We drink our tea from fancy teacups she’s collected over the years, a collection she began as a child, when she still used the glass lids of canning jars for plates. “I dedicated the book to children of all ages,” she tells me, “[But] what I’ve written is not for children. Children would be hard-put to get much out of this, maybe a little bit.” Mattie Grey is not a picture book chronicling a mouse’s simple journey; her journey is internal, and perhaps too esoteric to engage a young child. Joy writes for those who will remember what she is remembering, she tells me of ideas to share her
writing with the elderly in the area. Words entertain, she says, “And I think some words enlighten.” She hopes that Mattie’s words will help share some of her own enlightenment. “I’ll just jump into any situation, 'cause I think can help. And I doubt if I’ve helped a single soul,” she said, with a chuckle, “but I have tried.” “As the years have taken shape, there was a moment I was sitting on this very bench when I looked through the knothole from the opposite direction and realized it is not in the world but inside ourselves that the greatest discoveries are made” (84). Much of Huffman’s writings—poems hung on the walls, written with fancy script, poems in notebooks and ideas still running through her head, are concerned with what Joy’s quest, as she calls it, to find meaning in life, to discover herself, and the rest of the world. She is remarkably introspective and curious; she notes, herself, that “I have the personality… I want to know.” Time and again, during our visit, she tells me about the year her life changed, and the year she began to write. “I was about 42 years old. I had a lot of health problems… ill had gained entry into me.” Misunderstandings and anger had built up, until a point, that year, when, from selfstudy, “I learned a clear distinct message.” She saw, with clarity, that life had two sides, the positive and the negative, and “I had a complete revelation about the positive.” At that point, she said, “Something was opened up within my personality, that I wanted to write.” So she began to write thoughts and little stories that came to her head, one after another. Her own hard-won lessons come through in the moral tenor of her narratives. “I learned that life does not have to be so hard
for it is largely left up to the choices we make. We are each served by our own hand.” Huffman tells me that there is magic in this world. “Not magic,” she corrects herself, “it’s truth.” A nod to fairytales, but truly, a reference to the ways she sees the possibilities in the world. “We are creators of our own worlds,” she tells me. “When you are a positive minded person, and you think “yes” about the many aspects of life, that causes those things to come to you. We build our circumstances by our thoughts.” She warns me of the dangerous characters in life, the can’ts, the won’ts and don’ts -- in all earnestness. Those, she said, are the “creatures that make us sick.” Through positive thought, she tells me, we can all climb out of the doldrums. “I have learned to look at each moment of life as a rare jewel, and above all else spend my time wisely, for it is here only today.” Joy’s nostalgia for her early days seems brought on by her observations of a modern world that is to her mind fast-paced, wasteful and destructive. “It breaks my heart,” she says, “to see the earth mistreated.” Life today moves too quickly for her. “There’s no time to go around the hill to pick violets, there’s not time to sit on the landing and hear about Humpty Dumpty.” Mattie, a pensive character in a sleepy town, is her advocate for a different pace. She writes with an attention to the peculiar and wondrous details around her, and often to meander into abstract thought, a whimsical, though sometimes unfocused journey through ideas and descriptions. It is best read with patience, and you will find yourself stumbling on Huffman’s wisdom. And what gems. I think of all the stories I’ve read read, where wise old women lend a hand to the young, and I suspect that Joy Huffman is such a woman, reminding her readers to take a moment to notice the world inside and out and be glad for it.
Inquiries about The Diary of Mattie Grey can be directed to Joy Huffman, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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speech. word. reason.
fiction by Charles Smith
illustration by Danny Phillips
nea appears, ascending at a deliberate pace against a backdrop of azure horizon. Were her entrances this cinematic five years ago? If this were a Peckinpah film, I’d already be riddled in bullet holes. She’s blonde now. The black dragon on her left arm has faded a bit. The scars haven’t. The persistence of those long white lines puts me at ease. There’s nothing morbid in that comfort; it’s the same I get from seeing that her eyes are still blue. “Hey, stranger,” she says. We exchange a hug -- warm because we’re old friends, but stiff because, four years ago, we were more. Her hair smells
like fruit-scented shampoo and lingering nicotine. I breathe it in deep. I quit smoking, I think, that's why I savor that scent. I speak first, to save her the trouble. “Sure is hot today, huh?” My stab at the ice is clumsy, but that's why it's ice we break with words, and not wood. We discuss work, traffic, and the heat. She tells me about her public relations firm and deplores the roadside construction. I talk about my Web design work and make another vapid complaint about the heat. We fly fast through the small talk, autopilot. It’s only awkward because it shouldn’t be. “You’re here on business?” she asks. “You
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were the last person I expected to hear from.” “I remembered your email. I’m surprised you’re still using the same one. Lucky, I mean.” She pulls and lights a cigarette. In the middle of the first drag, she nods. “Lucky.” Coils of grey roll out beside the words: “We didn’t do a very good job of staying in touch, did we?” Seeing her smoke again triggers a memory. We once killed a pack on her porch at dawn listening to Van Morrison. “Precious Time” was playing on her little red cassette player. Her long brown bangs in her eyes, the flash of a yellow lighter’s flame. She was a serrated brunette in demolished sneakers and a speed metal t-shirt; a gaunt collage of scars and tattoos. She was reckless, beautifully reckless, but she got by. Over that first pitcher we shared five years ago, she told me she was a child prodigy. She also told me that she never drank before nine. I debunked the second claim in no time, but the first I believed. “You look the same,” she says. I know it’s not true, but I reciprocate. “You, too.” I still have pictures of us from that year. The hair has changed, but the rest of her looks the same. I look every year of the four that've passed. Bad genetics could be at fault. Could be the bad diet, the lack of exercise, or the long hours I spend absorbing whatever it is that emanates from the computer screen. Could be that I'm just jealous that she gets to look so much better than I do. “Let’s go in.” She drops the butt and drives it into the pavement with her foot. “Fucking heat’s suffocating me.” I open the door for her without thinking. She used to complain, “This isn’t the Victorian era.” Today’s Anea passes through the doors opened for her. I shrug off a flicker of disappointment and follow her inside. The place is basically how I remember it. I don’t recall which booth it was we once sat in, but Anea does. That she has to point it out makes me feel like a tourist. “There, under the William Blake,” she says. I follow the line of her fingertip. The booth is taken. We take the closest one not yet claimed, two booths over, across the aisle. I can see the Blake painting to my left. It depicts bodies, or maybe souls, being channeled through ethereal tubes against a barren landscape. A figure stands below the conduits, his face eclipsed by the light. You’d think I’d remember a painting like that hanging above me in a bar.
I did want you, pal. We had some wild nights. From the sound of it though, “ you've convinced yourself that I brought something out in you that wasn't there
before. But I didn't change Clark Kent into Back Alley Superman. You can blame Earth's yellow sun if you want, but not me. Our corruption was mutual.
A waitress arrives immediately to take our drink orders. I’m trying to relax, but it’s still too formal. I order a pitcher. It’s not happening without the beer. Above this table hangs a photo of Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp. He’s casting that impish smile at something that was once in front of him. Whatever it was, it’s not here now. It never was here. The Tramp is trapped on a bar wall, smiling at absolutely nothing. “Do you remember what we ate the first time we were here?” I ask. Anea checks the time on her phone and slips it into her purse. “Subs, right?” she says. They were meatball subs. She was wearing a black Lamb of God hoodie. After finishing her second mug, she’d belched loud enough to turn heads. She was beyond their reproach. “Propriety is an archaic word,” she’d remarked. I nearly fell over laughing. I did fall, but for her, in that hackneyed way that either sends you swooning or spinning into despair. I didn’t hear from her for a week after that. Then out of the blue, she called and invited me to her apartment. She was already drunk when I got there. She didn’t waste any time. She led me to her bedroom by my collar. “You like literature? I’ll tell you about literature.” The next morning, in the process of rushing me out of her bedroom, she'd loaned me Bukowski's Ham on Rye -- “Because we only got as far as the Romantic poets,” she said. I never gave it back. The last time I saw Anea, she hardly acknowledged me. She was taking pictures of the dilapidated building across the street from her apartment complex. I was going to ask what it was about the old brick building that made it picturesque, but I didn’t have to. The camera’s attentive lens, directed to the wall by Anea’s careful eye, brought the wall into vision. Through her, I could see the asymmetrical alignment of the mortar lines, the secret dots and dashes behind the multi-tone aggregation of brick. I remember turning to her, my eyes still glued to the wall. “I’m leaving in a couple hours,” I said. “I wanted to say goodbye first.” Her indifference would have hurt more if it hadn’t felt rehearsed. I don’t remember much else about that moment itself. It was anticlimax. But I recall the moment after that, my last image of her before I turned the corner. That black Minolta she held to her face looked too big for her hands. I watched her watch the wall. The shot, I knew, would be sturdy. “Are you okay?” she asks, here, in the restau-
rant. I’m not. I’m not happy. I hate making websites. I hate the people I work with, that I hang out with outside of work because they’re the only ones who’ll hear out the banalities that fill my days. I hate that she seems so much happier than I am, that she looks as young as she did when we were more than familiar. “You want to eat?” The beer arrives. Her “No” is softened by the waitress’s passing arm. Anea’s face is briefly obscured as the mugs and plastic pitcher are placed on the table. The arm withdraws. “I’m not hungry. Beer is fine.” “Sure.” I almost glance up again to the Tramp, but I don’t want to see his pale face again. Photographs don’t speak their context. I’ve imposed my own. I’d rather be seated under Blake’s Hell, or whatever the hell it is. The annihilation I’ve imposed on Chaplin's static grin is worse than damnation right now. “I’m fine. Does your firm have a website? I’d love to look it over.” Anea retrieves a pen from her purse and paper from the napkin dispenser. Its roof has been caved in, but it still dispenses. It's been stocked so tightly that she has to brace the dented roof with her free hand. I'm surprised when the napkin comes without tearing, but for her, it does. She writes the address and slides it across the table. It could be a seductive motion. To an onlooker, this woman might be slipping me her number, or an address where we can share a bed. Too bad that story has already been told. I take a panorama view of the room to see if anyone is watching, and I pocket the napkin. She taps her fingernails twice against the table. “You’re looking pensive there, friend. Your tolerance gotten that low?” “Not pensive. Nostalgic.” I top off my mug. “All the stuff I said outside about my job… I’m not feeling it. It's been an everyday stalemate.” “I’m guessing you’re not feeling anything else back home, either.” She pushes her mug my way. I pour her what’s left of the beer. “Nailed it. Glad to see you’re still sharp.” I set the empty pitcher at the end of the table, lean forward and park my elbows. “I’m just not ready to go down this road yet. I remember all the fun we had, all the things you showed me, and, God, it’s hokey, but part of me is looking for you to show me the way out again.” “Like I did before,” Anea says. “Like how I made you feel cool and rash.”
“Wanted. You made me feel wanted.” The honesty makes me self-conscious. I break our gaze to look up and to the right, at the picture. It’s only a picture now. Charlie Chaplin is dead. “I did want you, pal. We had some wild nights. From the sound of it though, you've convinced yourself that I brought something out in you that wasn't there before. But I didn't change Clark Kent into Back Alley Superman. You can blame Earth's yellow sun if you want, but not me. Our corruption was mutual.” I shrug. I pull my elbows up. I bring the mug to my lips to give myself a moment to think. I'd never smoked a cigarette or nursed a hangover before her. I didn’t know the first thing about reckless abandon. “How was it mutual? I mean, I was a nerd. You were passing out on verandas and fucking skeezy tattoo artists.” She covers her face and laughs. “Don’t remind me! God, I had bad taste in men.” She notices when I widen my eyes. “Not you, I mean. You were fine. I don’t regret you. And, for the record, it was only one veranda.” “That’s comforting. But about what you said. How was it mutual? You were -- experienced. I was your lamb to slaughter.” Oh, her laugh. “No. Oh, no. Listen up, Lambchop -- I didn’t corrupt you. You were going to do that stuff no matter what. That’s why you came after me, remember? You were looking to make up for lost time. That can be the most dangerous ambition there is.” I offer the best response I can, a dumbfounded “Shit,” half-mumbled. I’ve never thought of her or of our time together any differently than I did five years ago. A lot changes in five years. I've changed, but I didn't let those memories change with me. I've kept them tucked far enough away from the rest of my life to keep them romanticized. But that romance was never real. “I can tell by the look on your face, you just hit a big reveal,” she says. “You going to be okay?” “Yeah, fine. Embarrassingly nostalgic, but that much is obvious. Just give me this…” I lean in as close to her as I can, as close as the table lets me. “It was a hell of a year, right? Am I the only one?” The second question is vague. I’m not sure what I mean, but I don’t clarify. “A hell of a year,” she agrees. There’s a buoyancy to the response that answers my second question, whatever it was.
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An intrepid group of music lovers aims high with Blacksburg’s first multi-day music festival. by Amy Splitt illustration by Oscar Salguero
n the weekend of March 26 through 28, 2010, Blacksburg’s Fever to Sing collective will present the most ambitious festival of live music and workshops an independent group in Blacksburg has ever produced. The Fever to Sing festival is bringing talent and visitors from around town and all the way from DC, New York and Philadephia to celebrate the creative life of our community. Fever to Sing has existed as an informal group since 2005, with the original intent of getting people together to make art, music and film; but according to founder Rana Fayez, “[It] was very unstructured and people lost interest.” The collective was loosely affiliated with WUVT, but lacked a driving, central goal. With the idea of the festival, however, this small group of friends with common interests got motivated to realize a major project. Fayez’s work on the 2008 PowerShift environmental conference at Virginia Tech was her first experience with helping organize a large scale event. Her mentor was the conference’s director, Angie De Soto, who graduated from VT in 2009 and stayed on as the university’s Campus Sustainability Planner. While planning PowerShift, Fayez was struck by how powerfully networking could operate in green activism and wondered if similar concepts could be applied to grassroots arts activism. Fayez began organizing rock shows while attending Blacksburg High in 2005. She has since become well-known in the local small-venue concert world for her enthusiastic support of indie pop and punk bands. Fever To Sing carries on this tradition of loyalty. “If we’ve booked you once, you’re invited to play the festival,” says Fayez. The collective’s ambition was to book every band who had ever worked with Fever To Sing. Other bands were invited to play once it was certain none of the old guard were left out. Serendipity brought Fayez together with her first serious partners in planning the festival: WUVT DJ Oscar Salguero and business major Yvonne “Eve” Yee, who met Salguero on a long bus ride back to town from NoVA. To cite just one of many stories told by old friends, Salguero happened to be in AM radio training at WUVT during Fayez’s show. Fayez recalls, “Every time I tried to pick out a record to play, Oscar had already taken it!” Yee in turn brought her taste in
funk and electronic dance music to the discussion, and wrote the festival’s business plan. To complete the core group, fate struck, appropriately enough, at a Bastards of Fate show. Fayez ran into Jonathan Ashwell, an old friend she met at New River Community College who shared her interest in classic graphic novels and 80’s punk rock: “[At NRCC] she critiqued my taste in everything,” said Ashwell. With him at the show was his wife, Kimmi, who came to Blacksburg laden with knowledge from her major in nonprofit business administration from a small col-
lege in North Carolina. The Ashwells both wanted to get into arts advocacy. Fever To Sing offered a great opportunity. The attendance goal for the weekend rests at a very tentative 600, with the idea of audience members wandering from venue to venue downtown to see bands and films and participate in workshops. “We have no idea what to expect,” says Fayez. “This is totally new territory. People are actually traveling to come to this festival from DC, New York, Philly.” Highlight acts from out of town will include DC’s Outputmessage, the internationally successful electronic music of VT alum Bernard Farley; Andalusians from the Dischord label (they played a show at Gillie’s in fall 2009 that reminded this writer of every band Kim Deal’s had her hands in); and, for those who remember PlopHouse days, the hard rocking boys of PPR from
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Athens, Georgia. There will be specially designated all-ages shows to accomodate the strong level of interest from local HS students. Other incentives include giveaways from local businesses, including a skateboard from Greenhouse, gift cards from Sharkey’s, and premium tickets offering dinner with the buyer’s favorite band. The workshops will be eclectic: Greenhouse is running a board assembly tutorial at the shop; Bike Barn will host Taek Won Do lessons on Saturday. The cost of a full weekend pass is only $20. There will also be raffles, included in the price of entry. A $5 per-show ticket price has been set. VIP tickets cost $50, and are limited to 30 people -- these special passes will get you to the front of the line, with goodie bags and free stuff from venues to make the evening special. “We’ve been developing our mission for this festival: we want to make Blacksburg known as an arts destination, and not just what has been covered in the media,” says Fayez. By booking shows and workshops downtown, the festival will bring traffic and money to local businesses. Sponsors include Bike Barn, Champs, Hokie House, and Virginia Tech’s School of the Visual Arts (look for special exhibits and shows at the Armory Gallery and Kent Square’s Experiential Gallery that weekend, courtesy of curator Deb Sim). “We want to be a positive force,” says Kimmi Ashwell. She chooses this term as if on purpose: the collective was in part inspired by Positive Force, a youth culture oriented, nonprofit social change organization that has been operating in DC for over 25 years. Jon Ashwell says, “We’re hoping to break down walls. We’ve got these little scenes going on here and there.” He adds, “No one ever mentions in the D.I.Y. books that it’s not ‘Do it Yourself,’” and Fayez interjects with a big smile, “It’s ‘Do it OURselves!’ D.I.O.!” Even in crunch time before an event that will surely bring the unexpected, the Fever To Sing collective is still smiling, still positive, and most of all, they are friends with a common goal.
Coming up in 16 Block’s Issue No. 22 -- A big post-festival review, complete with pictures from our roving crew of photographers.
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V by Jeff Craley photography by Roger Gupta
inyl House is an open collective looking not to recruit but to cooperate with local musicians. The basic principle behind Vinyl House is simple: by getting local musicians together and organizing them under one cooperative, everybody wins. It reeks of a utopian “power of positive energy” ideal, but that’s only at first glance. If you dig a bit further, they may be on to something. Kellen Eldenfield, a recent Virginia Tech civil engineering graduate, acts as head and spokesman. “We just try not to shut any doors and make sure it’s open for everybody. Whatever your sound is, we’re pretty much willing to work with you to achieve whatever goals you have for your music.” Kellen hopes that Vinyl House will be able to help book shows, find band members, record and possibly even release albums for anybody willing to put time and effort into their own musical careers. It’s no small task but Vinyl House is making progress. The inception of Vinyl House dates back to the year Eldenfield spent living in a Blacksburg apartment building. Like all college students with an interest in playing music, Kellen and his friends packed as much gear as they could in the only available space they had. The empty den area of their apartment was the first “White Room.” Under the threat of eviction, their late night jam sessions ceased. To keep on playing, they needed to move.
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In those days, Eldenfield had no clear conception of what would emerge from this migration. Vinyl House was still a twinkle in his eye. Once all the gear from the old apartment was moved into their new house on Buckshot Drive, Eldenfield realized that the change of location offered unforeseen possibilities. The microphones, compressor, and mixer, all moved into the same space for the first time, allowed for sophisticated recordings. The newfound space and lack of neighbors allowed more people to play at the same time. With a few upgrades, producing high quality material would be possible. Mid-fall last year, Eldenfield made up fliers and issued an informal invitation for any interested comers to jam at the newly established Vinyl House. In accordance with Kellen’s own varied tastes, Vinyl House would be an open forum, willing to accept any musician, from beginner to expert, in any genre. On January 16th Vinyl House presented its first concert, a house show on Buckshot Drive. Local bands, as well as Harrisonburg’s Gifts from Enola and Sub Verso from Connecticut, represented a wide range of genres and styles. The local post-hardcore band McNulty played to a small but packed room of Blacksburgers, alongside hip hop locals As Is and All Kinds of Gravity. It was loud, sweaty, full of dudes: in other words, a success; all despite the fact that the site was far from downtown, a good 10 minutes drive
down Glade Road, and school wasn’t even in session. The PA, the tour bus in the yard, and the crowd milling on the porch all suggested that the site of the concert was Vinyl House, but it’s actually next door. The collective made a small but telling move in assimilating the house next door as a venue. As Vinyl House grows, its objective is to partner with more and more local institutions. Recognizing the potential gain in having a venue next door, and thrilled by the prospect of having concerts, Vinyl House absorbed their neighbors, the house famous for the yearly gigantic Buckshot Bash. Vinyl House Central lies down a gravel driveway behind the venue, further back into the woods on Buckshot. Vinyl House is a normal group house, for most practical purposes. Guys come and go and ask whose food is whose. The difference is that the space is geared towards the roommates' interest in making music. The “White Room,” the largest room on the second floor, acts as a practice and improv space, recording studio, and business office for Vinyl House. Amps, guitars, and keyboards line the walls, as well as a professional grade compression unit, 24 channel mixer and PA system. Kellen Eldenfield sits in the White Room on a rotating stool that spins him from a desk with laptop around to a drum set. He leans back and rests his feet on a snare drum, one arm resting on the desk, and ex-
plains his long term goal. “If I could help [musicians] make a living, where they can quit their day jobs, then that would be a success for me and Vinyl House.” He hopes to expand Vinyl House from a hangout to an organization, starting with jam sessions and house shows, and phasing into recording and area booking. The long-term plan is to operate as a New River Valley umbrella music network and record label. Though a fully functional Vinyl House Records may be a long way into the future, the map is being laid out in advance. The idea rests on the power of the jam session. Vinyl House would function as a meeting place where musicians could get to know one another and play music. The sessions are designed to be informal affairs where people can get to know one another without any sort of expectation or pressure to perform. By gathering local musicians to play together, the hope is that dialogue and new connections will form in the music community. Down the line, Vinyl House artists would know whom to call to fill out a bill or to start a new band. If a musician wants to find a place to jam for an afternoon, Vinyl House is willing to provide. If someone is trying to go further, to make a record or tour the area, Vinyl House promises to put in a proportional amount of effort. Kellen realizes the amount of work that any artist, not just musicians, has to exert in order
to make a career in the arts. If someone is dedicated and committed, Vinyl House will do what it can to help them get a leg up. As the artist gets more exposure, Vinyl House will share the attention. More people will be drawn to Vinyl House and Vinyl House will be able to do more for the associated artists. In theory, the cycle picks up more momentum with every repetition. It’s like a potluck dinner where nobody leaves hungry. Eldenfield cites James Murphy’s success with the DFA label as a loose vision for the future of Vinyl House. “I think if you can afford yourself the luxury to be able to surround yourself with some of your favorite musicians and go ahead and sign them, and have a mutual relationship where everyone’s benefiting, then that’s the ideal.” It’s a potential boon to Blacksburg area artists, but will it succeed? With a decent recording studio, a venue, and scattered connections across the New River Valley, can Vinyl House build enough momentum to become the presence in the NRV it hopes to be? The answer is yet to be seen, but Vinyl House is making moves. With upcoming shows in the works, jam sessions whenever possible, and recording studio upgrades in progress, Vinyl House may soon start making a noticeable impact in local music and beyond. Interested in getting involved with the Vinyl House? Email email@example.com for more information.
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The whimsical world of artist Allie Kelley by Jeffrey Pillow
(From left to right) Deerly Beloved - 18x24” oil on canvas, The Cage - pen and ink, Blue Buck - 16x20” oil on canvas, Jurassic Heart - 18x24” acrylic/oil on canvas
ounted on her grandfather’s wall, taxidermized white-tailed deer with brown glass eyes, smelling faintly resinous from turpentine and shellac, stare down at Allie Kelley, a 28-yearold artist from the hollows of West Virginia turned Blacksburg transplant. “Every winter,” Kelley reminisces, “my grandfather would shoot at least one buck, bring it home, and string it up before taking it to the butcher. He was a master huntsman. I imagine he is what Teddy Roosevelt would have been if Teddy Roosevelt was a West Virginia coalminer rather than a born wealthy politician. Anyway, he hunted everything. I mean everything: bears, boars, deer, squirrels, whatever; and I seemed to always be there when he brought his kill home.” “He’d pull me outside, plop me in front of this strung up, field-dressed, dead deer, and tell me he had shot Rudolph . . . Of course I knew he was fibbing because of the obvious lack of a red nose.” The departed souls of deer: it is an image fixed within Kelley’s memory. She laughs when telling the story and admits that as macabre and scarring as this may sound for a child, it was far from it. “I used to kind of stare at them, these huge antler racks mounted on the wall and make up stories
about them . . . I wondered what the deer thought about me not having antlers.” Granted the deer were dead, the mind's eye of a child is unrivaled in its ability to construct its playful fiction and interspecies dialogue. “Fast forward 15-20 years, I spent six months painting everything in sight with antlers, even a blueberry muffin with antlers,” though she admits the latter didn’t work out too well. From the work of Dr. Seuss, a detour off I-81 to the Virginia Safari Park (commonly referred to as The Drive-Thru Zoo), to reliving a childhood story of her coalmining grandfather’s avocations, Kelley’s art is inspired by and inspires a fantastically sanguine altreality—a colorful universe of peacock feathers, henna designs, and hidden bunnies. “Jurassic Heart,” an acrylic/oil on canvas work, 18x24”, embodies this bright, imaginative playground of the artist. The red of the sun fuses with the orange of the rays and the yellow heat of the sky. “Warm, happy, fun—‘Jurassic Heart’ is simple at first glance but full of happy tidbits,” Kelley says. “The painting contains four birds, three hidden bunnies (go ahead, try and find them, she tells everyone), and a turtle in conversation with a big-hearted tricer-
atops.” “It’s what I want life to be. It makes me smile. It makes me want to throw on my brightest scarf, drink a giant cup of coffee, and conquer the world.” In his 1919 treatise, Sull’arte metafisica, Giorgio de Chirico stated, “Art is the fatal net which catches these strange moments of cerebral abnormality on the wing like mysterious butterflies, fleeing the innocence and distraction of common men.” If this be so, then Allie Kelley is his proverbial butterfly chaser. Allie Kelley lives in a tiny apartment with her lab mix, Goober, her hateful cat, Gidget, and her fiancé Will. She will showing at the Mish Mish Gallery in May and the Square Café in Pittsburgh, PA in July. For more information on Allie Kelley including commissioned pieces, visit her online at www.alliekelley.com or contact her via e-mail at AllieJKelley@gmail.com.
Jeffrey Pillow is a contributing writer for the online literary collective The Nervous Breakdown and Literature & the Arts columnist for Press Media Group. Visit him online at www.jeffreypillow.com.
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In Blacksburg you’ll ﬁnd a special place where the arts merge with history, the mountains create a picturesque backdrop for outdoor pleasure, and shopping and ﬁne dining are a way of life. Where brick sidewalks and friendly people greet you at every turn and a world class university experience is just next door. Join us for the 2nd annual Blacksburg Fork and Cork, a culinary and wine tasting experience featuring local art, great food, and the best of Virginia wines.
A FOOD, WINE, AND ART FESTIVAL
SATURDAY MAY 1, 2010 NOON - 6PM | RAIN OR SHINE at the
blacksburgforkandcork.com PRESENTED BY