LIVE Lee - Living Artful'Lee' - Feb. 2023

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Shaye Baker

Emery Lay

Tucker Massey

Kara Mautz

Natalie Salvatore


Michelle Key

Hannah Lester


Woody Ross

Rena Smith


Kendyl Hollingsworth

Hannah Lester

Robert Noles


Michelle Key, Publisher

Originally from Albertville, Alabama, Michelle Key and her family moved to the Opelika-Auburn area in 2011 after her husband’s retirement from the U.S. Navy. She is a graduate of Troy University, and she joined the Observer in 2014 as an office administrator before assuming ownership of the newspaper in January 2018.

Hannah Lester, LIVE Lee Editor

Hannah Lester is an Auburn University 2019 journalism graduate who is originally from Birmingham. She started with The Observer in July 2020 and began as the Associate Editor for the LIVE Lee Magazine. She assigns, writes and edits pieces for the magazine, as well as helps to design the pages. She was named editor of LIVE Lee in July 2021.

Wil Crews, The Observer Sports Editor

Wil Crews is an Auburn University 2020 journalism graduate originally from Prattville, Alabama. He works as The Observer’s sports editor and assists in developing the weekly paper and LIVE Lee Magazine.

Kendyl Hollingsworth, Staff Reporter

Kendyl Hollingsworth is a Huntsville native and 2018 journalism graduate of Auburn University. She interned at The Observer in early 2018 before returning to north Alabama to work at two newspapers and a magazine. Following a brief hiatus to serve as a missionary, Kendyl has returned to The Observer and LIVE Lee to help tell the unique stories of people across Lee County

Robert Noles, Photographer

Robert Noles is an award-winning photojournalist who has been with The Observer for more than 10 years. Originally from Tallassee, he is a graduate of Alabama Christian College and Auburn University.

CONTACT US Key Media, LLC 223 S. 8th St., Opelika Phone: 334-749-8003 LIVELee is a publication created by Key Media, LLC.



We’ve been excited about an art issue for quite some time here at LIVE Lee. Not everyone appreciates art; not everyone considers themselves an art aficionado

I’m certainly no expert. My family members, however, are all quite talented. My uncle teaches art in Florida; my aunt is a successful architect and painter; my dad is a whiz even at doodling; and good grief, you should see what my family can do with Shrinky Dinks. Our Christmas tree is full of handmade ornaments made of clay, pinecones, wood, stained glass and more.

I, however, can barely draw stick figures. My preferred medium is markers or crayons. But I was gifted with an ability to write from our Father. At least, I hope you think so. If you read all the stories in this magazine and decide that I’m wrong, well, don’t tell me, haha.

I do appreciate art, however. One of my favorite travel activities is to visit art museums. The above photo is from the Art Institute of Chicago and features my dad, and yours truly, recreating the original “American Gothic.”

Our local communities, Auburn and Opelika, have placed an emphasis on art. Opelika is an eclectic little community with various outlets for art.

We have Art Haus, two local community theater groups (one of which is featured on page 14), The Well (a collection of local artists and creators) along with several local artists.

Auburn has the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Arts (featured on page 23), the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center (we attended Jay Leno’s performance on page 42) and lots of offerings through Auburn University.

Find ways to incorporate more art into your life in 2023. As I write this, it is not yet Jan. 1. One of my goals in 2023 is to read more books. I want to read books for fun, for self-improvement, to grow my faith life. But maybe, for you, you’d like to pick up a creative hobby like knitting, embroidery, painting or finally write that novel you’ve always wanted.

But, no matter how, find some small ways to incorporate more art into your life. It’s all around us.

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A Place For Artists

If you’re an artist, owner of The Little Art Collective Samantha Buell encourages you to reach out and join this new gallery’s growing network. Upon moving to Auburn in the summer of 2021, artist Buell had started looking around for a place to display her own art.

“There weren’t a lot of great options as far as galleries or boutiques,” Buell said. “I was disappointed and spent months trying to decide what was next for me.”

However, things turned around when she found a space as part of the micro-retail shops at the Southerly Warehouse in Opelika a year later. Her interest in wanting a space for her work transformed into a new idea of starting an art gallery after learning of the company’s motto, which centered around community building and encouraging creativity in start-up companies.

“I didn’t have the idea for the Collective until I saw the space, and it all came together so quickly,” she said. “‘Be the gallery you wish to see’ kind of moment.”

After studying environmental conservation in school and working in the restaurant industry for much of her life, Buell took a chance on starting a new hobby a few years prior to the Collective when she bought painting supplies after a photograph inspired her.

“I immediately fell in love,” she said. “I’ve always been creative and kept a sketch book most of my life. Sketching just wasn’t my language, but painting clicked right away.”

Buell has had two art exhibits of her own, using that personal experience to her advantage as a business owner.

“I’ve sold a modest amount of artwork and completed custom works for friends and friends of friends,” she said.

With her business, Buell said she strives to bridge the gap between artists and the surrounding community.

With her art gallery, she provides a welcoming place for artists to collaborate and feel celebrated for their contributions to creativity in art.

Each month, the gallery typically displays between 12 to 18 artists, showcasing different art mediums such as ceramics, jewelry, fine art, photography, folk art, glassware, prints and stickers. With each month’s new works and new artists also comes midweek wine nights and a chance for the artwork to be sold.

Buell said she had no idea that so many artists were in the surrounding Auburn-Opelika community. This was another reason she said she knew her business was the next best step in terms of what Opelika could gain. With posting on social media platforms to find and connect these artists to

Photos Contributed By Samantha Buell

one another, she realized the extent of the local interest in displaying artwork right in her backyard.

“I am thrilled to provide a space for local artists to connect with the community, and I hope it continues to grow,” Buell said. “Art is for everyone — every medium, every price and every age.”

Not only do adults have the opportunity to showcase their work, but children did too. She explained how students from kindergarten to 12th grade competed in the Junior Federal Duck Stamp Competition in 2022 as budding artists.

“We love encouraging children in the arts,” Buell said. “There is nothing sweeter than a local second grader or aspiring artist coming in with their parents to see their artwork in a gallery with other artists.”

Buell said she hopes that future artists will continue to collaborate, perhaps even in a larger space someday. She is proud that her gallery represents the region’s artists and the growing local talent.

“We are off the beaten path of downtown Opelika, but we are a must-see,” she said. “Art impacts how we perceive and interpret culture and contributes to the identity of our region.”

You can find The Little Art Collective at 309 S. 10th St., Suite C. Hours of operation run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekends. New showcases start the second weekend of each month. For more information, call 334-787-9181 or visit the Facebook page at

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Samantha Buell
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The Power of the Arts

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Story By Wil Crews Photos Contributed By Alsobrook Performing Arts Company

Sarah Kate Alsobrook is young, but she is already making an impact in the field of local theater.

Her nonprofit, Alsobrook Performing Arts Company (APAC), provides an opportunity for children of all ages to have an accessible and affordable area for the community of Opelika to grow in their appreciation and expression of the performing arts.

Alsobrook is a performer, director, choreographer, instructor and artistic director of APAC. She said she is passionate about making the arts accessible regardless of background so that every child has the opportunity to receive a well-rounded arts education and/or training. She has performed in productions through Belmont University, Western Kentucky University, the Public Theatre of Kentucky and other theaters throughout Tennessee and Kentucky. She has choreographed numerous productions, including “Tuck Everlasting,” “Junie B. Jones the Musical,” “Chicago,” “Oklahoma,” Disney’s “Aladdin,” Disney’s “Mary Poppins” and “Cats: the Musical.”

As an educator, she has taught various styles of dance through Rejoice School of Ballet of Nashville, Dance Arts of Bowling Green and, currently, Variations Dance Studio in Auburn. She received training in acting, dance, directing, technical theater and theater education at Belmont University, and graduated in December 2021 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre and Arts Administration from Western Kentucky University.

Alsobrook grew up in the Auburn-Opelika area. During her middle school years, her family moved to Kentucky, where Alsobrook spent the remainder of her secondaryeducation-schooling years.

Nearing graduation, and in the midst of the COVID-19

pandemic, Alsobrook said she was convinced that moving back home closer to extended family in the Auburn-Opelika area was her best option. It was then that she discovered the need for APAC.

“I noticed that for the size of the population in both Auburn and Opelika, there wasn’t a whole lot of theater opportunities,” Alsobrook said. “And with the ones there are, there are so many children that it is hard to accommodate them all through the current programming that there is.”

In the fall of 2021, Alsobrook reached an agreement with a recreational facility in Opelika to allow her to start her own theater group.

“That’s when I decided to start out of the rec center in Opelika and had a few kids in the class, and then grew from there,” she said.

Following months of hard work, APAC put on its first production in the spring of 2022.

“It takes a lot to put on the productions,” Alsobrook said. Whereas she had experience as an actor and sometimes as a choreographer in college productions, Alsobrook said she was surprised by the amount of work that goes into the overall planning of a show. From the costumes and props, the technical elements of lighting, marketing and ticketing and the rehearsals, Alsobrook “realized very quickly that the behind-the-scenes was not meant to be done by one person.”

That’s where the community spirit of local theater comes in. Alsobrook said she has been fortunate and thankful to have the support of parents and volunteers who have made putting on productions possible.

“All of the parents have been super quick to help,” she said. “They have painted sets, worked our ticket booth and everything in between.”

APAC currently has three productions slated for 2023. The next one, a stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” is set for March 2 through 5. The production involves 38 children, six of whom work on the technical team with designing sets and costumes. Then, APAC is planning a musical production of “Xanadou,” based on the 1980 movie of the same name. Lastly, APAC has planned a production of Disney’s “Finding Nemo - The Musical,” for the summer.

“Now that we are kind of established, I am able to add a lot more productions, especially because we now have the amazing space at Southside Center for the Arts,” Alsobrook said. “I try to keep it both varied in the type of show, as well as the content so that the kids get a nice, well-rounded experience with theater.”

At its heart, APAC believes in the power of the arts to influence on both an individual and community level, and it works to bring the influence of the arts to performers and audience members alike through both high-quality productions and classes, Alsobrook said.

Ultimately, what Alsobrook is trying to do with her nonprofit comes back full circle to her childhood.

“This was my experience growing up as well, is that the arts — whether it’s music, dance, theater — for kids can be


very expensive and sometimes exclusionary depending on what kind of resources or parental involvement you have,” she said. “So, I am very passionate about making sure that every child, regardless of where they come from or what they have, is able to get fully involved with the arts and get all that it can bring.”

A self-proclaimed shy child herself, Alsobrook reflected on the benefits theater provided her while growing up, and

said she wants to share that with the local community. “My involvement with theater brought me so much confidence, as well as community and friends and all those things you want as a kid,” she said. “And I have gotten to see just in the short time that I have done it these children who will come in with social anxiety or loneliness and sadness, and be able to just see how theater and being able to be on the stage working toward telling a story with people

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who become their friends can just brighten them up, bring out their real personality and enjoy all those things. At the heart of it, that is what I want for the theater and for APAC.”

Alsobrook Performing Arts Company is located at 1103 Glenn St. in Opelika. For more information about classes or shows, visit

Jewelry Of A Survivor

By Photos Contributed By Hoop Love Studio

There is a new jewelry store in town. Hoop Love Studio, created and owned by jeweler and artist CyEra Bibbs-Taylor, offers unique and custom jewelry pieces both online and at a physical location at 540 Devall Drive, Suite 101 in Auburn. Bibbs-Taylor is originally from Fayetteville, North Carolina, but moved at 33 years old to start a new life here in Alabama.

While in Auburn, she has discovered a new passion for creating jewelry with beads and wires, she said.

Per the official Hoop Love Studio website, Bibbs-Taylor said that she aims to speak love and the stories of other people through her work.

Bibbs-Taylor was first inclined to open Hoop Love Studio back in 2019, to help cope with the grief surrounding her grandmother’s passing and inspired by their mutual love of making jewelry.

“After my grandmother passed away in 2019, I turned back to creating jewelry because of the grief I had was very heavy,” Bibbs-Taylor said. “Creating the jewelry gives me comfort. Throughout my childhood, my grandmother would give me materials to make jewelry as a means of calming my anxiety and to help heal trauma. Each piece of jewelry I made was unique and gave me an outlet for my pain.”

Bibbs-Taylor said that she was raised by her grandmother for most of her life, and the love and memories of her grandmother inspired her to name the studio “Hoop Love.”

“I chose the name Hoop because the very first piece of jewelry I ever made were hoop earrings,” Bibbs-Taylor said. “I chose to include ‘love’ because of my grandmother’s love for me throughout my whole life.”

Bibbs-Taylor said that she was inspired to open her own jewelry studio to help others who may be going through hard times, such as grief and mental health problems. Bibbs-Taylor is also a member of the deaf and autistic community and said that part of the drive to open her own studio was to connect with other people with disabilities who share the same interests.

She went on to explain that she chose Auburn to open her studio because of the welcoming community and tranquility she has found here.

“I choose the Auburn/Opelika area to open my business because it’s so peaceful here,” Bibbs-Taylor said. “Auburn is such a happy town, and I thought it would be the perfect place for my healing.”

She said she believes that what makes her jewelry so unique is that each piece has a meaning and a deeper story behind it. She also specializes in creating custom pieces to help others tell their stories through her creations.

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CyEra Bibbs-Taylor

“Each jewelry piece that I create has a special meaning behind it.” Bibbs-Taylor said.

Bibbs-Taylor recently made a necklace with a pair of boxing gloves, reminding her that she is a survivor, she said.

“It gives me a reminder that I survive, from beating uterine cancer, beating the odds of childhood abuse, the fight to get my children back home with me full time and beating so many other obstacles as a deaf autistic Black woman.”

Bibbs-Taylor said that she has experienced so many special moments since opening Hoop Love over three years ago and that it is impossible to choose a favorite.

“I have way too many special memories, but the best one has to be the feeling that my grandmother is with me in spirit through the process of this business, and that she is watching over me from the other side.”

Per the official Hoop Love Facebook page, the studio is currently offering curbside pickup, as well as in-store pickup and online classes.

“In addition to jewelry making, we offer online classes such as a basic jewelry design workshop and beginner jewelry designs,” Bibbs-Taylor said.

One thing is for sure, Hoop Love is not planning to slow down anytime soon. BibbsTaylor said that she has several plans in the works for the jewelry studio in 2023.

“I am very excited to be working full time

for Hoop Love in 2023,” Bibbs-Taylor said. “I am also excited to meet new people and continue building a clientele base.”

Bibbs-Taylor said that she also has plans for Hoop Love to attend the upcoming SummerNight art walk event in downtown Auburn.

Not only will Hoop Love be attending more events in the new year, but Bibbs-Taylor is also planning on expanding the jewelry offered in store.

“The next step for me is learning how to do wire wrapping with healing crystals,” Bibbs-Taylor said. “My favorite kind of jewelry to make right now is with wires, beads for necklaces and earrings, but I want to experiment with adding healing crystals.”

Bibbs-Taylor said that one of her favorite aspects of the job is to help her customers’ visions come to life through her handmade creations.

She spoke about a recent client who requested custom matching necklaces inspired by the mythological story of Osiris and Isis.

According to the Albany Institute of History and Art, the story explains how the god and Egyptian king Osiris was killed by his jealous brother Seth, but his wife and the goddess Isis was able to reconstruct his corpse and mummify him, bringing him back to life. Osiris then became the king of the afterlife, but he promised that their son Horus would one day defeat his Uncle Seth to become the protector of the Earth and restore order and peace to the universe.

“These necklaces held a special meaning for my client since she is very interested in Egyptian gods and goddesses,” Bibbs-Taylor said. “They both have charms, and I really enjoyed being able to create those necklaces for them.

“I also have a few special pieces that I have made for myself. I have a necklace made with rose quartz beads and purple pearls that symbolize self-love and surviving domestic violence and childhood abuse. They are a reminder to myself that I have survived through it all and I love myself for that.”

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A ‘Jule’ In Auburn’s Crown

Everyone has their happy place. It might be your childhood home, a dock by the lake, the streets of a bustling city or anywhere with friends or family. It could even be a peaceful meadow you conjure up in your mind.

For me, I find my “happy” in art museums.

If there’s an art museum where I’m going, you can bet it’s on my list of places to visit. There’s just something about wandering through a quiet place where no one’s in a hurry. A place where you can stare at the wall for as long as your heart desires (I’m kidding — kind of). There’s always something new to see, something new to learn, something new to experience.

Alabama alone is full of impressive art museums, and luckily, there’s one right here in Auburn.

The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art is unique in that it’s directly affiliated with Auburn University. In fact, it’s the first accredited university art museum in the state. I’ve driven by it hundreds of times over the years, and it’s always a sight to see on South College Street heading toward campus.

“The Jule,” as it is affectionately called, will celebrate 20 years this October. Though the museum serves to educate and inspire the public at large, it maintains a close partnership with Auburn University, providing students and faculty a way to bring a cultural, artistic or historical lesson to life.

Recently, I paid a long-overdue visit to the museum to see what it had in store. For starters, the museum offers a permanent collection of works spanning six centuries, including standouts such as 19th-century prints by John James Audubon, European


and American art dating back to the 1700s and several pieces from the “Advancing American Art” collection.

“While art of almost any genre and origin is of enormous value to The Jule’s mission, the intent as we grow the collection is to focus on a rounded representation and exploration of voices and interpretations in the southeastern United States, while also seeking to draw parallels to national and international communities,” the museum’s website reads.

As a lover of abstract art, some of my favorite pieces are those by Florence Neal and Maltby Sykes. I always find new details and new interpretations. In contrast, I admire the detail and color in Georgia O’Keeffe paintings and the Audubon prints.

According to the museum’s website, Overboard features nearly 250 sculptures of shoes in the likeness of the iconic Nike Air Jordan 5s. But instead of cloth or leather, Yoder used a wide range of discarded items to craft the shoes, inspired by Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer’s study of ocean currents — a study prompted by the 1990 loss of thousands of Nike shoes en route to the U.S. overseas. Each shoe is unique, and there’s even one that’s Auburn-themed. Peruse the shoes in the atrium and lobby until April 1.

Then there was the Kinsey collection. When I visited the museum in December, employees told me the collection was the largest of its kind, outside of the Smithsonian. The Jule housed just a fraction of it, though one could still easily spend hours

On a beautiful day, it’s also worth walking the trail around the museum and looking at the unique art installations. One doubles as a bike rack, and another as a small playground. And while it’s gone now, I will always remember Alex Podesta’s “Self-Portrait as Bunnies” sticking out of the pond — a little alarming at first, but it gave me a chuckle each time I drove by.

A couple of exhibits I enjoyed in the fall were Andy Yoder’s “Overboard” — a collection of vibrant shoe sculptures — and the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection.

going through it.

In their 50-year marriage, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have collected a wide range of paintings, prints, flyers, sculptures and many more objects reflecting the history of African Americans — focusing mainly on their contributions, achievements and other important milestones dating back several hundred years. A couple pieces I still think about: a quilt handmade by one of the Gee’s Bend women of Wilcox County, Alabama, and a program from the March on Washington — when Martin Luther King Jr.

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gave his famed “I Have a Dream” speech. Each object on display evoked a sense of awe and wonder, and I learned so much in that visit.

While the museum has bid farewell to several of its fall exhibitions, there are a few new exhibits that have recently debuted. The museum was closed from Dec. 31 to Jan. 23 for exhibit changeouts, and these new exhibits are set to be open for the next few months. Below are the descriptions of four of them, courtesy of The Jule.


Jan. 24 to May 7

Nearly 40 works by contemporary artists — with mediums spanning film, sculpture, painting, photography and performance — pose soul-searching questions to the viewer about our identities, beliefs and existence. Artists in this group exhibition include Lala Abaddon, Awol Erizku, Rachel Libeskind and Shikeith, among others, who express and explore physical and unseen ties to one another in this world and the next.



Jan. 24 to May 7

As distinctive as Alabama red clay, pottery and stoneware play a significant role in Southern culture. The 40-plus objects on view are gathered from the university art collection and private lenders. Despite their simplicity, advanced skill is evident. The maker’s creativity elevates functional objects and sheds light on the state and her people for more than 200 years.


Jan. 24 to Aug. 7

In 11 paintings created over the last three years, the Memphisborn artist examines the dubious nature of belonging and home for African Americans in his Blue Sky series. The environments he creates with human and plant life subjects convey a shared space, not a shared experience. Brisco’s selection of companion Audubon etchings addresses time’s fluidity — the effect over the years on an art object and our understanding of the 19th century artist.

One of the shoes from Andy Yoder's "Overboard" collection of vibrant shoe sculptures.


Jan. 24 to May 7

The artist’s conceptual approach differs from Eastern ceramic traditions and Alabama’s historical connections, as seen in Clay Body. Masaomi Yasunaga (Mah-sa-oh-me Ya-su-nah-ga) is a second-generation student of Sodeisha (so-DAY-shah), a postwar avant-garde movement. Translating to “Crawling through Mud Association,” the style counters simple forms used in daily Japanese life. With more than 40 sculptures, the exhibition showcases his ability to push what is possible. This is the artist’s

first solo museum exhibition in the United States.

Next time you’re looking for something to do, or just need a quiet place to think, I hope you’ll consider stopping by The Jule. It’s sure to be an enriching experience.

The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, located at 901 S. College St. in Auburn, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Hours are extended to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. It observes all Auburn University holidays, as well as weather- and emergency-related closures. Admission is free, but donations are always welcome.

To learn more about The Jule, visit

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Saturday, April 22 • 7:30 p.m.

Smokey Robinson Ham Amphitheatre

Student Artist: Bethy Tameru

Grade Level: 12

Title: "Get Out"

Art Teacher: Randalyn Henry Auburn High School

Grade Level: 8

Title: "A Skull"

Art Teacher: Alana Whitehead

Auburn Junior High School

Auburn City Schools Takes On Art

Story And Photos Contributed By Auburn High School

Twenty pieces of art by students from Auburn City Schools (ACS) are being sent to compete in the 2023 State Superintendent’s Visual Art Exhibit (SSVAE). In the first quarter of each year, ACS participates in the SSVAE with the mission of showcasing and celebrating the students’ amazing artistic abilities. This is a statewide competition that typically has approximately 800 submissions from more than 40 school systems in Alabama.

The annual SSVAE will be held in February and in March. The SSVA Secondary Division Exhibit were held Feb. 3 and 4, 2023, and the SSVA Elementary Division Exhibit will be March 3 through 24, 2023. The exhibits of student artwork will be on

public display in the Old Supreme Court Library of the Alabama State Capitol. For hours of operation, please call 334-242-3935

An awards ceremony and reception will occur for all Best of Show, First Place, Second Place, Third Place and Honorable Mention winners and their visual arts instructors. Winning students and their visual arts instructors will be honored on March 8, 2022, at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, Alabama. This competition is sponsored by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) and Alabama Arts License Tag Grant.

ACS wishes all local winners the best of luck at the next level.

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Student Artist: Amanda Nguyen

Student Artist: Kaelyn Coburn

Grade Level: 11

Title: "Emergence"

Art Teacher: Randalyn Henry Auburn High School


Student Artist: Cooper Carlson

Grade Level: 4

Title: "Folk Art Rooster”

Art Teacher: Sarah Goodling Ogletree Elementary School

Student Artist: Siwoo Woo

Grade Level: 6

Title: "Hipster Rabbit”

Art Teacher: Julie Speir

J.F. Drake Middle School


Student Artist: Hayden Meyers

Grade Level: 5

Title: "Patriotic Candle”

Art Teacher: Stuart Daniel Yarbrough Elementary School


Student Artist: Eric Wang

Grade Level: 3

Title: "Two Bees in a Beehive”

Art Teacher: Abby Kuhn

Creekside Elementary School

Student Artist: Marifer Alba

Grade Level: 9

Title: "Bee Triptych"

Art Teacher: Amanda Smith

Auburn Junior High School

Student Artist: David Nguyen

Grade Level: 9

Title: "Pumpkins"

Art Teacher: Amanda Smith

Auburn Junior High School

Student Artist: Grace Heo

Grade Level: K

Title: “Lady in Green”

Art Teacher: Andrea Newman

Dean Road Elementary School

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The Plains In Watercolor

With almost 35 years under her belt, Leslie Brasher, of the Auburn-Opelika area has led a fulfilling life as a local artist.

Originally from Huntsville, Brasher attended Auburn University in pursuit of a career outside of what she would eventually find herself doing.

“I came off to Auburn and started on a different path, and changed my major a couple of times,” Brasher said. “I ended up in art and got my degree at Auburn.”

While she did not start in art, art was far from a foreign subject to Brasher. She said that both her mother and her paternal grandfather were professional watercolorists, which is the field of art that she enjoys most. This early exposure to art was key to Brasher’s later inspiration to follow in her family’s footsteps.

In her over three decades working as an artist, Brasher said nature is a driving force in inspiring her to sit down and paint. From flowers to landscapes, Brasher has discovered that the beauty of the natural world holds unlimited potential for what she can put upon a canvas.

“Although I do house portraits and pet portraits, which I really

enjoy, as far as me just painting what I want to paint, nature and landscapes and just natural things [are what I enjoy most],” Brasher said.

Brasher is an avid user of traditional watercolor in her paintings. She said that even after branching out into other painting forms and styles, she always finds herself going back to her roots in watercolor.

Through the years, Brasher has also developed a process to paint effectively and that pushes her to continue to grow as an artist.

“There are two things [that I do to start my creative process],” she said. “One is that I go with a group and paint outdoors every once in a while, but I don’t do that very often. I do that primarily to improve my skills because I feel like I’m a much better studio painter.”

Her studio is where her primary creative process takes place. She said she felt most accomplished in her studio work, and here, Brasher begins with a reference photo that she has taken in the past.

For Brasher, the right photo is the one that inspires her in the


moment and makes her feel like it’s something worthy of being put on paper. Following this, she takes a watercolor block, which is “paper that’s glued down on three sides so that it stays flat when you paint on it.”

This watercolor block is key to her style of painting because of the water-based medium she is putting on the paper. The block, according to Brasher, keeps her canvas from buckling.

She starts to lay out her vision on the paper by drawing a basic outline; however, she does use a more detailed outline depending on the complexity of her subject.

“Typically, I start with the background for a watercolor because I like to get large areas done first,” Brasher said.

Brasher then explained how important it is to go from light colors to dark colors when doing watercolor.

“Since traditional watercolor is transparent, it’s hard to go back over something dark and make it lighter,” Brasher said. “It’s just difficult, so the typical process is to go from light to dark.”

Throughout her painting, Brasher will go through with her lighter paints and fill lighter areas in first. As she begins to add layers to the paint, she has to determine if she will wait for an area to dry or if she will add a new layer while it is still wet. She said that while it may not sound like it would create a difference, these two processes produce very different outcomes.

For the initial paint job, Brasher works from large to small and from light to dark, but she is tasked with more after it finally dries. Once the initial, basic outline has been painted, Brasher adds in the finer details that will eventually make her painting pop with life and subtlety.

Once she has added in details throughout and deepened the contrast of certain areas so it is more appealing in certain lighting, Brasher takes a break and hangs the painting up somewhere.

“Usually, I set it up on a shelf and walk away for a while in between stages,” Brasher said. “[Then] I can walk back in and see, ‘Well that needs to be strengthened over there.’

I’ll pick it back up and take it to my table and add more darks in certain areas so that it shows up better at a distance.”

Finally, Brasher will sign her piece and take a high-resolution

photo of her work so that she can create prints of it and frame the final product.

Brasher’s work has been featured in art shows, but most in Auburn can also see her work in a more familiar place. Many of Brasher’s Auburn scenes can be seen and bought in J&M Bookstore on College Street. In fact, she said that her art in the store is among the art of other local artists that J&M puts up for sale.

While Brasher clearly loves art with a passion, she said her love of it stems from a deeper place — a place of peace and solitude.

“While I’m painting, I typically have a sense of peace,” she said. “[The] things that are worrying me, or might worry me or have been on my mind can kind of be pushed out of the way, and I can focus on what I’m doing. It’s just a very peaceful and relaxing thing.”

Brasher has experienced peace through art, but she also said she loves art because of the people it has allowed her to meet, ranging from fellow artists at art shows to customers who have been visibly touched by her work.

“One of the things that I have enjoyed the most has been meeting people when I go to art shows and having conversations with people who come and look at my art,” Brasher said. “[We] develop friendships. I really love that.”

Among moments that stand out in her career, Brasher noted the feeling she gets when customers who are buying pet portraits in memoriam see the final product. She said that knowing her work can impact others and make them feel happiness drives her to carry on with her art.

Brasher expressed gratitude for those who have supported her throughout the years and who consume and enjoy the art that she works so hard to create.

“It’s humbling, and I feel honored to know that people want to own a piece of my artwork and hang it in their home or give it as a gift,” Brasher said. “I am very honored and humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to do something I love that also makes other people happy.”

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461 Opelika Road, Ste. A, Auburn 334-502-8848 Je�fery A. Hilyer, Attorney at Law and Certifed Public Accountant Jackie H. Moon, CPA Erin K. Arrington, CPA H. David Ennis, SR., CPA Gri���n T. Clark, CPA Doug N. Bar��eld, CPA 614 2nd Ave, Opelika, AL 36801 334-745-2564 Hilyer & Associates, CPAs

Creating Is A Part Of Life

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By Natalie Salvatore Photos Contributed By Melissa Giddens

Using her passion and more than 20 years of experience in creating and teaching art, Michelle Giddens continues to inspire creativity and learning in the Auburn-Opelika community and beyond. Michelle Giddens Art is a home-based art business that creates custom-made art for homes and businesses, contributes to corporate events, can provide live paintings for weddings or bride bouquets, as well as for different types of social and student groups.

Giddens herself is not only a painter and color enthusiast, but also a teacher, wife and mother living in Auburn. Her different experiences and roles in her life have come together in making her business what it is today. After opening her original business in 2015, a brick-and-mortar art studio offering parties and art classes for all ages, she closed the studio in 2021 to work on her passion out of her home instead.

With her three boys and busy family life, she felt it was


time to switch gears. She creates her own art, as well as commissions, and hosts painting events.

“Creating is a necessary part of my life,” she said. Not only is creativity at the center of her work-life, but it also is prevalent in her personal life.

Giddens said the artist in her comes out when she paints flowers and birds on her family farm or when she generally makes “creative messes” in other aspects of her life.

Giddens’ passion for art is reflected in her education. She earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Art Education from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as a K-12 Art Alabama Professional Educators Certificate.

She originally decided to open her business after many parents had approached her to start teaching after-school art classes or begin offering summer art camps and birthday parties.

Giddens took their suggestions to heart. With her business, she offers birthday parties where the birthday child and their guests have a chance to create art and can select from a range of art project options on premium art paper or canvas. Parents can choose the location, or Giddens can bring everything to them.

Her painting parties bring groups together to achieve a common goal of completing an art project. Giddens supplies

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Michelle Giddons

the materials and facilitates everything so artists can learn, grow and have fun. Expanding on her commission work, Giddens creates custom works of art and enjoys the entire process of interacting with her customers to bring a bit of her creativity into their homes through different pieces.

“I knew there was a creative need in our community, and I had the tools, knowledge and resources to fulfill it,” Giddens said. “Much has changed over the years, but I am proud of where I began and where it has led me now.”

An example of Giddens’ impact in the local community is when last year, Auburn UPC commissioned her to lead a

campus painting event of Aubie the Tiger.

“I had the opportunity to teach students how to paint Aubie and paint with the legend himself,” she said. “It was a huge success. I have since had the original painting licensed by Auburn University and available for sale.”

Michelle Giddens Art is a place to find personal, heartfelt pieces of art, as well as a welcoming and inspirational place to grow as an artist yourself.

For inquiries or information on bookings, prices, galleries, shopping and more, visit www.michellegiddensart. com, or email @michellegiddensart.


Out Of The Garage ... Onto The Stage

Jay Leno performed at Auburn University’s Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center on Jan. 9. Leno was welcomed by Executive Director Chris Heacox and was preceded by two a cappella groups at Auburn University, Full AUctave and MelAUdic.

Photos By Hannah Lester
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A Mind For Design

There are some designs that just stand the test of time. From fancy fonts and bold backgrounds to playful patterns and colorful cutouts, art and design are everpresent in the world around us.

To an outsider, the tiny town of Waverly, Alabama, appears pretty unassuming; with a population of less than 200 people, there isn’t much more than a few scattered houses and a strip of small businesses on the main road.

It might come as a surprise, then, that it is also home to a print shop whose designs reach beyond county, state and even national lines.

Standard Deluxe Inc. does a little bit of everything — though Scott Peek, owner of the hybrid print shop and popular music venue, said many of the shop’s designs are rooted in southern styles.

“I like old southern signage and advertising — like old signs and typography,” he said. “… I like a wild mix of styles —

somehow there seems to be some sort of a ‘look’ that Standard Deluxe has that’s sort of a throwback, kind of vintage look.”

Standard Deluxe got its start in 1991 when Peek and a couple friends decided to establish a vessel for their artistic passions.

Peek had begun dabbling in screen printing as a teenager in 1982 and graduated from Auburn University a few years later with a degree in design; by the late 1980s he had a T-shirt line with an Auburn-based screen printing company.

“I was always interested in art, from childhood through high school, so it seemed fun,” he said. “My family — my parents — are artistic in different ways, so since I was a kid, you know, going through school and stuff, I was always the doodler or the person who makes somebody’s sign or design.”

What started as a hobby had evolved into Peek’s main area of study — and a way for him to make a little extra cash during college. But opening Standard Deluxe gave him even more room to branch out and grow his own screen printing business.


By the end of the ‘90s, however, Peek said the group had dwindled down to just one. His friends and business partners moved on to pursue other things, so Peek was left as the sole owner of the business — and it’s been that way ever since.

While many southerners have come to know Standard Deluxe for its music side — including popular festivals like the Old 280 Boogie in spring and Fall Boogie in autumn — Peek maintains that the print shop is at the forefront of its offerings.

“One of the main things that we do is we’re a print shop for bands, business, individuals, designers and artists, so that’s sort of our main gig,” he said. “We sell our own designs, and we do design work for other people, but we also print for other people — businesses and all kinds of stuff.”

A peek at the print shop portfolio reveals a sampling of designs for The Civil Wars, Dawes, Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood and James McMurtry, among many others.

“We print for people all over the country,” Peek said. “We still print for some folks in the Caribbean — you know, it’s just different every week.”

But Standard Deluxe has also printed for plenty of local clients.

“We print for Russ [Baggett, owner] over at 10,000 Hz. Records,” Peek noted. “We print his shirts, … a lot of local bands and … we print shirts for Auburn Hardware, and they sell some of our designs.”

The Standard Deluxe online store also offers T-shirts honoring the beloved War Eagle Supper Club, Auburn University’s “Cow College” nickname, the iconic Freewheeler bicycle mural in downtown Auburn and, of course, Standard Deluxe.

Another favorite: the “Hangin’ Out in Alabama” tea towel, which depicts some opossums hanging from a tree branch.

And while Peek’s first love is designing, he said he has taken a bit of a back seat to that part of the process as he’s partnered with freelance designers over the years.

“I’m more a creative director these days than hands-on designing, [but] I still have my eye on things,” he said.

A majority of modern designers use staple programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to craft their designs. While Peek said he doesn’t have a specific program or method he uses for his own designs, he’s always been a fan of the old-school, by-hand designing. Still, he acknowledges that computers and software have made the job of a screen printer a lot easier.

“We started out doing most everything by hand,” Peek recalled. “… Things changed with the computers, so … I would say a lot of stuff’s done on the computer. It may be drawn — some stuff may be hand-drawn — but probably eight or nine times out of 10, the designer’s working on a computer doing their stuff.”

These days, Standard Deluxe offers a wide range of printing options for anyone in need of a big job.

According to its website, clients can request screen printing services for everything from sweatpants, tote bags and bandanas to a variety of T-shirts — for humans and even dogs. The minimum quantity for an order is 48 pieces, but larger quantities are welcomed.

“After being in business for over 30 years … thankfully we’ve got a lot of regular clients — record stores and artists and bands, and different festivals that we work with from year to year,” Peek said.

And it’s easy to see why: The print shop handles each job with care and does its best to accommodate each request.

“Whether it’s 100 pieces or 5,000, each product is handled by live human hands and spot checked for that extra-fine quality that you’ve come to expect from Standard Deluxe,” the website reads.

Since its early days, Standard Deluxe has achieved its fair share of recognition from all over, but for Peek, Standard Deluxe is about doing what he loves and being authentic about it. At the end of the day, celebrating art is at the heart of it all.

“I just consider myself an artist, really, not a designer,” Peek said.

Standard Deluxe is located at 1015 Mayberry Ave. in Waverly. For more information, visit

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Finding Passion

Story By Hannah Lester Photos Contributed By Katelyn Nelson

Some people begin to read for the goal of reading and lose the love of books. Others take up running and find that soon it is more of a chore than a joy.

For Katelyn Nelson — she wants to make sure that her art remains a passion.

“It is really something I love to do in my free time,” she said.

Nelson has been creating for over 10 years; she shares her work on a Facebook page (Art By Katelyn Nelson - Yellow Heart Art Studios).

However, while she has sold some work, Nelson prefers to think of art as a passion project, rather than a business, she said. She started Yellow Heart Art after 2020 when many people had more free time for hobbies.

“I actually started with Facebook and I created a great little following, just friends and family, just to share some of my projects I’ve been working on,” Nelson said.

But unfortunately, the account was hacked — so a new page was just begun this past year.

Mostly, with her art, Nelson said she gifts it, rather than sells it.

“I do a lot around the holidays,” she said. “And I do a good bit for friends and family based on where they are in their lives, and what may inspire them or where they’ve traveled.”

Nelson said she enjoys painting mountain ranges, sunsets and silhouettes.

But often others enjoy things they are familiar with, such as Smith Mountain.

She currently has a painting of Smith Mountain in her home that was done in tribute to a friend who passed away; Nelson said this is one she wants to hang onto, rather than give away.

“People are really familiar with the pine trees — the Lake Martin landscapes — so people immediately recognize the landmark from there,” she said..

Nelson prefers not to sell her art.

“I just don’t want to take the joy away from it,” she said. “And so right now it’s truly, like a true hobby for me. It’s something that really I enjoy, and I want in the future to be able to continue to enjoy that. If it grows, great, you know, I never complain about growth.”

Nelson encouraged new artists to paint or create what they enjoy.

“Go with what comes easy to you, and kind of lean into that,” she said. “Because that’s really where you’re going to find true joy in what you’re creating and just knowing that there are no limits on what you can do.”

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Katelyn Nelson

Simply Chaotic

Southern Chaotic Charm was the goal of a mom who wanted to stay home with her children while also providing an outlet to be productive and be creative.

“I am a stay-at-home mom; I have two children, one who is autistic,” said April Hardy, owner of Southern Chaotic Charm.

Art has been a part of Hardy’s life since she was in high

school. She took a class with a teacher who was, rather than encouraging, degrading.

“She was like, ‘You can’t draw,’” Hardy said. “And I was like, ‘OK, but there’s other forms of art that you can do.’”

Hardy said that in college she really picked up on crafting.

“And within the past 13 years, since my daughter, I


really got to where I was like, we need stuff for decor, and you go out and buy stuff, and I was like, ‘I could have made that,’” she said. “And it’s blossomed from there.”

Those first few projects included things like a door hanging for her daughter’s room, hooks, her name spelled out, etc.

“Current projects that I work on is not only home decor, but I also do T-shirts, I do dance bags, makeup bags, anything that people can use in their daily lives as well as for their kids to wear or to put in their rooms,” she said.

Hardy said that while her art is a therapeutic outlet for her, it also allows her to make her own schedule and be at

home with her children.

“I knew that I needed a way that work could work around [her son’s] schedule, not him work around me,” she said. “… I love that I not only get to share the different things that I’m creating with him, but the memories that it gives me to be able to have that time with [my children] because you can’t ever get time back.”

Hardy said that she enjoys being able to take a customer’s vision for a product and make it real, and make it her own.

“I usually ask them to send me a few different projects they’ve come across and reasons why they like that, and I

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usually have them give me at least five different designs — that way I can kind of pull a little from each of what they’re looking for,” she said.

This involves the customer in the process, she said.

“You can’t always please everybody, but you always find a way to say, ‘I can’t exactly do it this way because then that’s stealing from somebody else, but let me help you see a different way of doing something,’” she said.

Hardy said that she is the most creative when she is getting back to why she started in the first place.

“Never give up, always keep pushing for what you want to do,” she said. “Don’t let somebody tell you you can’t do it. Always say, ‘OK, you say I can’t, but I say I can.’”

Find Hardy at Southern Chaotic Charm on Facebook at

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The Family Business

Art can be many things. It can be a creative outlet, a way to express thoughts and emotions, the perfect addition to liven up a room and much more. For Vicki Sexton, local Lee County resident, it’s the family business.

Sexton, a Beulah native, has spent most of her life loving art; what started as a hobby quickly developed into a way to play and interact with her children, and now it’s a permanent part of her family’s life.

“I have always been crafty, and always liked to paint,” Sexton said. “Just going through life, I have always looked at ways I could upcycle or make something more appealing, even if it’s just in my own mind.

“When my kids were growing up and I was just a mom, I would play around with this craft and that,” Sexton continued. “I always gave my kids craft kits when they were little and encouraged their creativity.

“Last year, I saw a DIY resin tree with lights in it and asked the kids if they wanted to try some resin work. With my daughter, it just stuck.

“We have bought lots of molds, mostly for jewelry, and we have glitter coming out of our ears.”

Sexton said that while she had always enjoyed art, she had never considered it a viable source of income until her sister asked her to paint an original piece for her, building her confidence.

“Since then, I have done a few murals and many, many more

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Vicki and Phoebe Sextion

paintings,” Sexton said. “Now people pay me to make stuff for them. It may be a wreath or a wall hanging. Gnomes are hot right now, actually, and I love them too, so I make a lot of them.”

This all started with Sexton’s youngest child, Brody. They made Christmas trees as gifts, then her daughter, Phoebe, became interested and it stuck with her.

Sexton said that while her strengths are in painting and crafts, Phoebe is talented at drawing and sketching, making them the perfect partners.

“She is pretty dang good at [drawing] — I know this sounds crazy, but I really can’t draw,” Sexton said. “Shading and highlighting without color makes no sense to me, but Phoebe has that down.

“I remember in high school, we had an art class for a minute; the instructor wanted us to choose a piece from an art magazine to recreate as our final project. I chose a self-portrait with lots of bright colors and no flesh tones. I never did finish it, but the teacher gave me a 100 because of the accuracy and time I spent on it.”

Sexton said that she still has trouble with drawing people and sketches with no colors, but luckily her daughter Phoebe’s talent more than makes up for it.

While her son, Riley, does not share the same interest in crafts, Sexton said he brings some of his own creativity to their family in other ways.

“He is currently pursuing his education and a career in computer animation,” Sexton said. “While you will probably never see his creativity in my shop, you will probably see it on the big screen one day.”

Sexton said that her own mother, who is also an artist, inspired

her love for art and anything involving a paintbrush, and it has been the biggest blessing to have the opportunity to run her business with her daughter.

“Shopping for new molds and pretty things to put in the resin is fun, and did I mention the amount of glitter?” Sexton said. “It’s not all rainbows and butterflies — teenagers can lack motivation sometimes. It takes some nagging and encouragement sometimes. And then there is a balancing act between encouragement and nagging. I never want to force her to fill an order because I want her to want to do this.”

As of right now, the business is strictly on social media, specifically Facebook, and focuses largely on jewelry, hair clips and accessories. However, Sexton said that she hopes to redirect her work back to painting in 2023, as that is where her true passion lies.

“Phoebe hopes to do some bigger pieces like trays, trinket boxes and coaster sets this year,” Sexton said. “She is also getting ready to try her hand at crocheting little stuffed animals.”

Sexton said that she also plans to expand the social media outreach of the business in 2023.

“We are going to start promoting with more content on social media, like clips of us actually creating art and resin pieces, and we want to start an actual online store,” Sexton said. “Our interests and abilities are vast and ever-expanding. I feel that our craft business will be fluid and constantly change to fit those interest and abilities, but I will always do customer work as well.”

Sexton said that she has had many fond memories since opening the business, but her favorite has been watching her daughter’s confidence and passion for art grow.


“I love watching that moment of ‘Hey, I made this and someone else actually likes what I made,’” Sexton said. “We love working craft shows together too, although we do butt heads on those early morning set-ups when we would rather be still

sleeping.” “It always comes together though, and I think she enjoys seeing people admire her work as much as I do.” Photos of their work can be seen on Facebook at HappyCanvasArt.

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Price sells Walker Mowers, Grasshopper Mowers, Toro Zero Turns, Toro Pushmowers, Echo Professional Equipment, and Shindaiwa Products. We also have parts for Briggs & Stratton Engines, Kohler Engines, MTD, AYP, Snapper, Grasshopper, Walker, Toro, Redmax, Echo, Shindaiwai and etc. 20 Samford Avenue, Opelika 334-742-8011 Small Engines Servicing Dealer. We sell and service lawn mowers and two-cycle equipment. Need Small Engine parts? Give us a call!

Sculpting In Mind

If you’re anything like me, then your kitchen cabinets are filled with pottery. Plates, bowls, tumblers, you name it. Now, you may be nothing like me. But, if you’d like to stock up on more pottery — local potter Janis Davis is ready to liven up your collection.

“I work as an art teacher at Beulah in Valley, Alabama,” Davis said. “This is my 18th year teaching but only my eighth in art. I make wheel-thrown and hand-built functional pottery. I started working with clay in the early ‘80s when I started hanging out at my now mother-in-law’s (Pat Davis) pottery studio. I learned to throw on the wheel and work with clay hanging out there.”

Her future mother-in-law would invite Davis to come along to her art shows and offered to allow her to sell her work, too.

“To keep from being in competition with each other by making similar pieces, I started putting characters on my pieces,” Davis said. “We went to many shows; in fact, my sales helped pay my way through college. I quit making pottery when I started teaching but got back into it a few years

ago when Pat asked me to make some soup bowls to donate for a charity that the Dempsey Center in Opelika (Parks and Recreation) was hosting. I made many character bowls for that function.

“People seemed to love my pieces. So [I] started making pottery again when I was off in the summer.”

Originally, some of these “characters” were just a man, cow and pig, Davis said. But as her pottery grew, she started being asked for other things.

“I have learned that people collect a lot of different animals, so I kept experimenting with new designs,” she said. “Every time I think I have those collectors covered, someone will ask for something different. I am not sure how many different characters I have done, but I do know my most recent design was a hippo.

“I love to make the characters, but this year I believe my favorite item to make has been platters and pie plates. For years I struggled to make platters and plates, but I watched a tip on YouTube one day and thought I would try it. I was giddy with

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Photos Contributed By Janis Davis

how easy it was after using the tip. Now, I want to make them all the time.”

Pottery was not her go-to as a child, but that’s to be expected. No child that I know has easy access to pottery.

“I loved to draw when I was a child,” Davis said. “I would often be the person who would draw whenever we did projects at school.”

The pottery turned into more of a business when Davis’ church was having a vendor sale, she said. She was making more and more items and working from the Dempsey Center. But as the number of items increased, Davis said she felt she

needed to start working from her home studio.

“When we were making and selling at craft fairs in the past, we had two big gas kilns,” she said. “We have not run those kilns in 20 years. The propane gas tanks were long removed, and frankly, I was scared to use them again. So Pat and I decided to get a new electric kiln. I got my new kiln in October, and added shelving to my studio to display my pottery on.

“I posted on Facebook about my studio and received a lot of feedback, and many people came to shop. Word of mouth brought more customers. We did extremely well during the Christmas season. I am still new at this business thing, so I


am figuring it out as it is happening. I am very thankful for the wonderful turnout and the love I have received from my customers.”

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Find Davis on Facebook at: php?id=100088226319147.
Janis Davis

Around Town With Shaye Baker

For some reason, this bass-fishing country boy from small town USA has had a propensity for writing poetry since I was very young. I remember one poem in particular that I wrote when I was around 11, entitled “What’s the world coming to?”, in which I discussed several of the socioeconomic struggles that were happening in the world at the time. Go figure.

As I got a little older, my muse shifted from the world around me to the world within, one fraught with romantic mishaps and failed relationships. A longing for true love, looking for something that I couldn’t even identify if it walked up and punched me in the face.

Here’s a broken-hearted ballad from my college years.

Two Pillows

Why are there two pillows

On a bed made for one?

It seems a bit redundant, But I’ll leave it just for fun.

Someday it may be useful, Should the other I misplace. Meanwhile it’s nice to hold, And at times dry my face.

Yeah, I was hurting for certain. Here’s another banger.


Love without pain

Simply superficial

Like a velvet rose

Nice, but artificial

Authentic to the eye

Seemingly so real

Only true difference

Found in the feel

Like I said, I was brokenhearted, and I was searching for something or someone to fix me. My biggest mistake, I was looking for the right girl to fix me, instead of the right God. That led to more dead-end roads and romances than I care to recount. And a lot of writing from a broken heart.

But now, God has me on the mend, writing from a whole and healed heart, full of love for those around me. A heart looking to give, instead of one constantly taking. Writing from a whole heart instead of a broken one is a beautiful thing. Much more enjoyable for me, at least. Here’s my latest, written a few weeks ago, entitled “Rebel with a Cause.” It’s about the hero who set my heart straight.

Rebel with a Cause

I always bucked the system, conformity was not my deal. Not a fan of the status quo, so for me, it was hard to kneel.

Anti-establishment, yes, about me some might say. But I always could tell, there was a better way.

Though I knew that, still, for awhile I was quite lost.

And not going along often comes at a cost.

So finally, I caved. Caution to the wind I hurled. Adapted to the system, the ways of the world.

I drank, I ate, I racked up debt. Abandoned my morals and tried to forget.

Forgot the desire to be different. Put that old me in the past.

Traded it in for acceptance,

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as a member of the mass.

And I was rewarded too, with temporary success. But still I was left wanting, my soul a miserable mess.

I chased my dreams and caught a few, unhappy all same.

The world called out but I just knew, it didn’t know my name.

I went the way of the world, and made it work a while. But still there was a void, each day, forcing a smile.

Then I read about a rebel, and heard the old familiar call, to be different and set apart, to be a rebel after all.

But behind this rebel was a reason. He didn’t do it just for

spite. He entered into a dark world, Heaven bent on bringing light.

I read about this rebel’s friends, walking and picking heads of grain, while the establishment looked on, with utter and absolute distain.

This rebel came to their defense, and it bolstered something inside, a desire to fight the system, I thought had long since died.

I read about this righteous rebel, so innocent and true. And he invited me to be a rebel, same as he does each of you.

“The world will hate you,” He told me loud and clear. “But it hated me first, and I overcame. So take heart and have no fear.”

If I’d adopt this rebel’s cause, a purpose, my life, he’d give. A reason beyond myself, a calling worthy to live.

“I’ve called you to be different. In this world, set apart. It’s why you long for purpose, inside your broken heart.”

This rebel had a lot to say, but His message was oh so clear. He knew this world didn’t work, and that’s why He was here.

To make a way through the dark,

a way through the wilderness, inviting me on that path, and offering his forgiveness.

If I’d just believe in Him and say, that His was the one true path, He’d take me in, never let me go, and I’d escape all the wrath.

Suddenly the rebel I once was, was up and at it again. But this rebel now bore a cross, in exchange for his sin.

A yoke so easy, a burden so light, my only assignment, to shed some light.

To go out into the world, and do it without pause. So, happily here I am, a rebel with a cause.


A Poet’s Dream Comes True

Auburn resident Robert Wilson has always dreamed of getting his poems published. That dream has now become a reality.

Since Wilson sat down and wrote his first poem in 1968, he has amassed a collection of over 400 short stories. About 90% of his poems “can be read from behind the pulpit,” Wilson said, as many of his poems carry a religious theme throughout.

“It’s best you go in the bathroom and lock the door,” Wilson said about the other 10% of his poems.

Always a poet at heart, Wilson hasn’t always been a poet in reality. From 1956 to 1960, Wilson was a gunner in the U.S. Navy.

“I am wearing a Navy hat, but I am an Alabama fan,” he joked.

Wilson’s time in the service took him overseas, where he experienced cultures “that no black man had seen” at that time.

“I enjoyed [my time in the Navy], but I didn’t like it enough to stay in,” Wilson said. “I got to see the world, see a lot of places I wouldn’t have seen, met a lot people I wouldn’t have met.”

Deciding that he did not want to spend his entire career in the service, Wilson traveled to New York City shortly after exiting the Navy in 1960. It was there that he worked for NBC Studios at the famous Rockefeller Plaza for eight years.

Following his time in the Big Apple, Wilson moved to Opelika and got a job at Uniroyal Tire Company.

“That was the highest paying job around here at that time,” Wilson said.

He would spend the better part of 25 years there before retiring. With no job and extra free time, Wilson really began to dig into his poetry.

Wilson said his first poem was about traveling through outer space. It was short, he said. But his overall collection of poems range from one verse to 130.

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“After that, I started writing about different things,” Wilson said.

Today, Wilson typically writes his poem at night, as the world stills around him.

“I can be lying in bed at night, thinking, and get up and write two or three stories,” he said.

Having his poems published would “mean a lot,” to Wilson, he said. But what he told Maegan Hamner, employee at Monarch Estates — the assisted living center where Wilson lives — more accurately expresses the heart of the poet’s excitement.

“After I told Mr. Wilson that his poems might be featured in a newspaper or magazine, he said, ‘I’m going to be famous,’” Hamner said.


Trinity's Drama Club put on its first full-length Broadway musical over the first weekend in February. The show included a live orchestra, directed by Thomas Smith. All three of the performances were delivered to a sold-out audience.

The director, Drury Bell, said, “It has been a blessing to work with these students and watch them grow over the past few months. Throughout the process, I have been impressed over and over again by their effort, talents and ideas as we have put the show together.”

Musical director, Carolyn Boone said, “I am so incredibly grateful for a very talented group of students. The Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to share their gifts to our community.”

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Mr. Crab

Story By Hannah Lester Photos Contributed By Emily Cordon

Emily Cordon is one of the world’s newest authors. This past fall, she debuted her first children’s book — “Mr. Crab’s Dream Island.”

Cordon is originally from Daphne, Alabama, and is an Auburn University alumna (joining the ranks of many other accomplished alumni).

Cordon was not one of those children who dreamed of publishing a book. In fact, at Auburn, she originally studied fashion design. She decided to go into English education, though eventually, she hopes to be an art teacher.

However, it was one well-placed high school assignment that was enough to bring Mr. Crab to life.

“It was an art project my senior year of high school,” she said “I’ve always kept it; my mom always wanted me to keep it. I never really liked it that much, and of course, my mom was like. ‘You need to publish it.’ But of course, your parents are always biased.”

Cordon moved from Auburn to Fairhope, Alabama, to be near her parents, after teaching at Beauregard High School and Auburn Junior High. Since the move, Cordon has been working with the Baldwin County School System, teaching English and serving as a substitute.

Cordon heard about Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, and that is how she decided to publish “Mr. Crab’s Dream Island.” Since


she already had the book, all she had to do was type the book and take pictures of her art. The process took all of one week.

“Because it was more of a simple, self-publishing thing, I have other pieces that I have written that I would also like to publish in the future as well,” she said.

Cordon said she’d like to publish some of her poems, one of which is about the ever-famous Kick-Six.

The new author said she has sold several copies of the children’s book on Amazon, as well as many personally to people.

“I’ve done two book signings and book readings at Barnes & Noble in Spanish Fort,” she said. “… And those went really well.”

She also participated in a book signing at Page and Palette and will be participating in an author showcase at Fantasy Toy Island in Fairhope.

Cordon received her art teaching certificate in 2021, so she’s on her way to her dream of being an art teacher — and perhaps more publishing.

She may continue Mr. Crab’s adventure too, though.

Cordon said that she has received a lot of support from the Auburn community.

“… I’ve had a lot of good support.”

The book is also now available in the Auburn University Bookstore.

“It’s definitely full circle,” she said. “It’s really awesome, very humbling … it’s definitely very surreal for me that that is happening. It’s definitely like a dream come true.”

Her mom, Grace Cordon, has been very supportive — just as she was when Cordon was in high school.

“As Emily’s mother, I’ve always known ‘Mr. Crab’s Dream Island’ should be published,” her mom said. “Now, I’m so excited about the book. Watching children looking at the pictures and taking an interest in it makes me so happy. I knew it was a winner.”

Overall, Cordon has done with this book what she does with teaching — encourage children. In fact, she left the back pages of “Mr. Crab’s Dream Island” blank so that children could draw their own fantasies.

“Success for me means that this book is in some little way impacting a child’s life and encouraging a child that all dreams are possible,” Cordon said. “Just reading this book to children and being able to share this book with family members and friends is a dream come true to me.”

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