WALTER Magazine - June 2021

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The Art & Soul of Raleigh

JUNE 2021




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Volume IX, Issue 9




Q&A: Virtual Virtuoso Jacqueline Wolborosky’s talents


SIMPLE LIFE: Kid of Wonder Maintaining a child’s heart


LOCALS: Family Ties Five sisters, all in their 90s


NOTED: A Beautiful Entry A wedding writer’s first encounter


MUSIC: Road Warriors Southern Cuture on the Skids


SHOP: Oxfords to Heirlooms Turning shirts into children’s clothing


CREATORS: Live from The Burrow A visit with Chatham Rabbits


HISTORY: Fairy Lands The myths of wee folk in Carolina


Editor’s Letter




Your Feedback




The Whirl


End Note

On the cover: flowers inside Morgan Moylan’s studio; photography by Workshop Media


Samantha Everette (HAYES SISTERS); S.P. Murray (SEWING)

JUNE 2021


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Butterfly Lexicon by Ashley Memory illustration by Lyudmila Tomova


Ideas Blossom Art in Bloom challenges floral designers to rethink their craft by Hampton Williams Hofer photography by Workshop Media


82 10 | WALTER

Little Gem A smart renovation doubles the size of a Five Points home by Ayn-Monique Klahre photography by Tyler Cunningham


A Delicious Homecoming A Southern food destination by Addie Ladner photography by Bert VanderVeen


Through Her Lens Photographer Kennedi Carter captures intimacy with heart by Colony Little photography by Christopher Wilson


Words of Wisdom Outdoorsman T. Edward Nickens by Josh Klahre photography by Joshua Steadman

Bert VanderVeen (SMOKEHOUSE); Joshua Steadman (NICKENS)



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I had the pleasure of meeting Austin and Sarah McCombie of Chatham Rabbits back in April (read about them on page 38). Fun fact: Sarah was, once upon a time, a WALTER intern!


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n a funny bit of nepotism, one of our stories this month, Words of Wisdom (pg. 82), is about the husband of a WALTER staffer … and it’s written by the husband of another staffer. One of those men is my husband, Josh. When we first met, he was working as a freelance writer, penning articles for magazines like GQ and Interview about, among other things, dating, dogs, and celebrities. Once, he dressed up as a mermaid to try to meet women at the beach. Luckily for him, this was in the early days of the internet, so you can’t Google the photos (but I’ve got the hard copies). And luckily for me, it didn’t work. Since those days, he —and we — have been through career shifts and other major life events. Even in our own little universe, Josh’s role has expanded, from boyfriend, to best friend, to husband, to father. He’s worn many hats: babyshusher and pancake-maker and storyteller and soccer coach. Because of Josh, our daughters are versed in songs from Vampire Weekend to The Beatles to Grimes. (And he’s probably slapping himself on the head that I didn’t choose bands that give him any cred — if it were up to me, we’d probably only listen to Taylor Swift and the soundtrack to Cats.) Because of Josh, our girls are fearless on a zipline and expert bikers. They can fish, camp, whittle, and shoot a bow and ar-

row, remarkably well. They are witty and sarcastic and actually kind of cool. Pretty sure those traits didn’t come from this side of the family. Josh had big shoes to fill and some headwind to work against, I’m a bit of a “Daddy’s Girl” myself. My father, Frank, is a kind, smart man, a hard worker, and supremely disciplined (though he’s softening up a bit in his older age). And without getting into it too much, let’s just say I inherited from him a strong sense of always knowing the exact right way to do things. If we’re lucky, our partners in life serve as a counterpoint and balance. They help smooth our edges and raise our intellects. If we’re really lucky, our partners in raising children do the same, offering another perspective on life within our safe little world, so our kids can use both to develop their own personalities. I count myself among the really lucky. Thanks, Josh and Dad, for being role models for your daughters. And to all the dads, grandfathers, and father figures out there: Happy Father’s Day. May your days be filled with love, gratitude, and fun.

Ayn-Monique Klahre Editor






JUNE 2021



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DAVID MENCONI / W R I TE R The 2019 North Carolina Piedmont Laureate, David Menconi has been writing about local music for more than 30 years – most recently with the award-winning 2020 book Step It Up & Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music. He spent 28 years at The News & Observer, where Chapel Hill’s Southern Culture on the Skids was a favorite recurrent story subject. “Don’t let the trailerpark vibes fool you, they are one smart bunch.”

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CATE DOTY / WR I T ER Cate Doty is a writer and a former editor at The New York Times, where she worked for nearly 15 years, including as a wedding announcements writer, presidential campaign reporter, and a senior staff editor on the Food desk. She teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which she graduated, and lives in Raleigh with her family. “When we moved home to Raleigh in 2017, I had the idea for the book that would become Mergers and Acquisitions. But once we got settled here, I was lucky enough to fall in with a group of local women writers who were in various stages in the publishing process. I’m so grateful to them and the vibrant Raleigh community for fostering creativity and helping me write a new chapter.”



P HOTO G R A P HE R Christopher Wilson had no plan of becoming a photographer. He basically just tripped into it, and it worked out. He went from agency creative to global shooter almost overnight, landing projects with sought-after brands all over the world. He promises not to get a big head about it though. Instead he’s putting his head down and working even harder, so that when he’s 90, if someone asks him why he’s still killing himself at this photography thing, he can say what the legendary cellist, Pablo Casals, said at 90: “Because I think I’m making progress.” “Speaking of making progress, I feel I made some good progress with these images of Kennedi. She was a joy to work with. However, I have no idea how someone so young can be so talented and attuned to the world. I was an idiot at her age.”

SAMANTHA EVERETTE / P HOTO G R A PH ER Samantha Everette is a portrait photographer and a Durham native. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from North Carolina State University with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. Samantha spent a decade in New York as a footwear designer and has since returned home to explore her passion for photography. “It was such an honor to photograph the Hayes sisters. It was a blessing to be in their presence and I hope that I’m invited to the twins’ 100th birthday!”

Courtesy contributor (EVERETTE); Baxter Miller (DOTY); Teresa Moore (MENCONI); Tyler Northrup (WILSON)


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Reader Gail Ray discovered artist Lyudmila Tomova through WALTER. “Ooh a few of these hikes from Wildflower Walks are new to us, can’t wait to try them!” — Danielle Teed “What a beautiful picture! I loved photographer Joshua Steadman’s work in your April issue.” — Sharon Baker “Dino-Mite is an exceptional article and it’s put together in a way that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Quite a classy magazine!” — Nate Cooper

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OUR TOWN Let’s get outside! Concerts, yoga, food festivals, and more to kick off summer.

Courtesy Fireside Collective



FIRESIDE COLLECTIVE WITH GRAHAM SHARP June 10 | 7:30 p.m. Celebrate the return of live music with two North Carolina groups this month. PineCone will welcome Fireside Collective with Graham Sharp to the Duke Energy Center as part of its Down Home Concerts series. Drawing on folk, blues, funk, and a variety of bluegrass sounds, Fireside Collective emerged from Asheville five years ago. Since then,

the group has released its debut album Elements, won the 2016 Band Contest at MerleFest, earned an International Bluegrass Music Association Momentum Band of the Year nomination, and toured across the country. On June 10, they’ll be joined by Graham Sharp, who has spent the last 20 years with Steep Canyon Rangers writing songs

and playing banjo. Over the past year he’s recorded and released his debut solo album, Truer Picture. Not ready to watch in person? The event will also be streamed live. — Kayla Guilliams Virtual or in-person; from $16 per ticket; 2 E. South Street;

The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 21



All month | See website for times Stretch out this summer, literally. Join downtown Raleigh yoga studio Blue Lotus as they travel for outdoor classes at various scenic locations. A few options: enjoy relaxing Saturday morning Open Level classes on the lush grounds of the Historic Oakwood Cemetery, or take in some culture while you ommm on the expansive grounds of the North Carolina Museum of Art on Tuesday, Fridays, and Sundays. Whatever the locale, you’re sure to find a class that will match your flow. In-person; $18; various locations;

Wednesdays | 6:30 p.m. Grab your wheels: this 10-mile social biking event starts at Crank Arm Brewing every week for a leisurely ride around town, suitable for all bike types and skill levels. The ride is accompanied by a sweeper to ensure the safety of participants, and lights are required per state law. A naturally socially distanced activity, the Night Rides are great for a group of friends on summer evenings (especially if you enjoy a pint of beer at Crank Arm afterwards). In-person; free but registration required; 319 W. Davie Street;

FULL FRAME DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL June 2 - 6 | See website for times The annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival usually draws filmmakers and independent film lovers from across the country to downtown Durham, for four days of discussions, panels, and nearly 100 films. This year’s 24th annual festival is virtual, with films, Q&As, and panels available online from June 2 to 6. Thirty-six films from 21 countries have been selected, including My Name Is Pauli Murray, directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, which examines the legacy of the North Carolina lawyer, activist, poet, and priest. “In a year unlike any other, we are grateful to the filmmakers for allowing us to be a part of celebrating their work,” said Sadie Tillery, Full Frame’s artistic director and interim festival director. “It’s hard to imagine an event without being together in downtown Durham, but Full Frame’s essence has always been rooted in the films themselves. Our venue may look different this year, but there is still so much to see and experience in these films that spark our capacity for understanding.” Virtual; from $7 per ticket; 22 | WALTER

CHRIS HONDROS EXHIBIT Starting June 3 | 10 a.m - 5 p.m.

ART IN BLOOM June 3 - 6 & 10 - 13 | See website for times Drawing crowds of art and plant lovers from all over the state, Art in Bloom provides stunning floral interpretations of your favorite pieces from the


Starting on June 3, the Thomas E. Cabaniss Gallery at the Gregg Museum will welcome an exhibit featuring conflict photography by Chris Hondros, a North Carolina State University alumnus killed in 2011 while working in Libya. Hondros was an English major and grew up in Fayetteville, the son of Greek and German WWII refugees. “It seems little wonder that attempting to understand war and its human elements would hold a special fascination for him,” said Roger Manley, director and curator at the Gregg Museum. Many of the photos on display at this exhibition will be images that Hondros, before his death, arranged for Getty Images to donate to the Gregg Museum, including works from Kosovo, Kashmir, Libya, Liberia, Angola, Palestine, and Afghanistan. Hondros won dozens of awards for his work, including top honors from World Press Photo in Amsterdam, which has appeared on the covers of Newsweek and The Economist, as well as the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. If you want to learn more before or after seeing the photos, watch the Netflix documentary Hondros, directed by Greg Campbell, which follows his life and career. — Addie Ladner Free; 903 Hillsborough Street;

Getty Images (YOGA); Laura Wall (ART IN BLOOM); Courtesy Gregg Museum (HONDROS)


North Carolina Museum of Art. This year, the event is spread over two weekends, including talks and workshops with the floral designers. Turn to page 52 to learn more about how the florists come up with their creations and visit to learn more about WALTER’s exclusive behind-the-scenes video event. In-person; from $18 per ticket; 2110 Blue Ridge Road;

Courtesy Theatre in the Park (BRIDESMAID); courtesy The Hop Yard (BBQ)

WRITERS SHARE June 4 | 6 p.m. Join the United Arts Council on June 4 for a First Friday event highlighting works by our area’s young voices. The council’s annual Writers Share showcases student writers from Wake County Public Schools who participated in residencies through the Artists in Schools program, which funds professional artists and writers to teach in schools. Together with their instructors, students will read a piece of work they wrote during the residency. “I look forward to our annual Writers Share all year, for I believe this event captures the essence of our Artists in Schools programs in several meaningful ways,” said Julia Mastropaolo, arts education coordinator at United Arts. “The transfer of knowledge, an awakening of the senses, a spark of inspiration, and finally the demonstration of understanding. Whether sweet or serious, each writing sample is powerful in its own unique way. Celebrating the creative process that brings each piece to life is incredibly gratifying for all involved.” Virtual; free;


This month, take part in a gastronomic trip around the Triangle to experience unique twists on some of your favorite dishes from North Carolina and beyond. On June 5, Taste of Soul NC (501 Foster Street, Durham, will offer a cookout of seafood, ribs, and burgers from local vendors at Durham Central Park, alongside Jay’s Italian Ice and other sweet drinks to keep cool. On June 12, join The Hop Yard and Lawrence and Perry Barbecue for the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ festival, featuring classic barbecue sandwiches and ribs alongside fresh, locally sourced IPAs, wines, and bourbons. (1141 Falls River Avenue; Vegetarian or vegan? Try the Plant-Based Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ event on June 19 to treat yourself to a new twist on a Southern tradition, like Element Gastropub’s plant-based Carolina BBQ Sandwich, tossed in a “hybrid eastern and western” style sauce (312 E. Mason Street, Franklinton; beer-bourbon-bbq-vegan-festival/). And don’t miss the Tacos ’N Taps festival on June 26 for a selection of $3 tacos, arepas, and “all you care to taste'' tequila from Triangle food trucks (4825 Trinity Road; —Brian Rosenzweig

Hills, catch American folk band The Wood Brothers on the 4th, folk sisters Rising Appalachia on the 5th, or fivepiece Donna the Buffalo on the 11th or 12th. If you don’t want to go in person, enjoy a high-definition stream of the show for up to 48 hours after the event. In-person or virtual; from $160 per sixperson pod, $15 to stream; Shakori Hills Community Arts Center, 1439 Henderson Tanyard Road, Pittsboro;

GRASSROOTS LIVE! June 4, 5, 11, & 12 | 7 p.m. While the popular biannual Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance in Pittsboro is postponed until October, you can still enjoy a small dose of peace, love, and good tunes through their series of weekly, pod-based concerts. On Fridays and Saturdays through GrassRoots Live! at Shakori


All month | see websites for details

ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID June 4 - 6 and 11 - 20 | See website for times A Jones Hope Wooten comedy, Always a Bridesmaid tells the story of four friends who, more than thirty years later, are determined to keep the promise they made on the night of their senior prom: to be in each other’s weddings.

You can see this hysterical comedy live at Theatre in the Park on June 4, 5, or 6 with COVID-19 precautions in order, or stream it from home anytime between June 11 and 20. In-person and virtual; $22 for in-person tickets; $20 for streaming; 107 Pullen Road;

EMPOWERING WOMEN Saturday and Sundays | 12 - 5 p.m. Visit CAM Raleigh to see Perseverance, The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 23

Pride, Power, part of photographer Alun Be’s Empowering Women series. Originally created for the United Nations in 2015, the series highlights the strength of women in Senegal by highlighting their personal stories of perseverance, pride, and resilience. Each woman shown chose how to present her own experience, providing an inspiring history from the ground up. The exhibition includes women like Madame Sarr of Kaolack, known for developing West Africa’s most protein-rich, grainbased nutritional flour; Madame Kane of Dakar, an activist and schoolteacher who helped break the “supporting role” idea of women in politics; and Madame Ndaw of Kaolack, the head of a mutual insurance company with more than 5,000 members that also teaches women how to gain autonomy and financial stability. In-person; free; 409 W. Martin Street;

times and strikingly beautiful at others, and is sure to spark the imagination.” Virtual; $21;

SUMMER SECOND STAGE SERIES June 10 - 26 | 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m. on Sundays Burning Coal Theatre is presenting two shows this month, both virtually and in-person, as part of their Second Stage series. From Zimbabwe-born playwright Zodwa Nyoni, Nine Lives tells the journey of a young gay African man seeking asylum in the United Kingdom and living out of a suitcase. Girls and Boys by Dennis Kelly premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in February 2018 and transferred later that year to the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York. This one-woman show tells the harrowing tale of a young businesswoman, wife, and mother who seems to have it all — but can she keep it? “Both of these shows are one-person performances by phenomenal local actors,” said Nathalie Ray, development director at Burning Coal Theatre. “It’s a great opportunity to see them really explore their craft.” In-person and virtual; $10; Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk Street;

partnership with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. Running from June 11 to August 28, the exhibition will be hosted in the former Art of Style space downtown and is an effort to promote revitalization of downtown since the pandemic. A contrast to the larger-than-life, powerful murals White’s done before, this show will be “something new entirely,” she says. “Pursuit of Happiness is a collection of paintings incubated over the course of the last year, in which foundations were shaken, plans were changed, and emotions were at an all-time high. The work responds to the events of 2020, and explores what it means to be a human being in a shifting context.” The exhibit is open 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sundays, and Mondays and Tuesdays by appointment. In-person; free; 19 W. Hargett Street;

CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS June 5 | 3 p.m. Introduce your little ones to the joys of the orchestra with Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals, part of the North Carolina Symphony’s Young People’s Concert Streaming Matinee Series. Each of the fourteen movements in the piece depicts a different animal, from a lion to a swan, and short poems about the animals narrated by Yolanda Rabun accompany each movement. While aimed towards young children, it’s a great experience for all ages. “The Carnival of the Animals is the perfect way to introduce children to the orchestra,” said Meredith Laing, director of communications at the NC Symphony. “The music is funny at some 24 | WALTER


PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS Starting June 11 | Various times North Carolina muralist Taylor White will be kicking off her first self-funded, self-initiated, and self-produced solo exhibition, Pursuit of Happiness, in

June 12 | 8 p.m. Streaming live from Meymandi Concert Hall, Cirque de la Symphonie is returning to the North Carolina Symphony with an all-new program. The production is designed to bring the magic of the circus to the music hall, and features acrobats, aerial flyers, contortionists, and strongmen performing meticulously crafted choreography to orchestral favorites. This is a can’t-miss streaming event for the whole family. Virtual; $21;

Courtesy Symphony (LION); courtesy Taylor White; Getty Images (CONTORTIONISTS)


Courtesy Burning Coal Theatre (EVITA); Getty Images (JUNETEENTH)

and it’s one of those shows that you really just have to see at least once in your life,” said Nathalie Ray, development director at Burning Coal Theatre. “And the way we’re presenting it outdoors at Dorothea Dix Park makes it even more of a must-see.” $15; Dorothea Dix Park, 1030 Richardson Drive;

JUNETEENTH FESTIVAL EVITA June 17 - 20 & 24 - 27 | 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m. on Sundays With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, Evita tells the story of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of president Juan Perón, from her early life, rise to power, charity work, and death. One of Webber’s most-loved scores, the show features songs like Don’t Cry for Me Argentina; Another Suitcase, Another Hall; and Buenos Aires. “This show is a classic

June 19 | 2 - 8 p.m. Celebrate Juneteenth the traditional way at the Raleigh Juneteenth Festival, hosted by multipurpose community group Faithful Servants LLC. This free community event is for the whole family and comes with fun, education, and fellowship. Traditional Juneteenth foods will be served, such as red hot dogs, watermelon, red Kool-aid, and strawberry lemonade, which represent the blood shed during slavery. There will also be a live DJ, educational

vendors, carnival-style games, and a pop-up Black Wall Street featuring local Black-owned businesses. “The festival is modeled after traditional Juneteenth celebrations held in Texas, where it’s been recognized as a holiday for decades,” said Mela Michelle, owner of Faithful Servants LLC. “Everyone should come out to learn and experience Juneteenth in a traditional sense as well as mix, mingle, and support local individuals in the community. This event will be amazing and you don’t want to miss it!” In-person; free but registration required; 2235 Garner Road; search Eventbrite for “Raleigh Juneteenth Festival”

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Virtual VIRTUOSO Jacqueline Wolborsky is a pandemic star, on and off the stage by SAMANTHA HATEM photography by SAMANTHA EVERETTE


chools closed last March, just as our son was learning a piece for his upcoming violin audition for middle school orchestra. And no school meant no learning how to play Allegro by Benedetto Marcello. The pandemic also shuttered the North Carolina Symphony, which meant that Jacqueline Wolborsky, the symphony’s principal second violinist, suddenly had more time on her hands. After hearing of our Allegro dilemma, a mutual friend connected us, and Wolborsky quickly became a weekly virtual voice in our living room. She not only worked with my son, George, to master his piece, but helped both kids keep their violins tuned, bows rosined, and practice


minutes logged (and, eventually, a seat secured in the Philharmonic Orchestra at Ligon Magnet Middle School). We didn’t realize quite how lucky we were until January, during the Symphony’s virtual performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Wolborsky was commanding as the soloist, wowing us over our computer in our living room. While we watched in our pajamas, Wolborsky dazzled from the stage in a series of gowns and matching masks, each reflecting the spirit of Vivaldi’s seasons. This was our kids’ violin tutor? I knew I had to talk to her to find out how Raleigh got so fortunate. And how else in a pandemic? Over a Zoom call, of course.

HOW DID YOU LAND THIS GIG? It was supposed to be another soloist from out of town, Simone Porter, but because of travel restrictions, it became difficult to pull off — so they asked me to do it. They scheduled the concert a year ahead, but I only had a month to prepare. I was thinking, Am I really going to be able to do this in this amount of time? Usually people get booked a year in advance so they can let the piece marinate. One month is a crazy amount of time to prepare, especially if you’ve never played that piece before. THE PERFORMANCE WAS FLAWLESS. AT THE END, YOU BOWED TO AN EMPTY HALL. WAS THAT YET ANOTHER WEIRD

Jacqueline Wolborsky plays her Italian violin from the 1600s. Below: Performing Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the North Carolina Symphony.

PANDEMIC MOMENT? It was really funny at the end. The orchestra’s energy was so great and supportive. But there’s e’s nothing like those performances ces where there’s the exchange between the performer and the audience. That’s the addiction for the performer. This was beautiful, too, because my family and friends who live all over the world were able to watch it. That’s something I’ve never been able to do in the past. WHERE DID YOU GET THE GOWNS, ESPECIALLY IN A PANDEMIC? I loved portraying the seasons with the dresses! I owned one of the dresses, the gray one I wore for Autumn. The others I got from Rent the Runway. One positive thing about the pandemic is that no one is going anywhere, so I had the pick of the litter! I seriously got lucky with the dresses.

HOW DID YOU PULL OFF CHANGING BETWEEN EACH SEASON? I had everything all set up backstage. The orchestra was just sitting there waiting for me. I had the dress and the matching shoes strategically placed so I could change quickly. It was so much fun. WHEN DID YOU FIRST START PLAYING VIOLIN? I started violin when I was four. I heard my cousin playing and that’s what turned me on to it. I always loved performing, but I didn’t love the hard work and the practice because not as many people were doing it back then.

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YOU’RE FROM CHICAGO. HOW DID YOU END UP IN RALEIGH? I got a job with the symphony in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s such a great place to live, but it’s a hard life as a musician with such a small orchestra, it’s a hard salary to live on. A friend of mine knew there was an opening here. I never really thought I would end up staying in Raleigh, but I met my husband a month after moving here in 2003. I always thought I would end up in a bigger city, but his family business [The Wolborsky Group at Allen Tate Realtors] is here. I’ve loved being able to see Raleigh grow and the Symphony grow. HOW MANY VIOLINS DO YOU HAVE AND WHICH ONE IS YOUR FAVORITE? I have three violins. The violin I used to play Four Seasons is from 1650 and used to belong to my violin teacher. It’s from Cremona, Italy, a very beautiful, old Italian violin that has such a unique voice. It’s amazing how it carries. I feel extremely lucky to have it. It’s an extremely rare violin. IS THE TUTORING A PANDEMIC THING? I have been teaching since I was 16. When I could drive, I would drive to my students’ houses. Because I was so young, my students liked working with me. I have always taught and always loved it. Kids inspire me and I love the perspective they have and the different ways they see music. WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE SYMPHONY? In May, we welcomed socially distanced audiences to full orchestra performances at Meymandi Concert Hall and in June we’re thrilled to return to our summer home at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary for four outdoor concerts. We are so excited to have small, socially distanced audiences returning to our venues, all within health and safety guidelines. It’s all about connecting with the live audience energy.

LOCALS The Hayes sisters, reunited.

FAMILY ties All in their 90s, the Hayes sisters rarely spent a week apart — until last year by KATHERINE SNOW SMITH photography by SAMANTHA EVERETTE


ver nine decades, the Hayes sisters have rarely gone more than a week without seeing each other. Then the pandemic kept them apart for almost a year. The twins, Alean Chavis and Kathleen Stephenson, are 99. Alease Bobo, the only one who has left Raleigh (for a move to Durham), is 95. Mattie Grissom is 92. Dallie Davis, the baby, is only 91. They have outlived their husbands and

two brothers, John and James. (“Because women have got more sense than men. We understand things better,” Mattie says.) Another sister, Halsie, died at 32 from an illness. Along with their siblings’ offspring, they collectively have 39 children, 76 grandchildren, 98 greatgrandchildren, and, so far, 47 great-great grandchildren. And when they gather in person — whether it’s been days or, more recently, a year since they’ve seen each other, they

fall into their same family patterns: Kathleen and Alean sit next to each other, as they have at most every family gathering for almost a century. Mattie talks the most. Alease is very matter-of-fact. Dallie has mischief in her eyes. While they talked at Mattie’s house recently, the sisters reflected on changes they’ve seen over nine decades in Raleigh. Mattie moved to Creedmoor Road 55 years ago, when it was just two narrow lanes. Now it’s six lanes in some parts The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 29

From left to right: Kathleen Stephenson and Alean Chavis; Mattie Grissom; Dallie Davis and Alease Bobo.

with a median where her yard used to end. They went to a plank school down the road that’s long gone now. Their father took the mule and wagon to a coal den to get coal to heat their home. Their parents, Luther and Bettie Hayes, were sharecroppers on land where Millbrook High School sits today. The family’s main crops were tobacco and cotton, but they also raised pigs, chickens, corn, cabbage, and other vegetables. “We farmed everything, except some money,” Dallie laughs. The Hayes sisters started working on the farm after school and in summers when they reached about age 12. Well, all the sisters except Dallie. “She got away with not working out in the field,” Mattie says. “Our daddy’s mother lived with us, too. Grandma

stayed at the house and liked Dallie to keep her company.” “There they go putting everything on poor Dallie again,” Dallie chimes in, rolling her eyes. The women credit their longevity partly to eating the food they raised; hardly anything was storebought. Decades before farm-totable became chic and living off what you grew was called “sustainable,” this way of eating was just a way of life. “We ate from the pig we killed and the chickens we killed,” says Alease. They took vegetables to a cannery down the road to be canned and eaten throughout the year. “We went there in a mule and wagon,” says Mattie. “There was no such thing as a car in our family.” The Hayes sisters also credit their faith

When they gather — whether it’s been days or, more recently, a year since they’ve seen each other, the Hayes sisters fall into their same family patterns.


for their many decades of health. They walked to church for Sunday school and the sermon every week as children and young adults. All five sisters said they’ve missed church tremendously during the pandemic. Alean, Kathleen, and Dallie attend Wake Chapel Church, 2 miles from where they grew up. The twins were honored a few years ago for being the longest living members of the church. Mattie is a 70year member of Baptist Grove Church on Leesville Road. Alease attends Antioch Baptist Church in Durham. Many of their children and grandchildren attend with them, while others have joined different churches. As the dress codes at congregations across Raleigh have become more relaxed with casual attire, the sisters still wear their Sunday best — always a dress or skirt, with heels, hose, and their favorite jewelry. The Hayes sisters agree it’s been harder going without church this past year than going without visiting in person. Each lives independently, and while they were homebound over the pandemic,

their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews brought them groceries and other necessities. The younger generation also made sure each of the sisters connected to the monthly Hayes family meeting via Facebook. And they did get to see each other, somewhat: for Kathleen’s and Alean’s 99th birthday, on December 31, 2020, their family organized a drive-by celebration. The twins sat a few feet apart from each other on Kathleen’s front porch, dressed in matching black pants and red hats. Kathleen wore a black wool coat and Alean’s was red. They waved to more than 150 family members and friends in 60 cars that drove by honking and cheering. Everyone is eager to get back to frequent gatherings with the whole family. They doubt they will hold their annual family reunion this month, but they’re hoping for one in December. For years, the entire extended family has held a three-day annual reunion, often at Pullen Park or the

Community Family Center at Lea Funeral Home. Once they all went to Washington, D.C., where everyone wore matching T-shirts that read, “It’s a Hayes thing… you wouldn’t understand.” Alean is the oldest Hayes, by just a few minutes. When asked if she ever used her

elder status to tell her twin what to do, she said “no” just as Kathleen said “yes.” All five sisters laughed. “Well, maybe once in a while,” Alean says quietly, with a smile. And just like that, after this unusual year apart, they fall into their decades-old rhythm.

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Courtesy Southern Culture on the Skids


ROAD WARRIORS After nearly four decades on tour, Southern Culture on the Skids creates an album that’s all about home by DAVID MENCONI


hrough nearly four decades of existence, Chapel Hill’s Southern Culture on the Skids have been road warriors, keeping a relentless touring regimen. It has periodically been a family affair, too. When frontman/guitarist/svengali Rick Miller’s son was born 15 years ago, they just 32 | WALTER

put a car seat in the van and took him along. The kid saw pretty much the entire country by the time he was 3 years old, one raucous barroom crowd at a time. But even S.C.O.T.S. were no match for the pandemic. That’s what it took to get them off the road last year. Undeterred, they documented the novel experience

of not being on the road with their new album, At Home With Southern Culture on the Skids, released in March. As befits the surroundings, it’s a decidedly more down-home version of their usual surfguitar rockabilly madness. “When everything shut down last year, we had to decide what to do with all this time on our hands,” Miller says.

From left to right: Rick Miller, Mary Huff, and Dave Hartman

“Try to do live-streaming, or move all the studio gear over to the house and make a fun album in the living room?” They opted, indeed, to make a record, and it got them through the pandemic. “It’s a little more laid-back than usual — small amps, some acoustic guitars, not so loud because my son kept telling us to turn it down while he was doing computer school,” says Miller. “We used his drum kit, and it was fun singing vocals in my own living room. Comfort food for the ears, especially when I was listening to mixes in the La-ZBoy recliner.” While it might be a touch more restrained than usual, At Home is another solid collection of all the things that make S.C.O.T.S. great: cool

covers, hot guitar licks, and exuberant paeans to the trashier side of the trailer park. That’s how it’s always been with S.C.O.T.S., whose annual rootsrock extravaganza “Sleazefest” used to be the summertime event of the season in mid-1990s Chapel Hill. “We’ve always been a DIY thing, never fit into the Chapel Hill scene or followed trends,” says Miller. “We’ve done most everything the way we wanted to since day one.” Even though S.C.O.T.S. didn’t fit that era’s prevailing alternative-rock ethos, they have been a popular band in the region. They even had one song show up in the 1996 Ben Stiller comedy Flirting With Disaster, and another in a long-running Helzberg Diamonds commercial (which featured their 2004

“The album’s a little more laid-back than usual — small amps, some acoustic guitars, not so loud because my son kept telling us to turn it down while he was doing computer school.” — Rick Miller

song Mojo Box). Through it all, S.C.O.T.S. has maintained an impressive consistency, which extends to their lineup. The core trio of Miller, singer/bassist Mary Huff, and drummer Dave Hartman has been together for 34 of their 38 years. Huff was all of 19 years old when she gave up her cello scholarship to Virginia Commonwealth University, bummed a ride to Chapel Hill, and signed on as the beehived bass player and sometime lead singer in 1987. “I was raring to go and wanted to play in a rock and roll band with a record, jump in the van, tour,” says Huff. “I just had my mind set on doing this thing for as long as I could and as far as it would take me. It’s still taking me places and I’m cool with that.” One of the songs that Huff sings on At Home is a cover of the English supergroup Traffic’s 1967 trip-rock classic Dear Mr. Fantasy – rendered with banjo in a haze of what Miller calls “hillbilly garage weirdness.” But it has genuine pathos in Huff’s vocals, which she sang through tears shortly after learning about a friend’s death. The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 33

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Maybe we’ll get to hear that one onstage before too much longer. If the pandemic lifts enough to permit in-person shows this fall, S.C.O.T.S. has a few Triangle shows on the books. Beyond that, an improbable anniversary looms: 2023 will mark an even 40 years in show business. “The best thing about my career was when I quit my day job,” says Miller. “Not a song I wrote or a place we played, just the day I no longer had to work at a ‘real’ job.” But they probably won’t make much of a fuss over it. “I’ve just never gotten caught up too much in the milestones, which I think has helped keep us going,” says Miller. “You can’t get too hung up on birthdays or anniversaries. A lot of times the greatest thrill is to just do it for another day: another day to be a musician, write another song, or be married, be a father.”

Courtesy Southern Culture on the Skids

S he doesn’t need


OXFORDS to HEIRLOOMS A niche Raleigh business turns worn button-down shirts into timeless children’s wares by SIMMONS ANDREWS photography S.P. MURRAY


bout 10 years ago, Jessica Johnson Moore had a stack of her husband’s old dress shirts to take to the thrift shop. They no longer fit, but they were in great shape. The fabrics were beautiful — plus, they smelled like him and held lovely memories. From the pile of discarded shirts 36 | WALTER

came an idea: Johnson Moore would turn the shirts into dresses for their then 2-year-old daughter, Adeline Grey. A trained architect and former professor at North Carolina State University, Johnson Moore had some sewing know-how from past projects. And with her design mentality, she soon started creating her own patterns.

She transformed her husband’s beloved shirts into sweet dresses for Adeline — cuffs made into buttondetail sleeves, the yoke sized down for a much smaller back, extra fabric made into ruffled collars and oversize bows. Friends and family loved them so much she started taking orders, too, and within two years, she had enough for

a business: Little Grey Line. “It didn’t dawn on me how precious this could be for other people at first,” says Johnson Moore. “It took a good number of clients for me to realize how special this idea was.” Ten years in, Little Grey Line’s simple, sentimental business is growing. Customers send in a loved button-down shirt, and Johnson Moore alters it into a oneof-a-kind dress, jumper, pillow, or burp cloth. “The beauty of it is that each piece is a way to preserve the memory of the person who wore it before,” she says. There are different designs customers can choose from on her website, each named after the children modeling

them: like the Molly, with a high-low skirt and generous back bow; Grace, an A-line with a ruffle down the front; cap-sleeved Birdie; and Brant, a jumper with a sporty front pocket. But these are only prototypes, the designer stresses — each piece is personalized, unique to the shirt it originated from. When she’s designing, Johnson Moore begins by picking the shirt’s most interesting characteristic — like an unusual button, a fun pocket, or exquisite stitching — and comes up with a way to showcase that detail in the new piece. No two products are the same. “It’s a much more intimate process than I imagined,” says

“The beauty of it is that each piece is a way to preserve the memory of the person who wore it before.”

— Jessica Johnson Moore

Johnson Moore. “Jessica is immensely talented, she’s always finding ways to honor and incorporate details of the original item into her pieces,” says Mary Margaret Ross, one of her Raleigh customers. “She has provided my family with special gifts we will keep forever.” What started out as a hobby for friends and acquaintances in the Raleigh area is now a business that reaches customers nationwide through word of mouth and social media. “Recently, my daughter wore a dress from Little Grey Line for our family portrait,” says Ross. “It was made from my late grandfather’s favorite plaid shirt, so it was meaningful to me to represent him this way.” And that’s exactly what Johnson Moore loves about her work: “Each piece offers a unique design challenge, but the real joy is witnessing how happy customers are when they are holding it.”

The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 37


live from The Burrow Roots duo Chatham Rabbits reinvent the dream by WILEY CASH photography by MALLORY CASH


merican roots music is rife with compelling and talented duos — Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, June Carter and Johnny Cash — but few have been as charmed as Austin and Sarah McCombie of the North Carolina band Chatham Rabbits. The two first met in 2014 at a concert, and within a few years they were rattling around the country together in a 1986 Winnebago, headlining concerts of


their own. It’s an old story based on an even older dream: start a band with your best friend, sell everything you own, make a living with your music. But for Chatham Rabbits, that dream came true, and the most genuine thing about that dream is the music itself. In marriage and in music, Austin and Sarah blend their individual histories into a shared musical experience. Years ago, Sarah first took the stage as a member of the South Carolina Broadcasters,

a musical trio that harkened back to the bygone days of the Grand Ole Opry and AM radio country classics. Meanwhile, Austin played keyboards and guitar for an electro-pop band called DASH. Given their backgrounds, how would Chatham Rabbits describe their musical marriage? “We’re not purists,” Austin says. “And we’re certainly not the hippest,” Sarah adds. “But we’ve been able to belong nowhere and everywhere at the same time,” which is to say that Cha-

Austin and Sarah McCombie of Chatham Rabbits created The Burrow, a small music venue, on their farm. Opposite page: Performing inside The Burrow.

tham Rabbits have always been able to create a musical home, both for themselves and for their fans. The duo’s first album, All I Want From You (2019), was written in Bynum, where Austin and Sarah could sit on the porch of their old mill house and survey the entire village of tightly packed homes, a vantage point that revealed their own ties to the close-knit community. The music — with Sarah on banjo, Austin on guitar, and the two splitting lead vocals and sharing harmonies — reaches out to the listener while reaching back in time in search of stories. Their latest album, last year’s The Yoke is Easy, the Burden is Full, is carried by the same gorgeous melodies, harmonies, and delicate instrumentation, but it possesses a more introspective quality, which makes sense considering that the album was written when the couple moved to their 11-acre farm in Siler City. In these songs, the Rabbits use

contemplation as incantation, inviting the listener to sit quietly with Austin and Sarah as they reflect on their shared life and their families’ histories. If their debut album was a means of reaching out to connect with a larger community, then their more recent album is a guided, dreamy meditation on turning inward. Whether they’re reaching out or looking in, Chatham Rabbits have always invited listeners to join them. They’ve recently invited listeners to join them on their farm, too, where a new barn has been repurposed to host outdoor concerts that allow for the requisite 6 feet of social distance between pods of attendees. On a Saturday in early May, Austin and Sarah are both smiling behind masks as they move through the preconcert crowd, catching up with old friends and meeting new fans for the first time. The two are refreshingly approachable, remembering people’s names and asking after their children

and families. He’s wearing a navy-blue button-down and khaki pants; she’s in a navy-blue dress that once belonged to her great aunt. Although there are speakers hanging from the rafters and a lighting system illuminates the instruments and microphone on stage, there are plenty of reminders that this is still a working farm. Saddles and bridles hang on the wall. Chickens meander through the crowd. In the nearby pasture, a black cow named Petunia rubs her back against an old tree. “The barn was halfway built when the pandemic hit, and all of our shows were being canceled,” Austin says. “At the time, the barn floors were going to be dirt, and the builders were about to enclose the walls. We asked about pouring a concrete floor, and we learned that it would cost the same amount to pour the floor as it did to put up the walls. We chose the floor.” That kind of quick decision making

The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 39




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has served the band well during the pandemic, which has rocked the music industry, but Chatham Rabbits have found ways to adapt. “When the pandemic hit, we were about to release a new album, and we spent a week worrying about the world and feeling sorry for ourselves,” Sarah says. “Then we got busy figuring out how to make it work.” The two used funds from their Patreon crowdfunding platform to buy a Sprinter van and a flatbed trailer. Off they went, playing outdoor shows in neighborhoods across the state and into Virginia and South Carolina in support of the new album that was supposed to have been celebrated in concert halls across the country. “We’ve probably played one hundred shows from the back of that trailer,” Sarah says. Once the barn was finished and the state’s health restrictions allowed it, they decided to hold six live concerts throughout the summer in the space they’ve named The Burrow. The tickets sold out in less than three days. As the state’s coronavirus numbers improved, Chatham Rabbits released more tickets, which sold out in mere minutes.

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252-639-3500 Austin and Sarah McCombie.

The resilience and flexibility required by the past year has influenced the songwriting for their new album, to be released in coming months. “Many of the songs are reflections of us being at home together for an entire year,” she says. “It’s about our life on the farm, shifting friendships, and the way we had to come to terms with our foundations being rocked.” As Austin and Sarah take the stage, the air is charged with energy and a giddy sense that something is returning to the world, whether it be live music or summertime or the feel of a cold beverage in your hand and the weight of a sleepy child on your lap. After welcoming the crowd to the inaugural show at The Burrow, Austin and Sarah open with a song from their first album, titled Come Home. Attendees take off their masks, settle into their beach chairs, and — for the rest of the evening — do just that. Wiley Cash is the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina Asheville. He and his wife, photographer Mallory Cash, are traveling across North Carolina to meet creatives.

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Those with “the Sight” claim there are wee folk among us. Do you believe?



hat rock in the river was a big one. Big enough to sit on. That’s what the woman did, in fact, while her husband spent the afternoon fishing upstream. She waded out to the rock, found a comfortable seat, and took out a book to read. What happened next was like something out of a book — but not the one she was reading. Hearing footsteps and voices, the woman glanced up and saw two boys cavorting along a trail, their distracted father trudging along behind. As the boys approached the water’s edge, something else entered her field of vision. “It started coming up the river,” she later recalled. What was “it”? A “pale-skinned, water-logged-looking” creature, she said, “with black hair and sharp, serrated teeth


showing in a smile.” Paying no attention to the woman perched on the rock, it “focused on the boys” and moved rapidly through the water toward them. She wasn’t the only one who saw it. The boys did, too. They picked up sticks and pointed them at the mysterious swimmer. The woman never found out if their makeshift weapons would have done any good. Although apparently unable to see the creature that was now just a few feet away from his boys, the father nevertheless decided they were playing too close to the water and ushered them back to the trail. That the boys were briefly in peril, though, the woman never doubted. “It watched them move up the trail away with a creepy look on its face,” she said, “and then moved on upriver out of sight.” Maybe you think you know what was

really in that river. A bullfrog. A bottom-feeder. A bumpy log converted into something sinister by an overactive imagination. But the woman in question is convinced she saw a fairy. Just a few years ago. Right here in North Carolina. *** It’s not our state’s first fairy sighting. It won’t be the last. Oh, it’s easy to scoff at those who claim to see wee folk wading in rivers or slinking through forests or dancing on hilltops. How childish. How backward. How unscientific. Well, sure. But I bet you know someone who still carries a lucky charm or wears their lucky sweatshirt whenever the Wolfpack play the Tar Heels. I bet you know someone who watches Ancient Aliens or Ghost Hunters, hits up psychics for advice, or thinks Bigfoot just might really be out

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there somewhere, camera-shy but furtively flattered. By the way, what’s your sign? Generations ago, all the smart people thought universal schooling would disabuse the masses of such fanciful superstitions. They thought the relentless march of science would muscle old faiths and folk traditions aside — confining them, converting them into historical curiosities. “Rationalization and intellectualization,” the sociologist Max Weber famously predicted a century ago, would bring “the disenchantment of the world.” Then a great many of these same smart people went out and got their palms read. Or sat in seances. Just for the experience, you know. The magical, the paranormal, the supernatural are not so easily banished. According to a recent Harris Poll, 42 percent of us believe in ghosts, 36 percent in UFOs, 29 percent in astrology and 26 percent in witches. Fairies — by which I mean the broad swath of legendary little people, not just tiny Tinker Bells with translucent wings — rarely get included in American polls. But surveys in other countries find significant minorities still believe in fairies. In some places, such as Iceland, believers form a majority. *** Among the believers is the woman I mentioned earlier. I wish I could tell you more about her and the fairy encounter she claimed to witness from that big rock. Unfortunately, I can’t even tell you her name. Anonymity was the promise made by folklorist Simon Young in 2014 when he began soliciting first-person accounts of fairy sightings. Published four years later as The Fairy Census, Young’s research spans hundreds of stories from around the world — including several from our state. I can tell you the woman says it wasn’t her first sighting. “I have seen them since childhood, different ones,” she told Young. “My granny from Ireland says I have ‘the sight’ like her.” The woman

stream. The original inhabitants of those parts of North Carolina often told tales of such creatures. Among the Cherokee, for example, they were called the yunwi amayine hi, or “water dwellers,” and had the power to boost fish catches and promote healing. In one story, a water dweller disguises herself as human to attend a dance. Smitten by her charms, a Cherokee man follows her to a riverbank and professes his love. He must be persuasive, for she agrees to become his wife. Eyes sparkling, she dives in the river and beckons him to follow. “It is really only a road,” she says. He takes a deep breath and leaps. Finding a wondrous world hidden beneath the river, he lives there happily as her husband. Later, when he leaves to visit his parents, they turn out to be long since dead. Historic Italian illustration Queen of the Fairies Generations of Cherokee live and die during the few years he lives among describes fairies as “beings from another the water-dwellers. world” that can have good or bad intenAlternatively, maybe what our eyewittions. “I was always taught to never talk ness saw was not a diminutive humanoid to them or let them know I see them.” from native folklore but something scalI can also say that, if you believe her ier. The place where the Haw and Deep story and hope to see your own fairy one rivers converge in Chatham County to day, there are plenty of places in our state form the Cape Fear is nicknamed Merworth exploring. While researching my maid Point. Just before the Revolutionnew historical-fantasy novel Mountain ary War, a man named Ambrose Ramsey Folk, largely set in North Carolina during ran a tavern nearby. When the locals left the American Revolution, I learned a Ramsey’s tavern late at night to stumble great deal about the fairy lore of our ancestors. Some of it developed locally, tied home, they’d pass a sandbar. On numerous occasions, they spotted small figures to specific Carolina landmarks. Other luxuriating there in the moonlight. Figbeliefs were brought here from afar — ures with the heads, arms and torsos of from the British Isles, from Northern beautiful women and the lateral lines and Europe, and the Mediterranean world, shiny tails of a fish. If the patrons were from West Africa. It turns out that almost all cultures have stories of wee folk. quiet and kept to the shadows, they could Accounts vary, of course, but a surprising watch the mermaids laugh, play, sing and comb their long hair. But if the men number of them converge in key details: creatures 2 to 3 feet tall, invisible to most tried to speak to them, the fairies would disappear into the water. if they wish to be, infused with magic, Rivers are hardly North Carolina’s attuned with nature, prone to pranks but also willing to trade favors for something only sites for fairy lore. Another folk from Cherokee legend, the Nunnehi, are they covet. associated with such locations as Pilot Based on the woman’s description, for Mountain (both the famous monadnock example, you might find her rocky seat in Surry County and a lesser-known peak in some Piedmont river or mountain The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 43

near Hendersonville) and the modern town of Franklin, where the Nunnehi were said to have helped defeat a Creek invasion and, much later, a raid by Union soldiers. On the other side of the state, in and around the Great Dismal Swamp, the mythology of Iroquois and Algonquin speakers mingled with European and African-American legends to produce a rich folklore of eerie lights, dark shapes and magical creatures. Moreover, as the Fairy Census reminds us, our sightings aren’t limited to old tales preserved in old books. They still happen. In the book, a 30-something woman reported “staring at the foot of the bed at the light coming in through a large window when I saw a fairy suddenly appear on one side of the room and fly across the bed toward the window.” She described the creature as brown-haired and gaunt, about 3 feet tall with sharp features “not very pleasant to look at.” The woman wasn’t alone. But her

19th-century illustration Girls Float on Leaves on the River

husband, lying next to her, never saw the fairy. “I think it is strange that I had this experience in my house in suburban North Carolina, of all places,” she said. Another North Carolinian in the book described an encounter she had in her youth with a fairy “about 2 to 3 feet tall, dressed entirely in red, with a solid red face, tiny white horns on the top of his head, and with a red, pointed tail.” He was standing next to the stump of a tree, which he said had been his home until it was felled during the construction of the girl’s house. She ran to get her parents. But they couldn’t see him. The more you study both folklore and modern-day sightings, the more you come to appreciate the commonalities, such as the extreme time difference between fairy realms and the human world, the link between fairies and nature and the idea that only those rare humans possessing “the Sight” can pierce fairy disguises. Do such commonalities suggest fairy


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traditions aren’t pristine, that they develop over time through cross-cultural exchange? Or that people claiming to see fairies are just mashing up distant memories of bedtime stories with drowsy daydreams and optical illusions? Could be. There are many explanations for fairy belief. For some, it’s reassuring to believe that good and bad events aren’t just random. That powerful forces are at work, magical forces to be tapped or propitiated. For others, fairy belief is about rediscovering a sense of wonder — about reenchanting the world, as Weber might say, instead of settling for a cold, clockwork version. That’s how some of your fellow North Carolinians feel, anyway. Whether out exploring their state’s natural beauty or just puttering around the neighborhood, they keep their minds open along with their eyes. They suspend their disbelief. They dare to hope that something utterly fantastic will happen. That something utterly fantastic can happen. After all, it’s happened before. Or so they’ve heard.


Kid of Wonder Just as my father did, I’ll try to keep my child’s heart

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or years, I’ve joked that my late father was an adman with a poet’s heart. He never failed to quote some ancient sage or dead philosopher when you least expected it. As a know-it-all teenager, alternately amused and mortified by his endlessly upbeat personality, I gave him the nickname “Opti the Mystic.”


It took me growing up to finally realize what an extraordinary gift he was to me and anyone lucky enough to know him. When I was still pretty small, he hung two framed items on my bedroom wall. One was the poem If, by Rudyard Kipling, maybe the best life and career advice a father ever gave his son or daughter on how to walk with kings, but keep the common touch.

The other was a quote by the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius, a student of Confucius: “The great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart,” which confused me until my dad explained: “Philosophy is designed to make you think. Some might think it simply means you should guard your child’s heart from growing cynical about life. I think it means that it’s wise to keep

your own child-like sense of wonder — whatever age you are.” My parents also gave me a set of the How and Why Wonder Books, a popular illustrated series designed to teach history and science to young people in the 1960s. The volumes made me take the idea of wonder quite seriously. My mother said she always “wondered” what I was going to ask her next. In truth, I was something of a wondrous pest. I wondered typical kid things, like why the sky was so blue and why I had to wear shoes to church in summer — why I even had to go to church in summer when the outdoor world was so green and inviting. Naturally, I wondered about what made the seasons change and the stars move and where hurricanes come from. When a mountainous press foreman at my dad’s newspaper informed me that we lived smack in the middle of something called “Hurricane Alley” in Mississippi, I ordered a hurricane emergency kit from National Geographic in case one struck our coast. To my regret — though probably good fortune — no hurricane came. Thanks to the How and Why Wonder Books, I became an avid reader at age 5. But I often wondered about things the wonder books couldn’t explain. Like why Mr. Sullivan, who lived alone two houses down, was suddenly building a bomb shelter in his backyard — and why he believed “Russian spies were everywhere.” Or what the vacation Bible school teacher was talking about when she said, “Jesus sees everything you do and writes it down for later.” It made Jesus sound like a Russian spy, not a prince of peace. When I asked her what “for later” meant, she explained that the list Jesus keeps would determine who would — or wouldn’t — be “saved from eternal hellfire.” I wondered why Jesus would keep such an awful list. About that same time, during the presidential election of 1960, I wondered why my mother voted for Senator Kennedy and my father for Mr. Nixon.

“Someone had to cancel out your father, honey,” my mom explained with a laugh. “Every now and then, even he makes silly decisions.” On a beautiful Friday afternoon three years later, Mrs. Brown, my favorite teacher, suddenly left the room and returned with red and swollen eyes, dismissing us an hour early. Someone had shot and killed the president. I spent the next week glued to the TV set, wondering. Looking back, I sometimes wonder if that’s the moment modern America began to lose her innocence, as some historians like to say, and if that’s when

never lost a game. Those kids — the “Mob that Became a Team,” as Reader’s Digest would call them — restored my lost sense of wonder. After that second season, I turned down a dream job in Washington for a much simpler life on the bank of a winding green river in Vermont, where I got a pup, taught myself to fly fish, read every book of philosophy and poetry I could lay my hands on, and lived in a small cottage heated by a wood stove for a year. It was my private Walden Pond. My heartbeat slowed. I fell in love with the

Thanks to the How and Why Wonder Books, I became an avid reader at age 5. But I often wondered about things the wonder books couldn’t explain. I decided I would become a journalist like my old man — if only to find out how and why. No wonder I spent the first decade of my career writing about the terrible things human beings do to each other, reporting on everything from unrepentant Klansmen to corrupt politicians, Atlanta’s status as America’s murder capital to the South’s growing racial tensions. As I approached 30, I feared I might be prematurely burning out — as in, losing my sense of wonder. But something saved me in the nick of time. One spring afternoon I went out to write a simple story about an innercity baseball league and got recruited to coach a team called the Orioles for the next two seasons. More than half the kids on my team came from one of the city’s bleakest housing projects. I made a deal with their parents and grandparents to drive them home after every practice and game. I also bribed them with milkshakes from a local joint called Woody’s CheeseSteaks if they promised to behave like gentlemen, on and off the field. They did just that. I bought a lot of milkshakes over those two years. We

winter stars again. And that next spring, I recovered my passion for golf by playing the same course Rudyard Kipling played when he lived in the town, not long after he wrote If. I realized that life truly is a wondrous circular affair — that everything you’ve loved is always with you, waiting to be born again, and that nobody, not even Jesus, is keeping a list like a Russian spy. Here’s proof of the universe’s wondrous circularity. Not long ago, one of the players from the team that saved me called out of the blue. “I’ve been trying to find you for years,” Pete said. “I finally found you and your books on the internet.” Pete and his teammates are in their early 50s now, grown men with their own careers and families. We’re planning a reunion. A few weeks ago, Pete sent me a photograph of himself standing in front of Woody’s CheeseSteaks. His hair is gray but he looks the same. I may look a little older, I told him, but I’m still a kid of wonder, too. Jim Dodson is the New York Times bestselling author of Final Rounds: A Father, A Son, The Golf Journey Of A Lifetime. He lives in Greensboro. The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 47


Years before she wrote about weddings for The New York Times, Cate Doty fell in love with the ritual

A Beautiful Entry by CATE DOTY


have loved weddings for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly. When I was a tiny thing, three or four, I had this bride doll whose big blue eyes closed when you laid her down, her long nylon eyelashes fluttering down to her blushed cheeks. She wore what had to be the most chaste wedding getup this side of the Reformation: a long-sleeve turtleneck lace bodice and ankle-length skirt, with three underskirts, a pair of bloomers, thick white tights that were a bitch to pull up over her rubber legs, and white rubber Mary Janes, which looked juvenile and out of place with her wedding attire. My love of weddings didn’t come from TV, which I wasn’t allowed to watch as a small child save for Sesame Street, and I’m still disappointed that Bert and Ernie haven’t tied the knot. But I was an early and prodigious reader, in part because I was at that point an only child and didn’t have anyone to talk to during the day other than my mom, who maintains that I was reading full books by age three, and 48 | WALTER

wanted the right to vote. And I wanted frankly I just don’t see how that’s possible. to know what happened after the last But I ate up the Little House series stillness of the book, when Laura and when I was six, and read over and over Manly went back inside their house after the penultimate chapter in These Happy watching the twilight fade on the first Golden Years in which Laura and Almannight of their life togethzo — Manly, rather — er. I knew that the first stood before her friend We lived in a tiny four years were deathly Ida’s father in his parlor and were married, the yellow house with difficult, and ended in a lost child, groom in his Sunday best a green stoop, and bankruptcy, and crippling disease. But and the bride in a black what were the interiors cashmere dress with I spent Sunday that life together? I a tight-fitting bodice mornings at the of wanted to know what and a high collar, and maple table my dad they talked about as they Ma’s square gold brooch pinned at her throat. had made, reading went to bed. So maybe it wasn’t just It sounded luxurious the comics, the weddings. Maybe it was and full of hope to me, life itself I was curious although I knew even Mini Pages, and about. But weddings then that Laura was poor the wedding were a way into that life, and would stay poor for announcements. and I knew that entry much of her life, until she could be beautiful. For pulled her family out of years, my parents had a deep poverty by writing. department-store gift box full of the relI was bewitched by Laura’s insistence ics of their wedding: bits of lace from my that she would not say the word obey in mom’s dress, my dad’s crumbly boutonher vows, while still denying that she

Courtesy Cate Doty

niere, a yellowed program, and a copy of their wedding announcement from the Fayetteville Observer-Times, the paper from my grandparents’ hometown. I read it over and over, and then I started reading the wedding announcements in the Birmingham News every Sunday. We lived in a tiny yellow house with a green stoop, and I spent Sunday mornings at the maple table my dad had made, reading the comics, the Mini Pages, and the wedding announcements. And then, when I was five, I actually got to go to a wedding. My dad’s father was remarrying in North Carolina, so we piled into our little blue Datsun and headed up I-20 from Birmingham to the wedding. He had been dating a tall, wispy-slender woman named Susan, who brought to their relationship four daughters whom I found fascinating. They had big hair, makeup, lots of nail polish, giant goofy 1980s sleeves, and drama: love affairs, breakups, college dropouts, car wrecks, you name it. Susan presided over it all, with kind blue eyes that sparkled with intelligence and sly

humor. She specialized in understanding girls, and I loved her like a shot. Anyway, Pa — that’s what I called him, although most everyone else called him Monk — and Susan were getting married in someone’s backyard. The day of the wedding, my mom dressed me in a smocked dress, ankle socks, and white Mary Janes, and herself in a red dress with a blue and white belt. We stood in the grass while my grandfather committed himself to Susan, and she to him, led down the bridal path by an Episcopal priest. She wore a sensible white column dress with an open collar and carried a small bouquet of pink roses and baby’s breath wrapped in a white satin ribbon. And then, after the ceremony, she leaned over to me and said, “Would you hold my bouquet for me?” Well. Would I? WOULD I? Yes, indeed I would. I paraded around the backyard with that bouquet like it was my own wedding. I buried my face in the roses, breathing in the scent of hothouse love, and the petals were cool to my face. I held on to the plastic stem of the

bouquet with both hands at my waist, just like I’d seen Susan do, and walked up and down the yard, weaving in and out of the small crowd, showing off my flowers to Susan’s daughters, my amused parents, and my dad’s kooky sister. When the cake had been eaten and the champagne had been finished, I gave the new unit of Pa and Susan a fierce fiveyear-old good-bye hug. Susan leaned down and whispered in my ear: “You can keep it.” I told you, she understood girls. On the way back to our motel, I fell asleep in the back of the car clutching the bouquet, just like Ralphie on Christmas night with his Red Ryder BB gun. But my pride and joy was prettier. Excerpted from Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages by Cate Doty, with permission from G.P. Putnam, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Mary Catherine Doty The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 49


Sometimes I see a nimbus of butterflies other times they’re just a puzzle or a tarradiddle to my eyes. Would you look at that quandary of butterflies? I ask a stranger, or do they call it a quibble? We’re expecting a downpour tomorrow says the weatherman and I know he speaks of butterflies. A peccadillo, a meander, a complicity perhaps I’m just confused — a confabulation of butterflies. For you, my love, I stir an elixir of song, dance, and joy a philter of butterflies.

illustration by LYUDMILA TOMOVA

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At NCMA’s annual celebration in florals, guests and participants alike see the collection in a new way



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his month, the West Building at the North Carolina Museum of Art will come alive in a whirlwind of color bursts and whimsical structures — and notes of rose, hydrangea, and calla lily. It’s been more than two years since the last Art in Bloom event — the annual celebration in which floral designers display their interpretations of works within the museum — and Raleigh is ready. For months, more than 30 floral designers have been planning, testing, and prepping, working on their creations. This year, Art in Bloom, which typically draws thousands of guests, will be offered both in-person and virtually. The floral designers who participate are a mix of professional florists and talented amateurs. But there is nothing virtual about the work that goes into


their creations. Here’s how it works: designers apply by sending in photos of their floral work, and, once selected, are assigned a piece from the museum’s collection by lottery. In a fun twist, designers are allowed to trade assignments until everyone is happy, just as long as it’s all nailed down before they leave the museum. Some trade because they’ve already worked with similar art, or they prefer 2D to 3D, or just because another piece strikes them. “Most times this works out,” says AIB coordinator Laura Finan, “but some years, folks are a little less than excited about their piece. Interestingly, those designers who don’t like their selection often learn to love and appreciate it once they dig in.” The lottery happens in February, so the AIB designers have about four months to work on their floral responses to oil paintings, sculptures, and still lifes.

This year, Morgan Moylan, of Hillsborough, has been assigned the bust Daphne, carved from marble by Harriet Hosmer in 1853. The story behind the sculpture inspired Moylan’s vision: In Greek mythology, Daphne was a nymph who narrowly escaped the unwanted advances of Apollo by transforming into a laurel tree. “Her beauty makes her the target of the warrior god, and in order to save herself, she must give up her beauty and become a shell of who she was,” Moylan says. “I had no desire to try to replicate the fabulous work, so instead, I imagined Daphne as she sank into the laurel tree: What would that look like? How can I continue the story the artist began?” For Moylan’s floral continuation, she will shape green chicken wire into a ghost bust of Daphne rising from a bed of laurel, with flowers like allium, garden roses, and craspedia. In a nod to Hos-

Morgan Moylan at her Hillsborough studio

Art in Bloom has actually helped me rethink how I describe myself and what I do. Just like painters, floral designers work with color theory, scale, layers, and textures.” — Morgan Moylan, West Queen Floral Studios Daphne by Harriet Hosmer

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Ailsa Tessier at the garden at Church of the Nativity

It is a chance to find new ways to look at what might be familiar works of art.”

— Ailsa Tessier, Raleigh designer Allegory of Music by François Boucher


mer’s use of marble, Moylan will employ bleached ferns to outline the form. Behind the bust, birds of paradise indicate the natural world’s color and identity — and the absence of Daphne’s. The process is a chance for Moylan to shift from a florist to an artist. “Art in Bloom has actually helped me rethink how I describe myself and what I do,” she says. “Just like painters, floral designers work with color theory, scale, layers, and textures.” In order to protect the art in the museum, AIB participants may only use plants pre-treated for pests, and they may not use materials that would cause damage to the art or the public: no glitter, shedding materials, loose materials, or jagged edges. The majority of each installation must be fresh plant material, not dried. Even with these stipulations, it’s a welcome chance for the florists to flex their creativity. “In the world of

events, the arrangements are often dictated by our clients — but this allows us to experiment with colors, blooms, and techniques,” says Moylan. “I spend much more time noodling over what to create than creating itself.” The museum is particularly thrilled to host this fan-favorite event after its pandemic-forced cancellation last year. Art in Bloom attracts guests of all ages, cameras ready; it’s a way to reach new visitors with a looser, buzzier format than the typical gallery visit. Many of the designers like to listen to the conversations around the floral arrangements: children fascinated by colors and shapes, gardeners arguing over bloom varieties, spouses who act like they’ve been dragged along — and then find themselves awestruck. “It is such a great way to make art accessible to even more people, to make it exciting,” says NCMA director Valerie

Hillings. “The flowers, combined with our collection, inspire people to look carefully and be reactive in how they think about what they are seeing.” Hillings delights in the cross-cultural and cross-generational success of Art in Bloom, and in the meticulous work that the florists put in behind the scenes. “They come each day before opening, and it’s a fun time to see how they keep their displays consistent with their visions, how they carefully water, replace blooms, and refresh their creations,” she says. While the florists practice their creations at home, they must form their arrangements on-site, then check in daily to keep them alive and presentable for four days. The breadth and intensity of the project forms a unity that is uncommon in their field. “With AIB, the museum has given floral designers the gift of community,” Moylan says. “Many of us have small The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 57

businesses with one or two designers, and it is rare that as business people we have a chance to connect and admire each other’s work in a noncompetitive, purely creative environment.” Charlotte designer Olivia Chisholm, a newcomer to Art in Bloom, will be interpreting Simone Leigh’s illustrious sculpture Corrugated. Chisholm started her work in florals just a year ago. She was working in healthcare in the midst of a global pandemic, stressed and weary, when the death of Breonna Taylor inspired her to lead an initiative called “Giving Black Women Their Flowers,” where she spent the summer delivering bouquets to Black women around Charlotte. It is fitting that she now interprets Leigh’s powerful sculpture, which honors the beauty and complexity of Black women. Chisholm will use her floral artistry to mimic Leigh’s use of multi-African 82 58 |||WALTER WALTER 00 WALTER

contexts, using traditional African florals, modern American florals Chisholm finds in the homes of Black families, and contemporary color schemes. “AIB is giving me a pedestal in a literal sense,” Chisholm says, “It means being given the space as a Black, female, floral interior artist to interpret an experience from my lens and mine alone.” Asheville’s Sally Robinson, who helped organize North Carolina’s first AIB at the Black Mountain Center for The Arts fourteen years ago, has attended numerous Art in Bloom events (in various forms) from Philadelphia to San Francisco. “They draw art connoisseurs, flower enthusiasts, and lovers of drama and beauty to museums, offering unparalleled experiences,” she says. Her floral interpretation this year will focus on Juan Bautista Romero’s oil painting Still Life with Strawberries and Chocolate (circa

1775–1790). Robinson, who lived in Japan with her family for seven years, specializes in Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. The root of Ikebana is preservation of life, controlling shapes of vases to prolong the life of the flowers, the vase acting as more than a vessel, surface water exposed, and emphasis on the earth from which the flowers grow. Robinson’s creation for AIB will include curly willow, hydrangea, gypsophila, chestnut tree balls, and calla lily. “It is a chance to find new ways to look at what might be familiar works of art,” says Raleigh designer Ailsa Tessier, who will be interpreting François Boucher’s 1752 painting Allegory of Music. The painting depicts three plump cherubs floating among the clouds with sheet music. In her unique interpretation of the Rococo work of art, Tessier hopes to flip the perception of this classic by taking the view that those cherubs are

Adanna Omeni of Knightdale in the Raleigh Rose Garden

I am another representative of the way floral designers are just as different as the flowers you see.”

— Adanna Omeni, 1 Blossom 2 Bloom Floral Design

Still Life by William Michael Harnett

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Art in Bloom is a delight for the senses and the intellect, a way to revisit pieces we have seen before and perceive them through another’s eyes.


not very happy at all. Tessier also uses her art to support another cause: she’s creating her piece as a representative of The Flower Shuttle, a nonprofit that takes flowers used for weddings and events and distributes them to people living with terminal illness, poverty, and disability. “They do incredible work, and I’m so proud to represent them,” she says. Carol Dowd, from Southern Pines, has had a piece in AIB each year since the event debuted at NCMA in 2015, winning the Director’s Choice in 2019. This June, she will interpret Italian artist Andrea del Sarto’s 1528 oil painting Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist. “After researching the artist, I discovered he was a great colorist,” says Dowd, whose flowers will mirror del Sarto’s bold pallet. “I am planning to use a gold base and create a veil out of sticks, using pink flowers to represent the

Madonna, white to represent the child, and oranges to represent John the Baptist.” William Michael Harnett’s 1885 oil painting-on-wood panel entitled Still Life appears simple enough: a stack of books and sheet music in muted tones sit with a flute positioned on top. But when Adanna Omeni, owner of 1 Blossom 2 Bloom Floral Design in Knightdale, went to look at the piece in person, she saw it differently: “I understood that Still Life symbolizes the painter’s love for wanderlust, for getting lost in his work,” she says. “It’s an artist getting lost in love.” Omeni — in capturing the feeling of her assigned work, rather than doing a literal interpretation — will use hues of cool greens and deep blues. Omeni derives inspiration from the work of people of color in the floral sphere: women freed from slavery who grew and curated flower arrangements

to make a living, the customary flower arches that stood in meadows when Black people could not get married in churches. “I am another representative of the way floral designers are just as different as the flowers you see,” she says. For Omeni, it’s about community: she offers floral design workshops, and artistic activities like bloom bars and crown parties, to engage people who may only encounter professional flower arrangements at weddings and funerals. Art in Bloom is a delight for the senses and the intellect, a way to revisit pieces we have seen before and perceive them through another’s eyes. And for the floral designers, there’s the added bonus of being charged to think of their own work in a new way. “I think Art in Bloom is so popular because people love the floral creations, the marriage of art and flowers,” says Dowd. “It is a wonder in a beautiful way.” The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 61

A Five Points bungalow gets a makeover to double its square footage — and create a cheerful home for a modern-day family




o many, the little white bungalow in Five Points would have been unremarkable: too small for today’s tastes, run-down from years of housing college kids. But to Shannon Cassell, it was an opportunity. Cassell has a knack for renovating houses. A lawyer by training, she renovated two homes of her own in Chicago before moving to Raleigh in 2018. “There, the real estate is very much oriented toward renovating versus building,” she says, “and I’ve always had a passion for interior design.” Over the years, Cassell’s friends would turn to her to consult on additions and renovations, and she got a reputation as someone who could help “flip” a house. “It was so fun to help, and also a great learning experience for me — they weren’t paying me, but I was taking really great notes.” Naturally, when she and her family landed in Raleigh, they renovated their Drewry Hills home. A neighbor took note of her passion, so when a 900-square-foot bungalow on Pine Drive was advertised “For Sale by Owner,” she sent Cassell a photo of the sign. Cassell saw potential — and put in a bid. It turns out the home had been rented to students at North Carolina State University for decades. The homeowner had


LIGHT & SPACE In the kitchen, Shannon Cassell removed the washer-dryer and turned the space into storage for the bathroom and two slender pantries for the kitchen. They kept the window in the same spot, but connected the two-story addition off the back of the kitchen to open it onto a new family room area. Cassell modernized the layout with a large kitchen island and dry bar in between the kitchen and living areas, and replaced the cabinets and countertops. For the backsplash, Cassell added tongue-andgroove paneling, rather than tile. “Shannon came up with the idea and it was different, it really makes the kitchen pop,” says builder James Cregger.

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another offer from a builder, but she liked the idea that Cassell would be fixing it up instead of tearing it down. “It had such obvious potential with not much tweaking of the existing structure,” Cassell says. The two-bed, one-bath white bungalow had room for an add-on while still keeping the yard, and had good bones with its smart layout and original brick fireplaces. “It had the potential to be a three-bedroom, three-bath house that would work for a modern-day family, and the location was great,” says Cassell. It also stimulated the creative part of her personality: “My friends would ask how I have the brain space to flip houses on the side, and the reality is: I did it with all of my brain space that wasn’t going toward being a lawyer.” To work on this home, Cassell enlisted builder James Cregger of Rock Creek Builders, whom she’d met through her realtor when she moved to the area and did renovations on her home. “It’s easier for me to be my own client than it is to work for friends, but I have to work with a builder who has the same mindset, who wants to retain the character of the home and make good practical decisions,” she says. Cregger, a Raleigh native who studied at NC State, was similarly inter64 | WALTER

FRIENDLY FACELIFT The front of the home got a facelift without making too many major changes: Cassell removed the screened-in porch and railing and extended the front roof for a more seamless overhang, including moving the support beams for a better view. They finished the windows in more modern trimwork, and added a board-andbatten siding to the exterior.

FORM & FUNCTION Cassell and Cregger added a side entrance to the home to create a drop zone and mudroom on the way into the kitchen. “These days, you don’t want to carry stuff through the front door and drop it in the middle of the living room — we like drop zones and friend entrances,” says Cregger. Along one wall, Cassell built in two narrow pantries for seamless storage. The chandelier was from Cassell’s home; it was refinished by Steins for a new look. “They can transform anything, they can bring your creativity to life!” says Cassell.

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COZY SPACE The blue living room is the first thing you see when you walk into the home. Cassell added the crown molding and built-in shelving with cane paneling to give it some character, and retained the original fireplace. “This room was kind of trashed — remember, college students lived here — but we refinished the floors and brought it up to date,” says Cassell. “There was a lot of rotted wood and patch-and-repair!” says Cregger. They painted much of the trim, as well as the crown molding, the same color as the walls to make the space feel cozy.

ested in renovations. That said, “I told her many times that we should just tear the thing down — but I’m glad we didn’t!” he laughs. The two worked together to expand the footprint by about 1,000 square feet. They opened up the kitchen into a new family room, added another bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, and created a rec room and third bathroom in a new walk-out basement. “These days, people expect to have closets big enough to put their clothes in and a bathroom they can turn around in,” says Cregger. They updated the façade, added a side entrance off the kitchen, and built a deck off the back; they also put in all-new electrical, plumbing, and HVAC. And throughout, Cassell worked in smarter storage, including built-ins and expanded closet space. “The house is relatively small, just 1,800 square feet with the addition, so I didn’t want there to be storage furniture everywhere,” she says. “Now it has two living areas and a ginormous basement, so it lives really large.” As the project came to a close, Cassell outfitted the rooms with a mix of her own furniture — “the couches came over on my friend’s truck!” — and pieces from Steins Furniture & Lacquer Studio. “They were extraordinarily generous with us 66 | WALTER

SERENE RETREAT The largest bedroom is part of the addition. “This laid out great, with space for a walk-in closet and ensuite bathroom,” says Cregger. Cassell decorated the room top to bottom, just for fun, from the hanging upholstered headboard to twin dressers from Steins. “I knew this would be the showstopper moment,” she says. Cregger hung a barn-style door (below right) over the walk-in closet. “This way, the closet’s as large as it could possibly be,” says Cassell. In the adjoining bathroom, Cassell added a double vanity, modern shower, and a commode closet. “I really insist on those,” she laughs. The marble-clad shower is large enough for two, and a transom window brings in light while protecting privacy.

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and supportive of me and the little house that could,” says Cassell. The flip was a success; they had six offers the afternoon it listed last summer. “I was feeling total elation,” Cassell says of that validation. “I’d put so much blood, sweat, and tears into the home, and I was so proud of it when we were done.” The project also convinced Cassell that it was time to convert her hobby into a full-time gig. So in March, she quit her job as a lawyer and in May launched her new interior design company, Shannon Cassell Interiors. There’s still a learning curve — bookkeeping and client management — but the core of it, using her brain to figure out renovation solutions, is old hat. And behind all that is gratitude for a new career that fuels her and brings her joy. “I’m so proud that we saved this house,” Cassell says, “and happy to know it’s going to be loved.” 68 | WALTER

CASUAL LIVING The biggest change to the home was a two-story addition to the back of the house that nearly doubled its square footage. On the first floor, that meant space for a family room, bedroom, and bathroom. The family room opens up onto the kitchen for an open-plan layout that makes the home feel more spacious. Cassell outfitted the space with pieces from her own home and loaners from Steins.

BRIGHT BATH On the basement level, Cregger excavated out a hill to create a walk-out basement with French doors that open onto a patio and an area for a fire pit. Inside is a generous rec room with built-in shelving, a laundry room, storage under the stairs, and a third bathroom, pictured here. Throughout the home, Cassell used materials and finishes that were budget-friendly, but elevated.

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CHOW DOWN Smokehouse at Steve’s is a restaurant in Graham attached to a longtime market now run by a couple that grew up there. Its menu is centered around a wood-burning smoker.


A Graham couple revives an old concept in a new way at their Southern food destination


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rive west out of Raleigh on I-40 for just under an hour, and you’ll find Steve’s Garden Market. It’s a charming, old-fashioned grocer tucked into Alamance County’s small but lively town of Graham. “Graham has an old soul with some new blood,” says Steve’s owner Justin Long. At first glance, not much appears to have changed at Steve’s Garden Market since Steve and Patty Wall opened it in 1988. About 20 farmers deliver fresh produce directly each morning; North Carolina-grown turnips and sweet potatoes are piled high in wooden bushel baskets. Three ears of yellow corn cost just under $2; German Johnson tomatoes are $3 per pound. The pimento cheese — which flies off the shelves — has been made by the same person for more than 20 years. Fourteen butchers, some of whom have been there for more than 15 years, cut and grind fresh meat every day. A small plant selection greets customers as they approach the shop from the sizeable asphalt parking lot it sits on. “There’s nothing obscure, just dry goods, meats, the basics. We don’t have 12 boxes of cereal. But we have what you need,” says Long. “The idea is simple: if you want to make dinner tonight, we have the ingredients to make it from scratch.” Long and his wife, Meagan, took over Steve’s in 2017, but their relationship with the market started decades ago. Justin and Meagan each grew up in Graham, about five minutes apart, and shopped there as kids. “My Uncle Shakey lived across the street. Any time we’d visit him, we’d walk over to the store and grab a snack and drink,” says Justin. When he was a student at North Carolina State University, Justin worked as a waiter at Vin Rouge in Durham. He loved the energy of being in a restaurant, and the rich French fare reminded him of the comfort food he grew up with. Soon, he dropped out of college, working his way up to manager over the course of eight years. “I loved it, it’s what felt like home,” he says. “My mom cooked a lot. 72 | WALTER

Meagan and Justin Long

My grandmother cooked a lot, every Sunday we were at her house.” He and Meagan married in 2006 and eventually returned to their hometown, with Meagan working as a speech therapist and Justin running a restaurant in Mebane. But once they had kids, he found the restaurant hours difficult, so he switched tracks, working at commercial food supply company Sysco. “I was super happy there. It gave me my outlet working with restaurants and food but not getting home at three in the morning,” he says. By 2018, the Walls were ready to sell Steve’s Garden Market, but wanted it to remain the mom-and-pop store it had always been. Their banker, Reed LaPlante, a friend of the Longs, knew who’d be the perfect buyer. “I turned the opportunity down at first,” says Justin. “I knew it was a great business, but I liked where my career was going, and we had two small children. We weren’t in a place to tackle such a huge undertaking.” But what the Longs couldn’t help but notice was Steve and Patty’s relationship as both a husband-

and-wife team and business partners. “I could see us in them a little bit. What they were doing was tried and true. Maybe we could come in and mirror what they’d been doing,” says Justin. After a series of conversations, Justin and Meagan decided to go ahead and do it. The Walls stayed on as consultants for a few months afterwards to make for a smooth transition. At first, the goal was to keep things the same: low prices, local food purveyors, and most importantly, devoted customers. “We were able to keep our margins low. We wanted to keep the foot traffic and keep the loyal customers who had been shopping here for years,” says Justin. He made some small changes: opened up the space, widened the aisles, added some inventory. But soon he learned that owning a grocery store came with a startling amount of food waste. “We had farmers come get our waste for their livestock, but we still had so much,” Justin says. He saw it as an opportunity: “I had an idea to use our extra space as a commissary kitchen to take it and make jams, jellies, and sauces.”

“There’s nothing obscure, just dry goods, meats, the basics. We don’t have 12 boxes of cereal. But we have what you need.” —Justin Long

CUT THE WAIT On the restaurant side, Smokehouse at Steve’s, the Longs modeled their counter-service ordering system to cut down on lag time between checking out the menu and sitting down to eat.

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TAKE IT HOME The butchery at Steve’s Garden Market offers meat from local farms, many of which have been working with them for decades. The market has groceries and a selection of house-made foods.


They had the infrastructure to do it: when the Longs bought Steve’s Garden Market, they purchased the entire building it occupied. It had at one point been a larger grocery store, and also a church, but as it was, the market only took up half the space, if that. He started building out a kitchen — and was soon thinking bigger. “One day we were in the office and he was like, I am building a kitchen; we might as well do a restaurant,” says Meagan. “It was so new to me, this was a completely new world… all of a sudden we’re building an entire restaurant.” For Justin, there was a clear niche to fill: “There weren’t a lot of scratch restaurants in town and we had this great space. I wanted something where we could use all the produce and fresh meats we have. It’s a full-circle place.” They tore down walls and ceilings and traveled around to see how other barbecue joints ran their businesses. In 2019, Smokehouse at Steve’s opened its doors as a place for classic soul food served in a slightly modern yet comfortable environment. It’s drawn steady crowds since, turning out galvanized trays full of candied yams, brisket (the best-seller), banana pudding with a toasted marshmallow top, tangy cucumber salad, and, of course, barbecue. All the North Carolina classics, but elevated and decently portioned; beautifully plated, yet unpretentious. “Soulful Southern food is what I started with,” says Justin. “We focus on what we do well and stick with who we are.” The food comes out fast. The staff operates assembly-line style, inspired by a barbecue place the Longs ate at in an airport, of all places. Waiting to be seated, waiting for the menu, the drinks, the food to be prepared — that traditional restaurant framework didn’t appeal to Justin. “I want our customers to be able to be seated and eating amazing food within five, 10 minutes of walking into our restaurant,” he says. A giant live-edge wood table near the entrance serves as a centerpiece of the restaurant. Pre-pandemic (and hopefully again, soon), it’s where strangers would find themselves sharing stories as they devoured their quartered chicken and slaw.

The menu is centered around a wood-only J&R Manufacturing Oyler Pit smoker, a simple and rustic approach to barbecue. “There’s no gas, no electric, it’s a unique vessel that fits with this area,” says Justin. Beyond barbecue, there’s brisket, chicken, and vegetables used for sides and purees that all come out of the smoker. Relying on a single wood-burning vessel is no small task. “If we get wet wood, it ruins a day. If the delivery guys don’t show up, we’re scrapping up wood. Every couple hours, you have to check it,” says Justin. The community of Graham and beyond provides a steady stream of diners and shoppers. “I haven’t heard a bad thing about Steve’s; what this guy is doing is smart and good,” says customer Elizabeth Kerr of Mebane. “The meat cuts are fresh. The smoked chicken salad is delicious. The barbecue is the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s a nostalgic feeling in the grocery store and then great energy in the restaurant part.” You could head there for a date night or could lug in a car full of sweaty kids after a soccer match. “I didn’t want anyone to feel out of place. Whatever kind of day you’re having, I want them to be comfortable and I want the atmosphere to be authentic,” Justin says. And they did end up making those to-go items that sparked the expansion, including antipasto and a creamy, spreadable smoked chicken salad (“People either love it, or they leave it,” laughs Justin). The pandemic brought its challenges — while the market never closed during the pandemic, the smokehouse shut down for two weeks before pivoting to takeout, then moving to limited capacity — and these days, they’re having trouble staffing back up. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Justin says. Luckily there is a core group of staff to pull from — and it’s a family-run business, after all, with the Longs there every day, and Justin’s Uncle Shakey stoking the fire in the smoker each night. Aside from the satisfaction in returning to their hometown, Justin and Meagan are glad to have given this community pillar new energy without detaching from its roots. “Food is something precious, a connector,” says Justin, “and the people here have embraced our family. It gives us great pride.”

DECAMP DETOURS Headed for the mountains or coast this summer? Check out these pit stops. CHERRIES TWO GO This spot is a must for their famous chicken pies (and strawberry ones), fresh hot soups made daily, and every type of cake imaginable. 3890 Littlebrook Drive, Clemmons THE FRIENDLY MARKET This champion of Southern comfort food offers savory pies, casseroles, soups, salads, and dips, as well as locally sourced goods and produce. 205 Friendly Road, Morehead City NEWTON GROVE DRUG STORE AND SODA FOUNTAIN Around since the early 1950s, stop at this small-town pharmacy for an old-fashioned milkshake, handdipped ice cream cone, or other timeless confection. 305 Weeks Circle, Newton Grove SALEM KITCHEN Headed to the mountains? Stop at Salem Kitchen for fresh and frozen meals, cakes, pies, cheese straws, hostess gifts, and more. 50 Miller Street, Winston-Salem SMITH’S RED AND WHITE A family business since 1954, Smith’s offers quality meats including link and patty sausage, barbecue, and country ham. Folks also love their chicken salad, relish and pickles. 3635 N. Halifax Road, Rocky Mount THE SOUTHERLY BISCUIT CO. Try the scratch-made breakfast or lunch sandwiches at this grab-andgo Southern bakery, filled with classic items like bacon and eggs, or less-expected tastes like fried catfish. Grab a pie while you’re there. 1206 N. Lake Park Boulevard, Unit D, Carolina Beach Additional reporting by Riley Bensen. The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 75

Photographer KENNEDI CARTER’S captivating portraits explore intimacy and vulnerability

through HER LENS by COLONY LITTLE photography by CHRISTOPHER WILSON stylist & flowers by LISA JOYNER location HAW RIVER BALLROOM


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The December 2020 cover of British Vogue, featuring Kennedi Carter’s photograph of Beyoncé


ast year, at just 21, Kennedi Carter opened her first solo exhibition, called Flexing/ New Realm, at CAM Raleigh. Work from the show, which features Black subjects in Elizabethan attire reminiscent of grand manner portraiture, also won the Juror’s Choice Award in the ninth edition of the Photoville FENCE project, a national juried competition with photographers’ work displayed in outdoor exhibitions over the country. Carter’s images have the power to soothe, seduce, transport, and transform viewers from the familiar to the unimaginable. “I’ve rarely come across a young artist as unique and passionate as Kennedi Carter,” says Rose Shoshana, who represents the artist at ROSEGALLERY in Santa Monica, California. “Kennedi has a curiosity and excitement about, not just photography, but all things relating to the world she lives in. I find her a joy to be around as her inquisitiveness is infectious and leads me down paths I haven’t


previously explored.” I first met the Durham-based photographer last summer, for an interview about Flexing. As we talked about Carter’s photographic influences, which include LaToya Ruby Frazier and Deana Lawson, she observed how their commercial work bears a strong resemblance with their fine arts photography. Creating images that harmonize both sides of the creative practice was a process that intrigued her. At the time, she set a remarkably prescient goal for herself: to accept more editorial work that could seamlessly blend into her existing portfolio. By the fall, Carter landed one of the biggest photographic flexes of all time: an editorial shoot of Beyoncé — yes, the Beyoncé — for British Vogue. “That shoot was one of those things that just fell from the sky,” says Carter, who by the end of summer had slowly taken on some editorial work. “I was with my family a great deal and not doing much, and then I got an email asking if I was interested in doing the shoot,” she says.

“I was, of course, quite interested.” The opportunity may have felt like a stroke of luck, but in the immortal words of Oprah Winfrey: “luck is preparation meeting opportunity.” Both Beyoncé and British Vogue editor Edward Enninful were deliberate in choosing a Black female photographer for the shoot, but it was Carter’s talent for portraiture that brought the young photographer to mind. As Beyoncé noted in her interview with Enninful about the shoot, “It takes enormous patience to rock with me.” The shoot ran long — 16 hours instead of the scheduled six — as the editors brought her through various looks. But, says Carter, balancing humble diplomacy with the unabashed excitement of a fan, “Beyoncé was really, really, really, really nice. She was an extremely good sport about it.” Among the images from the 20-page story is one of Beyoncé in a curve-hugging, black Thierry Mugler bodysuit that’s gracefully embellished by a pair of leather stilettos. The power of Beyoncé’s pose is rivaled by an implacable gaze that bores into the viewer’s soul. Carter’s photography landed on the cover — the youngest photographer ever to shoot a cover for the magazine — and the feature catapulted her into high demand, landing her gigs to shoot big names — Erykah Badu, Lakeith Stanfield — at national publications including Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Entertainment Weekly. In a short period of time, Carter received a crash course on print publishing. “I’m slowly but surely realizing that editorial can be quite intense and at times it doesn’t pay as well,” she says. Balancing travel schedules, call times, anemic budgets, demanding personalities, and unrealistic expectations are all challenges that she recognizes as part of a business model, but Carter’s perspective extends beyond her own experiences. “I think people really underestimate how much these magazines are struggling,” she says. “So many are going from print to digital because they can’t afford the printing costs.”

Lately, Carter’s freelance work has dominated her creative schedule. In addition to her editorial work, she’s currently one of nine artists included in Google Pixel’s Creator Labs incubator for emerging photographers and directors. For this self-described homebody, frequent travel is a draining byproduct of her recent success. But it has also sharpened her focus: in the short term, Carter plans to take some well-earned time off to focus on her personal work; longer term, she’s considering going back to school to earn her MFA. “In the long run I see myself in a fine arts realm,” she says. Born in Texas and raised in North Carolina, Carter joins a legion of southern Black image makers, including Endia Beal, Tyler Mitchell, Keith Calhoun, and Chandra McCormick, who use photography as prism to reflect the many facets of Black life. Carter’s photography captures the essence of solemnity, exploring themes of intimacy and vulnerability. Her images avoid depictions of trauma; instead they bear witness to the beauty and complexity of humanity. The strength of the gaze between her lens and her subjects punctuates her images with familiarity — with close family members and strangers alike. “I was drawn by the loving confidence, real or imagined, radiated by the people in Kennedi’s photographs,” says Gab Smith, the former director of CAM Raleigh who, among many others, played a crucial role in championing Carter’s career. “Her work in Flexing really welcomed visitors of all ages to engage with it.” In one series, titled Ridin’ Sucka Free, Carter explores the world of Black cowboys and cowgirls in images that subvert the popular notions of cowboy culture. Trading Stetson hats and engraved silver belt buckles for contemporary adornments like a gilded Gucci belt or a satin du-rag, Carter expands our field of vision around the American cowboy. The title of the series also suggests something more: she’s not only celebrating a lifestyle, but is imagining a state of mind where free thought and indepen-

“I think a utopia is something that is so foreign to us that we wouldn’t know how to grasp the things that would happen in it.” — Kennedi Carter

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This page: Kennedi Carter. Opposite page: Photographs by Carter (clockwise from top left): 4ever Luther’s, When Hands Touch, Tribute 2 Troy, Sheila’s House; Ridin’ Sucka Free

dence are encouraged; where our differences are celebrated rather than judged. In these photos, the riders enjoy the freedom to roam, explore, and express themselves in a world of their own — a guiding theme that Carter continues to interrogate in her visual art practice. “I think a lot of the ideas I look forward to pursuing in my personal work surround what a utopia looks like,” says Carter. “I think a utopia is something that is so foreign to us that we wouldn’t know how to grasp the things that would happen in it.” An example: Knight on Fletcher St (2020), which shows a horseman from Philadelphia wearing a medieval-style chain headpiece, sitting on a chestnut-colored steed. They’re positioned on a sidewalk, against a jet-black wall. In this image, Carter plays with time, bringing elements of the past and present together to suggest a realm where these bizarre juxtapositions in style are the norm, and not an aberration. Carter plans to continue to develop this particular series, with the hopes that over time, the themes and the images will cohere as 80 | WALTER

she explores various cultures around the United States. She wants to give her images time to age; her peers wait more than 10 years before issuing monographs, and she’s patient. But while her calendar remains full, Carter relishes in quiet moments with photobooks from her ROSEGALLERY family that offer creative inspiration. “Every time I go there, Rose gives me a book,” she says. Recent favorites include Sleeping By the Mississippi by documentary photographer Alec Soth, and Carnival Strippers, a collection of images and interviews with exotic dancers from the 1970s by Susan Meiselas. This book, Carter says, takes viewers both on and off stage, giving a voice to the dancers that offers readers a different point of view of itinerant carnival workers. “With Carnival Strippers, I was interested in it because it offers a perspective that you didn’t even know existed,” says Carter. Both photographers render subjects found in society’s fringes with a thoughtful, respectful eye. “I love very raw photos,

it’s helping me figure out exactly what I’m drawn to.” Experimentation is another draw for Carter’s interest in returning to school. “I would like to get into documentaries; finding little strange stories that exist and keeping record of them,” she says. “With the images I’m hoping to make, I want them to appear a bit bizarre and strange.” Evidence of this is found in her portfolio, among small details, slightly out of focus, that ignite further curiosity: a framed, folded American flag next to a woman wearing lace babydoll lingerie; the bloodshot eyes of a woman in a long blonde wig wearing an iridescent sequin bodysuit. These intriguing subtleties ask questions whose answers will likely take shape in narrative form through a book or zine; she’s currently working on a publication using WePresent’s editorial platform. But for now, she’s taking it slow, allowing her images to age. And, most importantly, after months of riding this exciting wave of her career, Carter says, “I’m giving myself time to breathe.”

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T. Edward “Eddie” Nickens practices a cast in the Raleigh Rose Garden, near his home.


Through his writing, T. Edward Nickens details a life of outdoor adventures




own a flight of stairs in an unassuming bungalow in University Park is a veritable temple for the outdoors enthusiast. Here, you’ll find row upon row of steel racks loaded with tree stands, fishing rods, rifles, and bows and arrows. There’s an entire rack dedicated to sleeping bags; another holding 40-plus pairs of boots, each designed for a different outdoor activity, climate, or surface. A full-sized canoe rests on wooden blocks, and huge plastic bins are packed with freeze-dried camping food. There’s a butchering table

where, I’m told, hundreds of bagged animals have been cleaned and stripped. A nearby freezer holds the fruit of those labors: moose, venison, multiple species of duck, jackrabbit, squirrel, quail, and bear. This is the office of Mr. T. Edward Nickens, one of the most accomplished outdoorsmen of our generation, and a New York Times bestselling author of seven books on hunting, camping, and fishing, plus decades of magazine articles on some of the most epic adventures ever captured on the page. A proud North Carolina native,

Eddie, as he’s known, was raised in High Point. At a young age he gravitated to the outdoors. It started by innocently kicking around in his backyard, a 40mile stretch of forest and stream nestled in the Piedmont. An avid reader of the hunting and fishing magazines of the 1970s, Nickens spent countless hours in those woods shooting, angling, and orienteering. A family friend, Keith Gleason, took him out on his first hunts. Nickens got degrees in English and journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1983, with aspirations of becoming a professional

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writer. He spent two years after graduation biding his time behind the cash register at Sutton’s Drug Store on Franklin Street, writing essays in longhand. There, Nickens befriended the owner of a building down the way, who happened to be an amateur writer herself. She offered him a deal: if he would clean the office building in the evenings, he could have access to a small office of his own to work in. Nickens honed his craft sitting at that desk, gazing out the window onto the street below. “It was as close to Hemingway in Cuba as I could imagine at the moment,” he says. Nickens landed his first professional gig, writing an outdoors column, “Field Notes,” for the weekly Zebulon Record, in the early 1980s. Six months later, he successfully pitched the column to The Chapel Hill News — and with that, became a syndicated columnist. Nickens rode that momentum into magazine writing, leapfrogging around the state for local magazine jobs, mostly down east. He finally landed in Raleigh in 1985. It’s there that he met his future wife, Julie, a few years later, and settled down to start a family. “She’s the glue that holds it all together,” Nickens says. As his reputation as an outdoors writer grew, so did the bylines — features and regular columns at publications including Field & Stream, Audubon, Men’s Journal, Outdoor Life, Salt Water Sportsman, Our State, and Garden & Gun, many of which Nickens continues to write for regularly. “I attached myself to powerful editors like the bad rash that just won’t go away for them,” he says, in his own selfdeprecating way. For the outdoors enthusiast, getting paid to write about hunting and fishing sounds pretty darned cushy, but in truth, a lot of work goes into the process. Lining up a trip to less-traveled territory — assignments have brought him to the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico, southwestern Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico — can easily require a solid week of research, 84 | WALTER

The writer inside his office, in the basement of his University Park home. Opposite page: mementos from his travels.

lining up travel itineraries, packing all the right gear from his collection, and pumping locals for inside tips on who to meet and where to go. Once in the field, he’s off the grid, but he’s always on, tuned into every moment to be sure he captures the story. When he gets back, there’s always a mountain of deadlines and life to catch up on. (He’s not looking for any sympathy; he iss spending the lion’s share of that time fishing and hunting.) David E. Petzal, field editor of Field & Stream, describes Nickens’ writing as a style of storytelling that “can both break your heart and make you wet yourself laughing.” Nickens says he just loves a good story — and it happens that his are told through the lens of fishing and hunting. It comes through in his writing. In his latest book, The Last Wild Road: Adventures and Essays from a Sporting Life, e released in May, Nickens chronicles

pre precarious conditions — stalking an animal that could easily end him, a anim near-drowning — but it’s not bragganea docio. Instead, he focuses on the details doc that bring the reader right along with him, like the type of fly that plucked him the epic brook trout out of the virgin waters of the Kanairiktok River in Labwat rador, Canada (a 5-inch-long, hand-tied, rad mink-fur mouse), or the way the water min is hemmed h in by “an unbroken curtain of spruce s and tamarack, blueberries and Labrador tea.” There’s a love of adventure that Th permeates his work, and the heart of a per conservationist, too. In his earlier days, con Nickens wrote for The National Trust Nic for Historic Preservation, Smithsonian, and Audubon, on topics of science and ecology rather than sport. He currently ecol serves on the boards of Backcountry serv Hunters & Anglers and the Bonefish & Hun Tarpon Trust. Nickens has consulted Tar as a speaker, speechwriter, white-paper

author, and communications specialist for a range of conservation organizations, including for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “I sense a growing dissatisfaction with being disconnected from nature,” says Nickens, “but it’s an amazing thing to see how the eat-local and grow-local movements have energized the hunting and fishing world.” As a leader in the outdoor world, he’s merely pressing on in that mission. “Hunters and anglers have been at the forefront of the conservation movement since the late 19th century — they’ve seen the direct impact of global

climate change,” Nickens says. Nickens has traveled to some of the most exotic corners of the world, but proclaims his true love for his adopted hometown of Raleigh. He loves it for the equal access it affords him to both mountain and coast — “I was trout fishing in the mountains last week and on the boat in Morehead City this past weekend!” — and for what we’ve got in the Triangle, too. “We’ve got Umstead, Jordan Lake, and Falls Lake,” he says. “That’s, what, over 150,000 acres of open land and water we can access?” And most importantly, Raleigh is where he and Julie created their fam-

Nickens focuses on the details… like the type of fly that plucked the epic brook trout out of the virgin waters of the Kanairiktok River in Labrador, Canada.

ily. Nickens has dragged his daughter, Markie, and son, Jack, to some of the furthest reaches of the earth on assignment, from dirt-floor huts in Honduras to sea kayaking with whale researchers in Northern Quebec. “They’ve had the chance to see the world in a way they never would have been able to otherwise,” he says. Nickens has another book, The Total Camping Manual, coming out in July, and a calendar solid with travel assignments after a year of sticking mostly close to home. And Nickens and his wife will soon be “original-nesters” — don’t call them empty-nesters — as their youngest graduates from college and embarks on his own career as a sportsman. “Writing for magazines has been a real blessing,” Nickens says, “but I consider my family my greatest body of work.” Turn the page to read excerpts from T. Edward Nickens’ latest book. The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 85

The Graduate by T. EDWARD NICKENS



Writer and outdoorsman T. Edward Nickens (right) with his son, Jack, in the Montana backcountry in 2018.

years, he pelted guides with relentless questioning from Maine to the Florida Keys. One June, on Idaho’s South Fork of the Snake River, he heard that college students worked Western rivers over their summer breaks, shuttling boats and guiding. That was the end of his future as a summer lawn care consultant. With his Sweetwater course now over, he’d bummed a drift boat from an instructor, and I was his first real client. “Thank you, Lord,” Jack said. “I’m not going to lie to you, Daddy. I was getting pretty nervous until you caught that fish.” “You’re not the only one, son,” I said. “And we need to talk about your idea of pocket water.” When Jack walked out from under the tall Bighorn cottonwoods at the Sweetwater school base camp, I hadn’t seen him for a week, but I could tell from his loping gait that Montana had changed him — that a week on the river had given him passage of a sort that he could not yet understand but that I could not deny. He’d been bitten

by the West, and wherever his river would run in the future, it would run far from home for at least a portion of his life. This is the cruel contract of parenthood: Give them roots and wings, then pray that the former hold as your child spreads the latter in relentless freedom. With the monkey off our backs, we settled in for perhaps the finest afternoon of fishing I’ve ever had. Jack held me in the current seam as I worked the fly all the way down the gravel bar, cast by cast. We caught fish at Grey Cliffs and Suck Hole and Mike’s Cabin, and we whooped it up with every strike. Did you see that? Holy cow, man, did you see that? Jack spoke of these places like he might describe the local parks up the street back home. He was fully immersed in the magic of Montana, the fish and the river and the wild country, as the wild dreams of a 14-year-old were coming true right in front of him. It was just one of those days that leaves you shaking your head and

“TK remember being kids under a lilac “Heck yeah, man!” bush or playing in a my guide hollered.forest — and these “I’ve been thinking memories are starting about that pocket ever points when they look since we put in.”at the sculptures.” — Eddie Nickens

Courtesy Andrew Gerrie

’m gonna ferry across the river,” my guide said. “Some pocket water I want you to hit.” “Sounds good,” I replied. I gazed downstream. Montana’s Bighorn River is big water, but it was flowing higher than usual, and I hadn’t seen much of what I’d call “pocket water” yet. But I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut. It was too early in the float to question the guide. What I did see, however, was a dark gravel bar rising under the drift boat and a plume of water pouring over the ledge into a deep green hole the size of my front yard. I didn’t want to scuttle the guide’s float plan, but I wasn’t going to pass up a giant fishy-looking lair either. I cast a white articulated fly my guide had handed me earlier, and dropped it into the billowing pillow of water above the gravel bar. The leechlike blob rode the flow like a kid on a pool slide — I could see why he called his creation the Wet Sock — but the second it sank to the green abyss below, a fish hit and bent the rod. Not bad when the first fish of the day is a Bighorn brown trout just a smidge over 16 inches. “Heck yeah, man!” my guide hollered. “I’ve been thinking about that pocket ever since we put in.” That’s when I nearly stuck my foot in my mouth. You call that pocket water? I thought. But the guide was my son, Jack, and we had gone a first hour without a fish—and to be honest, neither of us were sure how this day trip was going to pan out. Jack had just spent a week at Sweetwater Guide School, a hands-on, dawn-to-dark boot camp for aspiring guides. It was his high school graduation gift — learning how to row a drift boat and field-fix a jet outboard and calm down cranky anglers. Jack had fallen in love with fly fishing when he was 14 years old, wading Montana’s Gallatin River. Over the next few

checking your heart. We all get them occasionally, moments in the field when you know that this is one you will carry to your grave. The fish were biting like crazy, yes, and their runs seemed stronger and their spots more finely chiseled than ever in the Bighorn light. But more than the fishing, it was the first day that we’d floated as equals, and the sadness that came with the loss of my little boy was baptized in the gratitude that from this day forward, I would fish and hunt with this man in the boat. By midafternoon, we didn’t have much longer to fish. Soon Jack would have to hit the oars hard; we had a six-hour drive to Missoula still ahead of us. But then he slowed the boat one last time. “I want you to hit that log,” he said. “See it?” “I think so.” It was a giant sculpture of twisted driftwood, 8 feet tall, at least. Who could miss it? But as my mouth opened for a wisecrack, my guide tucked me into range. My first cast brought a ferocious slash from the largest trout we’d seen all day, but the heavy water carried the drift boat too swiftly for a second crack. Jack slipped overboard and pulled the drift boat 30 feet up current. “I’ll hold the boat,” he said. “You just catch the fish.” We pulled two more fish from the hole, the second one running wild like a puppy in the yard. The water likely spent, Jack pulled himself back in the boat, rowed clear of the swift current, then stowed the oars and leaned back, soaking in the sun, the moment, the river, and his future, which unfurled just about as far as the next bend in the Bighorn. If there is a finer thing than to be 17 years old on a Montana river, I can only barely imagine what that might be. “I don’t know, Daddy,” he said, kicking his Chaco-clad feet on the cooler. He grinned over a grimy sun buff and stroked a 15-day-old beard that I could actually make out in the right slant of sunlight. “I’m thinking of keeping the ‘stache, at least. Think I can pull it off ?” I started to taste my foot again, but caught myself in time. I reckon if there’s anywhere in this world that a young man can still dream, it’s Montana. The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 87

The Local Haunt


caught the first fish in a small pool that clung to the rock face like lichen, 15 feet below the top drop of a double waterfall, just before the creek plunged over a 120-foot cliff. I was simply messing around as we took a breather before the trail’s final descent to the bottom of the gorge. Nothing could live in there, I’d figured, as I halfheartedly rolled a yellow Sweat Bee fly into the hole. The fly held less than two seconds on the edge of a foam line before a little brown trout smacked it like it was the last piece of a pizza at a frat party. The trout ping-ponged around the pool, with nowhere to go. I was just as surprised as the fish. It seemed incredible that a trout could live in this crack in the cliff. The fish must have washed down from upstream at some point, and unless high water swept it over the waterfall — and it likely wouldn’t survive the ride — its life forevermore would be constrained by this one plunge pool hardly four steps wide. Some days, we all know how that feels. Like a lot of us, I’ve been sticking closer to home lately, although thankfully my home is just a few hours’ drive from both mountain and sea. And I’ve been charmed, tempted, and, admittedly, made a little jealous by the far-off and seemingly exotic, as I scroll through social-media pics of pals in their own necks of the woods — Montana trout streams, Everglades flats, Maine grouse woods. But being yoked to home ground has led me to think more deeply about the meaning of place, and about the hard-to-put-yourfinger-on-it values of familiar landscapes. And on this quick camping escape to the North Carolina mountains, I edged a little closer to the hold home ground has on me. From the ridgetop road, my buddy Matt Maness and I wound down the mountain on a trail that descended in long, sweeping switchbacks. When I finally got a glimpse of the creek below the falls, I could see a boulder-filled run, just 88 | WALTER

wide and straight enough for a back cast. I’ve fished this stretch of the southern Appalachians for more than 30 years, but I’d never fished this stretch of creek. I could almost smell the trout. I looked over at Matt. “Told you,” he said. We moved downhill, into a percussive growl of falling water that rose through rhododendrons on cool currents of air. At each turn in the trail, I could see down through tall red oaks and yellow poplar. It looked untouched and primeval, but I knew that wasn’t the case. Across the Appalachians, from Alabama to Maine, nearly every slope of Eastern woodlands was once timbered, nearly every stream choked with slash. A century ago, these mountains were ground down to their bones and sinews and tendons, “sucked and gutted, milked dry, denuded of its rich primeval treasures,” wrote Thomas Wolfe, who saw the destruction firsthand. Yet today, there’s a sense of forgiveness in these deep gorges and hardwood mountain coves, as if the forests have pardoned, for the moment, the sins of their oppressors. The towering forests over our trout creek disguised the sawn stumps that molder below. Trails that lead to many remote Appalachian trout runs or grouse coverts often follow the beds of long-gone logging roads. In the West, the value of wild places is partly writ in their expansiveness, their primal untouched qualities, the distance from the nearest hard road. But in these ancient mountains, beauty seems to root itself to an inextinguishable faith in the healing power of time. Wildness here is a deep, enduring temperament, not a metric measured by the mile. Hang on, these mountains seem to say. Have faith. Matt and I traded runs until thunder grumbled over the ridge and the water started to rise. With time running out, I climbed toward a large pool hemmed in by a giant boulder slab that nearly spanned the canyon floor. With the fly

rod in one hand, I felt with the other for fingerholds in rock smoothed by 12,000 years of moving water while my felt soles skittered on old-growth rock lichen. Three casts went ignored, but I knew there were fish to be had. When a small yellow caddisfly zipped by my face, I downsized my fly with the palest caddis in the box. Fish in these remote freestone streams aren’t typically so picky, but fish tend to tell you how picky they want to be. On the next cast, a wild brown trout slurped the fly. This fish had plenty of places to go, and plenty of line-breaking logs and ledges under which to hide. I steered it clear of the gnarly stuff three times, babying the light tippet, then cradled the wild, 10-inch trout in my hand as I backed out the hook. When the fish slipped from my fingers, it held tentatively in the slow flow of the tailout, then darted upstream toward a mossed-over boulder that jutted like a gray-green knuckle into the pool. The fish knew right where it wanted to be. The trout finned to hold itself steady in the main flow of current, then slid sideways and out of sight. It was back in its place, and I turned around and headed downstream, searching, more intently than ever these days, for mine. Excerpted from The Last Wild Road: Adventures and Essays from a Sporting Life (Lyon’s Press, 2021).

Getty Images



Tyler Cuningham

Jockey Lauren Gray at the Cardinal at North Hills Derby Day celebration.

WALTER’s roundup of gatherings, celebrations, and virtual fun around the Triangle.

90 Derby Day Celebration 91 Sharing Space at Bloomsbury Bistro 93 Literary Luncheon 94 Heights House Grand Opening 94 East Coast Greenway Ride 94 Wake County Arts Night

To have your event featured in The Whirl, submit your images and information at

The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 89

THE WHIRL DERBY DAY CELEBRATION On Friday, April 30, The Cardinal at North Hills celebrated their second annual Derby Day celebration. For this fun event at the senior living community, Cardinal staffers crafted their own “horses” and competed as jockeys while ressident fans cheered them along. A performance of My Old Kentucky Home, mint juleps, and other Kentucky Derby-inspired treats completed the afternoon.

Guests enjoy the festivities

Joshua Steadman

Ruth Barnett, Bill Barnett

Ashleigh Bowden

Art Henderson

Abby Romaine, Ernie Kastner

James Eton, Dustin Lewis, Stephen Mullis


Linday Horton, Betty Lineberger

Abby Romaine, Art Henderson, Ernie Kastner

SHARING SPACE AT BLOOMSBURY BISTRO On Wednesday, April 14, Bloomsbury Bistro owners Anne Stuart and Stephen Koster hosted artist Ellen Hathaway for an evening of fine art and fine food.

Tyler Cunningham

Laura Raynor, Ellen Hathaway, Anne Stuart Koster, Stephen Koster

Scenes inside the restaurant

Peggy Campbell, Patrick Campbell


Jason Miller, Anne Stuart Koster, Kimberly Miller, Jordan Gross

PART OF THE FABRIC OF RALEIGH SINCE 1899 Our patients receive state-of-the-art care in a warm, professional, safe and friendly environment. We welcome new patients!

Laura Raynor, Jeff Hoggard, Debbie Hoggard

OUR SIGNATURE SERVICES INCLUDE: Comprehensive & Cosmetic Dental Care Same-Day CEREC Crowns Invisalign Orthodontics Dental Implants Sleep Apnea TMJ Therapy







Courtesy Carolina Donor Services (GROUNDBREAKING), courtesy Women’s Theatre Festival (OTHELLO)

LITERARY LUNCHEON On Friday, April 30, the Beaufort Historical Association hosted a Literary Luncheon with special guest Kristy Woodson Harvey, the New York Times bestselling author of Under the Southern Sky. Harvey signed books and mingled with fans and friends.

Kristy Woodson Harvey, Booth Parker, Elizabeth Lusink, Millie Warren

Kristy Woodson Harvey

Catherine Carter, Sydney Jarrell

let’s socialize

Kristy Woodson Harvey, Stephanie Gray, Shelly Porter

Will Madison, Steve Puckett



Kim Westbrook-MacDonald, Sarah Shepherd, Jeff Shepherd, Mary Ann Baldwin

EAST COAST GREENWAY RIDE On April 20, two North Carolina-based cycling advocates completed a 1,200-mile journey on the East Coast Greenway with a celebration at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Steven HardyBraz and Dave Connelly rode 50-80 miles per day to meet with government leaders and visit parks, historical sites, and bike shops to promote cycling and its community benefits.

Ayn-Monique Klahre, Sara Shepherd, Jeff Shepherd

Jeff Shepherd, Kim Westbrook-MacDonald

Lynn Minges, Sarah Shepherd, Jeff Shepherd

WAKE COUNTY ARTS NIGHT On March 6, the United Arts Council partnered with the Wake County Public School System and Crabtree Valley Mall to present Arts Night, a showcase of Wake County Student Art. A pop-up gallery is on display on the lower level.

Charles Phaneuf, Melissa Timney, Cathy Moore, Freddie-Lee Heath

Steven Hardy-Braz, Sig Hutchinson, Dave Connelly


Brynn Shillings

Melissa Poppe, Claire Simmons

Student art on display

Courtesty East Coast Greenway Alliance (BIKES); Courtesy United Arts Council

Paul Tuorto, Bryan Costello

Jennifer Noble Kelly

HEIGHTS HOUSE HOTEL GRAND OPENING On Thursday, May 6, Heights House Hotel celebrated its Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting. Owners Sarah and Jeff Shepherd, Mayor Mary Ann Baldwin, and Kim Westbrook-MacDonald from the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce cut the ribbon, and a small group attended to tour the hotel renovated by the Shepherds, Maurer Architecture, Greg Paul Builders, and Bryan Costello Design.

EXTRAS Take WALTER to go! There’s always something to discover on our website and social media. Here’s what’s been happening.

Taylor McDonald (FOOD); Addie Ladner (PICNIC); courtesy UNC Press (HIKES); Mallory Cash (WILSON); Cat Nguyen (HOTEL); Courtesy AirBNB (BEACH)



30+ NOTABLE STRIP MALL EATS IN RALEIGH From cheap tacos to fine French and Italian cuisine to authentic Ethiopian, check out these restaurants that dish up food in unexpected and convenient locations.

WHERE TO HAVE A PICNIC IN RALEIGH Consider this list of great places all around the city to enjoy your favorite to-go meal outside this season.

GET OUTSIDE WITH THESE BOOKS Our area is full of great adventures for those of us who love to be outside. Pick up a few of these guides and hike, bike, float, and fish your way through our beautiful surroundings.






Studio scenes with award-winning Greenville, NC, artist Richard Wilson whose work bridges the gap between then and now. @mallorybcash

Step inside the highly-anticipated Heights House, built in 1858. After a three-year renovation, Sarah and Jeff Shepherd have reimagined it as a chic boutique hotel. @cultureshockart @catnguyenphoto

@Jaclynmorgan Incredible work! Happy to see a Greenville artist here @crtung Beautiful art!! @Janistreiber Very excited to visit Greenville studio in May @richardwilsonart

@lk_design_nc So beautiful! They did such a great job. Looking forward to seeing it. @bettyjeansflowertruck Beautiful! We have enjoyed riding by & watching the progress. @Ashleyjanegeorgia Those bathrooms!



Planning your summer getaway? We’ve rounded up 15 dreamy Airbnbs along the Carolina coast on the site! @Atrain6978 Some of my favorite summer days were spent sitting up on that top deck! @allympenn@cynb11 @anniemae84 @jessica.hauser @blpettitt52#buddys @russb_I I TI @hearthstonemarketing So beautiful!

The Art & Soul of Raleigh | 95


A Man of PRESENCE Late Somerhill Gallery owner Joe Rowand had a decades-long impact on Triangle arts


omerhill Gallery was already a celebrated center for new art in the Triangle when I moved here in 1974. Joe Rowand had opened it in Chapel Hill two years earlier, and his Sunday showings of new work by artists like Maud Gatewood, S. Tucker Cooke, and Herb Jackson drew hundreds of folks from all over the Triangle and beyond. They parked haphazardly on all entrances to the Straw Valley location, on US Highway 15/501, in anticipation of a glass of wine and an afternoon of fellowship with Joe. The gallery was a little piece of New York, infused with Joe’s cutting-edge taste and awesome, hip energy. He almost single-handedly reshaped the arts scene when he arrived 40 years ago. Somerhill moved to Eastgate Shopping Center in Chapel Hill in 1989, and then to an elegant new space in Durham in 2008, before closing in 2010. To be sure, when Somerhill went belly-up, there was a lot of heartache left behind; Joe is not without his detractors. But to me, and many of the collectors and artists whose collections and careers he shaped, his influence was undeniable.


Joe embraced many good causes that he believed made the Triangle more dynamic. For several years, he chaired the advisory council for the then-new Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, served on the North Carolina Awards Committee, and hosted countless fundraising events for environmental awareness, animal rights, and progressive political causes at his chic country home near Hillsborough, designed by Phil Szostak. When I asked Joe to co-chair the gala for the 50th Anniversary of the North Carolina Museum of Art in 1997, he — not surprisingly — produced table chargers crafted in Italy, opera singers, and ballet dancers to welcome guests, and, of course, the Duke Chorale to encircle the diners and sing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Sadly, Joe succumbed to the COVID-19 virus on February 25. It was a loss to all of us who admired Joe, considered him a dear friend, and collected his artists without reservation. “Joe had a profound impact on my exciting journey of collecting art,” says friend and collector Marion Church of Raleigh. “I will miss the adventures

he took me on through our conversations and the stories he told. He was an institution.” “At Somerhill, art was presented with a Bergdorf Goodman touch that made you realize you could not continue life without that very work of art — or, at least, a Christmas ornament,” says longtime friend Melissa Peden, a former gallerist herself. “Joe was an original, a man of presence, a gentleman of style.” But it was the artists he encouraged that inspired Joe the most. They were his life, and he gave them wings. “For me, as for many other North Carolina artists, Joe was a buoyant, all-stops-out advocate,” says photographer Elizabeth Matheson, long represented by Somerhill. “I am forever grateful for his support of my work and for the lovely and lively gift of friendship which followed.” This month, we will finally be able to celebrate Joe’s life with a small ceremony. And I’m comforted to know that his legacy will live on: whenever I enter a home in Raleigh where art is collected and loved, and where the artists he championed are on view, I feel the spirit of Joe Rowand.

Courtesy Larry Wheeler


4401 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27612

(919) 571-2881




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