Friday, April 18, 2014

Tilling The Soil Through Time

St. Francisville, LA: Tilling The Soil Through Time
By Anne Butler

Turk's CapIn 1831 the Encyclopaedia Americana called the District of Nueva Feliciana the garden of Louisiana, its rich well-watered soils and happy climate perfect for the cultivation of gardens both pragmatic and merely pleasing to the senses.
The first cash crops, indigo and cotton, corn and sugarcane, were planted as soon as the fields were laboriously cleared. Each early dwelling had its kitchen garden and truck patch for growing foodstuffs for family and farm animals, plus herbs for cooking as well as medicinal purposes. And once those plantings had been established and the pioneering families prospered, attention turned to ornamental gardens, formal parterres and orderly bordered beds of flowering shrubs—azaleas, camellias, sweet olive and hip gardenia, climbing roses and other heritage plants. Some of these 19th-century gardens still exist, most notably Rosedown and Afton Villa, and these historic plantings have been joined by equally impressive contemporary landscaping like Imahara’s Botanical.
The weekly Farmers’ Market, open Thursday and Saturday mornings, allows present-day farmers the opportunity to share the fruits of their labors, but in May the St. Francisville area also hosts two special events celebrating several very different aspects of its long gardening tradition.
Afton Villa GardensOn Saturday, May 3, the Feliciana Horticulture Society, Master Gardeners of the LSU Ag Center, host their 10th annual St. Francisville Spring Garden Stroll, showcasing eight unique town and country plantings on morning and afternoon self-guided tours. The featured private gardens—two in St. Francisville’s downtown historic district, two in the country on LA 421, four in Plantation Oaks subdivision—incorporate a wide variety of landscapes and plant varieties sure to inspire gardening enthusiasts. Container gardening, vegetable and herb gardens, water features, an orchard, steep wooded ravines, meandering pathways, formal parterres and rustic fences, patios, courtyards, and thoughtful combinations of cultivated plantings seamlessly fused with wild plants, all are sure to give visiting gardeners new ideas to incorporate in their own landscapes.
As LSU AgCenter horticultural expert Dr. Dan Gill says, “A garden tour is not just an opportunity to learn; it can inspire you to change who you are as a gardener.” Proceeds benefit 4-H scholarships, school gardens and other community beautification projects. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased in advance or on the day of the Stroll at Jackson Hall of Grace Episcopal Church on Ferdinand St. in downtown St. Francisville, and information is available by telephone (225-635-3614) or online at www.stfrancisvillespringstroll.org or by email (abrock@agcenter.lsu.edu).
Farmers MarketIn stark contrast to the Garden Stroll is a Smithsonian Institution exhibit hosted by the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Museum. “The Way We Worked,” a travelling exhibition exploring the professions and people that have traditionally sustained American society as part of our workforce, represents the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ participation in the Museum on Main Street project, a national/state/local partnership designed to bring cultural programs and exhibits to rural areas. Tracing the developments affecting the workforce over the past century and a half, “The Way We Worked” draws on the rich collections of the National Archives, including vintage images, film and audio accounts, all telling the compelling story of how work impacts the cultural fabric of our lives.
The exhibit at Angola’s museum from May 17 through June 29 is especially meaningful in this rural area where agriculture, most recently the cultivation and canning of sweet potato crops, has for centuries played such an important role. Called “Farming on the Farm, Agricultural Operations at Angola,” it focuses on the extensive agricultural operations on this sprawling 18,000-acre penitentiary comprised of several antebellum plantation properties. Scholarly presentations, films and oral histories will augment the exhibition, and visitors will have the opportunity to add their own work experiences to Smithsonian archival records. Work chants and music both old and new, plus tastings of agricultural produce prepared by inmate chefs in Angola’s culinary program, will heighten the experience.
Located just outside the entrance gates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola on LA 66, the Tunica Trace, the Angola Museum is open Monday through Friday 9 to 4:30, Saturday 8 to 4, closed Sunday. For information on this free exhibit, telephone 225-655-2592 or visit online www.angolamuseum.org.
FlowersLocated on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season, and spring is definitely the season for spectacular bloom. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty shops, many in restored historic structures, and restaurants serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register historic district; there are also motel accommodations for bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum and tourist information center at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224 or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Friday, March 14, 2014

Flags Over St. Francisville
By Anne Butler
Market Hall photo by Gail Chisum
Market Hall photo by Gail Chisum

The St. Francisville area is so incredibly scenic that since the days of Audubon it has inspired artists and writers, photographers and painters. It still does. Several local artists have galleries in the historic district downtown, and the West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum-headquarters on Ferdinand Street displays a nice selection of coffee table photography books with glorious images of the area’s landscapes and architecture.

Being released this month is yet another, Flags Along the Way: A Pictorial Journey Through the History of West Feliciana, which promises to supplement the current crop of picture books nicely. Just as every good painter has his own unique style, so every good photographer has his own eye. There can never be too many books preserving parish history in images and print, particularly since fragile old plantation homes are so vulnerable to fires and storms and other destructive elements. What’s here today may well be gone tomorrow.

Methodist Church by Gail Chisum
Methodist Church photo by Gail Chisum
Both text and photography in this new book are by Gail L. Chisum, who was born in Oklahoma, raised in Maryland, and attended Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas on a photo journalism scholarship. After serving in Viet Nam, he returned to the states, where he had a distinguished career in insurance and financial services with Farm Bureau all over the state of Louisiana.

Retirement brought a renewed passion for photography, especially with the advent of digital photography which found him, 40 years after doing college sports photography, now carrying a digital 35mm with 400mm lens at LSU football games. His dream in 2011 was to produce a book on LSU’s season all the way to a national championship, but in the title game Alabama put an abrupt halt to those plans.

By the 1990s Chisum and his family had settled in West Feliciana, where the sense of history is palpable and the numerous historic signs whet his appetite to learn more. After sharing with Farm Bureau colleagues his enthusiasm for combining his interest in parish history with his passion for photography, he found himself the recipient of a fine new Canon camera as a retirement gift. As he says, “I walked out the door of one career to begin another, as an author and photographer of history of the area where I lived.”

Afton Villa Gardens by Gail Chisum
Afton Villa Gardens - photo by Gail Chisum
A full year of painstaking research and reading, home visits and interviews with property owners followed. Museum director Helen Williams was a tremendous help, and eventually Chisum filled over 250 pages with fine photographs and in-depth histories. He very sensibly divided the book into chapters according to the many flags that have flown over the area---France, England, Spain, Republic of West Florida, Louisiana, Confederacy, United States.

Flags Along the Way will be available in downtown St. Francisville at the West Feliciana Historical Society museum and at Bohemianville Antiques, where the author will have a book signing on May 3. His next project is even more ambitious: photographing the 59 National Parks across the country, so be sure to catch him while he is still in town!

Beginning April 24, the twenty-first annual Cajun Jeep Jamboree brings off-road enthusiasts to the St. Francisville area for two days of guided trail rides through the challenging hilly terrain of West Feliciana. The event is open to all Jeep brand vehicles, and registration information is available at www.jeepjamboreeusa.com.

Oakley House by Gail Chisum
Oakely House - photo by Gail Chisum
The Angola Prison Rodeo always draws big crowds of visitors to the St. Francisville area in April; this year’s spring edition is April 26 and 27. From the time the mounted black-clad Angola Rough Riders race at break-neck speed into the arena, flags streaming and hooves flying, visitors are on the edges of their seats through events pitting inmates against pro-stock Brahma bulls and wild-eyed bucking broncos. Ladies’ barrel racing is the only non-inmate event in what is called the longest running prison rodeo, begun in the 1960s and now celebrating half a century of thrills and spills.

Crowd favorites are the events unique to Angola, including the crowd-pleasing "Guts and Glory", an arena full of inmates on foot trying to remove a $100 chit tied between the horns of the meanest Brahma bull around. Rodeo events begin at 2 p.m., but the grounds open at 9 a.m. for a huge arts and crafts sale showcasing inmate talent in hobbycraft like jewelry, hand-tooled leather, paintings and woodwork both large and small, from children’s toys to garden furniture. Special activities for children include pony rides and an antique carousel, space walks and carnival games. Inmate bands perform throughout the day, and a large number of concession stands offer a variety of food and drink, with the stands providing shaded seating for more than 10,000 cheering spectators. Tickets ($20 premium, $15 regular seating) should be purchased in advance (online at www.angolarodeo.com or by telephone on weekdays 8:30-4 (225) 655-2030 or (225) 655-2607).

Visitors should allow time to tour the fascinating prison museum just outside the front entrance gates to learn more about the history of this enormous maximum-security penitentiary. It should be noted that there are specific regulations with which visitors must comply when entering prison grounds; no food, drink, cell phones or cameras are allowed through the rodeo entrance gate, and on prison property no weapons, ammunition, alcohol or drugs are permitted; purses and bags will be searched and all vehicles must be locked when unoccupied.

Historical Society Museum
Museum - photo by Gail Chisum
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season, and spring is definitely the season for spectacular bloom. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty shops, many in restored historic structures, and restaurants serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register historic district; there are also motel accommodations for bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum and tourist information center at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224 or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Writers and Readers

A GATHERING OF WRITERS AND READERS IN ST. FRANCISVILLE
When the West Feliciana Parish Police Jury in midsummer approved a bid of $2.7 million to construct a new library, old timers considered it a natural progression in an area that has traditionally been devoted to the literary arts. The town had one of the state’s earliest public libraries, and the surrounding plantations had extensive private libraries of their own. Today St. Francisville is home for several published authors and retired university literature professors.
Besides looking forward to the spacious new library, today’s booklovers anticipate with great relish a special event dubbed A Gathering of Writers and Readers, begun in 2007 and now under the auspices of Arts For All, the non-profit umbrella agency for all arts in West Feliciana. The celebration brings together published authors with readers who might not otherwise have the opportunity to hear writers read from and discuss their work.
Scheduled for Saturday, February 22, 2014, at Hemingbough Cultural Arts Center just south of St. Francisville, the all-day event begins at 8:30 a.m. and will be moderated by SLU professor and former bookstore owner Charles Elliott, himself a writer, film director and noted character. Four professional authors will be featured, as well as distinguished repeat guest Ernest Gaines, recent recipient of the National Medal of Arts, who will be honored for his extraordinary literary contributions, and featured writers from previous years are invited to “gather” again.
Dr. Wiley Cash, nationally acclaimed award-winning fiction author, had his first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, selected as a New York Times Notable Book. A North Carolina native, Cash earned his PhD at UL Lafayette and studied under writer-in-residence emeritus Ernest J. Gaines. It was there that he began the bestselling book A Land More Kind than Home, which NPR called “great Gothic Southern fiction filled with whiskey, guns and snake-handling.” His second book, the just-released This Dark Road to Mercy, promises to be just as riveting, a novel of love and atonement, blood and vengeance.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and author of nonfiction books including Poor Man’s Provence—Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana about time spent in Henderson in the Atchafalaya Basin. Dr. Julie Kane, Northwestern State University professor and Louisiana’s past Poet Laureate, has published five volumes of poetry, and her poems have appeared in dozens of anthologies and journals. Both Cash and Kane are experienced university professors, and Johnson has been on the short list for a Pulitzer for journalism; her popular folksy columns appear in Baton Rouge’s The Advocate. Anne Butler writes nonfiction books preserving Louisiana history and culture, as well as children’s books, hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers, and true crime, including Weep for the Living; as a crime writer she had certainly not intended to become an actual participant, but when she was shot five times, she managed to get a good book out of even that experience. Her more recent books  Louisiana Hwy. 1  and Main Streets of Louisiana include beautiful color images by Louisiana photographer Henry Cancienne.
These diverse authors have been specifically chosen to give the audience a well-balanced appreciation for the art of literature---poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, nonfiction, all with great appeal to Louisiana readers. They will share their creative processes and works; participants, including several students on scholarships, are encouraged to ask questions and will have an opportunity to interact with the authors. Seating is limited. For online information visit http://artsforall.felicianalocal.com. Tickets, $35, may be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/491750 and include parking, individual author presentations as well as moderated panel discussions, book signings, refreshments, lunch and a dessert reception with authors.
This program is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, the Greater Baton Rouge Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency.  A grant from Entergy allowed Arts for All to invite Wiley Cash, who will be the Entergy Author for this event.
wiley cash
 Dr. Wiley Cash







Johnson
Rhea Grimsley Johnson






julie
Dr. Julie Kane






butler
Anne Butler