Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Red Clay, Georgia (or Tennessee)

About a month ago I drove through the Southern Appalachians for a friend's wedding and made a few interesting stops along the way. On an extended stop I stayed in the town of Dalton, Georgia - aka "carpet capital of the world" because of all the carpet and flooring that is made there - to visit for a few days with a friend. A quick Google search of the area led me north right across the Tennessee border to Red Clay State Park, which was the last tribal council grounds for the Cherokee in the East. Technically it is where the infamous Trail of Tears began, for it was here where the Cherokee leaders heard the news that they had lost their lands and had to prepare for a trek westward.

The grounds are very serene and almost ghostly when you think about the history of the location. I strolled around looking for a spot to set up my easel and maybe try a small painting, which I finally did near a reproduction of a pavilion that they believe is in the spot where tribal leaders once met.

Back in Dalton I walked around a little downtown where it was a little quiet and kind of sparse. Couldn't help but wonder if this was the work of the struggling economy, especially for a town like Dalton that is so dependent on the new flooring needs of the residential and commercial sectors. Here's a little sketch on Hamilton Street of some storefronts.

A few days later I headed back out towards Red Clay, but this time ending up in Red Clay, GA (not Tennessee) where I explored around a little in my car. I saw signs for a road (can't recall the name) that stated it was a "scenic byway" so being the explorer that I am I had to drive it to see what it had to offer. It was completely rural land full of everything you'd expect to see in the countryside: farms, cows, barns, really vintage trucks, and people on horseback. I stopped in one field and tried to discreetly set up my easel off to the side under a tree facing a hayfield for a quick painting. I've ALWAYS wanted to work in a hayfield...guess I've just studied too many Monet compositions.

About an hour l came up with this little image.

Just as I was packing up to leave, I realized my spot was not as discreet as I thought. A pickup truck (vintage of course) rolled up the hill beside me and a man peeked his head out the window. "Just wanted to see what you were doin' up here...wow, that's pretty nice there fellow," the rural gentleman said. Of course I knew I was treading on private property, but what I didn't know was if I was going to be in trouble for it. "How much longer you gonna be out here?" the man asked.

"Actually I was just packing up," I replied.

"Well I was gonna say, maybe you could do a painting of my boss's house over there yonder. My son and I work on this land and I thought maybe that'd be somethin' nice to give her as a gift," the man said. And for the record I think this was the first time I had ever heard "yonder" used in real life.

The man pointed out the house from across the way and said he wanted something that maybe included the house with the hills and haystacks around it. Fortunately the property was large enough (I think he said 10 acres?) that I was able to find a spot up on a different hill to set up discreetly. I told Jimmy to go do whatever farm work he had to do and to come back in two hours.

As I was working I was thinking about how peaceful life must be out here and how depressing it was going to be to go back to the concrete jungle. It's not to say one is good and the other is bad, but both types of lifestyles have qualities that should be appreciated. There weren't a whole lot of elements to work with on this bright day, so I made the best of trying to put the house in the context of its surroundings in a way that future family descendants who might see this painting would be fascinated to see how open their land once was.

Three hours later (yep, one hour late) Jimmy returned to complete the transaction. During the wait I opened the door to my car and took a nap to the sound of the trains slowly chugging by, so actually it wasn't a big deal. Jimmy, slightly inebriated by now, held the painting and kept staring into it saying, "Man, that's somethin' I tell ya. You could be rich paintin' pictures! You ever thought about doin' that?" I thanked Jimmy for his patronage and told him not to be surprised if I showed up on this field again in the future. I only hope that the slightly inebriated Jimmy heeded my instructions to not touch the painting for at LEAST two days...

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