Life in Old South Central Alabama

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South of Birmingham, Alabama, United States
I am an antique trader in central Alabama....I love old houses... My log home was built in 1817 by my ancestors Benjamin and Hannah Harless Wilson .............. Outside the house are herb gardens and lots of pass-along plants................ No one in Alabama is in a hurry about anything......... Visitors think that the garden needs weeding and the furniture needs polishing....I am a direct descendant of Joseph Towne, whose two sisters Rebecca Towne Nurse and Mary Towne Easty were hanged in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 as witches. I am also a direct descendant of Pocahontas and husband John Rolfe.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Tulip Tree

When Joe lived here he planted a tulip tree in the back yard. That was ten years ago. More than the arrival of spring, the tulip tree's blooming signals the end of the worst of winter. March really does come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.

I cut several limbs off of the mimosa tree in hopes that the tulip tree will take a growing spell. The entire back yard garden should do well. Mimosas tend to take over very quickly. This one provided so much shade that the plants suffered. It's too big to cut down all at once, so I'm trying the cut-back approach. I know my grandmother's oxalis will appreciate it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Preparing for a new crop

Here is the photo of last year's gourd crop. These are bird house gourds and they did very well; I think there are about 150 in the barn. I took six to Jim at Remember When Antiques in Jemison and he cleaned them with a brillo pad and clorox. They are nice and tan now. I hope I can be that resourceful and clean the remainder myself.

I planted a row of the long neck kind called drinking gourds, but only six came up. When I transplanted them to the other row, they all died, so I guess gourds don't transplant very well. These are what I want to plant this year. Jim said they need a fence or wire to hang from so the necks will not grow crocked. I think I can manage that.

The Indian Corn didn't do well at all last year and I think I have learned from the mistakes we made. It was planted too early. It needs something put on it to kill the worms. It needs to dry in the barn. So the gourd crop and the Indian Corn crop will be my main focus for early summer planting, along with the usuals, okra,squash, tomatoes, and zuchinni.

I have a dishpan full of sunflower seeds, so my father says we can extend the row all the way from my house to his. They grew six to eight feet tall last year. I also still have those Jefferson beans which promise to run twenty feet and bloom a reddish purple, but I don't know yet where to put them.

My accent flower this year is going to be the old English plant called love-lies-a-bleeding (not the same as bleeding heart). I grew them several years ago and they worked well, looking like red dred locks.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Very Yankee Thing

I've done a very unusual thing, something that is practically unheard of here in the South. I have bought a piece of redware. Pennsylvania redware. Antique old Northern redware. Yankee redware.

Southerners, even antiquer people, know little to nothing about it. It is a New England thing. We didn't have it down here. We don't have it now. We used Staffordshire and china and ironstone and our own spit-tobacco and kiln fired pottery. I've done antiques for over forty years, and have never seen a single piece of it in any shop.

But I began to notice the stuff in the magazine Early American Life. It seems that the primitive house people always had some of it tucked away nicely in a wall shelf next to the other Yankee item, the pewter plates. I thought it was ugly. The decorations looked like something a child would do with a magic marker.

But, slowly, it began to grow on me. Then Jill Peterson's book The Settlement came out, and there was more of it. Maybe just a hint here and there. Then Frederick (the dealer in Maine who writes the blog called The Chimney Cupboard) posted a picture of a really old piece of it on his page. That was it. Obviously, I thought, if one has a primitive house, one must have redware.

So I went on ebay and bought a piece. An old bowl. Nothing spectacular- it has its share of chips and cracks and burned spots. I didn't want it to be perfect. Otherwise, it might be new or repro and I'd be in danger of having a piece of yankee ceramics in the house.

My redware bowl is the real deal. No doubt that it's got some age to it, as my favorite auctioneer Gorden Headly used to say. It should arrive in the mail soon, and I'll find a spot for it in the log room, a place where it won't draw too much attention, lest I have to explain to everyone why something so foreign as redware should be resting in my house, next to the pewter plates and the whale-oil lamp.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mustard Rug

I bought an old mustard-centered rug from the boys in Marion, and I suspect there are not many more like it floating around the antique shops here. I wanted to unify the room now that I have painted the doors and windows and moulding in the mustard/yellows I love so much.

My favorite color is yellow, but I have never read any of the charts that attempt to analize a person's favorite color as some sort of indication of personality and behavior. I suspect those who like yellow would either be very chipper and happy, or cautious.

For whatever reason, the front room now has this monster rug that goes well with the primitive and high country furniture and I like it, so, having no one else to please, I am sure it will be quite happy here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Zadock Shields a Cabinetmaker in Taylor County West Virginia

One of my never sell pieces is the Federal chest that sits in a corner of the front log room. I bought it several years ago at auction but did not have the opportunity to look it over very much until I got it home.

I have to be careful at auctions not to draw too much attention to any piece, as there are others there who are watching. An experienced antique trader must be able to show no emotion while on the hunt, either at a private sale, tag sale, public auction, or estate sale. At the small auctions around here, since I apparently have that dealer look, people think that whatever interests me should interest them. So when I saw the Federal chest, I gave it a quick look and moved on.

I bought it for $200, which was cheap enough, but would have been cheaper if the house bidder hadn't dropped two bids against mine. At home, I pulled out all the drawers and began a search for a maker's name. I found it, in brown ink, on the second large drawer in the back. Zaddock Shields. I got on the computer, pulled up Ancestry's Federal Census, and found him.

He was listed as a cabinetmaker on the Taylor County, Virginia census in 1850 and 1860. Taylor County is now a part of the state of West Virginia. Finding his name on the piece and on the census -especially with him being listed as a cabinetmaker -added two thousand to the value of the chest. I found some additional family information on Genforum- his father was a sheriff, and the family there seemed to have been well established.

Next, I photographed the chest and added closeups of the signature, made copies of everything, and mailed a packet to the West Virginia State Archives, asking if they had any files or were maintaining any files on their early cabinetmakers. The director said they were not, but with my file as the beginning, they would begin, as it was a great idea. I told him about the Birmingham Museum of Art's large catalog of early Alabama potters, quilters, silversmiths, furniture makers, and assorted craftsmen, and I suggested that West Virginia should have a similar ongoing project.

Beginning in 1850, the Federal census gives a person's main occupation, and although it takes time to go through every county's list of people, the information on who was making furniture or throwing pottery is there, at least on the ones who were doing it full time. I am glad that Zadock Shields of Taylor County, Virginia had enough pride in his work to dip the pen in ink and write his name inside the drawer.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wanda's jacquard bed coverlet

My friend Wanda's bed coverlet has that mustard color that I use all over my house. I doubt I will ever find one as good as hers, but I am going to try. I bought a rug for the front log room yesterday from the boys in Marion, and although the central color looks more like lemon than mustard, it will do just fine.

The rug came from Carlisle Hall, an antebellum mansion that has a rather noisey spirit of a lady made famous in the Thirteen Alabama Ghosts book. I think I will add mustard to the front porch during spring break; the color is already in three rooms; why not add a fourth?

Maybe I could plant only yellow bloomers along the brick walkway. Get me some mustard colored shoes and a matching hat. Now I have the Eccentric Southerner theme going that might attract Garden and Gun magazine to send a photographer down from New York to do a feature.