Friday, September 15, 2017

Poles-A Love Story

~Doc Lawrence

The word has a ubiquitous presence in our vernacular: pole beans and pole cats rank right alongside tad poles, pole dancers and pole vaulting. Utility poles are perhaps the ugliest blight along streets and highways, exceeded only in aesthetic revulsion by monk fish. If you’ve been spared seeing this still alive sea creature just before being sliced into overpriced filets, avoid it at all costs.

After days of being in the dark and hearing everything that is wrong blamed on Irma and beautiful trees, I did my own very unscientific observation, and still find myself unable to shed a tear for utility poles with power lines hanging down like dead, rotting serpents. The fallen oaks and pines in my little world, are to be mourned.

Curley Burnell: Jackie Gleason's Twin?
Once young pine saplings are matured on “pole farms” the straightest ones are cut, stripped bare, “cured” in creosote (few things outside a sewage treatment plant rival the stench) en route to subdivision streets and city sidewalks to be planted by what looks like the world’s biggest corkscrew, a preparatory ritual of planting before being adorned with power lines and an assortment of other conduits. The lower 10 feet are popular places for concert festival posters, strange upcoming events low budget political candidates lacking the funds for TV ads. “Ask me how I lost 100 pounds,” or “Bother Love’s Rockin’ Away Sin Revival” resonate on mounted pole placards.

Ever met a pole farmer? Curley Burnell, a retired high school football coach, maintains a pole tree farm in some hardscrabble  land passed along through inheritance since the Civil War. Ebullient Burnell, with a countenance that invokes images of Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice in “Smokey and the Bandit,” loves what he does. 

“Utility poles don’t hurt anyone,” he proclaims. “The economic benefits are obvious. How the hell are you ever going to deliver vital energy and communications by going underground?” he asks. What other see as blight, Burnell sees as paradise. “Straight up, reaching towards heaven, just doing what nature intended.”
Ugly and More Ugly

What about downed lines from winds, ice and falling trees? “We’re working on growing taller pine trees much quicker,” Burnell says. “If we can do a mission to Mars, we can grown poles faster and bigger. Count on it.”

Overflowing with information about this otherwise overlooked news story, Burnell believes that something he describes as “virtual current” is on the horizon. “Works like the Bitcoins,” he revealed. “You get it at home on your laptop, pay for it directly, and use what you need when you want it.” What about the poles? Why would you need them if this ever caught on? “Poles will be around as long as we have developers and local governments. Many places in the country still don’t have internet access and not everyone can afford a fancy computer.”

Coach Curley, as he likes to be called, is very likable and totally self-assured. I only wish that Lewis Grizzard was around to ask him the location of good barbecue joints.

Poles have a fan base. Poles make good cash flow. Some may think they have a more exalted place in popular culture than trees and public safety. For those who think they can change anything at the ballot box, or by lobbying or protests, Coach Curley Burnell is waiting on you. He is very formidable and says the Burnell coat of arms warns that his family loves a good fight. “Without our pole farm, we’d have to look at opening a hazardous waste dump. That’s not what we want to do.”

Monday, September 11, 2017

Theatrical Outfit's Hunchback of Notre Dame-A Relevant Classic

~Doc Lawrence

This musical dramatization of Victor Hugo’s epic early on has the ensemble singing, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” The story addresses the mission of The Cathedral of Notre Dame: Is it a place of sanctuary for only those officially welcome while all others are consigned to exclusion? The Hunchback of Notre Dame opens Theatrical Outfit’s Season of Character, inspired by the observation of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus that “character is destiny.”
Esmeralda and Quasimodo

With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and book by Peter Parnell,  the actors are deeply embedded in great literature. Dom Jean Claude Frollo (David De Vries) the archdeacon of Notre Dame, has a  mission to save souls from corrupt gypsies after sparing the life of his brother’s deformed child, Quasimodo (Haden Rider), who, from childhood on, is warned to never leave the sanctuary of Notre Dame.

A lonely Quasimodo finally leaves and encounters cruelty with no mercy. The gypsy Esmeralda (Julissa Sabino) intervenes, keeping a mob from Quasimodo, becoming his protector and Frollo’s sexual obsession.

Rider as Quasimodo gives a performance rarely seen on an Atlanta stage. A strong, emotion-filled voice parallels the physical demands of climbing ladders, lifting bodies, fighting off assaults, all while flawlessly singing of loneliness and love. Some moments are truly heartbreaking.

Ms. Sabino was born to be Esmeralda. Is she really a Gypsy after all? Her beauty is arresting and men, good and evil, find her irresistible. Her appeal reached into the audience.

The large ensemble adds depth with an assemblage of voices that when unified, rattled and shook the walls of Downtown Atlanta’s magnificent Rialto Theatre.

This is a large cast backed by the highest quality support. The scenes take on authenticity with Shannon Robert’s magnificently functional set design. The orchestra is talented, seamlessly matching every note of every song.

Julissa Sabino as Esmeralda
The Hunchback of Notre Dame has added relevance now. The nation is grappling with issues that many believed to be settled. Who do we want as neighbors? Would we look down on people who have different skin color or don’t share our religious beliefs? Long ago, Victor Hugo addressed these questions in the confines of a sacred cathedral in the beautiful city of Paris. 

Likely, we would never burn someone at the stake.  But, would a deformed man, otherwise pleasant and innocent, terrify us? Are we even close to judging, in Dr. Kings words, a man “not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character?” 

Through September17. (678)528.1500

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Art of Tailgating

~Doc Lawrence

The game is hours away from kickoff but the masses of people, vehicles, tents, grills and tables occupy acres upon acres in lots near the football stadium. It seems that every available space is dedicated to food, cocktails, wines, iced tea and soft drinks.

Welcome to college football tailgating, a national and very friendly outdoor feast that is transcending the actual games in popularity. While the men-more given to beer and hot dogs-weren’t looking, the women, who long ago mastered home cooking and entertaining, came forward with more elaborate dishes, table decorations, wines, sangrias, serving everything in plates and glasses decorated in school colors. 

Women are winning this friendly competition. I’ve strolled through over 60 college tailgating areas over the years and can confirm that some of the dishes I’ve tasted put good restaurants to shame and the quality and diversity of beverages is improving by the week. We owe the girls a nod of thanks.

Photographing tailgating is difficult because of the huge perspective and the fact you cannot arrange the audience and scenery. But, the trained eye of an award-winning artist can accomplish wonders.

Olivia Thomason with her Stone Mountain Village Mural
“I’ve been tailgating,” says Atlanta artist Olivia Thomason, “and I love the combination of hospitality, tradition and serving wonderful food. It has the feel of a good backyard celebration.” With a roomful of trophies going back to her days as a gallery owner, Ms. Thomason recently completed “Great American Tailgating,” a whimsical, colorful interpretation of what she calls ‘the ultimate tailgating experience.” College banners are everywhere. The Goodyear blimp hovers over everything. There’s even a fortune teller selling predictions about the final score.

More than anything, there is overriding joy. In an era when it seems intolerance and nastiness are de regeur, it’s absent here. Olivia Thomason maintains that “these gatherings are almost always friendly and festive. Seniors playing with grandchildren. In Baton Rouge outside Tiger Stadium, I’ve seen folks dancing to live bands. No mater where you go, tailgaters insist you eat their good food and have a glass of something cold and delicious.”

Atlanta writer and historian Dick Funderburk owns some of Olivia Thomason’s paintings. “As someone who doesn’t particularly like football, I absolutely love this painting.”

NOTE: A limited number of 18"x24" high quality prints are for sale. Make checks payable to Big O Art for $28.00 + $5.00 postage and packaging. Include your address. Mail to:

Olivia Thomason
933 Gordon Street
Stone Mountain, GA 30083

Tune in to "Tailgating Down South"- hosted by Marilyn Ball.

Monday, August 28, 2017


~Doc Lawrence

Frank Spence, Skilled Raconteur
It's the ultimate American feast where community literally means thousands gathering on a given Saturday somewhere in the college football stadium lots coast-to-coast. Tailgating conjures wonderful images of laughter, food, beverages, friendly folks dressed to reflect loyalties than often run deep. Here, there is one unifying purpose: feed the masses and win that game.

According to no less an authority than National Geographic, tailgating originated early in the Civil War. Frank Spence, a Nashville native who resides in Atlanta echoes this. Spence, a peerless raconteur now a retired Atlanta Falcons front office executive tells a spellbinding story. "Congressmen and their beautiful ladies arrived just outside Washington to view their 'team,' the boys in blue in the Union Army kick the Confederates from the fields of Manassas into oblivion." Stonewall Jackson's army, continued Spence, turned them back and "they fled back across the Potomac. The civilian revelers quickly followed in what history calls 'The Great Skedaddle,' leaving all the food and Champagne for Jackson's soldiers to enjoy."

One dessert, Charlotte Ruse, was in an abandoned wagon and soon after the end of the war, it was duplicated and served in Baton Rouge.

The celebration was brought home and blended into college football which emerged shortly after the war. Fans gathered peacefully, wearing colors associated with their favorite teams and over the years spread tailgating throughout the country. Today, it's just as much a part of a game day Saturday in Athens, Georgia as Ann Arbor, Michigan.

 The 2017 edition of tailgating kicks off this weekend with the historic double header in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz stadium with FSU taking on Alabama and Tennessee doing battle with Georgia Tech.

I'll be there looking for that gifted kitchen wizard who is talented enough to make and bring along a regal Charlotte Ruse.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright's Florida Masterpiece-A Child of the Sun

Lakeland, a college town of 200,00, is home to the most buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on a single site in the world. Florida Southern College brings visitors from the four corners to behold the 12 buildings, all connected by Wright's walkways he called Esplanades. The college is on the National Register of Historic Places and was named a National Landmark of the United States.

Wright the genius was also Wright the enigmatic architect. Controversial, daring, tragic and at all times revolutionary, the American design landscape would never be the same.

The college project became the longest-lasting commission of his life. Wright agreed to create a masterplan for the campus and to design 18 buildings. Ultimately, the college completed 12 structures during the historic 20-year expansion period. 

Described as"learning spaces, working spaces and gathering spaces." other architects have called the campus "Wright's Village" for the sheer number of Wright-designed buildings and because it is the finest example of Wright's style of "organic architecture" anywhere in the world.

Clean lines, natural design elements and locally sourced construction materials are hallmarks of Wright's work. The buildings reflect the unity of all things, and are built to a human scale, with similar construction materials. With the exception of one building, all are linked together by a series of covered walkways that Wright called "esplanades."

Wright's design was radically different from the typical design of an American college campus, an extension of his belief that Americans needed to create their own culture that was not based on classical or European design.

The Florida Southern campus was the first American college campus to be designed in the "modernist" architectural style. Geometric shapes and patterns are seen throughout the campus: circles bisect a rectangle. The Danforth Chapel incorporates triangular patterns and has a triangular-shaped roofline that extends out into a point.

Wright became familiar with local orange groves allowing the land to inspire him. Wright's design confirms that he understood the potential of the Florida landscape, and according to college archives proclaimed that "every building is out of the ground into the light — a child of the sun. Buildings should seem to grow from the earth and belong as a tree belongs."

Wright's first building was the magnificent Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, the spiritual centerpiece of the campus featuring a three-level concrete tower that rises to 65 feet. Each level of the concrete tower has a cutout geometric shape that resembles a "bowtie." That geometric symbol is now incorporated into the design of the official college logo.

The Water Dome, one of Wright's most impressive designs, is not a building. Wright thought of it as a gigantic circular "fountain of knowledge.Wright, in keeping with the mission of a center of higher learning, left a cultural heritage for future generations of Americans. This is original Florida. A  higher life. Wright's gift is his recognition that we are enriched when we stir the imagination.

(Images courtesy of Florida Southern College)

Friday, August 4, 2017


~Doc Lawrence

The headquarters for original folk art might just be in the central Florida town of Sanford. Jeanine Taylor’s gallery is located in a historic building downtown where she has showcased many artists of varying backgrounds and styles for years. The South is a trove for this cultural treasure and much of the art at this gallery is a mixture of well-known and emerging.

In other words, it’s fascinating.

Jeanine Taylor Folk Art’s fall gallery show looks at the specialty of memory painting through the eyes of Alabama’s Bethanne Hill, Florida’s Alyne Harris, Ken Gentle from Georgia, another Alabama artist Lucy Hunnicutt, and Atlanta’s Olivia Thomason.

Bethanne Hill’s slightly aboriginal southern landscapes dramatically contrast with Alyne Harris’ snapshots of southern life. Ken Gentle depicts sometimes ominous pastoral scenes of weather danger and desolation. Lucy Hunnicutt uses a bold primary palette coupled with collage to create scenes in jovial motion. Olivia Thomason’s works suggest childlike safety and comforting optimism.

Though all of these artists are considered memory painters, the mood each painter expresses couldn’t be more distinct. These artists portray Southern life but omit all signs of modernity and contemporary technology. Viewers will find common themes: haints, bottle trees, family gatherings, riverside baptisms, line dried clothes, country stores and tornadoes. 

Jeanine Taylor says that the warm southern breeze “will blow strong” for the opening reception for the public on Saturday, August 19th, adding that “sweet tea will be served.”

Jeanine Taylor Folk Art
 211 East First Street
Sanford, FL 32771


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Meet The Maya-James O'Kon's Marvelous New Book

~Doc Lawrence~

Atlanta-based Jim O'Kon's, Corn, Cotton and Chocolate: How the Maya Changed the World, is far more than a history book. It is readable, stimulating and each page seems to spring surprises. O'Kon, a professional engineer with a developed specialty as an archaeoengineer has investigated over 50 Maya sites. Vanilla, chocolate, corn, peanuts, cotton and pineapples are just a few of the Maya contributions from what O'Kon calls "the greatest agronomists in world history."

The book reveals that the Maya were the longest-lived civilization in history, beginning in 2500 BC on a time-line with the ancient Sumerians and terminating in 900 AD during the reign of Charlemagne. Their histories did not converge because the Maya and other world civilizations did not know of each other’s existence. The author describes the Maya as "the phantoms of history. They were the greatest agronomists in world history. Their cultivars nourished the Maya culture and enabled their rapid growth into a society of profound thinkers. After European contact, the inventive products of Maya agronomy were disseminated around the world."

 The integration of Maya cultivars into world cultures, observes the author, has changed the course of world history. "Maya science has changed the world. Maya Cultivars now feed and clothe the majority of the world’s population. They have increased the global population, started wars, overthrown monarchies, ignited the industrial revolution, initiated educational systems, started sports empires, changed the lifestyles of world cultures and have killed more people than all the wars in history. It will come as a surprise that history can be changed by a civilization that collapsed over a thousand years ago. Maya cultivars are living inventions that have become a part of the world's heritage and continue to make history."

For 300-plus pages, readers visit an advanced civilization, left wondering what our daily lives would be without their accomplishments. Their civilization destroyed itself through over-stripping the land, leaving them vulnerable to environmental changes. Our world, advises Jim O'Kon, should adopt a philosophical principle of the Maya: Remember the future to anticipate the past. As the future looms, Maya cultivars are still changelings in world affairs. Our future depends on a balance of the world's population and food supply.

Jim O'Kon is an optimist. His wonderful book is instructive and entertaining.

Available at