2 years ago

Alabama artisans choose favorite products by other makers for awesome local gift guide

Shadow Catchers works with about 15 artists and 40 art publishing companies. (Image: Mark Sandlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

 

Alabama is an internationally known hub of manufacturing for cars, planes and ships, but the state also turns out an impressive variety of items that fit perfectly underneath the Christmas tree.

For the 2017 edition of the Made In Alabama holiday gift guide, we turned to the people who know the state’s creativity and craftsmanship best. (Here’s the 2016 installment.)

We asked Alabama makers and artists to name their favorite local products – aside from their own – that they like to give as Christmas gifts.

Anna Brakefield, owner of Red Land Cotton in Moulton, is a big fan of her peers’ work and had a few suggestions.

Montgomery-based Alabama Sweet Tea Co. topped her list.

Founded in 2015, the company was inspired by the founders’ memories of enjoying homemade sweet tea at family gatherings. Their own recipe is a custom blend of high quality loose leaf tea leaves, pure cane sugar and hand-squeezed fruit juice.

“The sweetest and most humble people you may ever meet brew the sweetest tea known to the South and specifically Alabama,” Brakefield said. “Their boxed tea is a great gift to include as a stocking stuffer or in a care package to remind a loved one of their sweet southern roots or to give them a little taste of the South.”

Alabama Sweet Tea Co. also sells glasses, tumblers, shirts and hats emblazoned with the company logo.

Another favorite of Brakefield’s is Idyllwilde, a design company and workshop studio based in Florence. Its clothing, accessories and items for the home are made from natural fiber textiles and plant-based dyes.

“A lot of amazing talent comes out of Florence, Alabama, and this shop is no exception. Their simple pieces are custom made so there is a delay in shipping but it’s worth the wait!”

Brakefield said many items are hand dyed in small batches and truly are works of art.

“The South has a rich textile history and so giving a piece of Idyllwilde’s clothing or home accents is like sharing a little piece of that history with a friend,” she said.

As for Brakefield’s own business, Red Land Cotton sells bedding, bath towels and other linens made from cotton grown in North Alabama.

She and her father, Mark Yeager, own the business, with a farm that has been in the family for three generations. Their heirloom-inspired bed linens are recreations of those passed down from ancestors a century ago.

COFFEE AND COOKIES

Other Alabama makers also shop local at gift-giving time.

Robert Armstrong, founder of G Momma Cookies in Selma, picked a hometown favorite.

“My top gift would have to be Revival Coffee – great coffee and great mission as well,” he said.

The small batch roaster, which opened in 2014 in Selma’s historic district, says its purpose is to see lives redeemed, and 10 percent of its profits are dedicated to Christian ministries.

Revival offers several varieties of blends, including Integrity, Redemption, Restoration and Salvation.

As for G Momma Cookies, Armstrong said business is growing. He’s working on introducing a new flavor and upgrading equipment. The company has also expanded to three full-time and seven to nine part-time employees.

Armstrong was inspired by his grandmother’s cookie recipe when he founded Selma Good Co., maker of G Momma Cookies, in 2009, and they have been sold in stores across the Southeast. Earlier this year, he took home the top prize of $107,000 in the Alabama Launchpad Competition, which funds entrepreneurs statewide.

SOCKS AND ORNAMENTS

In northeastern Alabama, there’s mutual admiration between two well-known makers in Fort Payne.

Zkano socks would be an excellent gift idea,” said Cal Breed, owner of Orbix Hot Glass.

The organic cotton socks are made in Fort Payne in an operation run by Gina Locklear, who is carrying on her family’s business and a community legacy. Fort Payne was once known at “The Sock Capital of the World” before offshoring dismantled the domestic industry.

But Locklear’s socks have found a niche, with their bright colors, bold patterns, high-end quality and appeal to customers interesting in green living. A year ago, Locklear was named a winner in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards, and just recently, she opened a store inside the Fort Payne sock mill.

Meanwhile, Locklear said her favorite Alabama-made gift is Orbix ornaments.

Breed and his crew fashion the ornaments, as well as bowls, vases, pitchers and other glass sculptures that have garnered international acclaim, in a studio atop Lookout Mountain near Little River Canyon National Preserve.

The glass-blowing process is a delicate dance of fire, human breath and constant movement, and the studio hosts tours and sessions for visitors to blow their own ornaments.

“I love them because they are collectible, uniquely beautiful and also, I love they are made in Fort Payne by kind folks I know,” Locklear said.

MORE GREAT GIFTS

And if you’re still in need of gift-giving inspiration, here are a few more Alabama-made gifts to help check off your shopping list:

Shadow Catchers Art: This longtime Greeneville company produces professionally framed and mounted artwork and wall décor for retail stores and design projects.

The team works with designers, decorators and buyers to select images, moldings, mediums and mounting techniques

Their work spans a wide variety of interests, from botanical and nature scenes to coastal and cityscape images. Product types include acrylic, canvas, lithograph, mirrors and more. (Read a story about the company.)

 Earthborn Pottery: Top chefs across the U.S. and beyond have come to depend on owner/designer Tena Z. Payne and her Leeds business for unique pottery to frame their culinary creations.

Each plate, bowl, mug and other pieces are functional works of art, and they can be found in restaurants and retailers nationwide. Three generations work together in the family-run, woman-owned business.

Made By AK crafts jewelry that is minimal, modern and unique, making it another favorite of Brakefield’s.

“When you attend craft shows there are a lot of jewelry makers. To me, Made By AK stands out. It’s truly unique. It’s bold but intricate and the pieces are made from high-quality materials. Handmade in Birmingham, AK’s jewelry is crafted by hand and inspired by life’s little imperfections and that’s something I feel we can all relate to,” she said.

(courtesy Made in Alabama)

 

7 hours ago

Alabama Democratic Party chair: Trump and ‘a lot of folks’ in Alabama are ‘racist’ — ‘I guess we all are to a little extent’

On Friday’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Alabama Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy Worley reacted to tweets from President Donald Trump attacking “The Squad,” made up of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Some deemed the attack “racist,” to which Worley concurred. Worley argued such rhetoric was part of Trump’s appeal in the South.

“Well, Don, you know he is very strong in the South,” Worley said. “Southerners like big talkers, little doers. That’s a quote from Benjamin Franklin. And Trump’s good at talking. I don’t think he’s been a particularly good president at all, but he’s good at talking.”

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“And he can go out and say outrageous things, and it captures the attention of a lot of southerners, and others in the country – not just in the South. But I think when he says things to these four women, all who have been elected by their constituents to Congress, and he tells them if they don’t like something, just go home – well, their home is here,” she continued. “Their home is right here in the country. Maybe their families immigrated here, but we’re all the products of immigrants – I mean, every single one of us unless you can trace your lines back to some very long ago Native Americans, we’re all immigrants. So, if you start telling everybody in America to go home, you’ll clean out the country because there won’t be many Native Americans. It will be an empty country. I think it was wrong for him to say that to women who were elected by their constituents. He probably wouldn’t have said that to four men.”

“And that’s just interesting that people will say things to females who are elected that they won’t say to males,” Worley added. “I do think it is deplorable of the President to criticize four women who were elected by their constituents. You may not agree with them. You may not like how they dress. You may not like what they say. But you should respect their office. As much as I don’t like the President of the United States, I respect that office.”

Worley went on to call Trump “a racist” but said that was not unlike “a lot of folks” in Alabama, and she caveated that by saying “we all” are racist to an extent.

“There’s no doubt – he benefits when he race-baits, you know?” Worley added. “And he’s racist. But there are a lot of folks right here in Alabama who are racist. I guess we all are to a little extent because we see things from our perspective – whatever race we are, we see it from our perspective. But in his case, I think he does it knowingly because he simply gathers more support in the South and in Rust Belt areas and other parts of the country. I think it’s economic in many cases because they say, ‘Oh, those immigrants are coming in and getting my job.’ They base it on their pocketbooks. But they really just don’t like someone who looks differently from them. And I think it is most unfortunate that the President of the United States would stoop to those kinds of tactics. But it works for him in the South. He’s obviously trying to shore up his base here.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

8 hours ago

Ashley Chestnut getting students up to speed with history in ‘Down in the Ham’ series

For Ashley Chestnut, her home state of Georgia runs deep in her bones. She moved to Alabama to attend ministerial school and after completing classes was hired by the Church at Brook Hills.

Birmingham has “grown on her.” Several years ago, Chestnut decided to really get involved in her new community.

From the scenery to its food scene, the Magic City checked all the boxes for Chestnut’s home away from home. But there was one particular area where she wanted to have an impact.

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Ashley wanted to inspire children from Birmingham’s neighboring communities to visit Alabama’s largest city. The result two years ago was a documented list of history lessons in “Down in the Ham – A Child’s Guide to Downtown Birmingham.”

Local author sheds light on events and history ‘Down in the Ham’ from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Inspiration in unusual places

The notion to write a book about Birmingham, combined with a coloring book, didn’t come the way one might think.

She was hours away, more than four hours in fact, visiting friends in Greenville, South Carolina. While there, her friends’ children were boiled over with excitement about visiting downtown Greenville to find, of all things, mice sculptures.

They’d read a book and couldn’t wait to find these animals that had been brought to life in the pages of literature.

In her downtime driving back home, Chestnut fondly remembered the excitement of the kids – and then it hit. Why not recreate a book about Birmingham’s downtown with hopes of fueling excitement among young readers?

Chestnut wasted no time putting her idea into action – to inspire children to love and explore their city.

It’s in the art

The words came fairly quickly for her book, but Chestnut knew it was not done until she secured an illustrator to make it come to life.

She saw the artist’s work before they even met. While at an auction, she noticed one particular piece. It not only caught her eye, but she wanted to reach out with the idea that this artist would be the perfect “fit” for her book project. And that’s what she did.

Artist Abby Little Jessup had a full plate, but after hearing from Chestnut, she knew “Down in the Ham”was a project she should illustrate.

Their collaboration is not only making history, but led to a fast friendship.

Birmingham’s Vulcan gives a tour in the book, but it packs other family-friendly activities for adults and children.

More fruitful works

The original “Down in the Ham” series not only includes the children’s book, but also “Color the Ham: A Down in the Ham Coloring Book.” Children can read about and then color sites in the Magic City.

Other communities haven’t been left out of the fun, either, with their latest project. “Around the Ham: A Down in the Ham Coloring Book” reaches beyond Birmingham to highlight communities from Homewood to East Lake and everywhere in between.

It was released in June – two years after her first book.

Chestnut’s books can be found in the gift store at Vulcan Park and Museum atop Red Mountain or can be ordered online at downintheham.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 hours ago

Roy Moore on 2020 US Senate race: ‘A different race,’ ‘I don’t think it will be as notable, vicious’

One of the concerns of many regarding the 2020 U.S. Senate race is with the presence of former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore as a candidate, the competition will draw media scrutiny from all over the country.

On the eve of Moore’s announcement, national outlets sent reporters to be in Montgomery for his rollout.

However, in an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Saturday, Moore said to host Shannon Moore that he did not think 2020 would be a repeat of the “vicious” 2017 contest given all of the other election campaigns that will be underway at the same time.

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“I think it’s a different race,” Moore said on the “Politics and Moore” show. “I think it’s different because that was a special election. There weren’t other races going on across the country. There are hundreds of races going on across the country. Of course, you’ve got your presidents. You’ve got how many contenders for the Democratic [nomination]. There’s a lot going on that wasn’t going on then. I don’t think it will be as notable, as vicious. I mention Project Birmingham — things like that probably won’t occur because there are so many other races. Project Birmingham was a disinformation campaign, as you know, by some Democratic gurus and billionaire Reid Hoffman and George Soros, to stop my candidacy. And it was 80-something Republicans. So, I don’t think that will go on.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

10 hours ago

Alabama-based Apprenticeship Readiness Program graduates first students

Hard work pays off. That was a lesson learned by participants of the Central Alabama Building Trades’ Apprenticeship Readiness Program (ARP) hosted by Jefferson State Community College. The first Alabama-based ARP program had a 92% graduation rate, surpassing national benchmarks and preparing the students for the workforce of the future.

Over an eight-week period, students received hands-on training and educational services, introducing them to union crafts and the construction industry before they select a specific career trade.

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North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) sponsors ARPs, which are designed to prepare residents, particularly those from underrepresented communities and transitioning veterans, for registered Building Trade apprenticeship programs. These programs develop plumbers, electricians, ironworkers and other skilled professionals who propel growth in the state.

In celebration of the students’ accomplishment, a graduation ceremony was held in June at Alabama Power corporate headquarters in Birmingham. Participants and their families were in attendance, along with leaders of the local business community and higher education and national union leadership.

NABTU Secretary-Treasurer Brent Booker praised the graduates for their drive and completion of the program.

“What you’ve put into this is what you’ll get out of it. Through the Apprenticeship Readiness Program, you’ve changed your life. You’ve changed the next generation of your family and you’ve changed the economic trajectory of where you’re going. Stay on that track,” Booker said, challenging the graduates.

“We are pleased to have our first graduating class of Birmingham and plan to offer future ARPs in Alabama,” said Brandon Bishop, NABTU Southern representative.

Potential students interested in the next class starting in July should contact Terry Davis, ARP coordinator, at trdavis@centurytel.net by July 15.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Auburn professor pens new book on Neil Armstrong, travels globe to discuss ‘First Man’

AUBURN — James Hansen vividly recalls how the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon brought Americans and the world together. Five decades later, the author of “First Man”—the only authorized biography of Neil Armstrong—is continuing to tell the story of that unifying moment in history by giving talks around the globe and through a new book that’s set to launch in October.

“I’m putting the finishing touches on a book that is going to be published with selected letters to Neil Armstrong,” said Hansen, professor emeritus at Auburn University, of the upcoming book titled “Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind.”

Through letters written by people all over the world to Armstrong, Hansen said readers can learn more about the astronaut who was the first to step foot on the moon.

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“What’s interesting about this book is what we can learn from reading the types of letters that were written to Armstrong not just immediately after Apollo 11 but for the rest of his life,” Hansen said

Hansen said nostalgia for the moon landing is high, especially with this weekend’s 50-year anniversary of Armstrong taking his “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And this week, that excitement can even be seen in Langholm, Scotland—where Hansen was invited to attend celebratory events surrounding the big moment in history. The location has a unique connection to Armstrong as it’s his ancestral town.

“Neil went there in 1972 to great fanfare and enjoyed himself a lot, so I thought that would maybe be the most unique and interesting place to actually be on the day of the anniversary itself,” Hansen said.

After Hansen wraps up his stay in Scotland, he will then focus not only on his new book, but also in exploring a documentary on moon rocks, many of which have gone missing over the years.

“From six [moon] landings, something like 850 pounds of moon rocks were brought back and deposited in what was known as the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston,” he said.

Many of the rocks are still there, while a number of them were parceled out to researchers and lunar scientists around the world.

NASA recently announced that it would be unsealing some of the samples that have been preserved since the Apollo missions. Hansen said in the early 1970s, when the rocks were being brought back, NASA chose to seal some of the rocks so that future generations, with access to better technology and instrumentation than was available then, could study the rocks.

Hansen said he believes the rocks will continue to be parceled out over time as better technology comes available or another mission to the moon brings back more rocks.

“Until that happens, these are pretty precious commodities,” he said. “You need to save some of them for future scientific generations.”

Each story surrounding Apollo 11 has always held a fascination for Hansen, who remembers the day history was made.

It was on a summer Sunday between James Hansen’s junior and senior years of high school when Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. Hansen was gathered in the living room of his family’s home watching it on one of only two televisions in the house.

“The landing took place itself in the mid-to-late afternoon, depending on your time zone,” he said. “I was watching a baseball game, and actually the baseball games were recognizing it and everyone stood up at one point and prayed for the Apollo astronauts and then when it was announced that they landed, it was on the scoreboard and they stopped the game and everyone applauded.”

As the landing neared, he and his family turned to CBS, where Walter Cronkite was covering the event. It was well before the days of VCRs and DVRs, so the only way Hansen could capture what was happening on the screen was to take a picture of it with his Polaroid camera.

“That was important memorabilia and a lot of people did that. The moon walk itself took place about three hours after they landed. That was in the early evening and lasted until late in the evening. I was old enough that I didn’t have to have special permission from my parents to stay up and watch it all but a lot of smaller children did and I’ve heard a lot of stories from people over the years about where they were and how their parents let them stay up or they woke them up in time to hear Neil Armstrong say, ‘One small step,’” he recalled.

And while nostalgia is high today about the moon landing and how it unified the world in a shared monumental accomplishment, the historian in Hansen also recalls how the lead up to the landing wasn’t always met with full public support.

“They look back at nostalgia to this era when the moon landings happened and just sort of assumed that the American public, which was footing the bill because this was a U.S. federal government project, that the public was overwhelming in support of the moon landing program,” he said.

Hansen said that while the American public supported space programs on the whole, they weren’t demanding that moon landings take place.

“It was really the politicians within the context of the Cold War and the race with the Soviets in space that drove the project, and then the American people just kind of went along with it and didn’t oppose it too actively,” he said. “But, when they were polled, they didn’t seem too supportive.”

Even today, Hansen said there still are those who ask him if the landing really happened.

“We just can’t get past that,” Hansen said. “For some reason, there are people who just question it. I think everybody likes a good conspiracy theory but the evidence for the moon landing having been real is so tremendously overweighing anything that’s questionable. It’s a little upsetting but as a historian I find it interesting that people continue to believe or disbelieve things that are clearly believable or unbelievable.”

He said many people think we only went to the moon one time.

“There were actually six missions, Apollo 11-17,” he said. “There would have been seven landings if Apollo 13 had not had its emergency.”

When a malfunction in an oxygen tank on the service module exploded, Apollo 13’s crew was fortunate to make it back to Earth, but the lunar landing did not happen on that mission.

“If you’re questioning, ‘Did the moon landings actually happen?’ it’s not just questioning one, it’s questioning six of them,” he said.

Hansen is on his own mission to tell the story of what did happen and through his books and talks he is doing all he can to keep that moment in history alive.

“I feel a responsibility to the story and to Armstrong and to historical accuracy,” he said.

(Courtesy Auburn University)