Video Postcard from: The Florida Sculptors Guild and “From Start to Finish”

by Tim Storhoff

Recently, Florida artist Brian R. Owens created this video of a sculpture exhibition at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens and shared it with the Culture Builds Florida blog. The show entitled “From Start to Finish” took place last year and featured the work of the Florida Sculptors Guild, which aims to be the “go to” place for all things sculptural in the state.

The sculptures presented in “From Start to Finish” can be seen in the video below, which Owens and edited. He describes the exhibition as follows:

The title of the show embodies its theme. Each sculpture was accompanied by a printed description with photos of the process used to create it. The methods and materials of sculpture are diverse. Materials included bones, paper, fired clay, plastilina, bronze, plaster, ceramics, steel, stone, wood, fabric and wood branches. Methods varied from direct modeling (which is how I made my piece) to more complicated processes such as “lost wax” bronze casting. Pieces varied greatly in size. The intent of the sculptors varied as well. Marla E’s playful work included a sign inviting people to touch and rearrange it. Linda Brant’s work flows from deeply held beliefs about our relationship to other forms of life. The exhibit space was small but this shortened the distance between the viewer and the work, making the experience more intimate, less formal. The work was good and the presentation unusual. This may be why curator Rachel Frisby reported that the show was more than well received. It was a hit!

I asked Owens to discuss the current status of sculpture as an art form in Florida and what role the Guild plays in promoting it.

When you say “sculpture in Florida” my mind hears it as “opportunities to do sculpture commissions in Florida in the immediate future and be paid properly.” Such opportunities appear to be rare. I can only see things from my perspective and I don’t have a birds-eye view of the State, but it is possible to manage without one. The Guild is diverse so I’m speaking for myself when I say I consider Florida as my backyard and this time zone as my neighborhood. Florida may be in its infancy as a market but I’m working on my first transatlantic commission, albeit a small one. Systems that worked for me before, such as gallery representation, are now just another tool in my tool box.

The ability to share sculpture through film is an additional tool that Owens plans to use moving forward. “Given the unusual space and the lush surroundings, the decision to make a movie was an easy one,” he said. “Getting it done was a bit harder than I thought. I had to borrow a camera, build some gear, learn how to use apps and find music to license.” The video documenting this exhibition was designed for YouTube and small screens, but Owens says the next movie will be in high definition.

The Florida Sculptors Guild was established in 2008 and was the brainchild of Amy Wieck and Linda Moore. Wieck explained, “Our mission is to enrich, include and educate our community about the sculptural arts. We provide emerging and established sculptors the space, education, exposure, and connections they need for artistic, creative and professional advancement.” The Florida Sculptors Guild is a valuable resource for anyone wishing to purchase a sculpture by connecting them with its professional members.

You can find the Florida Sculptors Guild on Facebook or at floridasculptorsguild.com. You can learn more about Brian Owens and his artwork at brianowensart.com.

Spotlight On: A 300th Birthday with the C. P. E. Bach Festival

C. P. E. Bach is having a 300th birthday party in Tallahassee! The “C. P. E Bach at 300” festival features three days of concerts and lectures that celebrate the life, music, and influence of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach’s fifth child, born 300 years ago in 1714. The festival is presented through a partnership with the FSU College of Music, Musicology area and Early Music Ensembles, with the Tallahassee Bach Parley, and will take place from Friday, November 21 until Sunday, November 23.

Members of the Tallahassee Bach Parley

Members of the Tallahassee Bach Parley. Photo submitted by Erica Thaler.

“This three-day festival is an exciting partnership between the FSU College of Music and the Tallahassee Bach Parley,” says Bach Parley music director Valerie Arsenault. “FSU music faculty and students, guest artists from out-of-town, and Tallahassee community musicians will join forces to present the music and world of C. P. E. Bach.” The Tallahassee community is home to a thriving community of Baroque players and enthusiasts, and this festival offers three days of unique musical opportunities for patrons to enjoy.

Most of the performances will be on period instruments, including fortepiano (an early incarnation of the modern piano), clavichord (a delicate, intimate, soft-sounding keyboard instrument), along with harpsichord, organ, modern and baroque flutes, period stringed instruments, and guest artist Josh Lee on viola da gamba. Special guest Mark Knoll, a founder of the Tallahassee Bach Parley and FSU College of Music alumnus, will be returning to give the keynote lecture and musical commentary for the concerts. By using period instruments, the musicians will recreate the music using the same tools as when it was first written. History and music will come to life with commentary about the pieces and lectures to provide insight into the works and world of C. P. E. Bach.

One of the trademarks of the Tallahassee Bach Parley is to provide commentary before the pieces, to give audience members historical background about the composer or the piece, and to give listeners ideas about what to listen for in the music. In fact, the word “Parley” means discussion, so providing an opportunity to talk about the works is part of what makes the Bach Parley unique. Similarly, the entire festival combines guest lectures in addition to performances, so audience members can learn more about the world in which C. P. E. Bach lived and composed his music, bringing the past to life.

The festival will begin on Friday evening with an intimate clavichord performance by Charles Brewer at FSU in the Kuersteiner Music Building lounge (limited seating), followed by a lecture “C. P. E. Bach at 300, An Overview: Life, Family, Works, Reception” in Lindsay Recital Hall by visiting scholar Mark Knoll, founder of Steglein Publishing and an editor of the new C. P. E. Bach edition through the Packard Humanities Institute.

On Saturday, Dr. Knoll will give a pre-concert lecture followed by a concert of chamber, vocal, and solo keyboard music, including fortepiano, organ, and harpsichord in Opperman Music Hall, FSU. This concert will feature FSU College of Music faculty members Sarah Eyerly (soprano), Joel Hastings (fortepiano), Eva Amsler (modern and baroque flute), Iain Quinn (organ and harpsichord), along with FSU student performers.

In the final concert on Sunday, the Tallahassee Bach Parley will join forces with members of the FSU Baroque Ensemble for orchestral and chamber music. Kim Jones will be featured in C. P. E. Bach’s Concerto in A major for cello, and the large ensemble will also play the Berlin Symphony in G major. For the chamber music portion, guest artist Josh Lee will perform a viola da gamba sonata, and Eva Amsler, Melissa Brewer, Iain Quinn, and Valerie Arsenault will play duos, trios, and a quartet.

For additional information about the festival or the Tallahassee Bach Parley, visit www.tallahasseebachparley.org or e-mail musicdirector@tallahasseebachparley.org. The FSU College of Music publicity office can be reached at music-publicity@admin.fsu.edu.

An Inside Look at the 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Finals

by Alison Schaeffler-Murphy

Each year State Champions from throughout the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico are awarded the opportunity to compete in the Poetry Out Loud National Semi-Finals and Finals in Washington, DC.  This exciting opportunity includes an all-expense paid trip to Washington for each state finalists and a chaperone. I attended the Finals at the end of April as Florida’s State Coordinator to watch our champion, Emily Rodriguez, compete and to learn more about the Poetry Out Loud program.  While there I enjoyed touching base with other program directors from each state, and it was a pleasure to meet the many devoted folks from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Poetry Foundation who make Poetry Out Loud a huge success.

This year’s 53 Poetry Out Loud State Champions in Washington, DC. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

This year’s 53 Poetry Out Loud State Champions in Washington, DC. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Emily Rodriguez, a 12th grade student at Academy of the Holy Names in Hillsborough County, traveled to Washington with her mom to compete in the National competition. During the first two rounds of Region 2’s semi-finals, Emily recited “The Empty Dance Shoes”by Cornelius Eady and “Memory as a Hearing Aid” by Tony Hoagland.  Not surprisingly, Emily’s excellent recitation skills led to the judges’ selecting her as one of the top 10 students to move onto the third round. During this final round, Emily recited “Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God” by John Donne. All of us at the Division of Cultural Affairs are very proud of Emily’s performance and recognize how prestigious it is for her to have been selected to compete in the final round of the Semi-Finals.

Emily Rodriguez reciting Cornelius Eady’s “The Empty Dance Shoes.” Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Emily Rodriguez reciting Cornelius Eady’s “The Empty Dance Shoes.” Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Given the vast amount of talent that showed up in Washington for the 2014 National Finals, the judges understandably had a very difficult time making their final decisions.  In the end, three students from each of the three regional Semi-Finals were selected to compete in the Finals. The following evening these nine student each recited poems during the first two rounds. Ultimately, the top three students were selected to perform a third poem to determine their standings as the 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Finalists. This year, these finalists included Natasha Simone Vargas (New Jersey), Lake Wilburn (Ohio), and Anita Norman (Tennessee) who were surely thrilled!

Once Natasha, Lake, and Anita recited their third poem, the judges determined that Anita Norman would be this year’s National Champion.  In addition to all of the national recognition that accompanies this honor, Anita Norman was presented with a prize of $20,000!  Lake Wilburn came in 2nd place with a $10,000 prize and Natasha Vargas received $5,000. It was wonderful to see such talent acknowledged. The amount of positive energy flowing among all of the students, regardless of their final standings, was evidence of this. The experience was truly gratifying for all involved.

National Champion Anita Norman interviewed by Neda Ulaby from National Public Radio. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

National Champion Anita Norman interviewed by Neda Ulaby from National Public Radio. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Clearly, the fifty-three Poetry Out Loud National Finalists had the time of their life! Besides making connections with like-minded teens from across the United States, their Washington experience included opportunities to meet significant published authors and public figures from stage, screen, radio, and government. Plus, the folks at the Poetry Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts made certain that the students’ time in Washington was filled with exciting events like meet and greet receptions, an opening banquet with last year’s National Champion Langston Ward, a Congressional breakfast, time on Capitol Hill, and a great National Finals after party.  Having seen how fulfilling the experience was and how wholly the students embraced their love of poetry, I have higher praise for Poetry Out Loud than ever before.

Participation in a Poetry Out Loud program begins at the classroom level. It’s easy to incorporate the program into the curriculum because Poetry Out Loud correlates with English Language Arts Standards set by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Not only does the program seek to encourage our nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through performance and recitation, it is an inclusive program.  It creates an entry point for students to appreciate poetry, it reaches out to students who might not have otherwise taken to poetry or the stage, and it impacts the lives of students both academically and socially. I strongly encourage high school teachers to incorporate the program into their language arts curriculum. Schools interested in finding out more can visit the official Poetry Out Loud website, visit the Florida Division of Cultural Affair’s POL webpage, or contact me for more information. It might just be a student from your community who goes to Washington next year!

Poetry, like camaraderie, is stirring and fun.Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Poetry, like camaraderie, is stirring and fun. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Spotlight On: A Flamenco Tribute to Viva Florida 500

by Tim Storhoff

As part of the Viva Florida 500 celebrations, native Floridian Clarita Filgueiras has produced a short film entitled “Honoring the Past: a Flamenca’s Journey.”

This 17 minute film presents two Flamenco dances choreographed and performed by award-winning choreographer/dancer, Clarita Filgueiras accompanied by singer Vicente Griego and guitarist Rodrigo Valdez. Clarita descends from a long line of Flamenco artists. Born in Florida, Clarita began her studies in Spanish dance at the age of eight with Jose Molina and Luisita Sevilla. In the late 1980s, Clarita lived in Madrid with her family and studied traditional Spanish dance styles including flamenco with some of Spain’s best artists. Clarita has been a member of the Division of Cultural Affairs State Touring Roster and was a recipient of a 2012 Folk Heritage Award from the Florida Folklife Program

The short film goes through the process that created the choreography and performance commemorating Ponce de León’s arrival in Florida through the eyes of Clarita Filgueiras. In many ways, flamenco is a great representation of Viva Florida 500. This year through events all across the state, Viva Florida has highlighted the 500 years of historic people, places and events in present-day Florida since Juan Ponce de León named this land La Florida. While Spain’s claim in 1513 marked the beginning of a new era, Florida’s Native American heritage dates back more than 12,000 years, and Florida’s cultural affluence results from the diversity and interaction of cultures in our state.

Like Florida’s rich culture, flamenco is also the result of cultural interactions in a country’s southernmost region. While the music and dance tradition has transformed dramatically throughout history, flamenco originated as a vocal tradition that arrived in Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain where Europe is closest to North Africa, in the fifteenth century. It was brought by the gitano people who were believed to have originated somewhere on the Indian subcontinent before traveling for centuries through parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. When they arrived in Andalusia in the early 1400s, they found a truly cosmopolitan place where people from diverse cultural backgrounds and religions coexisted fairly peacefully. The music the gitanos brought with them already reflected the diverse regions they traveled through. Over time, the music gained more acceptance and popularity in Spain when gitanos performed in cafes where intellectuals gathered. In the nineteenth century, Spanish guitar became a primary feature of the music and dancers became the focal point of staged performances. Flamenco continues to be one of Spain’s defining traditions, and it came to Florida through interaction with Spain. Today, performers like Clarita Filgueiras and her dance company Flamenco Puro continue to further the flamenco tradition in our great state.

For more information about flamenco, the video, or to hire Flamenco Puro, contact Clarita Filgueiras or visit claritafilgueiras.com. To learn more about Viva Florida 500 events, visit vivaflorida.org.

Culture in Florida: March

Culture In Floridaby Bob Evans and Tim Storhoff

Culture In Florida is a monthly news roundup to show our state’s wonderful diversity, spotlight the organizations and artists that contribute so much to our communities, and stress the comprehensive benefits of arts and culture to Florida’s economy and quality of life.

As promised last month, March was full of events across Florida. The Division of Cultural Affairs was busy, as were the many art, history, and science museums across the state.

Here in Tallahassee, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs hosted our statewide Poetry Out Loud competition March 8th and 9th. The program is a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. Poetry Out Loud is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. For a full breakdown of Florida’s event, replete with pictures, see our previous blog post.

The 2013 Poetry Out Loud Florida State Finals champion Kourtney Brooker, reciting her poem during the final round.

The 2013 Poetry Out Loud Florida State Finals champion Kourtney Brooker, reciting her poem during the final round.

Elsewhere in Florida, the Gasparilla International Film Festival was held in Tampa from March 19th to the 24th. Since its inception in 2006, the festival has continued to draw international crowds with its exciting crops of filmmakers, actors, and writers, who all come together for a week of brilliant cinema. This year’s festival was no different. One of Florida’s own independent filmmakers, Lawrence Feeney, president of Pasco Films, took home the Audience Award in the Narrative Feature category for his film, Pharmboy. The film, which was shot in Pasco County, is a fictional account of a teenager who was born addicted to prescription pills. The festival also features the work of another Floridian, Vaughn Wilkinson, who played the lead in the independent feature film Against the Grain. Wilkinson, who graduated from Tampa’s King High School in 2002, has had success in national commercials and a part on 90210.

March was also Florida Archaeology Month, and for two New College students, it paid off. Matt Andersen and Jodi Johnson won Cornelia D. Futor Archaeology Student Grants, sponsored by the Time Sifters Archaeology Society of Sarasota. The grant competition is open to undergraduate and pre-doctoral graduate students enrolled at a college in the Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Tampa area and is based on excellence in archaeology research papers.

At the Florida Museum of Natural History this month are the fossilized remains of a giant crocodile. The fossils are from the same coal mine in Colombia where the 48-foot-long “Titanoboa: Monster Snake” was discovered. “This is extremely exciting because we’ll be unpacking the first lower jaw discovered of this giant, 30- to 40-foot-long crocodile relative we believe may have actually battled Titanoboa,” says Florida Museum vertebrate paleontology curator Jonathan Bloch. University of Florida doctoral candidate Aldo Rincon discovered a tooth and lower jaw segments of an extinct hippo-like species while excavating in the Panama Canal. His research has recently been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The fossils are being held at the Florida Museum of Natural History for analysis.

The Jacksonville Zoo, seemingly in preparation for the upcoming 20th anniversary re-release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, has opened its very own version of the fictional park. DinoTrek features 21 life-size animatronic dinosaurs, as well as a unique comprehensive experience. Visitors pass through a Jurassic Park-like gate, follow a foggy path to a moat, cross over on a floating dock and enter a heavily wooded area where the dinosaurs move, roar and snarl. DinoTrek also offers a dig site when kids can excavate fossils. The exhibit will continue through June 30th.

With the Voyager 1 spacecraft rapidly making its way out of the solar system, space is once again making the news in Florida. Space Florida, the state’s public/private space development corporation, wants to convince NASA to release 150 acres of its land now contained within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge or Canaveral National Seashore to operate a commercial spaceport outside the security perimeter of NASA launch facilities. They will make their first appearance before the Volusia County Council on April 4th.

Saturn V rocket engines from the famous Apollo 11 mission to the moon were discovered by Jeff Bezos off of the coast of Florida. Bezos, founder of Amazon.com and its CEO, said in 2012 that he planned to recover those specific engines. The rocket engines remain property of NASA and the U.S. government, and Bezos has indicated that he would like to pull the engines to the surface and then have NASA put them on display at a museum in Seattle.

The noteworthy collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the John F. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) and the Museum of Arts & Sciences (MOAS) continues with over forty pieces from the heart of the NASA art collection. Florida Celebrates Space is open at MOAS through April 28, 2013. The exhibition is offered in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Ponce de León’s discovery of Florida and illustrates the peninsula not only as a destination for the first explorers, but as a gateway for those launching to explore new worlds beyond Earth. Included are pieces by Annie Leibovitz, Andy Warhol, James Wyeth and Robert Rauschenberg. To accompany the exhibition, MOAS is offering special Florida Celebrates Space events and activities through April, 2013.

Frank J. Thomas being inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame during the Florida Heritage Month Awards. Photo by Gary Pettit.

Frank J. Thomas being inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame during the Florida Heritage Month Awards. Photo by Gary Pettit.

Florida Heritage Month began on March 15 and will continue until April 15. The Florida Heritage Month Awards Ceremony was held on March 20 at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee. The event included a reception, cultural performances, the Florida Folk Heritage Awards, Secretary of State Historic Preservation Awards, Florida Book Awards and the induction of artists into the 2013 Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

If you’re looking for things to do in April, it’s Jazz Appreciation Month so check out some live performances between now and Jazz Day on April 30. As always, keep your eye on the Viva Florida 500 calendar all year long and check out the local cultural calendars in your area!

Spotlight on Central Florida: Summer Arts Camps

by Jennifer BonnerInterim Director, Orange County Arts Education Center

Jennifer Bonner

As part of my job with the Orange County Arts Education Center located in Orlando, I collect and publish the listings of summer camps from local arts organizations in our annual Arts Summer Camp Guide.  This year I went one step further and visited the Arts Summer Camps listed in the guide. Hello summer!

It was wonderful – absolutely like being a kid again! This summer I’ve seen 270+ summer camps.  Let me rephrase.  270+ summer ARTS camps in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties. The arts opportunities available to the next generation of Central Floridians are thriving, and I was lucky enough to peer into that world for just a short while.

From ancient Egypt to Hungary, from improv to Brazilian martial arts and drumming, I was transported throughout the world through the power of the arts. The joy I felt KNOWING this was happening in my area cannot surpass the joy students were feeling learning and absorbing a tremendous amount of information disguised as “fun.”

As an arts educator I have always been haunted by the “fun” aspect of my area subject (theatre, in case you were wondering).  It’s “just for fun,” you get to “play around.” I will tell you now, not because of my own subjectivity, but because I saw it through the eyes of the students: “fun” is the best way to learn.  The arts are a model for all teaching.  This is especially true in the summer.

Where else, would you find the all of the majors of a college department spending their entire summer at school?  In.   The.   Arts.  Valencia College, the 2011 winner of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, holds the Summer Dance Institute each summer for all dance majors and select high school students culminating in a performance at the end of the intensive.  These students receive no credit.  They are simply there to better themselves, to learn and grow.  Led by Department Chair Dr. Suzanne Salapa and Artistic Director Lesley Brasseux Rodgers, the Intensive creates a wonderful atmosphere.  And that atmosphere seems to be contagious.

There is also an “Acting Gym” which takes place every Saturday from 1-3 p.m.  Used as his student enrichment hours, Professor John DiDonna is continually amazed that over 30 students show up every Saturday including the summer, and that participation figure is growing weekly.

Mennello Museum of Art Summer Printmaking Camp. Image submitted and used by permission of Jennifer Bonner.

All of the large arts organizations in our area have summer camps.  The Orlando Repertory Theatre alone has over 50 summer camp offering for students.  The Orange County Regional History Center brings history alive with their artistic process.  Students – ranging from 5 years of age through middle school – learn about ancient Egypt through maps, mummification and the painting of hieroglyphs.  The Orlando Shakespeare Theater is teaching Shakespeare, make-up, history and costuming through an innovative “Zombie Shakespeare” camp.  Crealdé, a local visual art center, has a finely tuned model.  Each students enrolled moves through drawing, painting, sculpture and photography.  I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I had none of these options!

Here’s the wonderful thing about this area: it isn’t just the large arts organizations that have camps. There are literally hundreds of camps run by individuals or small arts organizations I mean, a first-timer trying out theatre might be intimidated by the word Shakespeare (although as a theatre person myself, I can promise you that he is very friendly).  Summer Drama Camp, a camp that has just begun running year-round starting this year, is a one-woman operation.  Focusing on a production, students are also taught responsibility, character and the business side of theatre.  Magic Curtains Productions, run by a husband and wife team, taught the basics of theatre to those that have never been on the stage before and those who have been in the program since its inception.  The innovative Lego camp, iBrick Academy run by James Jones, a technology teacher in Orange County Public Schools, along with his son, has three different locations, including LEGOLAND Florida.  Students are taught through the STEAM process (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) using innovative and creative ideas to create windmills, cars and robotic bugs.

Words of the day and research materials at the Mennello Museum of Art Summer Printmaking Camp. Image submitted and used by permission of Jennifer Bonner.

And while most of the camps are geared towards the preK-12 years, there are even a few for the adults and the professionals.  The Art and History Center Maitland offers workshops and classes all summer specifically geared to adults and the newly opened Starving Artist Studios has adult classes in ballroom dance and ballet, as well as private instruction and group classes in theatre, music and dance for professionals.  The Orlando Ballet’s Summer Intensive serves a diverse body of participants, ages 7 through adults. Orlando Ballet also offers adult walk-in classes for those in the community who just want to try it!  Capoeira Brazilian Pelourinho teaches a form of martial arts that incorporates music and dance has level for all ages, including special “Mom/Dad” classes following the youth classes so the students and parents can experience the art together.

There are so many more that I could mention, so many more that I visited and am in awe of.  Each with their own strengths.  Each with their own approach to learning.  Each with their own fun.  Being a kid again this summer couldn’t have been more fruitful.  Thanks for the arts fun Central Florida!

Spotlight on Florida Folklife: Cane Grinding

by Ken Miller

Cane grinding, circa 1890s. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection

In bygone days rural communities often organized working parties, turning labor into social events. Hog killing, corn shucking and cane grinding were examples of this phenomenon. Music and a meal were standard parts of these rituals. During World War II families and communities were scattered, and these social events started fading away. As we look at our lives now, many of us pine for the days when there was time, energy and desire for the rituals that solidified families and communities, turning necessary work into good fun.

A Southern cane grinding is similar to a New England maple syrup cooking. Maple sap gathering and cooking extends as long as the sap is flowing, from three to five weeks, with syrup boilings whenever the holding tank gets full. Cane grinding now is usually done in one hectic day, making it more suitable for a work party. Here in the Deep South, sugar cane has always been the sweetener. Prior to World War II almost every farm in the South had a cane patch to provide the year’s sweetener and the surplus served as a welcome cash crop. In addition, cane could provide the enhancer for localized liquid corn products.

Cane grinding circa 1911. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection.

Cane is typically harvested around Thanksgiving. Large crops used to take several weeks to be harvested and boiled. First, the freshly cut and stripped cane is crushed in a roller mill to extract the juice. The raw, greenish brown juice tastes somewhat like vaguely sweet “grass tea.” Some folks really enjoy this treat. The mill was traditionally powered by a blind mule walking in a circle at the end of a pole, which directly turned the mill’s rollers. The more modern use of a tractor PTO (power takeoff) for power doesn’t seem to affect the taste but for my memories it is noisy, smelly and out of place. Next, the juice is boiled down to syrup consistency.

Wilmer Cribbs grinding sugarcane for making into syrup - Wellborn, Florida. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection.

On the Grissett farm west of Tallahassee (where I have attended many a cane grinding), thick black smoke from the “fat lighter” fire and controlled confusion were the norm as Roy and Wayne Grissett would keep the fire roaring and the foam skimmed off of the 6-foot diameter cast iron syrup kettle. A chilly November wind keeps the crowd close to the steaming kettle. It is very hot and humid inside the open syrup shed, in stark contrast to the weather outside. Bees of all types are attracted to the sweet juice and smell but I’ve never seen anybody get stung.  When the viscosity is just right the fire is pulled from the firebox and the syrup is poured off and strained into a container so that it can cool enough to be bottled in old style 1/5 gallon glass bottles. This process is repeated until all of the syrup has been cooked.

A traditional cane grinding is always accompanied by a “covered dish” dinner (the noon meal for you non-Southerners), served and eaten outside by the syrup shed. All of this is generally accompanied by home-made music.

Our band “Scrub Oak” has often been asked to play for the cane grindings at the Grissett’s farm west of Tallahassee. We play our version of “Antique Country” or “Pre-Grass” music with fiddle, guitar and mandolin both before and after the meal.

About mid-day folks start bringing in covered dish food, salads and desserts.  The blessing and eating can start as soon as Gayle’s fresh biscuits arrive. Then one of the essential rituals is to see how much syrup one can pour into a fresh cooked biscuit and still be able to get it into your mouth without sticky tragedy. Kids are the most skilled at this sport. Every kid old enough to have a pocketknife is carrying his or her own stick of fresh cane. They deftly peel and cut off chunks to chew, swallowing the juice and then spitting out the empty pulp. They may also cut off a chunk for a smaller, as yet uninitiated kid.

The two brothers are now only one. Last year’s grinding was a memorial for Wayne Grissett, a beloved husband, father, brother and friend who passed on just a few weeks before this years grinding. The crowd is huge as the community comes together to remember Wayne and pay its respects to the family. We see again the many benefits of families and communities coming together for work and fun, for grieving and healing.