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August 7, 2014

This Week In The Civil War: Sherman Advances

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Aug. 3: War rumors.

Compiled by the Associated Press from historic records.

Amid an intensifying conflict 150 years ago, calls arose in the summer of 1864 in the North for newspapers to refrain from publishing rumors of troop movements, whether by Confederate or Union soldiers.

As The Evening Star of Washington, D.C., noted on its front page July 27, 1864: “There are many wild reports to-day and to-night” and most were believed to be “unfounded.” An accompanying dispatch by The Associated Press reported on the hardships of obtaining verified war details. “It is extremely difficult to obtain any authentic information relative to affairs on the Upper Potomac, and rebel movements in the (Shenandoah) Valley” of Virginia, AP noted. “By far the greater part of the rumors and even positive statements hourly put in circulation here are evidently false, and therefore not worth repeating,” the dispatch added.

But big news still got through that week as AP reported that Sherman’s Union force was pressing in a “grand movement upon Atlanta,” a major Union objective in the Deep South.

West Virginia Native Answers “What Is It To Be Appalachian?”


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh (AP) ``Appalachian hillbilly’’ is a term familiar to those who grew up within our tri-state region, but one that most fail to understand. From the Ma and Pa Kettle films of the early 20th century to the West Virginia jokes told at your local watering hole, stereotypes abound about our Appalachian region and its people.

Wanting to explore that, Oakmont-based photographer Aaron Blum, an eighth-generation West Virginian, began a self-assigned photography project titled ``Born and Raised.’’ It’s on display at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries in Oakland.

(c) Aaron Blum

Most of his work centers around a single question, what does it mean to be Appalachian?

Blum lived most of his life in a small town in West Virginia where he was born into Appalachian culture, and, as many young people do, he considered his small town void of any real culture or history, a place without life or meaning.

But, after attending West Virginia University to obtain a bachelor’s of fine arts degree and Syracuse University for a master’s in photography, he returned to a whole new consciousness about his birthplace.

``I started to develop a better opinion and understanding of my surroundings, and the people who inhabited it,’’ he says. ``I began to see that life in West Virginia was not held only to its stereotypes, and that a life there was not a direct path to a static existence in the hills.’’

These realizations led Blum to investigate and learn more about the history of Appalachia and his heritage.

``Surprisingly, I learned that I was not primarily of German descent, as I had always believed, but was mostly Scots-Irish, a group of settlers most associated with Appalachian culture,’’ he says. ``Stories from my mother and grandmother, as well as old photographs, helped me piece together the puzzle of my own past. I began to understand family traditions and tendencies. I began to understand my own identity as well as the identity of an area where my family has lived for eight generations.’’

(c) Aaron Blum

Blum’s newfound knowledge and appreciation led him to start ``Born and Raised,’’ and he has been photographing the region and its inhabitants ever since.

For example, in ``Home Is Where The Heart Is’’ Blum asked one of his best friends to stand for a portrait, shirtless, because he knew he had a tattoo on his chest of a coal-burning power plant.

``I wanted to have a conversation with him about the tattoo and what it meant to him,’’ Blum says. ``When I asked, he told me it was a reminder of home and was a part of our culture and that it was what gave us life and, eventually, would probably kill us. So, I just asked him to close his eyes and think about home, and I made the image.’’

In ``The Daughter of Morgan Morgan,’’ Blum chose his wife to be the main subject in an emotionally charged scene.

``She is a direct descendant of Morgan Morgan, who is one of the first settlers, if not the first settler, of West Virginia,’’ Blum says. ``I am an eighth-generation Appalachian; my wife is a 12th. For that reason, I really wanted to make a great portrait of her.

``It is highly constructed, and not at all what it seems,’’ Blum says. ``It’s actually just an air mattress and some fabric she is laying on. I made the image as a reaction to the beautiful lighting that was in my parents’ living room, but it became much more than that as the project progressed.’’

Just as compelling, ``The Scare Crow’’ is a real showstopper. An important image for the artist, it represents the first time after Blum started the project that he became a victim of stereotyping Appalachia and himself.

(c) Aaron Blum

``I was driving to Thanksgiving dinner in Tyler County in West Virginia, and I happened upon this bird hanging from a tree,’’ he says. ``I was certain it was some type of cult ritual or some highly sinister hillbilly. I later learned that I was wrong, and that it is a way to keep crows out of your cornfields and is where the term `scarecrow’ actually comes from. Crows understand mortality and, if you hang one up, they understand that they will be next.’’

``The Hannibal Dam’’ is another image culled from Blum’s local landscape. An image is of the dam in his hometown, it is somewhat of an odd-looking dam.

``I don’t know how many times I have driven by it and never made a photograph, but that morning, I knew it was just right,’’ he says. ``The fog and the mist and the light were all just perfect, and I knew I wanted to photograph it then because the light is such an important part of my understanding of the region. It really is a big part of how people understand the area. It’s dark and mysterious, and that day it all just came together.’’

Finally, family plays a role again in ``The Living Room’’ which depicts Blum’s family’s formal living room.

(c) Aaron Blum

``This is the room that no one is ever allowed in except when company comes over or there is a holiday,’’ he says. ``I think the culture aspect of having a formal sitting room is something that I always associated with Appalachia and seemed at odds with many stereotypical views of the region, and that is why I created the image.’’

Blum says producing artwork in this way is challenging not only to others, but himself. ``Finding that line of what is, and is not, acceptable to me becomes very important,’’ he says. ``I want to know how I am capable of forming my own stereotypes and how I can be a detriment to my own identity.

``This process gives others insight into my internal struggle of finding what it means to be Appalachian, and, hopefully, challenges their own versions of stereotypes and their beliefs about how they conceive others and perhaps then themselves.’’


Artist Who Created Ghostbusters Logo Assigns ‘The Bird’

By John Rogers

Associated Press

Los Angeles (AP) Michael Gross never planned on joining the front lines of the fight against cancer.

The guy who once put a terrified-looking dog on the cover of National Lampoon magazine with a gun to its head and the words, “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog,” was only thinking he’d have a little fun with his art students when he told them to draw a hand with a raised middle finger.

“Makes a dramatic statement and teaches a little about anatomy,” the gruff, gravelly voiced artist quipped one recent morning as he sat on the deck of his beach-front bungalow in Oceanside, sipping coffee.

National Lampoon’s typically un-PC cover, 1973

It was only after he reviewed the drawings that Gross, who is dying of kidney cancer, had one of those white-light bursts of inspiration: “I said to myself this is really funny. And I said this also makes a nice statement about how I feel about cancer.”

So the artist who spent a career corralling others to work with him on magazine covers and films began calling in favors from muralists, abstract expressionists, illustrators and others. Whether they worked in oil or acrylic, pen or pencil, they would all do the same thing: Create a drawing of a hand with a raised middle finger.

Having gathered more than 30, he plans to organize them into a touring gallery show this fall, eventually sell them and also screen some onto T-shirts and limited-edition prints for sale. He plans to donate whatever money is raised to Scripps Health’s cancer-treatment programs.

The works run the gamut from Gross’ own pop-art drawing of a green hand with a raised middle finger to graphic designer Tracy Belcher’s nude woman in profile flipping somebody off.

Everett Peck, who created the popular cartoon character for the 1990s TV series “Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man,” decided to go with a leering, cigar-chomping, eight-fingered spider.

“I just thought if one finger is good enough, then seven more is better,” laughed Peck. “I wish it were deeper than that, but that’s about it.”

Like others, Peck says he was flattered to be asked for a drawing. Gross is a legendary figure in art circles, not only for his quirky, oversized personality but for his impact on popular culture.

When New York’s prestigious Pratt Institute held a 125th anniversary celebration two years ago it surveyed people for their thoughts on the 125 most admired icons created by alumni. Gross’ “Ghostbusters” logo (pictured here), created for the films of the same name, came in first, beating out the Chrysler Building.

When the American Society of Magazine Editors released its list of the top 40 magazine covers, the artist’s dog with the gun to its head was No. 7, not bad for an illustration that wasn’t even planned for the cover.

“We were just going to do it as a subscription ad in the magazine,” recalled Gross, who was National Lampoon’s art director. “Then we thought the next one would be, `OK, we killed the dog. Now we’re going to kill the cat. We really mean it.’”

Fortunately, he learned the humor magazine’s editors were planning an entire issue making fun of death. The dog was promoted.

From the Lampoon, the New York-born artist segued into producing films, everything from hits like “Ghostbusters” to flops like the Sylvester Stallone turkey “Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot.”

The films brought him to California, where he eventually retired to a career of curating and offering private art lessons. He’d recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer when he gave his students the raised-finger assignment.

“I’ve got a year or two, they tell me. So I thought, `Well, let’s do some new things and have some fun.’”

Among Gross’ art students is popular veteran San Diego radio personality Madison, who had organized a pair of benefit concerts for Scripps’ Loren Nancarrow Healing Garden Project, an ambitious effort named for the late San Diego news anchor who died of cancer. The program provides a calm garden setting for people undergoing radiation treatment at Scripps, as well as funds for cancer-related therapies not covered by insurance. If enough money is raised the entire garden will eventually be named for Nancarrow.

Madison and Gross, meanwhile, have partnered on a kickstarter project aimed at raising $12,000 to mount the gallery shows and create the initial T-shirts and prints. Whatever they raise from the sales will go to the garden project.

“I don’t see it raising a lot,” Gross says of the effort. “But maybe the shirts will sell and maybe it will grow and maybe it will be a recurring thing after I’m gone. And that would be nice.”

Man With ‘Disabilities’ Founds Comfortable With Myself

To Encourage Everyone


The Florida Times-Union

Jacksonville, FL (AP) Ra’Shad Solomon is in a battle with cerebral palsy that seldom lets up, but these days he feels he’s winning more often than losing.

A lot of it comes from not letting his condition define who he is or what he hopes to become.

Solomon, 25, wants to help others with disabilities achieve the same kind of feeling. Through Comfortable With Myself, an organization he started last year, he’s reaching out to the disabled to offer encouragement.

Being comfortable with himself, Solomon freely admits, did not come easily.

``I had problems when I was growing up accepting who I am,’’ he said. The Jacksonville native has spent a lot of his life in a wheelchair, and he grew up with a sense that the wheelchair was all that many people saw.

He has had a total of nine surgeries on his legs, hips and back.

Pain is a constant. Depression occasionally overwhelmed him, largely because he didn’t see much potential for someone with his challenges. In junior high, he attempted suicide by overdosing on prescription drugs.

Ra’Shad Soloman, right, and friend

Solomon’s outlook began to change as a junior in high school. He took a fashion design class at Ed White and became interested in the fashion world. He saw dressing well as a way to gain acceptance, and maybe he was right. He got a ``Best Dressed’’ award that year.

And he decided he wanted to become a model, or as he specifically puts it, ``a model with disabilities.’’

Though he hasn’t had much success, Solomon has held onto that dream. He’s recently found encouragement through the Beautiful Bodies competition at The Jacksonville Landing.

Contestants are asked to define beauty in an abstract way, said Jasmine Rhey, the event’s co-creator, in any four categories: art, fashion, fitness and dance.

``We came up with the concept because we wanted to change the concept of beauty,’’ Rhey said. ``It’s an open-ended concept, giving contestants the freedom to create something that expresses how they feel beautiful.’’

Solomon got a phone call from Max Sturdivant a week before the July 2nd qualifying round, encouraging him to enter in the fashion category. Sturdivant, known as Dr. Fitness to Jacksonville radio listeners, was Solomon’s personal trainer for more than two years.

``I said, `I don’t think people in a wheelchair have ever done that before,’ “ Solomon said. ``He said, `Then you can be the first.’?”

Solomon chose not to model for the qualifying round. Instead, he went onstage and talked about how beauty is not defined by your abilities. The presentation was a little short of 10 minutes, he said.

He received a standing ovation, and qualified for the finals, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Landing courtyard.

In addition to the recognition, a cash prize of $500 comes with winning the competition.

But the outcome won’t affect Solomon’s determination to become ``a model of persistence’’ through Comfortable With Myself.

``There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wonder what it would be like without a disability,’’ Solomon said. ``But I don’t let it beat me up anymore.’’

The group is still in its formative stages, and Solomon is using Facebook as the primary platform for getting the word out.

Its 10 or so members meet every other Friday at the Northside home Solomon shares with his mother, Cynthia Collins, and his younger brother, Javone, who is 18 and also has cerebral palsy.

Participation is not limited to those with cerebral palsy, a disorder that can affect such things as body movement, muscle control, coordination and posture. Lupus, depression, spina bifida, sickle cell anemia, leukemia and HIV are among the topics currently being addressed in meetings.

It’s for anyone struggling to be comfortable with himself ``no matter what your problems are,’’ Solomon said. ``A lot of people are scared to talk about their problems. We want to reach out and be there for people who are suffering inside.’’

He hopes that Comfortable With Myself will evolve into a nonprofit ``where everybody can come for support and leave your troubles behind.’’

Most important, he wants to be a role model for his younger brother.

``Javone is my inspiration,’’ Solomon said, ``to put people in a mind-set of what a disability is. I would hate for him to go through what I’ve been through.

``To be comfortable with yourself—that’s what a model is in my eyes.’’





















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