The Collected & Collaged Home

The Collected & Collaged Home

An artist pastes together his story

By Cassie Bustamante

 Photographs by Amy Freeman

Just beyond the front door of Perry Boswell’s downtown Summit Avenue condo hangs a large collaged canvas created by the artist himself. The Dandy is a collection of black-and-white images from the late 1800s and early 1900s, including three photos of suited Black men — one with a handlebar mustache — and a photo of a behatted Black woman adorned in fur.

Why these images? “I would find pictures that had no story and, for whatever reason, they would tell me they need a story,” Boswell says. So he got to work, cutting and pasting, weaving in advertisements and minstrel music from the same era, plus notebook writings of his own.

“And here is the thing about putting your comments in a different time,” Boswell says of working with old ephemera, “you can say something really pertinent — what needs to be said about things.”

At a show of his collage work, Boswell once overheard a friend comment on The Dandy to a gallery visitor, “You know what, if you knew him, you would realize it is also a story about him, too.”

While the canvases decorated with his own two hands are created as a means to share a bit of his story, he’s drawn to art that does the same. Beyond the entry, his home unfurls like a gallery, art, thoughtfully curated, and one-of-a-kind treasures inviting the visitor to pause and take it all in. One of his quirkiest pieces is a carnival-colored painting of a two-headed man he purchased at the Fearrington Folk Art Show. Painted on an old door, one face features dark shaped brows, pale blue eyes, a serious expression and is as dapper as The Dandy, down to the handlebar mustache. The other, its opposite, wears a toothy grin, bushier brows and dark eyes. The humor, color and use of recycled salvage drew him to it immediately. But what made him purchase it? “I was figuring me out and it spoke to me in a way that we’re all two-headed because we’re many people in one,” he says.

And has he figured himself out? Dressed in a gray shawl-collar, chunky wool sweater, dark denim and stylish black glasses, Boswell, a retired Davidson County High school art teacher, is, like his house, carefully put together. The effect? Refined ruggedness — a phrase that could easily describe his home, too. What his ensemble can’t illustrate on its own is the comfort he feels in his skin. But just as creating art or a home is often a slow and sometimes challenging process, so has it been with his inner journey.

That passage, he says, has involved “a lot of change. It’s age. It’s a divorce. It’s a lot of things,” says Boswell. Still, he says he feels as if he’s approaching his destination “because I can be at ease with all the things I am.”

Since growing up in his parents’ house, built on his grandparents’ 100-acre Thomasville tobacco farm, Boswell has called a few other places home in his 61 years. As a newlywed fresh out of college, he purchased his first house, a charming 1930s bungalow in Welcome. Later, when a son was born, the family packed up and headed to suburbia. And when that son flew the coop, he and his former wife moved to Greensboro into a 1920s Latham Park home, complete with a backyard art studio.

“I like a place that has a story, a soul,” says Boswell. So it’s no surprise that when his marriage ended, a topic he opts not to touch upon, he knew exactly where he wanted to land — the 1922 Flatiron Building on Summit Avenue. Designed by Jefferson Standard Building architect Charles Hartmann, the structure, originally intended to house four family-sized apartments, now features eight units and, of course, Flat Iron cocktail bar and music venue.


At a potluck dinner hosted by fellow Sternberger Artists Center tenant Molly Amsler, who lives in one of the eight units, Boswell immediately felt a strong pull toward the building. “When I stepped into it, I knew I was going to live here,” he says. “I just knew it.”

The stars aligned and a street level unit with a porch view of the Greensboro History Museum popped up on the market just when Boswell needed it. But, he adds, it was by choice that he made the purchase.

A stone’s throw from his studio space at Sternberger, his new Summit Avenue home is within walking or, as he points out, trolley distance, to some of his favorite haunts: the public library, the museums and the booming coffee shop scene. “It seems like downtown is becoming little Seattle,” Boswell quips gleefully. Or, he can simply sit on his porch and enjoy the cast of characters that walk by.

That thriving downtown cultural scene is fuel for this artist’s soul. “I can, on a Saturday night, go down here and hear Latin music and see families dancing with each other. How wonderful that is!” he says. “Hearing different stories but seeing the commonality of it is important to me.”

As a retired teacher, where does he find the funds to support his collecting and coffee shop habits? Of course, he has a pension, but he chose to get a part-time job as well. During his 30 years in the classroom, he often worked side hustles — painting houses with his father or designing High Point showrooms — and relishes in the opportunity to interact with people. Shoppers, he says, love to talk to him while he works, allowing him to meet interesting people that might inspire his artistic work. Plus, “I know how to work an apron,” he jokes of his role as stock boy at Bestway Marketplace at UNCG, where he earned both his B.A. and M.F.A.

Is there a common thread that ties together the quirky art and vintage pieces that make his condo as much a museum as a home? He laughs: “There is a fine line between collector and hoarder,” but the furnishings placed throughout his condo and adorning his walls are clearly curated to tell Boswell’s own story. When making a purchase for the home, he doesn’t consider whether something will “match.” Instead he asks himself, “Will it give me something positive?”

As someone who has been to High Point Furniture Market as both a guest and showroom designer, Boswell says, “There are beautiful, wonderful, expensive things . . . but you don’t feel anything about it.” And as an artist who admits to a studio space where creativity is born of chaos, he’s made his home more of a gallery than a workplace, filled with art, antiques and oddities that give him what he calls “good energy.”

Back in the single bedroom of his unit, Boswell, who has traveled quite a bit in his lifetime, purposefully created a retreat that feels like an old European hotel. On its gray walls, his appreciation for fashion, especially vintage, is on display. Genuine 1920s drawings from Paris fashion houses, gifted to him by a friend, add a sprinkle of vibrant color to the serene space. And next to his antique oak highboy, a framed salesman’s sheet of sample bowties from, he guesses, the 1940s is paired with its perfect complement, discovered later at a flea market — a vintage sketch of a dapper gentleman in a bowtie, smoking a pipe.

Anchoring the space, an antique brass bed with simple white bedding is flanked by a pair of sleek mahogany-colored vintage nightstands. Above the headboard, on either side of a French-inspired sconce scored at Adelaide’s, two muted but colorful German prints featuring Arts-and-Crafts-era pottery and candlesticks hang, a souvenir from his many summers spent teaching at Reynolda House’s summer enrichment program. “I got as much out of it as the kids did,” he muses.

The bedroom’s counterpart, his white kitchen, is where he shows off his fondness for folk and outsider art. A set of clay tiles featuring farm animals created by local artist Leanne Pizio fills a skinny strip of wall by his back door. He takes one down and flips it over, revealing a simple saying on the back. “I love these for the tiles and the writings,” says Boswell. As luck would have it, he also scored a couple of bright Leanne Pizio chicken paintings at a second-hand shop.

Boswell opens his pantry door to reveal a hidden gem. “This is a Mary piece,” he says. Featured on PBS, Mary Paulsen is a coastal North Carolina creator who makes folk art out of found objects. Boswell’s “Mary” is a verre églomisé — backward painting on glass — merman. Art lovers from as far as Europe now come to buy her work, so he’s happy to have one hanging in his home and hopes to acquire more.

Across the hall from the kitchen, the dining room’s furnishings piece together, much like a collage, his own family’s history. A green-based farm table was rescued from his grandparent’s farm and served him as an art table for many years, moving with him from house to house. The table, Boswell knew, had been built by his great-grandfather and formerly used in a smokehouse to hold hams. He loves to imagine all of the conversations his ancestors have had around this very table. “Wow,” he muses, “if this thing could talk.”

Now, it serves as a place for Boswell to take his turn hosting monthly artist potlucks. At 700 square feet, according to Zillow, “My home is not big,” he says without a hint of humor at the understatement, “but I can have dinner parties.”

And what’s a dinner party without the perfect cocktail corner? Serving as his bar, a tool chest that belonged to his father holds various glassware. “When I found this, my father’s badge from work was in here,” he says, tears pricking the corners of his blue eyes. He opens the drawer and, with admiration, shows off his father’s Western Electric photo ID card. “Now, my father didn’t drink. He would probably have a stroke about this,” he says with a chuckle.

On the wall just above the cabinet? More quirky art, naturally. A colorful piece passed down from a friend features a bar scene that reminds Boswell of a Van Gogh work. When he placed it over the tool-chest-turned-bar, a chorus of yesssss rang through his head.

An unassuming, elongated octagonal ironstone platter on display in an open dining room cabinet boasts an unexpected story. “Maya Angelou lived in Winston-Salem and I went to the estate sale!” says Boswell, who paired his undergrad art degree with a minor in literature. Showing up on the last day, not a whole lot was left to choose from, but in the garage, hiding on a shelf, he spotted the plain white platter, which had a large chip. “I paid 25 bucks for it,” he says, and then took it to Replacements, Ltd., which, in turn, recommended a local couple who could repair it. He had it mended, but requested it maintain a little knick. “The imperfections of things make them much more livable and homey to me.”

Ever the collector, Boswell recently purchased an old glass cabinet from a Pittsboro shop, though it originated in an Albemarle farmhouse as a kitchen upper. Inside is a collection of vintage books found locally at Bargain Box. An avid reader, he bought the whole set and has been making his way through reading them — Thoreau, Oscar Wilde, Emerson and more classics.

In the hallway, which runs the length of his living and dining rooms, Boswell has turned the narrow passage into an art exhibition featuring more of his collected pieces plus a couple of his own. He points out a recent acquisition, a French lithograph featuring a rural autumnal scene. Across from it, hangs a lone photograph of Boswell himself, a gift from a filmmaking friend. In the image, he was caught unawares, head-down at a table in Winston-Salem’s Joyner’s Bar, sketching with an old fashioned, his cocktail of choice.

His rarest find, his pièce de résistance, sits at the very end of the hallway underneath a vintage mirror. A memory jug is a form of African-American folk art that pays homage to the dead and is crafted from bits and pieces of their life, almost like a mosaic. “I’ve never seen one outside of a museum,” he says.

Although this piece is likely valuable, that’s not the reason he bought it. So why does he call this particular piece his pride and joy? It’s simple — the story it tells.

“The storytelling part of all this old stuff is what is important,” he says. And Boswell continues to tell his story to the world through his paintings and collages. But perhaps his biggest piece of collage art to date is this very home: a series of bits and pieces meticulously crafted together into what has become his favorite — and likely his last — residence. “Our story is all we have to give each other. We come into this world alone, we leave alone and we’re lucky to have people to love in between. But if this is all there is, our story is all we’ve got to give each other.”  OH

Perry Boswell’s work can be found at Sternberger Artists Center and on his own website:

Cornered By Flavor

Cornered By Flavor

Cornered By Flavor

Appetizing aromas draw foodies to two new restaurants reclaiming a busy Greensboro crossroads

By Maria Johnson
Photographs by Bert VanderVeen


The pandemic stuck a fork in the restaurant life of Latham Park.

The Iron Hen — a lunch-brunch favorite that leaned on fresh, local ingredients — and its chain-driven neighbor, Dunkin’ Donuts, always good for a pop of caffeine and sugar, both shuttered during the shutdowns.

Local bellies rumbled for salads dotted with creamy goat cheese medallions and for confections crusted with rainbow sprinkles — though not necessarily at the same time.

Now, a new crop of flavor has sprung up at the corner of West Wendover Avenue and Cridland Road, thanks to two locally-owned restaurants: Saint Louis Saveurs, which fills the former Dunkin’ space, and Ava’s Cuisine & Catering, which occupies the Iron Hen’s old roost.

Both places serve down-home chow with a delicious twist: The owners come from different places, so their flavors are distinctly diverse, and their menus expand the rich, multi-ethnic flavor of Greensboro.

Still, their stories are remarkably similar.

For Mouhamadou “Mo” Cissé and his wife, Bator, both in their early 40s, home is the west African country of Senegal, specifically the coastal city of Saint Louis, which is about the size of Greensboro and which they pronounce the same way the region’s French colonizers did: san lou-EE.

Saveurs means “flavors” in French, so, literally, the Cissés serve up the flavors of their hometown, most notably the warm, homey notes of garlic — an ingredient brought by the French — mingling with the sweet earthy tang of onions and peppers.

The piquant aroma hovers outside the restaurant, signaling that this is no slapdash joint; someone inside knows their way around the kitchen.

“The experience, the love of cooking and making something really, really good, that’s what makes the difference,” Bator says. “It’s all about the depth of the flavor.”

You can taste her practiced hand in dishes such as djolof, a fried-rice entree made with your choice of fish, chicken or lamb. Each protein is cooked slowly and separately.

“That’s the traditional way of cooking back home, for safety, so the food is well-cooked,” says Mo, adding that the method concentrates flavor.

The protein dictates which kind of homemade onion sauce is used in the dish, and each meat gets its own array of vegetables. For example, the lamb is paired with carrots, peas and corn, while the fish swims with cabbage, carrots, yams and eggplant in season.

Yassa, made with white rice, uses some of the same ingredients as djolof, but the outcome is singular. “The order of cooking is different,” says Mo. “And the quantities of ingredients are different.”

Saint Louis tweaks some American favorites, too.

“Our burger is not going to be the burger you buy anywhere else, I can guarantee that,” Mo says proudly.

The Saint Louis Special Burger boasts a thick beef patty that’s mixed with jalapeños, eggs and cheese before hitting the griddle to coax out the juices.

The restaurant’s cheesesteak is a savory marriage of marinated beef or chicken, melted cheese, and a generous drizzle of homemade vinaigrette-based sauce on a sub roll. Customers yearning for crunch can ask for a garden finish of crispy lettuce or cucumber.

“That’s something you don’t see everyday on a cheesesteak,” says Bator.

Their down-home offerings extend to a zesty homemade ginger-pineapple drink and a scarlet-hued hibiscus tea known as bissap.

Bator, who directs the kitchen — “I want the food to be 100 percent” — learned to cook as a child. “At the age of 12, I started cooking lunch for the whole family,” she says.

Even more important in her business, she absorbed the Senegalese ethos of teranga, which means warmth and hospitality. She embodies teranga with her megawatt smile.

She also reflects the discipline she learned by playing center on her high school and university basketball teams. Wearing a sporty pullover and a Nike ball cap over her tied-back hair, she radiates the confidence of an athlete who knows how to give and take in the paint.

“I was always a hustler, and I always believe in myself,” she says. “Anywhere I am, I’m gonna make it.”

Mo, who earned a Master’s degree in accounting in his hometown, worked for a bank before coming to the United States for more education and work opportunities.

Bator left her extended family and a three-bedroom home, where she had a housekeeper, to join him in New York City. Life was tougher than they expected. Mo worked as a gas station clerk, and Bator rung up orders at Burger Heaven on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, traveling an hour by train from a small apartment in the Bronx, then logging 13-hour shifts before commuting home.

“It was really, really hard,” she says. “I believe God sent us a test.”

A Senegalese business contact suggested that Mo move to Greensboro, where he lived, and take classes at N.C. A&T. The couple relocated and again found themselves working menial jobs and unable to save money. Their first daughter, Aminata, was born.

Something had to change.

Bator had an idea.

Newfound friends in Greensboro paid her to do what she loved to do anyway: create extra plates of Senegalese food, which is known throughout Africa for its quality.

What if she and Mo opened a restaurant, something small, mostly take-out?

Mo was on it. He scouted spaces for rent.

The Dunkin’ niche, an appendage of a Circle K gas station at the bustling intersection, was empty of anything that suggested food prep. The couple traveled to restaurant auctions to pick up kitchen equipment.

They opened Saint Louis Saveurs for lunch and dinner in 2022.

Ten to 15 percent of their orders come through food delivery services such as DoorDash and UberEats. Evenings find drivers standing outside the restaurant, waiting for their fragrant dispatches.

Walk-ins come from all over. 

Some work at nearby Moses Cone Hospital; in the medical offices along Wendover Avenue; or in downtown Greensboro, a few minutes away.

Some customers are visiting Greensboro and discover Saint Louis by googling African restaurants.

Others live nearby, in the well-heeled neighborhoods of Irving Park, Latham Park and Fisher Park.

“Being in this restaurant, I realize that a lot of people in Greensboro travel,” says Bator. “I have people coming in here, telling me about my country. I’m so happy to hear that. Greensboro is a very diverse place. That’s why I love it,” she says.

Another mainstay of the restaurant has been the African community in Greensboro, estimated to be at least 9,000 people, according to the Center for New North Carolinians at UNCG.

Papa Seck, a Greensboro resident who’s also from Senegal, eats at the restaurant every few weeks. To enter, he steps under an awning depicting the distinctively scalloped Faidherbe Bridge in Saint Louis and pulls on a fat “D-shaped” door handle, a vestige of doughnut days gone by.

On the bright yellow walls — the color appears in the Senegalese flag and is also a favorite of the Cissés’ younger daughter, Fatima — Bator and Mo have hung reminders of home: a wooden map of the world, where they sometimes point out Senegal to customers, and colorful, flat baskets woven by Bator and arranged in an artful display.

Feeling more comfortable already, Papa Seck slides into his native language. Behind the counter, Bator catches the lilt of home and returns his greeting with enthusiasm.


Papa orders his usual, mafé, a white-rice dish laden with bites of beef, cabbage, carrots and yams, all under a creamy peanut sauce made sassy by onions, garlic and peppers.

Waiting at one of a few bar-height tables, Seck says there is no other place like Saint Louis in this area.

“Reminds me of home,” he says.

Two doors away — the restaurants are separated by a convenience store — customers feel a similar warmth at Ava’s Cuisine & Catering, where there’s also a ready supply of smiles, plus an ample helping of nods and “heys.”

Former Iron Hen diners will notice several changes immediately. Gone are the tables. Take-out is the theme here, though voracious diners are welcome to sit on benches inside and outside and dig into their clamshell boxes with plastic ware.

Most of the concrete floor — remodeled with an epoxy finish that resembles black marble — is given over to a line of people waiting for their turn at a cafeteria style hot bar. The choices are vast — usually 12 meats, 20 side dishes and a selection of homemade pound cakes — and they recall the homestyle food that owner Alexis Hefney, 30, ate while growing up in Charlotte. She modeled the hot bar after a Piccadilly cafeteria, where she inched along, in a steamy, chatty queue with her family after church. Behind glass, a line-up of salads, vegetables, meats, desserts, breads waited for diners to nod and point their choices to aproned servers.

“I can vividly remember the macaroni-and-cheese and the red velvet cake,” Hefney says.

Her mother and grandmother taught her how to cook. Her mother, an insurance adjuster, also taught her daughter how to calculate risk and reward.

Her stepfather, a marketing specialist for companies including Food Lion and Red Lobster, imparted the importance of image and trend.

Hefney honed her sense of value and fashion by working at the Community Thrift Store near her high school. The store was a typical second-hand shop, but occasionally people donated furs, designer handbags and other pricey pieces. Hefney routinely checked the back of the store, where the better quality pieces were displayed.

Lesson: “You can mix nice pieces with cheap pieces and pull it all together,” she says.

She added restaurant skills by working as a server at Smokey Bones, TGI Fridays and a fish house while studying at UNCG. She majored in biology with an eye toward becoming a dentist. An internship revealed an important obstacle.

“I realized that I absolutely hated teeth,” she says, laughing.

She pivoted by snaring a Master’s degree in secondary education and getting certified to teach science at Dudley High School, where she worked for several years.

It was emotionally satisfying work. Financially, not so much.

“Let’s face it, teachers don’t make much money,” she says.

Hefney — by then, mother to Ava, the restaurant’s namesake —  took stock of her skills and passions, which included cooking for friends and family.

Her apartment was often the site of Friendsgivings and other holiday gatherings. People jumped at a chance to sample her candied yams, fried chicken or macaroni-and-cheese.

“Most of all, I love people. Number two, I love food,” she says, spelling out her logic. “Food brings people together.”

She drew up a detailed plan for a catering business, focusing on cost efficiency.

She spent some of her savings on a truck and trailer that had been used to sell Mexican food in Texas.

She advertised her services on Thumbtack.

On weekends, she hauled a prescribed amount of food to her clients’ weddings, graduation parties, birthdays, anniversaries.

Positive reviews brought more bookings, and Hefney moved operations to The City Kitch, a cook-sharing space inside a former cafeteria in Greensboro’s Quaker Village. She rented a 10-by-20-foot office off South Holden Road to host tastings for clients.

She continued teaching at Dudley until fall 2022, when the catering business was prosperous enough for her to give up the county paycheck.

Another turning point came last spring, when she hosted a food tent at the Dreamville Festival, a rap and R&B event in Raleigh.

“People were raving about Ava’s Cuisine,” she says. “That’s what pushed me to say, ‘Hey, I think we should open up a restaurant.’”

Ava’s Cuisine & Catering, the walk-in space, debuted in September 2023.

The biggest crowds show up for the Thursday special, ox tails.

Braised, seasoned and served over rice, the tails — which are similar to beef short ribs — could be described as Caribbean soul food.

“We put our own twist to it,” Hefney says. “They do have a little bite to them.”

Another hot seller is smothered turkey legs, which are seasoned and baked until they’re falling off the bone then served with chicken gravy over mashed potatoes or rice.

The deep-fried chicken relies on a family recipe with a couple of unusual ingredients, which Hefney keeps to herself.

“The way we season our food is what makes it a little bit different,” she says with a smile.

And Ava’s best-selling side dish? The macaroni-and-cheese made from a blend of cheddar cheeses, elbow noodles and a white sauce with butter and eggs that form a golden, cheesy crust when baked.

“From the time you walk into the restaurant, you can feel the love we put into the food,” Hefney says.

She runs her catering business out of the restaurant’s kitchen. The front of the house is open Thursdays through Mondays for lunch and dinner, with the other days given to hosting private tastings in the updated space.

Improvements include a new stone-clad counter, LED menu boards, upholstered bench seating and the pièce de résistance: a double-wide Rococo-style throne, covered with pink upholstery and tufted with chunky rhinestones.

Wise to the power of selfies and TikTok videos with a recognizable backdrop, Hefney nabbed the throne online.

“I ran across this and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I wanted something that was like, ‘Wow,’” she says. “Social media is everything now. It’s like instant advertising.”

A fashionista who’s mindful of comfort, Hefney is wrapped in a long, fuzzy, pink sweater over a white T-shirt and dark jeans grounded by a pair of popular multicolored Nike Dunks.

Her restaurant reflects the changing times, too.

Ten years ago, opening a restaurant in Greensboro would have meant offering sit-down service, perhaps with a sideline of take-out. Post-pandemic, more customers are comfortable with grab-and-go, a boost for budding restaurateurs who are looking to keep costs low and traffic high.

On Thursdays, ox tail days, 250 people will stream through Ava’s, Hefney says.

Long deprived of the aromas of home, folks in the area are grateful. Some stopped by during the renovation to see when Ava’s would open.

“People were excited to see us,” says Hefney. “I had one lady comment on our Facebook page, ‘Thank you so much for bringing the smells to our neighborhood.’  OH

Creatives on Creativity

Creatives on Creativity

How four locals work artfully

By Cynthia Adams

Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

Linda Lane, textiles and interior design

Linda Lane, who began her career as both a textile and interior designer, seeks inspiration in the greater world.

She is especially focused upon surface patterns, discovering “inspiration everywhere as I am out and about . . . manhole covers, plantings while walking my dog, a fallen branch or seed pods. Nature always inspires, never disappoints and teaches me about color palettes.”

Lane keeps a dedicated workspace, where she goes irregularly. But, she says, “Lately I am taking a different approach and dedicating daily time to ‘work’ on whatever I wish. That can include a lesson on YouTube, a seminar on Zoom or cataloging my hundreds of photos for inspiration and to use them further in developing an idea.” 

Her workspace may appear chaotic to others — “but not to me! I like visible stacks or piles spread out around me to move from one idea or medium to another: sewing, printing, drawing, mood boards and music help me sustain a productive period.”

Once committed to an idea, Lane uses various methods “to see how it holds together,” such as reviewing former concepts with fresh eyes. 

“Sometimes I revisit my sketchbook after years have passed.” Lane mentions how her mother nurtured her art, saving childhood artwork. They remind her that the young artist “is still inside of me and needs help to rise to the surface and to not be constricted by perfectionism.”

When a work in textile or home design is completed, she periodically asks if it has met the test of time. 

“Time is the best teacher. If it holds up after months or years then it doesn’t have a ‘sell by’ date on it.”

Harry Blair, illustrator

As a child, Harry Blair drew and doodled in school. A science teacher noticed and, rather than punishing him, hung his sketches up in the classroom.

He believes the truest answer to where creativity comes from, and how, is unknowable. Children, he suggests, seem to innately possess it — unless, of course, it is squelched. 

“It’s always seemed to me children, 5–6 years old, are the perfect example of creativity, having not been taught what is the wrong way or right way of doing something,” says Blair. “That is what I strive for — that freshness, the magical quality of drawing something never seen before. Kids are ruined by first grade because they look at the kid next door to see what they drew.”

He thinks he escaped that ruinous fate, thanks to his own innate sense of knowing what is true and that creativity is doing something new.

How do his drawings emerge? “I visualize things that I think are flying around in the air . . . That’s where the magic comes in . . . I watch a drawing being drawn without consciously drawing it.”

Once an idea enters Blair’s head, he’ll do a quick sketch that brings into focus what he sees with his mind’s eye.

Sometimes he evaluates a sketch and throws it away. “Other times it takes a 24-hour look-see. At that point I generally know if it’s good or not.”

He works at an antique table that is the center of his creative universe, a table that he believes is a century old. 

“It came from Grimsley High back when they had drafting classes. Heavy. Beautiful. You don’t see them anymore.”

Fifty years ago, when they were cleared out, he asked to buy one. “And they said, ‘Take one!’ I was teaching art at the time at Page.”

He keeps reminders of past work while at work positioned on the same desk near a window. There’s a (figurative) camel displayed from when he did agency work promoting Camel cigarettes. “I have to be comfortable and well lighted.”

What does he credit as the source of his creativity? Blair’s unsure. “I saw Keith Richards recently — maybe on Jimmy Kimmel, and he asked how Keith did a riff . . . Keith said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Blair chuckles. “That’s a true answer.” 

“There are days when I struggle, when it doesn’t flow like a river. I have to put it down and do something else.” He adds that such days are few. 

Yet he’s grown kinder and gentler with himself. He’s less self-critical. And he doesn’t hold himself to a routine.

Although he taught art early in his career, Blair firmly thinks creativity is ineffable.

“I don’t think you can teach creativity . . . I don’t think you can teach someone who’s a pretty good artist to be a better artist.” Creativity, he explains, arises; “it happens or not.”

Brianna Campbell, singer

Brianna Campbell recalls how her grandmother, “a really charitable person,” encouraged her to sing. Beyond that, she taught her granddaughter how to sign for the deaf so that she could sing in sign language. “I look up to my whole family,” says Campbell gratefully. “They give me the purpose to create.”

Now she writes her own lyrics, often singing while on the job at Friedrich Metal Products building industrial smokehouses and chillers. It’s a job that sees her frequently traveling to installations across the country. (Campbell is currently studying laser welding.)  

While a student at Greensboro’s Weaver Academy, she attempted sculpture welding for the first time. Competing against 2,600 students at the 2017 SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills State Conference, she won first place. Campbell subsequently earned a full scholarship to Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville, Florida, where she was among few female students.

Before SkillsUSA, she’d never tried welding sculpture, but possibilities were opened. “I went to nationals after that. And all roads lead to Rome. Your creativity, your will and devotion can get you further than anything in life.”

As she sees it, “creativity is everywhere.”

Campbell explains creativity is “problem-solving,” much as Jobs believed.

“It’s seeing what everyone else has seen,” she says. “But thinking what no one else has thought.”

Artistic ideas occur to Campbell most often while traveling, walking in the woods or enjoying music. “It’s very chaotic to most people, but I just feel like when you are an artist, the inspiration is visible to you at random times and you never know when it will be.”

While she seeks inspiration from her surroundings, she usually writes her songs in silence. But that’s not to say it’s a silent process: “I am alone a lot, but you can almost always see me singing to myself,” says Campbell. “It’s always a new song I’m working on. Occasionally, when writing music, I will change the lighting to write the song because light affects your mood and so does your environment.”

Campbell figures out the instrumentation for the song and whether she wants harmonies. When lyrics later come to mind, Campbell uses any surface available — even her wrist.

“Everywhere, people and their stories inspire me . . . music is a shared experience because it’s usually relatable to the listener in some way and it’s powerful enough to be part of our identity.” 

Campbell will soon complete a yet to be titled album in early 2024, electing to find a local artist to produce the album cover. 

Dana Holliday, mural artist

Thomasville artist Dana Holliday is just off a patchy international call with her mother, Sue Canoy, who is in Nepal “on a yoga and walking trek.” (Canoy, like her daughter, also draws and paints. Both seek global inspiration for their work.)

Within Holliday’s extensive portfolio are specialized trompe l’oeil installations and murals for a variety of showrooms at the International Home Furnishing markets. 

She finishes what she starts. Holliday once completed a massive commission for Currey & Company at High Point Furniture Market with one arm in a cast after falling from a scaffold. “I was painting a lady getting shot out of a cannon.” She jokes dryly, “How ironic.”

Holliday often works on three different projects at once. She believes creativity “is being able to paint a mural or painting from scratch without a clue of what it will become.”

She is inspired by both internal and external ideas, “usually drawn to nature, trees and other organic objects. And then, dreams. Even bad dreams.” 

Typically painting in her studio (“It’s organized chaos!”) on a fixed schedule from 11 a.m.–5 p.m., she finds a routine solidifying. The artist frequently shows her personal work, including encaustic paintings using wax. Holliday often seeks out experts in techniques, absorbing the ways others have perfected their practices, “wanting to make it my own.”

Her artistic family offers commentary.

“Last year, my brother, Cary, reeled me in and said, ‘You’re getting fancy. You’re not speaking to light and shape.’ And he was right.” 

Challenging herself to create a new, minimalistic group of paintings, she stripped away inessentials. “That was really difficult for me, but I decided to do it and I did it.”

Influenced by Impressionism and the works of Georgia O’Keeffe, her travels have caused her to seek out artists in Europe, South America and New Zealand. Holliday, who also works in abstracts and portraiture, recently studied artist Ezshwan Winding’s encaustic and abstract painting techniques at her studio in Miguel San Allende, Mexico.

In 2023, she studied in western Ireland with Lora Murphy and Alicia Tormey.  Tormey, an encaustic artist, pioneered the form. Murphy creates both oil and cold wax portraits.

She repeatedly checks finished work, asking, “Is this what I started out to do?”

Holliday asks, “Why did I choose to be an artist?”

Was the artistic life a choice at all, she wondered, or a compulsion?

Scientific American’s “Messy Minds of Creative People,” defined certain traits— plasticity, emergence, divergence — concluding that creativity “was messy.”

Rick Rubin decided the creative life wasn’t messy at all. Mysterious yet intentional. “Art is choosing to do something skillfully, caring about the details, bringing all of yourself to make the finest work you can. It is beyond ego, vanity, self-glorification and need for approval.”

A Teetotaling Toast to the New Year

A Teetotaling Toast to the New Year

Local bars serve the latest buzz — nonalchoholic cocktails

By Cassie Bustamante     Photographs by Amy Freeman

After a month of (over)indulgence, we’re ready to wipe the palette clean — while still tickling the palate. Whether you’re a committed nondrinker, a little sober-curious or just taking a hiatus from the hard stuff, we’ve got six alcohol-free beverage recipes from local mixologists who deliver all the tastiness without the tipsiness.

Only Resolutions

With a last name like Emerson, is it any wonder that Daniel Emerson, bartender at newcomer Bitters Social House, took his inspiration for this drink from a book? Only Resolutions is the nonalcoholic counterpart to a Bitters cocktail with a name that echoes Only Revolutions, a road novel by Mark Z. Danielewski, one of (Daniel) Emerson’s favorite authors. His concoction is a “blend between opposing botanical flavors that . . . carries those champagne notes at the end so you have that celebratory taste in your mouth.” In a nutshell, he says, this mocktail, which features ingredients found at Bitters, tells the world, “I know how to party; I just don’t have to drink.” For an added festive touch, Emerson rims the glass with edible glitter. “Everybody loves sprinkles at a celebration, right?”


1/4 ounce lemon juice

1/4 ounce simple syrup

3/4 ounce blueberry basil shrub

1 dash alcohol-free cardamom bitters

4 dashes alcohol-free plum bitters

3 ounces nonalcoholic champagne

Lemon twist

Edible glitter

Shake first five ingredients together with ice. Strain into martini glass and top with champagne. Serve with a lemon twist and an edible glitter rim (if desired).

Old Fashioned Wisdom

“Will you be my guinea pig?” wondered Mark Weddle, beverage manager at 1618 West, to a friend who had been 15-years sober when he first began experimenting with nonalcoholic spirits. The result? “I suddenly have a lot of memories of sitting in a bar in New Orleans flooding back!” his friend told him. Weddle calls that association to the real thing high praise. The restaurant’s Old Fashioned Wisdom is a nonalcoholic take on the classic old fashioned, a bedrock cocktail. How close to the real thing does it taste? “The parts on their own are not exactly true to flavor, but when you combine them, it gets pretty close to an actual old fashioned.” He laughs and adds, “I don’t want to trigger anybody, but trigger warning!”


2 ounces Lyre’s American Malt, nonalcoholic

1 ounce Dr Zero Zero AmarNo (nonalcoholic amaro)

1/2 ounce Demerara syrup

2–3 dashes All the Bitter Alcohol-Free Aromatic Bitters

Ice cube

Orange twist

Combine first four ingredients with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a double old fashioned glass over a large ice cube and garnish with an orange twist.

Blueberry Lemonade

Freeman’s Grub & Pub proprietress Emily Purcell has crafted a creative nonalcoholic menu featuring plays and the inevitable fun puns on some classics, such as the Nojito and the Nontucket. But Purcell, who has co-owned the restaurant with husband Kevin since March 2022, cites the establishment’s pun-free Blueberry Lemonade as the fan favorite, as well as her own, hands down. “We fresh squeeze our lemons and make our simple syrup in house. We add some frozen blueberries in there, so as you’re drinking the cocktail, you get more of that blue color.” Bonus, the frozen fruit makes this drink a year-round flavor-quencher.


2 ounces lemon juice

2 ounces simple syrup

2 ounces water

2 ounces frozen blueberries (about 10)

1 lemon slice

Mix lemon juice, water, frozen blueberries and simple syrup together well. (Simple syrup is made by combining equal parts of water and sugar. Sweet!) Pour over ice and garnish with lemon slice.

Mulled Wine

Don’t mention “mocktails” around Machete general manager Kevin Ash. He prickles at the word. Why? It implies “a fake in a certain sense,” he sniffs. “No and low proof” is the order of the day at Machete’s sleek and well-stocked bar. After all, he points out, these drinks are not lesser — but alternative versions. For instance, his mulled wine combines oranges, spices, water and Giesen zero percent merlot, made in the traditional manner then dealcoholized using something called a rotovap (rotary evaporator). “A lot of people like to enjoy a warm drink during the winter doldrums,” he says. “it’s fun to be able to offer something that is nonalcoholic wine-based with spices being the backbone of the drink itself.” Simply serve in a mug and curl up by the fire.


1 blood orange, peeled and juiced

1 navel orange, peeled and juiced

4 bottles of Giesen 0% alcohol merlot

1 cup of sugar

4 cinnamon sticks

35 cloves

4 star anise

2 cups of water

In a crockpot, combine half of each orange’s peel, the juices of both oranges and the remainder of ingredients. Set the crockpot on low and let sit for four hours before serving, stirring occasionally to ensure that the sugar has dissolved. 

Midnight Spritz

Dram & Draught touts itself as “a place for the whiskey fanatic, the craft beer fan, the cocktail enthusiast, the wine tippler and more.” The “and more?” Perhaps its spirit-free cocktails. Why? “Because it is still a labor of love,” says director of marketing and events Edie Alexander. “We put a lot of effort and time behind making them. So we want them to be a little more elevated than the typical quote-unquote mocktail.” The Midnight Spritz is a riff on the classic Aperol spritz and has become a Dram & Draught fan favorite. “It still has some of the same light, refreshing citrus notes,” says Alexander. Plus, “it’s sparkling and a little bit festive.” Cheers!

1 1/2 ounces Lyres Italian Spritz, Non-Alcoholic

1 1/2 ounces verjus blanc

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup

Soda water

Orange slice

Add first four ingredients to a shaker tin with ice and shake well. Dump into a wine glass and top with soda water. Garnish with an orange slice.

The Hot & Sober Marg

Borough Market & Bar owner Kam Culler knows what she likes. Something a little spicy, a little sweet, a vibe that’s reflected in the “market” part of her establishment. Her drink of choice? The margarita. So when she created a sober drink menu at the end of last summer, the Hot & Sober Marg, made with house-crafted candied jalapeño syrup, was a must-sip. And customers seem to agree, as this drink — and its alcoholic version — are the top sellers on their respective menus. What sets this alcohol-free margarita apart from others? According to Culler, it’s the quality of the nonalcoholic spirit.  She tried other brands and just wasn’t sold. “And then I tried Ritual,” she says. Bar manager Olympia Hensley concurs. “Every time someone orders a Hot & Sober Marg, they’re always impressed by how much it tastes like a margarita,” she says. “That’s really the Ritual tequila popping in there.”


1 1/2 ounces lime juice

1 ounce orange juice

1 ounce jalapeño-infused simple syrup

1 1/2 ounces Ritual Zero Proof Tequila Alternative

Salt, sugar or Tajín seasoning (recommended)

Candied jalapeños

Edible flower

Edible glitter

Add first four ingredients to a shaker tin with ice and shake well. Pour over ice in glass rimmed with salt, sugar or Tajin if desired. Garnish with candied jalapeños, edible flower and edible glitter.

Poem January 2024

Poem January 2024


Because she was fast in her way

And he followed her suit,

They launched horizon’s fruitful gaze

To fortify their fruit.

In short parlance, ahead of him,

She was a gushing bride

Until gray moods turned dark to bend

Their rivers for her tide.

They never had one dissension.

He lived his love the same

Beyond single thought’s contention. 

Her body chemistry!

A drinking fountain salutes thirst,

Instant bubble, wet lips.

Then comes what earthly love holds first,

Her muscles fell to slips.

So he slept and woke up alone,

For she was processioned

In Smithfield Manor Nursing Home,

Tenacity, a test.

His eye-lids open every morn.

The bones to him creak rise.

The sun’s obeying crown adorns

Remembrances, her sighs.

— Shelby Stephenson

Shelby Stephenson was North Carolina’s poet laureate from 2014-16. His most recent volume of poetry is Praises.

A Dose of Happy

A Fresh Take on Faux for the Holidays

With a touch of love, the ordinary becomes extraordinary

By Cassie Bustamante     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Shortly after moving into her Oak Ridge home, Tasha Agruso got an idea. An awesome idea. A wonderful, awesome idea — to create what looked like apartment entries out of her daughters’ side-by-side doors. Armed with door knockers, mailboxes, wreaths, doormats — even a lantern Tasha rigged with a battery-operated puck light — Attley and Avery each received a treatment that suited their individual tastes. The kicker? Tasha added address numbers that feature the time each was born, just a minute apart: Avery at 2:57 and Attley at 2:58.

And so began a new adventure in renovating, which was not at all what they had in mind. When Tasha and her husband, Joe, decided to move to the country, they had hoped their new chapter would unfold in a new build. After all, they’d just spent eight years transforming their previous home. “I love renovating, but I was tired,” says Tasha. After bidding unsuccessfully on two newly constructed homes, the couple settled for an eight-year-old home on a quiet Oak Ridge street.

“It ticked every box and, so I thought, we can do the same thing,” says Tasha. “We’ll do it slowly.” In October of 2020, the Agrusos moved out of their contemporary Starmount Forest dwelling and began their journey creating a colorful country oasis for themselves and their 12-year-old twin daughters.

In just three years, Tasha and Joe, a firefighter, have made tremendous strides. Tasha documents the DIY projects and makeovers on her website, Kaleidoscope Living. Her skills have earned her an appearance on the Rachael Ray Show as well as features in several digital and print publications such as Better Homes & Gardens. Through her site ( and on instagram (@tasha.kaleidoscope), where she boasts a formidable fan base of over 100,000 followers, “I educate people about how to decorate their homes in a way that makes them happy,” she says.

And she should know. It’s something she’s perfected in the many years spent making over their new house as well as their former home, the one that she says “changed everything.” During their time spent living in Starmount Forest, her daughters grew from toddlerhood into tween-age; the couple honed their DIY skills; Tasha left her career as a lawyer to forge a path in the digital world through her website’s educational tools and print shop (read about that journey in our 2018 summer issue of Seasons:; and, finally, it “was the house where we finally really understood our style.” And that style? A blend of Joe’s more reserved approach, Tasha’s love of color and pattern, and functionality for all four.

Three years after selling it, Tasha still misses their Greensboro home fiercely. “If I could have lifted that home and moved it, I would have,” she muses. As for the current home, will she ever love it as much? If you’d asked her when they first bought it, “Absolutely not possible.” But now? “If I am here for eight years like I was there and we continue to slowly change everything that we want to change, yeah. I could even love it more.”

Location is the one aspect of a house that cannot be changed and the family knew what they needed. “We’re all just such homebodies.” While she’s sure homebodies can exist in bustling areas, she says there are those “who crave quiet and stillness. That’s the kind we are.”

In their current home, the couple has applied what they’ve learned, chipping away with project after project since moving over the last three years. The makeover that has had the biggest impact on Tasha? Probably not what you’d expect: the stairwell.

“People ask, ‘Why would you take out iron balusters and put in wood ones?’” Tasha says, then answers. “Because we didn’t like the other ones.”

Once the more traditional wooden balusters were put in place, she got to work painting the stair risers and bordering walls in Sherwin-Williams’ Refuge, and the balusters and handrails were coated in Seaworthy. But the crowning touch? “We could have made all the structural and paint color changes to the stairs and it wouldn’t be my favorite if it weren’t for the colorful stair runner,” says Tasha.

Now, the colorful random-rainbow stair runner, she says, “is like a dose of happy every time you walk up and down.” Used every day, visible from the entry, primary bedroom hallway and living room, it serves as the heart of the home.

And did Joe get a say? “I have always said we both have the power of veto,” says Tasha. In fact, it’s something they have resorted to from time to time. After all, she says, “we both live here.” Together, they’ll narrow down choices, eliminating those — such as a very bold, colorful, plaid stair runner — that take Joe beyond his comfort zone. “His little bit of restraint is probably one of the things that makes things not cross the line into too chaotic,” Tasha admits.

That yin and yang of their blended aesthetic is visibly at work in their primary bedroom. White walls pair with white furnishings and a gray upholstered bed, but color comes through in lush, green velvet textiles, and patterned and abstract art. The result? A serene yet far-from-boring sanctuary for a busy couple.

For Tasha, it was important that her daughters each have their own personal havens as well. Avery, a swimmer who favors neutrals like her father, sleeps in a cozy room blanketed in whites and warm woods. Small doses of earthy colors show up here and there in the holiday-green textiles, and artwork such as the Christmas village canvas on her wall, created by Tasha.

As for that canvas and many of the prints throughout her house, well, Tasha took a note from the Grinch, who could not find a reindeer and made one instead. “Sometimes when you can picture what you want and you know what the space needs, you can’t find it,” she says. So, she makes it. She has both painted with watercolors and created with graphics editing apps, first using Illustrator, but is excited to try her hand at Procreate with digital brushes she just ordered. “We’ll see how that journey goes,” she quips.

Attley, a dancer who craves bright colors like her mother, has the same Pure White paint by Sherwin-Williams on her walls, accented by a vibrant floral wallpaper in aqua, pink, green and golden yellow behind her bed. Her furniture is painted in saturated hues of coral, peony and mustard, all playing off the whimsical large-scale paper. And, of course, the artwork in her room was also designed by mom.

Just as Tasha teaches readers of her website to decorate in a way that makes them happy, she wanted her girls to get the memo.

“It just felt almost like a subliminal message to send to them: You’re your own people, you have your own identities, you have your own spaces and I love them both so much.”

That individualism spills out into the hallway where she created those apartment-style doors. And while the mailboxes are mostly a fun decorative detail at this point, Tasha anticipates using them in the upcoming teen years. With Attley and Avery turning 13 later this month, Tasha says, “We might be entering that phase of life where it’s hard for them to say things directly to us and vice versa,” she says. “Sometimes it’s easier just to communicate things in writing.”

Tasha sites these doorway makeovers as a prime example of what she believes. “The whole reason I chose the name Kaleidoscope Living . . . is because I have always believed and hope to have proven that you can take very ordinary objects and make them extraordinary.” It’s just like when you look through a kaleidoscope: “The most basic thing can become incredible.”

Just outside their doorways in the upstairs hall is a nod to both Joe and his father, a volunteer firefighter who passed away a few years ago. A vintage “Fire Dept.” sign that once belonged to Joe’s dad hangs above two antique fire extinguishers Tasha surprised Joe with several years ago. Until now, she says, they hadn’t found the right home.

Back on the main floor, the balance between Joe and Tasha’s aesthetics can be seen at play. In their living room, Tasha sits on a lush, comfortable sectional, her feet propped up on a warm leather ottoman. Behind her, a picture ledge featuring large-scale art, a patterned accent wall and textiles provide her favorite details. “I am always led by color and texture and pattern,” she says. Next to her, a stitched color-block pillow exemplifies those elements.

While selecting art used to intimidate Tasha, who felt herself unqualified, over time she learned to trust her instincts. “Finally, I realized I should probably just pick what I like,” she says.

Opening to the spacious living room, the kitchen serves as visual eye candy, featuring an island Tasha painted in the same vivid teal as its cabinets, Fusion mineral paint in Seaside. While the island is lined with four large and comfortable leather-woven counter stools, the family still opts to use their dining room regularly. “I just have a pet peeve of rooms not being used, so we don’t treat our dining room like it’s precious or special,” says Tasha.

Her years of learning to do what she loves have led to what she’s sure will be a highly controversial dining room decision. “By God, we’re putting a TV in there!” she says. These days with the juggling of their active kids’ schedules, Tasha and Joe eat dinner with Attley most nights while keeping Avery’s warm for her return, which generally coincides with when the family sits down to watch a show together. Current stream? Modern Family.

While a TV in a dining room is far from conventional, so is this modern family. Tasha leans into what works for them. “I know a lot of people have what you would call a traditional Christmas meal that looks a lot like Thanksgiving would look,” she says. But the Agrusos? They keep it simple with a Christmas meal of spaghetti and meatballs, a nod to Joe’s Italian heritage.

Because Joe works as a firefighter, there are times when he can’t be home for the holidays. Another unique Agruso family tradition? Tasha and the girls bake “something yummy” to bring to the station. “That’s a weird part of our tradition, but it’s part of our reality.”

One thing they always make time to do together is decorate the Christmas tree, usually before Thanksgiving so that they can enjoy its glow for a longer time. When it comes to decorating for the holidays, Tasha follows her heart, staying true to what she loves, “which is probably why I have things that I bought 20 years ago that I still love.” Avocado-green and dusty-red ornaments — nontraditional traditionals — purchased from Crate & Barrel during Tasha and Joe’s first Christmas together still, to this day, adorn their tree and fit the existing aesthetic.

After all, when you decorate by choosing what you really love, you’re sure to be happy with the outcome. “It’s like what bra and underwear you pick. Is it comfortable to you?” asks Tasha as she takes in the home she’s been personalizing for the last three years. She laughs and adds, “I have literally never thought of the undergarment analogy, but it’s actually a really good one.”  OH


Burlington Industries Celebrates a Centennial (1923–2023)

Burlington Industries Celebrates a Centennial (1923–2023)

Following the thread of a financial genius

By Ross Howell Jr.


Featured Photo: J. Spencer Love (1896-1962) parlayed used equipment from his grandfather’s cotton mill into the largest textile manufacturing company in the world.


Workers commenced production at Burlington Mills Corp. in 1924, before construction of the building was even finished. Only half of the weave room had a floor, while the rest was earthen. Entrepreneur J. Spencer Love had chartered the company on November 6, 1923, naming it in tribute to the town where it would be located. The plant in Burlington would eventually employ some 200 workers.

Burlington Mills first produced all-cotton textiles, including flag cloth, bunting, curtain and dress fabrics, plus diaper cloth. But sales of cotton goods were declining. Spencer Love decided to experiment with a fiber called rayon — relatively unknown to American households. Rayon is made from purified cellulose, harvested primarily from wood pulp, which is then chemically converted. Right out of the gate, Burlington’s rayon bedspreads were a runaway success, facilitated by Love’s commitment to a world-class truck fleet for delivering products.

In 1935, Love (standing under the portico, wearing a light-colored overcoat) decided to move the company from its Burlington headquarters to Greensboro — primarily to take advantage of better rail transportation to New York City, where the company had opened a sales office in 1929, the year of the stock market crash. As America sank into the Great Depression, Burlington Mills kept growing, buying and reopening many of its competitors’ shuttered mills. Love’s strategy of growth through acquisition continued after the Depression and made the company an industry giant. Fred Rogers, Friendly Acres, remembers: “For a decade starting about 1990, I worked in the Burlington House division of Burlington Industries. That division had offices at 1345 Avenue of the Americas in New York City and in the town of Burlington, just down the street from the pioneer plant, where Spencer Love had built his first mill in a cornfield. A lot of people think of Love as a manufacturing man, but he was, in fact, a financial man. I’d say he was one of the earliest and best financiers in America, because he grew his company by acquisition. He was a financial genius.”

Men in skivvies? Burlington operations took a sharp turn in 1941, when the U.S. entered World War II. Burlington shifted to wartime production of more than 50 products for the armed forces, while the company’s research laboratories developed parachute cloth woven with a new fiber — nylon, a thermoplastic usually made from petroleum. Postwar, Burlington developed an array of clothing and home goods. Magazine ads featuring GIs gave way to TV ads with a “dancing man” wearing Burlington socks or stars such as singer Petula Clark and actor Robert Morley as spokespersons for the brand — along with a new corporate name, Burlington Industries.

Founder J. Spencer Love directed bold innovations during his nearly 40 years as president, but died unexpectedly at the age of 65 in 1962, the year Burlington Industries surpassed $1 billion in annual sales and became the first textile company in history to achieve that goal. In the 1960s, Burlington was the parent corporation for 17 constituent companies comprising more than 100 plants that manufactured products ranging from ribbon and suit fabrics to hosiery and carpets.

Retired schoolteacher Jane Gallimore, Fisher Park, remembers: “My family was living upstairs in the funeral home in Burlington my father owned. I was 10 years old. We’d driven over to Kirkwood to visit my aunt. Spencer Love’s death was in all the newspapers and my aunt suggested we drive by the house, just to see what was going on. I remember the house being on Sunset Drive. It had a circular driveway and we watched cars enter, dropping people off. I remember seeing butlers wearing white coats and white gloves meeting the cars and escorting guests inside. That sight has stayed with me all these years.”

In 1971, Burlington Industries built a new headquarters in Greensboro. The six-story structure featured an award-winning architectural design and was located on an expansive campus on Friendly Avenue. Its massive, crisscrossing steel trusses were said to represent the warp and weft of the fabric that created Burlington Industries’ great wealth. But for many people, they were a huge eyesore. The building was demolished in 2005 to make way for Friendly Center Shopping Center. Delores Sides, Summerfield, remembers: “Twenty-nine years ago I began work at Burlington Industries in the Rockingham plant. During the boom years, the company built a modern, glass-and-steel headquarters on Friendly Avenue. The structure won architectural awards, though everyone seemed to have an opinion about it, not always favorable. When the building was imploded in 2005, we watched from our new headquarters on Green Valley Road. We could glimpse the top of the building from our windows. There was a vibration, and then the top of the building was gone. It was the end of an era.”

After expending $2 billion over a 10-year period on a modernization initiative in the 1970s, Burlington Industries fended off a hostile takeover attempt in 1987 with a leveraged buyout, but was forced to file for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy protection in 2001. While diminished from its heyday, Burlington Industries has been recapitalized and now manufactures high-tech fabrics at facilities in the Southeastern U.S., Mexico and China. Its offices were recently moved from Green Valley Road to — fittingly enough — beautiful, renovated facilities at Revolution Mill.  OH

Freelance writer Ross Howell Jr. is grateful to Elevate Textiles, Inc., for its help with this article. For more information on Burlington Industries, visit On YouTube, you can find examples of vintage Burlington Industries TV ads, including the dancing man.

It Slices. It Dices.

It Slices. It Dices.

Get up! Get up! Get up, up, up!” my mother blurted.

It was at 6:30 a.m., the first day of Christmas break, and as always she felt compelled to rouse her children at the most ungodly hour. I lifted my head from the pillow and stared bleary-eyed at her figure in the bedroom doorway. Wrapped to her chin in a blue terrycloth robe, her fists were planted firmly on her hips. She meant business. “You’re to march yourself down to the Safeway and ask Mr. Short if he’ll give you a job for the holidays,” she ordered. “You can earn enough money to pay for your books next semester. And next time I see Mr. Short, I’ll find out if you asked him for a job.”

“Can’t you even say, ‘Welcome home’?” I asked.

“Sure. Welcome home, Mr. Big Shot College Guy. Now get out of that bed and get yourself down to the Safeway.”

I was suffering from severe sleep deprivation. I’d caught an all-night ride home from North Carolina and had dragged into the house on Janice Drive at 3:15 a.m. But my mother was not to be denied, so I managed to pull on the wrinkled clothes I’d worn the day before and stumbled downstairs to eat a bowl of my brother’s Froot Loops. At 8:30 a.m. I scuffled up Bayridge Avenue to the Eastport Shopping Center, where I found Mr. Short on the dock, supervising the unloading of pallets of dog food from a tractor-trailer. He shook my hand and asked how college was going.

“It’s fine,” I answered. “I was hoping you might have an opening for a cashier during the holidays. I’m not looking to work eight hours a day, but, you know, something part time.”

“If I had an opening, I’d hire you,” he said. “But right now I have all the cashiers I need. I’d have to cut someone else’s hours, and that wouldn’t be fair, especially at Christmas.” My spirits soared. If he didn’t have an opening, I could pass the holidays stretched out on my bed reading P.G. Wodehouse.

“I’ll tell you what,” he continued, “I’ve got a friend who’s the manager at the Drug Fair in Parole. Go see him and tell him I sent you. He’s looking for holiday help.”

A job at Drug Fair was the last thing I wanted, but I had to make an inquiry. My mother was as good as her word, and I knew she’d buttonhole Mr. Short the next time she visited the Safeway. If she found out I hadn’t applied for the Drug Fair job, she’d make my Christmas break miserable, which she had already begun to do by wakening me before sunup.

Among cashiers, there existed a hierarchy, and working a register at Safeway carried with it a degree of status and a wage that was at least $1.75 an hour. Drug Fair was a discount pharmacy, emporium and grocery store, a low-rent warehouse for plastic crap and wilted vegetables, where the discount prices were clearly marked on each item — work for the dimwitted — and the pay was $1.25 an hour.

I caught the bus to Parole and found the Drug Fair manager, a rumpled, balding, ectomorphic fellow with thick wire spectacles and a long pointy nose, puzzling over paperwork in an elevated office that overlooked a line of disheveled employees who were pounding away at their cash registers. He appeared to be in emotional distress, his mouth screwed into a grotesque snarl.

“Excuse me,” I said. He looked up, snatched the glasses from his face and tossed them on the countertop in a display of frustration. “Mr. Short over at Safeway said I should talk with you about working as a cashier for the holidays. I don’t need a full-time job, just some part-time work if you’ve got it.”

Sweet relief swept over his face, his lips stretching into a half smile. “Mr. Short sent you?” he asked.

“He said you might need an experienced cashier.”

“You used to work at the Safeway?”

“For two years, until I went off to college.”

He grinned fully. I was apparently the man he’d been waiting for. He stepped out of his office, planted both feet flat on the linoleum and looked me up and down. “Can you work a register?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“And you’ve worked stock?”

“Yes, sir.”

My God, he was going to hire me! I was going to pass the next two weeks checking out Christmas junk at the Drug Fair for minimum wage! This was not good.

The manager handed me a pen and an application clamped to a clipboard, and I took a couple of minutes to fill in the information.

“Follow me,” he said, and we walked quickly down aisle four toward the back of the crowded store. “I can use you to relieve my regular cashiers for their lunch and supper breaks, and you can help keep the shelves stocked, especially this display. We’re selling the hell out of these things.” He pointed to a chest-high pyramid of black, orange and beige boxes crowned with an unboxed white plastic kitchen device known to every American who owned a TV. “We’ve had to restock this display three times this morning. You know anything about Veg-O-Matics?” he asked.

What happened next was probably brought on by fatigue — or maybe I needed an excuse to get fired before I got hired. Whatever the cause, a synaptic misfire propelled me into the past. I picked up the display device, held it out in front of me and began to deliver the requisite spiel:

“Imagine slicing a whole potato into uniform slices with one motion. Bulk cheese costs less. Look how easy Veg-O-Matic makes many slices at once. Imagine slicing all these radishes in seconds. This is the only appliance in the world that slices whole firm tomatoes in one stroke with every seed in place. Hamburger lovers, feed whole onions into Veg-O-Matic and make these tempting thin slices. Simply turn the dial and change from thin to thick slices. You can slice a whole can of prepared meat at one time. Isn’t that amazing? Like magic, change from slicing to dicing. That’s right, it slices, it dices, it juliennes, perfect every time!”

By the time I’d finished yammering, the manager’s eyes were wide and his jaw slack.

“How’d you learn that?” he asked.

“I used to watch the commercial on TV, and it just sort of stuck in my head.”

My fascination with the Veg-O-Matic stretched back to my junior year in high school. Strung out on testosterone and teenage angst, I suffered insomnia for about six months. On those long, restless nights, I’d roll out of bed after everyone else in the house was asleep, slink down to the “rec” room and turn on the black-and-white TV. WJZ, the local CBS affiliate, was the only station out of Baltimore that aired anything other than an Indian Chief test pattern in the early a.m., so I’d tune in channel 13 in time to catch Father Callahan of St. Francis Xavier House of Prayer bestowing his benediction. Then I’d settle in for a three-hour run of continuous raise-your-own-chinchillas commercials.

My clandestine obsession with Father Callahan and chinchillas continued for two or three months — until the fateful night when the good Father delivered his usual homily and the chinchilla commercials failed to materialize. Instead, a plastic guillotine-like device appeared on the TV screen, contrasted against a background map of the world, below which were printed the words “World Famous Veg-O-Matic.” Then a disembodied voice said: “Imagine slicing a whole potato into uniform slices with one motion. Bulk cheese costs less. Look how easy Veg-O-Matic makes many slices at once. . . . ”

I’d spent my Father Callahan/chinchilla nights dozing fitfully on the couch and sneaking back to my room before the rest of the family awakened, but on that memorable evening — I’ve come to think of it as Night of the Veg-O-Matic — I sat there stupefied, watching the commercial over and over. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, and by morning I had the narration memorized — every nuance, modulation and inflection — to which I could add hand gestures, including the graceful, upturned palm that beckoned, “Buy me, buy me, buy me. . . .”

Later that day, I was eating lunch in the high school cafeteria with my regular buds when freckle-faced Ronnie Wheeler produced a sliced tomato his mother had wrapped in wax paper to keep it from saturating the white bread he needed to construct his BLT. I jumped up, grabbed the tomato slices and ran through the entire Veg-O-Matic routine, spreading the segments across the Formica tabletop and finishing with the obligatory “. . . perfect every time!” 

My friends were speechless, especially Ronnie, whose sandwich was ruined. They stared blankly before bursting into hysterics. The vice-principal, Mr. Wetherhold, a stern disciplinarian who abhorred any form of frivolity, hurried over to our table to discern the source of the disturbance. “What’s going on here?” he asked sternly.

“Do it!” my friends begged. “Do the Veg-O-Matic thing!” They didn’t have to ask twice. When I finished my second run-through, it was Mr. Wetherhold who was howling with laughter. Suffice it to say I spent a good deal of my time in high school doing “the Veg-O-Matic thing” for my friends. They never tired of it.

Now the Drug Fair manager’s face glowed with approval, and I could see that he’d suffered an epiphany. He rushed into the stockroom and reappeared with a folding table. He extended the legs, positioned the table in front of the pyramid of boxes and covered the top with a square of red cheesecloth. He grabbed an onion from the produce aisle, peeled away the skin, and ordered me to deliver my recitation again, this time with the unboxed Veg-O-Matic at my fingertips.

Despite my long and intimate history with the kitchen device, this was the first time I’d worked with one. But I muddled through the presentation by recalling the images I’d watched hundreds of times on TV, each motion transmitted from memory to physical articulation. I made quick work of the onion, repeating the entire monologue. My demonstration, although clumsy, went well enough to instantly earn me the title: 1965 Parole Drug Fair Veg-O-Matic Man.

“You’re hired!” the manager said. “I want you to do a demonstration at the top of every hour. Use all the tomatoes and onions you want, but stay away from the cheese and Spam. That stuff costs money.”

“Yes, sir,” I said dutifully. 

“The rest of the time you can restock these Veg-O-Matics and relieve the cashiers who are going on break. Can you start tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I guess.”

“Be here at 8 o’clock, and wear a white shirt.”

Crestfallen, I dragged myself into the parking lot and caught the bus back to Eastport. When I stumbled into our living room, it was 11:30 a.m., and I was whipped.

“Did Mr. Short hire you?” my mother yelled from the kitchen.

“He didn’t have any openings, but I got a job at Drug Fair in Parole.”

“Excellent,” she said.

When I turned up at Drug Fair on Saturday morning ready to begin my new career, the manager had anticipated my every need. The folding table was set up in aisle four, which was stocked with kitchen junk — Melmac dishes, spatulas, plastic forks, spoons and knives, etc. — and beside the table waited a freshly replenished pyramid of multicolored boxes containing the Veg-O-Matics. The tabletop was covered with the red cheesecloth from the day before, and a white apron of the style that loops around the neck and ties in the back was folded neatly on the table. An unopened can of Spam and a brick of Kraft Velveeta cheese were stacked beside the gleaming white Veg-O-Matic display model I’d used in my earlier demonstration, and a bag of assorted vegetables — tomatoes, onions, carrots and potatoes — awaited their fate. As a touch of class, the manager had placed a roll of paper towels on the table, and a beige commercial dome-topped trash can sat directly behind my workspace.

“Here, wear this,” he said, handing me a handsome black clip-on bowtie. I donned my apron and attached the bowtie to the wrinkled collar of my white shirt. “Now show me your stuff. Just use vegetables. The Spam and cheese are for show.”

I launched into my Veg-O-Matic dance at a measured pace, slicing up a small potato and allowing my hands to gracefully execute a lilting swirl at the conclusion of the shtick.

“That was even better than yesterday,” the manager beamed, “although I’d take it a little slower if I were you.” He looked up and down aisle four. “I’ll make an announcement at the top of every hour. You get yourself set up. Sell the hell out of these Veg-O-Matics. If you don’t, you’ll be in a checkout stand all day.” And he left me on my own.

I peeled an onion, and trimmed it to the proper size and shape. I was ready. Or as ready as I was ever going to be.

“We are pleased to direct your attention to aisle four,” I heard the manager announce over the PA system, “where you can view a demonstration of the miracle Veg-O-Matic, the 20th century’s greatest kitchen appliance. It makes an economical and useful Christmas gift! Do all your Christmas shopping in five minutes and have your Veg-O-Matics gift wrapped right here in the store. Christmas cards are available on aisle six.”

After my first two demonstrations, I discovered that operating the Veg-O-Matic wasn’t quite the effortless exercise I’d observed on TV. I directed my attention to the tomato, which I positioned perfectly between the upper and lower blades. “This is the only appliance in the world that slices whole firm tomatoes in one stroke with every seed in place,” I said, as I slammed down the top of the Veg-O-Matic. The tomato exploded like a water balloon, splattering juice and seeds all over my apron and the tabletop. The two customers who had gathered for my demonstration jumped back and bolted for the exit.

I’d created a huge mess. I mopped the tomato slop off my hands with a paper towel and brushed the seeds from my apron, but pulp continued to dribble from the bottom of the Veg-O-Matic, and I had to retreat to the stockroom to wash the blades. So tomatoes were out. Ripe ones, at least. After mopping the splatter from the tabletop, I attempted to slice an onion I’d peeled earlier. I gave a forceful downward thrust and the device worked perfectly, sending a cascade of onion slivers onto the cheesecloth. Still, it was a messy business; pieces of onion got stuck in the blades and had to be pried out. I had the same experience with carrots, stubborn chunks of which had to be worked free with my fingertips.

I settled, finally, on a peeled Idaho Russet potato. I cut the spud into four pieces, which I fed individually into the chopper. And the device worked as intended — neat and clean. The Veg-O-Matic was, after all, meant to transform a time-consuming, chaotic operation into a simple, wholesome procedure. And that’s what it did.

The secret, as with many physical actions, was in the wrist. It was all finesse. I’d place a piece of potato on the bottom blades and apply a sharp downward whack with the top. And voila! the potato was julienned, perfect for hash browns. If I spoke slowly, worked methodically and was meticulous with my cleanup, I could kill the better part of a half hour on each demonstration, thus allowing for only 30 minutes of working at a cash register before my next demonstration.

At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t sell enough Veg-O-Matics to keep my new job, but the pile of boxes diminished at an ever-increasing rate as Christmas approached and the manager was a happy man. I’d sold six to eight Veg-O-Matics with each demonstration, and I noticed that many customers who didn’t make an immediate purchase returned later to snatch up two or three Veg-O-Matics, having chosen convenience over thoughtful reflection. Usually these return customers felt compelled to offer an explanation for their delayed purchase. “You know,” they’d say, “I was thinking about your demonstration, and you’re right, this will make an excellent gift for my mother.”

Every day I’d work straight through until 10 p.m., taking an hour each for lunch and dinner, and then I’d catch the bus home in the dark. I’d shower and collapse into my bed to read for a few seconds in Pigs Have Wings, my latest Wodehouse novel, before falling asleep.

And that’s how it went for seven straight days. I’d turn up at Drug Fair at 8 a.m., an hour before the store opened, to prepare the potatoes for my demonstration. I’d restock the Veg-O-Matic display, piling the boxes high in an ergonomically conical construct of my own contrivance, and check out a register tray so that I could relieve cashiers who went on break.

If my schedule was exhausting, it also had its advantages. I slept like a stone, and the days flew by. At home, I didn’t have a conversation with my mother, father or sister that lasted more than 10 seconds. “Hi, how ya doing?” was as intimate as it got, which suited me. My father was asleep when I left in the morning and when I came in at night, I didn’t have to listen to my mother and sister bicker. Only my brother Mike, with whom I shared a room, was around when I staggered in whacked out from 12 hours of working with the public. He’d fill me in on the day’s drama with my sister, which made me glad I’d be headed back to college soon.

When the store closed at 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I used my humongous 5 percent employee discount to purchase gifts for the family — a cheap cotton bathrobe for my mother, which turned out to fit her like a circus tent, a simulated leather wallet for my father, a 45 of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” for my brother, and the Beatles’ Help! for my sister. I was headed out the door with my packages when the manager stopped me.

“You’ve done a good job,” he said, a genuine smile on his pasty face. “And I’m hoping you’ll consider coming back to work through New Year’s Eve. You won’t be selling Veg-O-Matics, but I need experienced help to run the registers and handle returns. I could use you for at least 12 hours a day.”

Normally I would have responded with an emphatic “No,” but fresh in my memory were the money problems I’d experienced during my first four months at college and the hours I spent in McEwen Dining Hall scraping greasy dishes and scrubbing pots. With my paltry allowance, there was no hope of establishing a relationship with any of the girls I found myself drooling over as they roamed the campus. It was essential I screw up my courage and get myself an on-campus date. I’d have to double with an upperclassman who had a car, and to make that happen, I needed enough money to cover my share of the gas.

“All right,” I answered. “Can I get some overtime?”

“I’ll give you all the overtime you want. You can work 14 hours a day if you skip lunch and dinner.”

“All right,” I answered, “I’ll be glad to help out.”

So on December 27, I was standing behind a cash register refunding money for the Veg-O-Matics I’d sold the week before. “I’d like to get the money back for this thing,” the customer would say, handing me the orange and black box. They occasionally offered excuses such as “I already have one of these” or “I have no use for this piece of junk,” but what they wanted was cash. In almost every case the customer returning the Veg-O-Matic was not the person who’d bought it, so I didn’t consider the returns a criticism of my performance. I handed them the money and stuck the boxes and signed receipts under the register. At the end of the day, I toted the returned Veg-O-Matics to the storeroom and piled them up in the same space they’d occupied when they were new.

To compound this irony, the manager handed me a hammer at closing time on my first post-Christmas day as a cashier and sent me to the stockroom to smash the Veg-O-Matics the store had taken back. “Just bash those veggie things into little bits and put them back in the boxes,” he directed. “And while you’re at it, smash up these toys that didn’t get sold.” The manager didn’t explain why I needed to destroy so much perfectly good merchandise, and I didn’t ask. But I laid into my new task with gusto, obliterating hundreds of Veg-O-Matics along with Chatty Cathy dolls, Etch-A-Sketches, tin airliners, space guns, trains, battery-powered James Bond Aston Martin cars, Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, Easy-Bake Ovens, electric football games, G.I. Joes, and the occasional Barbie doll, perfectly good toys that might have gone to poor children who’d suffered a sad Christmas. But it was exhilarating work — and strangely gratifying — an anti-capitalistic binge that assuaged the guilt I’d suffered from selling plastic crap to poor people.

But the days were long, and there was no time to hang out with my friends. When I got off work at 9 p.m., I was too worn out to go to parties or ride around with high school buds. I’d catch the bus back to Eastport and fall into bed. The following morning, I’d get up and do it again.

On my last day of work, a Friday, the manager shook my hand. “You’re a lifesaver,” he said, pumping my weary arm. “If you need a job next Christmas, just let me know.”

I smiled, gave him my college post office box number and asked him to send my check there rather than to my home address.

“You should get it before the 10th,” he said.

During the two-and-a-half weeks I’d toiled at Drug Fair, my parents hardly noticed my absence. I was a shadow who flitted in and out at odd hours. And I wanted it that way. I didn’t have to listen to them argue, which was their habitual method of communication during any holiday season when they were forced to remain in each other’s company for more than five continuous minutes. And if my parents didn’t realize the hours I was working, they’d have no idea how much money I was making. Had they an inkling of the cash I was likely to pocket, they would have given me that much less for tuition, room and board, and the endless hours I’d spent slaving at Drug Fair would have been for naught.

On the evening before my return to Elon, in honor of my having been invisible during the holiday season, my mother prepared lasagna, my favorite dish. 

“You headed back tomorrow?” my father asked.

“First thing in the morning,” I answered, “I’m going to catch the bus.”

My mother looked puzzled. “It seems like you just got here,” she said.

“I’ve been working the whole time.”

“Good,” she said. “How much money did you make?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten paid yet — and the wage at Drug Fair isn’t as much as it is at the Safeway. I’ll let you know when the check arrives.” I was lying, of course. I had no intention of telling anyone how much money I’d earned. It was nobody’s business but mine.  OH

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of eight books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press Awards. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book The Year We Danced: A Memoir.

A Fresh Take on Faux for the Holidays

A Fresh Take on Faux for the Holidays

Elevating favorite collections with greens

By Cynthia Adams

Photographs by Bert VanderVeen


Pre-holiday, Sharon James invited Todd Nabors to give her Whitsett home his signature faux-mixed-with-fresh ideas a go. Nabors, a long-time friend, consults on occasion with avid collectors — like James — seeking to elevate their favorite things. For Nabors, Mother Nature lends all the inspiration needed.

He favors natural touches like running cedar and garden greenery, even on gift wrapping.   

Though she admired how Nabors relied upon natural elements, James had a quandary. During work absences, evergreen embellishments simply wouldn’t last.

Nabors had a solution. It’s perfectly fine to cheat a little, tucking faux greenery in with fresh.

“Consider where greenery and color are needed, and invest in the best faux foliage and blooms for your seasonal decorating budget,” Nabors advises. “Remember that, while realistic garlands, wreaths, trees, fruit and blooms are expensive, they last for many seasons.”

Plus, “these ‘almost real’ elements facilitate decoration schedules early or late in the season. They require no refreshing, replacement or clean up.”

Nabors favors a realistic, classic mix, using “faux spruce, pine, magnolia with forced amaryllis, narcissus and Christmas roses [hellebores].” For more oomph, place faux cyclamen and orchids in a fool-the-eye container, such as “a crusty terra-cotta pot, tole or porcelain cache pot, or woven basket.” Faux Osage oranges, lemons, kumquats, pears and figs “beautify holiday garlands, wreaths and bowls.”  

Fresh or faux, James and Nabors go all out. Yet, simplicity is lovely, too. An orchid nestled inside a beautiful wreath may be all that a holiday table requires, Nabors insists.

The Moravian star, a touching reminder of the Moravians’ long presence here in the Triad, was purchased at the Moravian Book & Gift Shop in Old Salem store (Although it closed earlier this year, it can still be shopped online). The wreath features various faux citrus styled by Nabors.

Covered boxes in marbleized paper (turquoise and jade) are tied with brown and orange satin ribbon. The faux cinnamon studded oranges were found at Randy McManus Designs in Greensboro.Covered boxes in marbleized paper (turquoise and jade) are tied with brown and orange satin ribbon. The faux cinnamon studded oranges were found at Randy McManus Designs in Greensboro.

Don’t forget the importance of a good entrance. Even a pair of antique stone balls from the English Cotswold are decorated for the holidays.

The stone fire pit overlooks the Stoney Creek golf course, where even a tall ornamental urn (one of a pair) is decorated with traditional greenery and ribbon.

A simple Christmas nutcracker and crèche figures provide another festive touch in a house overflowing with holiday spirit.

A treasured crèche is displayed with a white reindeer and an antique knife urn. “The little figures are from Lima, Peru,” says James. “The deer is from Gump’s catalog. And the feathers are actually little white owls made of feathers. Todd and I placed my collection of feathered owls all throughout the house.” 

James has collected crèches since the late 1990s. “All the fabrics on the figures are traditional French fabrics,” and the figures were ordered from a defunct French catalog.

Among the tree ornaments are French papier mâché rabbits that James has owned for 30 years. Others are from travels in the Philippines. The blue-and-white chinoiserie porcelain ornaments were found on Etsy.

A 19th century French jardinière containing the tree is from White Hall in Chapel Hill.

The 15th century icon (made of metal) is the saint for metal workers.

A holiday-ready tableau —  tray of fruit, paper whites with a faux bird, and pierced compote dishes — is decorated with evergreen balls. A spray of greenery and citrus dress up antique knife boxes. Feathers embellish an 1860 Louis Phillipe mirror flanked by buffet lights from Plants & Answers.

Dig in! Spiced sweet potato cake is served on a Mottahedeh reproduction plate, with an antique mother-of-pearl dessert fork.


Spiced Sweet Potato Cake with Brown Sugar Icing


4 8-ounce red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams)

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 cup powdered sugar

3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pierce sweet potatoes with fork. Microwave on high until very tender, about 8 minutes per side. Cool, peel and mash sweet potatoes.

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325° F. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray, then generously butter pan. Sift flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl. Measure enough mashed sweet potatoes to equal 2 cups. Transfer to large bowl. Add sugar and oil to sweet potatoes; using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add eggs 2 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Beat in vanilla. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 15 minutes. Using small knife, cut around sides of pan and center tube to loosen cake. Turn out onto rack; cool completely.

Sift powdered sugar into medium bowl. Stir brown sugar, whipping cream and butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Boil 3 minutes, occasionally stirring and swirling pan. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour brown sugar mixture over powdered sugar. Whisk icing until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Cool icing until lukewarm and icing falls in heavy ribbon from spoon, whisking often, about 15 minutes. Spoon icing thickly over top of cake, allowing icing to drip down sides of cake. Let stand until icing is firm, at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and let stand at room temperature.)


Poem December 2023

Poem December 2023


The Latin teacher finally did retire. Her balcony now bends toward the sea. She is in a high-rise looking down at birds. Gulls scream and fly north to the next resort. All that’s left now are pigeons on the patio. They scavenge through the purpling decorative cabbage. She hasn’t seen a pelican yet, just the same birds she came here to get away from. They look like feathered cataracts in a kale eyeball. She sees a buried Titan with umbrella pectorals. It struggles to emerge from beneath the sodden November sand, beaten down by so many tenacious dog walkers. He has his eye on her.

              — Maura Way

Maura Way’s second collection of poetry, Mummery, was published by Press 53.