From the Office and Backyard to the Road, Boat, or Plane–Backstories and
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Archive for the ‘People’ Category




During the Charleston Wine + Food Festival earlier this month,  Peter Frank Edwards and I met with chef Sean Brock at the Husk Bar on Saturday (before it opened for the day) and ended up spending one of my favorite hours of the weekend. PFE is doing the photography for Sean’s upcoming book (images are looking incredible), and Sean had arranged for Julian Van Winkle of the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery to stop by to be in a photo.

When Julian walked into the narrow Queen Street single house-turned bar, the only light was that coming in the windows on the sleepy, cloudy afternoon (day three of the fest). We’d all been talking, and Sean was behind the bar pulling a knife across the two-year aged Edwards’ ham to cut thin slices to set out for everyone on a wooden board. PFE and I sipped whiskeys along with Tyler Brown (the exec chef at the Capitol Grille, Nashville), who was also in town for the festival and happened to stop by. Julian took in the quiet scene and declared, “Ham and whiskey. My happy place.”

After settling in, the Kentucky Bourbon man demonstrated how to make a couple of his Rye and Bourbon “Vanhattans” and we all had a taste… not too sweet with a splash of Antica vermouth. After that, he poured a 10-year Rip Van Winkle with a wide twist of orange peel and single chunk of ice.”It’s like an automatic Old-Fashioned,” he said after a satisfied swig.

All the while, sharing plates showed up from the Husk kitchen next door, including a mound of fried beef tendon (puffed like pork rinds but lighter, and with a “Pop Rocks” crackle), fried dilly beans (couldn’t stop eating them), and hot drumsticks and wings of perfectly coated, Nashville-style hot chicken. Great day in the afternoon.

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Photo by Peter Frank Edwards: Tyler Brown, Julian Van Winkle, Sandy Lang, and Sean Brock at Husk Bar, Charleston, SC.

– Sandy Lang, March 2014


Frocks of cotton dyed in mud, rust and indigo float on hooks and hangers in the studio at 701 Center for Contemporary Art (Columbia, SC). I’m writing about Leigh Magar’s merging of art and fashion for an upcoming magazine feature about out her new collection, which officially opens as a gallery exhibit, working studio and shop at 7 p.m. tonight (March 18, 2014).

The snapshots are of spools and cotton, one of the frocks and her hand-painted dots, and Leigh at her vintage Italian sewing machine. More to come…


– Sandy Lang, March 2014

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Art, Craft, Blog, People

I ache for New Orleans sometimes. Many thanks to Chef Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery on Magazine Street for bringing some Big Easy to Charleston, SC today. In a beard and brown hair, and with a sleeve of inked art—redfish, crabs, a pelican—the young restaurant owner looks somehow akin to Charleston’s Sean Brock. (I ask, and he says the two are friends and have an ongoing debate about the exact ingredients of gumbo—okra or no?)
Devillier is the real deal. He’s been a finalist for the James Beard Award Best Chef-South two years in a row. I was lucky to be one of the small group in the Zero George kitchen today to pull up a stool at the counter and watch him cooking for a while. Zero George is kicking off its Guest Chef Series at the hotel.

His Chilled Blue Crab Salad was delicious and elemental—lump crab you could really taste in the lightest toss of buttermilk/aioli in even measure, lemon juice, cracked pepper and herbs. He made a pounded, but not too-thin, panko-coated, fried rabbit with biscuits and peppery-tangy green tomato jam.


And through the afternoon, he put together a Shrimp Okra Gumbo. He likes his gumbo with less flour-based thickness, and more acid and broth, he explains as he stirs the gumbo with a wooden spoon. “There’s nothing worse than gumbo that’s a floury mess, just because it’s New Orleans.”

The young chef ladled out a gumbo with a brown broth as dark as chicory coffee. You could taste the brown-ness and the okra, shrimp, and pepper (Devillier says he likes black pepper in gumbo, by the way).

He and his wife, Mia, the general manager at La Petite, are both in town for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival. They arrived sleepy from Mardi Gras. So happy to meet them on a chilly, rainy Thursday in the Lowcountry. I hope the clouds blow by so the chef can put that fishing gear he toted all this way to work on the redfish around here.

– Sandy Lang, March 2014 (avec lunch crowd, below)


Love the cover image of the women of Uproot Pie Co., taken during our road trip to small towns with optimistic-sounding names. We met so many terrific people, and I wrote a feature story for this month’s issue of Maine.


The clouds are puffed out like dandelion fuzz across a blue sky and the sun is shining. It’s a brilliant day for clear-headed thinking. That’s good, because at the hilltop intersection of Route 220 and Route 137 a choice must be made. Are you looking for Freedom or Liberty?




LIBERTY an excerpt
“You better hurry. I got the last blueberry,” advises a woman who’s making her way down Main Street. It’s a Saturday morning in Liberty (population 927) and the library is holding one of its pie sale fundraisers. I pick up the pace and feel lucky to grab a strawberry-rhubarb from the thinned-out tables of home-made pies.

Sure, you can go to a chain hardware store to buy a screwdriver. But here it’s as if you’ve gained access to the old garages, barns, and sheds you see around Maine –the ones filled with tool that manufacturers just don’t make anymore. At Liberty Tool, customers freely plunder through one, two, three floors of clamps and crowbars, boxes of wrenches, and barrels of saws with carved wooden handles. The volume of inventory is fascinating, always changing (every Saturday, new finds are added), and encourages creative thinking about what each object is and how it could be used again. In the air hung with rust, dust, and whiffs of mothballs, I overhear one man ask another, “Have you found it?” He answers, “Not yet, but I’m sure I will.”
Across the street in another wooden building with a front porch is Liberty Graphics, a T-shirt printshop founded in the 1970s that uses water-based inks on organic cotton shirts. Here, bins of tees are printed with designs from local artists, nature, the night sky, and graphics inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. (When I visited many shirts were on sale, and the serve-yourself coffee was only 47 cents a cup!) On the floors above is the Davistown Museum of tools, history and art. The collection was established by Liberty Tool owner H.G. “Skip” Brack, and is housed in several rooms. One room with a high ceiling feels like a sanctuary or a sacred place—maybe it’s the recorded music that plays, a rhythmic chant—or the circular arrangement of chairs and objects. Everything is obviously wrought by hand, and signs let visitors know you’re allowed to touch the axes, hatchets, hammers, and even the whale harpoon. This part of Maine shows true reverence for the makers of the world.


– Sandy Lang, October 2013  (images by PFE)



Mississippi man

Heard the sad news that T-Model Ford has died this week. I’ll never forget the day I met him, by chance, one morning in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Reprinting my 2008 post, here:

“I ain’t old no more.”

T-Model Ford 2008 Clarksdale (PFEPhoto)

The music never seems to stop in Clarksdale, Mississippi. One morning there earlier this year, the first person we met on Delta Avenue was bluesman T-Model Ford, who was sitting in a folding chair eating eggs and toast from a foam tray, waiting for the Cat Head Delta Blues store to open.  He told us he’d been hired to play a sidewalk concert, and would sing and play guitar again at a festival later that day.  Right then though, it was just T-Model Ford, his wife, Stella, a couple of grandkids, and us. “When they find out I’m here, they gonna fill this place up,” the 80-something bluesman said. “Everybody wants to play with T-Model.”  And he was right.  As soon as he lifted his black Peavey guitar from the case (he calls it “Black Nanny”), a crowd started to fill from the just-empty streets, walking up and waiting for the music, which came slow, with devilish smiles, rasp and soul… like a mix of mud and fire.

I’ve written a story about our three nights in Mississippi to be published in early 2009.  While there, photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I also visited William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak and spent part of a pleasant morning with William Griffith, the curator there. I wanted to see more of the Mississippi places that have inspired so much writing and music.

Rowan Oak, bottletree 2008 (PFE)

Last week I was finishing final edits on the story when somehow, old T-Model turned up to play in a bar five miles from our house in South Carolina.  Of course we went to see.  This time he had a back-up band, and it all didn’t start until near midnight with amplifiers loud. The vibe was completely different, the crowd completely white. And in the dim and whiskey all I kept thinking was of other times, other places… the morning sun on a Mississippi sidewalk.

– Sandy Lang, December 2008 (re-posted July 2013). Images by Peter Frank Edwards.

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Art, Craft, Literary, People, Travel

I had a great time interviewing 11 Charleston-area chefs for the cover story of the premiere issue of THE LOCAL PALATE, now out in print. The premise was to ask each chef five basic questions about Charleston’s food and food culture. They talked of everything from the simple joys of “cooking the line” and rolling out the night’s pastas (Chef Ken Vedrinkski, Trattoria Lucca) to a summer score of white peaches from the Upstate (Chef Frank Lee at Slightly North of Broad).

Ben Williams did the photography, including this terrific cover shot of Graham Dailey of the Peninsula Grill. That’s Frank Lee and Sean Brock, below, in the article opener.

The full roster of chefs in the piece:

Sean Brock, McCrady’s & Husk, 2010 James Beard Award, Best Chef-Southeast

Graham Daily, Peninsula Grill

Craig Deihl, Cypress & Artisan Meat Share

Jacques Larson, Wild Olive

Mike Lata, FIG, 2009 James Beard Award, Best Chef-Southeast

Frank Lee, Slightly North of Broad & Maverick Southern Kitchens

Sarah O’Kelley, Glass Onion

Robert Stehling, Hominy Grill, 2008 James Beard Award, Best Chef-Southeast

Nate Thurston, The Ocean Room at The Sanctuary

Ken Vedrinski, Trattoria Lucca & Enoteca

Michelle Weaver, Charleston Grill

Just typing in that list of restaurants makes me hungry. I look forward to eating with all of them again soon.

– Sandy Lang, October 2011

When I stopped in to see photographer Jack Thompson one day this winter, he suggested we go for the buffet at Shoney’s in Myrtle Beach. While we ate, he told stories and I wrote up the interview for Grand Strand Magazine. The piece runs for 10 pages in the February-March 2010 issue, filled with Mr. Thompson’s images.  Here’s an excerpt…


A 1950s motel on the Boulevard, the night sky lit with fireworks over a dirt lot at the Pavilion’s amusement park, a sunny beach day in the 1960s.

Jack Thompson, 73, sorts through stacks of his black and white photographs – some framed, some loose or mounted on boards – in his storefront studio on Broadway Street. It’s his fifth location in as many decades, always in buildings within a sea breeze distance of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion. (Or nowadays, the empty grass lot and beach where the Pavilion once stood.)

In these blocks that are the historic heart of Myrtle Beach, Thompson and his photographs help remind people of the city’s beginnings, and particularly of the classic mid-century era. That was when, with two other teenaged boys from his hometown of Greenville, Thompson rode on the back of farmers’ truck beds and in un-airconditioned buses to get to Myrtle Beach. (The boyhood friends who joined him were Freddie Collins, who’d later become a millionaire in the business of poker machines and other amusements; and Carroll Campbell, who’d one day be Governor of South Carolina.)  The boys had heard stories from older friends back in Greenville of the sandy lifestyle – of the beach music, beer and beautiful girls to be found. After several days of often-misdirected travel on two-lane highways (including mistakenly catching a ride to Orangeburg, and then up to Society Hill where they slept one night under a church), Thompson says the three finally arrived in downtown Myrtle Beach, exhausted, hungry and broke.

He remembers that day well. Thompson says he could see the Pavilion from the bus stop, and walked directly to it. The year was 1951…


His legacy is a still-growing collection of beautiful prints. And it’s the black and whites that really grab you. They are striking and classic, even iconic, and look of a simpler past you could step into. When he talks of his work, Thompson is a mix of humble and proud. And he’s quick to say that the subjects are often “ordinary” scenes – ordinary for the happenings and scenery of the times.

“Now people say, ‘Jack, you must have been a damn genius.’ But if I was, I didn’t know it at the time. These pictures are of what was everyday… it was just the way it was.”

Perhaps it’s because more and more classic Myrtle Beach landmarks are disappearing, but there’s been a flurry of interest in recent years in Thompson’s collection of images. He has shown his work in solo exhibits at the Burroughs and Chapin Art Museum in Myrlte Beach and the Horry County Museum in Conway. And in 2003, he published a collection of his photographs in a coffee table book titled “Memories of Myrtle Beach.”  That book also includes a summary of the history of Myrtle Beach, a subject of keen interest to Thompson. In fact, he’s a board member and vice chairman of the Horry County Museum, and he’s been working on a longer book that will include his research and perspectives on the development of Myrtle Beach.


Historically, one of his most important and famous photographs is of the demolition of the grand Ocean Forest Hotel, which had opened to national fanfare in 1930 and was torn down in 1973 to make way for an oceanfront condominium development.  “When I was there that day, and I found myself setting up my camera on a strategic sand dune, I knew in my heart that the governor, the mayor, or the fire chief or somebody was going to come in and stop the demolition, because of what this hotel meant to this part of this state,” Thompson recalls. “Then I heard the first explosion, and I started crying… I had grown up in that hotel, photographing famous personalities and conventions night after night. I could not believe that men of vision did not step in and save it.”

These days, Thompson remains one of Myrtle Beach’s fondest admirers. And he knows the city has reputation for continually reinventing itself, yet he’s cautiously optimistic about the future. “Policy makers will have to keep a strong vision,” he advises. Thompson says he was disappointed at the recent closing and demolition of the centrally-located Myrtle Square Mall, and especially of the loss of the 11-acre Myrtle Beach Pavilion & Amusement Park  “The powers that be destroyed a magical place… it’s a heartbreak and a tragedy.” The big question is, he says, “how do you put the genie back in the bottle?”

– Sandy Lang, March 2010

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In print/published, People



Pumpkin farm stop


Before he switched over to planting patches of pumpkins, squash and peas, Mr. Billy Lineberry grew long rows of tobacco. “He was a tobacco farmer, until all that ended,” his wife said, then leaned down to pick up their shivering chihuahua-feist, Spanky. It was a chilly morning, and Mr. Lineberry was several yards behind her, propping up the scarecrow on the hay bale.

The couple had come out of their tall farmhouse about 50 miles south of Chapel Hill, NC to mind the sideyard display of pumpkins and squash they were selling – gooseneck and Hercules’ Club gourds, orange pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns, and old-fashioned pie pumpkins with lighter, almost pinkish skin. Mr. Lineberry explained that they only ever meant to grow Halloween pumpkins one year, but as soon as they did, people said, “we’ll see you for our pumpkins next year.”


It was great to meet this fine couple (and Spanky), and when Mr. Lineberry saw that we admired his climbing okra plant, he sent us home with two of the long okras, so we could dry them for seeds to plant. I’ll have to report back on how they grow.

– Sandy Lang, October 2009 (images by PFE)

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Home & garden, People, Travel

St. Helena Island, SC - Peter Frank Edwards Photographs

In a white-painted, one-room building on St. Helena Island, Joseph “Rev.” Bryant was singing “Oh Lord, come by here.”  His voice filled the spare, shed-sized structure, with its benches of narrow boards nailed together, one bare bulb in the ceiling. After the spiritual, Rev. got back to telling stories – talking fast, mixing in Gullah-Geechee pronunciations. He told of moral lessons and Gullah traditions, of plucking fiddler crabs from the pluff mud as a child, and of “sour sally,” the red flowering sourgrass weed “that you can suck on when you’re walking and thirsty, but it’ll put a real knot in your face… more sour than a lemon.”

Describing himself as “the real deal,” Rev. is a one-man tour business, the kind where he’s a passenger in the tour-goer’s own car, giving directions and pointing out sites on St. Helena and nearby sea islands, all within about a 75-mile drive south from Charleston. Along the way, he tells stories and describes the scenery he knows so well from driving a local school bus for many years – the family and community names (often from former plantation owners), the Reconstruction-era houses that are still standing, the cottage that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used as a writing retreat, and the dirt road through the pine woods that you can follow a ways to see a 19th-century cemetery.

An ordained Baptist preacher and Navy veteran, Rev. Bryant fell into song that morning when we stopped inside one of the community praise houses, where, he explained, the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans still meet between church services to share information, pray, sing, and shout. As I sat and listened to his claps and choruses, I let the sights and sounds sink in as much as I could. Glory be.

Joseph “Rev.” Bryant, photo by Peter Frank Edwards

The storytelling, singing Joseph “Rev.” Bryant, above. The copy is an excerpt from an “On the Road” travel feature I wrote for the July 2009 issue of Charleston Magazine, just published.

– Sandy Lang, July 2009 (Images by PFE.)

Mr. Biggerstaff

His business cards read, “Honey is my hobby,” and 72-year-old Robert Biggerstaff isn’t kidding. Since 1967 he’s been building bee boxes, tending hives and collecting honey – all under the oak trees in his sideyard that backs up to a tidal creek off the Stono River on Johns Island.

“The Bee Man,” just published with images by Josh Zoodsma, is one of several pieces I wrote for the 2009 issue of 5757 Palm, now in print. Click here for an earlier post about Mr. Biggerstaff and his bees.

– Sandy Lang, May 2009

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