Nora Mae and Noxubee

Tools of the trade.
Tools of the trade.

Soon I will be visiting Brooksville, Mississippi for an artist in residency at the Choctaw and Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.  The time spent will include investigating the patterns of the natural environment, creating artworks, and interacting with the community.  Part of my family legacy is woven into the history and reconnecting with the unfamiliar will be part of that journey.

According to the Friends of the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge: “Noxubee Wildlife Refuge is located across three counties in east-central Mississippi.  The 48,000-acre refuge was established in 1940 and serves as a resting and feeding area for migratory birds and resident wildlife including blue herons, white-tailed deer, alligators, egrets, ibis, beaver, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.  The refuge contains wetlands, cypress groves, prairie grasslands, and forests.”  I’ve been imagining the views, textures, and smells.  How will Southern light change the shadows or clarity of surfaces?  The stay will confirm or expand expectations.

From the National Geographic Road Atlas.
From the National Geographic Road Atlas.

The refugee’s past starts and continues with the Choctaws.  The United States of America government wanted lands for military purposes.  From the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indian’s website: “When the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, there were over 19,000 Choctaws in Mississippi.  From 1831 to 1833, approximately 13,000 Choctaws were removed to the west.  More followed over the years.  Members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians are descendants of the proud Choctaw individuals who refused to be removed to Oklahoma in the 1830s.”

My grandfather’s mother, Nora Mae Nash, was born on the border of Louisiana and Arkansas in small town named Gillham.  Her father died when she was an infant and Choctaw mother when only eleven.  She then lived with an aunt performing housework.  At the young age of nineteen, she met David Preston Balisle and married.  Nora maintained a beautiful garden with an open gate for neighbors to take whatever they needed.  According to my grandfather: “Nora Mae was a princess with dark hair and dark eyes….It was hard for her to cook anything I didn’t like.”

Grandpa and me...
Grandpa and me.

The residency will be personal and artistic.  What patterns will be discovered?  On my grandfather’s first day of school, Nora Mae instructed the bus driver: ”You better bring back Tom the same way I sent him.”  Upon return, I will be the same but different just like my ancestors.  The experience will define but lead to further questions.

More to follow…

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