By Sarah West
After the storm, the winds quieted and the light turned to sunset hues of melon and lavender. The fresh scent of twisted pine, snapped, torn and bent, permeated the air. Pink insulation spun round like cotton candy clinging to fence posts and barbed wire, and shredded leaves plastered homes like Times Square confetti remnants after a rainy new year’s eve. Homes built by generations past were wiped clean. Towering trees dragged through rooftops. Soil turned over by nature’s unrelenting bulldozer. Some of us emerged visually untouched. Our clothes were still clean. We exited our homes through the front doors. Others climbed through the rubble of their closets and roof tops in search of loved ones.
I mourned the loss of the deep forest long before the storm. Each day I watched as trucks loaded with timber set out for the mill, leaving vast swaths of acreage barren. Lumpy hills of turned soil, with only the greening sprigs of saplings, remained. I watched seasons change as I mourned the loss of another forest, I meditated and painted unaware of the future calamity that would befall our region. With fury, mother nature took more than wooded acres. In the aftermath, losses were assessed, most of which can never be replaced. One life lost was one too many; then came the final count, 23. In prayer, we count our blessings, but blessings sometimes cause us to question. In faith, we accept that a higher power must know the reason for each name written on crosses. Communities far and near, organizations and countless individuals came to the aid of those in need. Recovery continues for so many; and in this regard, an event that scarred our lives and landscape is a living record stitching together present and past history. In this way, today marks tomorrow’s history.
The city of Smiths Station will be hosting two ALABAMA 200 endorsed occasions later this summer, events dedicated to “commemorating the stories of our people, places and path to statehood.”
Events include the opening of the Historic Jones Store Museum on July 13, hosted by the Smiths Station Historical Commission; and in collaboration with the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, A Center for Cultural Arts, the Smiths Station City Hall Exhibit Galleries present Vesper, a debut exhibition, featuring the narrative painting which serves as a somber reflection of Lee County, as well as the ongoing conservation and recovery work of the Alabama Forestry Commission. This debut exhibition respectively provides acknowledgement to the traditions and pastimes that define our shared heritage, while hosting initial preview to works that will be part of the Civility paintings, Alabama State Capitol Exhibition, as part of the ALABAMA 200 bicentennial finale, in Montgomery this December.
*The exhibit and Historic Jones Store Museum opening events are free, family-friendly and are open to the public.
As part of the county-wide continued storm recovery effort, a signed limited edition print of Vesper will be part of the upcoming MEND auction Aug. 13 at the Jule Collins Smith Museum located in Auburn.
Sarah West serves the Opelika Observer as a contributing columnist, with written works of Cultural Arts relevance and prose. She is a preservation, and conservation advocate, activist, and visual artist of American Illustration with a focus on Regional Narrative Painting. She is founder of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, A Center for Cultural Arts, Smiths Station, Alabama’s premier fine arts destination. She is the appointed Official Artist to the City of Smiths Station, a Lee County syndicated columnist, the director of her art center’s Cultural Arts Outreach Initiative which partners with local schools to make the arts accessible to all. She also serves a chief curator to the City of Smiths Station, City Hall Art Galleries. She is a founding member of the Smith Station Historic Commission. She is a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Board- Cary Center, Auburn University College of Human Science. She is an elected member of the Society of Illustrators- NYC. She mentors art students of every age through weekly classes at her studio located in the heart of Smiths Station, Alabama. To learn more about her work and activism visit, www.thesarahwestgalleryoffineart.com.