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May 2006

Profile: Robert McDuffie, Violinist

He has been called a spellbinder, a national treasure and the man who plays like a gypsy. No matter what the label, music is the language that Robert McDuffie speaks. State of the Arts spends time with internationally renowned concert violinist Robert McDuffie, who was born in Macon and returns to play in Georgia whenever he can.

We hear him perform the exciting and difficult Miklós Rózsa Violin Concerto with the Augusta Symphony. We eavesdrop on auditions and lessons with string students at Mercer University, where McDuffie is Distinguished University Professor of Music.

We find out about McDuffie's ambitious plan to revolutionize music at Mercer with a little help from some "friends of Robert," who happen to be world-class musicians. And finally, we get the chance to take a close-up look at McDuffie's famous violin, the 1735 Guarneri del Gesu, which cost a cool $3.5 million in 2001.

Robert McDuffie at Mercer University.

Grand Opening: Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah

The City of Savannah contains the nation's largest historic preservation district. Its Telfair Museum of Art is the oldest in the Southeast, and the museum's two original buildings – the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Owens-Thomas House – are Savannah landmarks dating from the early 19th century.

A decade ago, the Telfair Museum committed to a new building to house its growing collection of contemporary art. But no one could have predicted that the building's modern design would generate years of controversy and delay the opening several times. Our show takes you to Opening Day of the Jepson Center for the Arts on March 10, 2006, where we meet its architect, Moshe Safdie, its namesake, Robert S. Jepson, and its director, Diane Lesko. We also take you inside to see the atrium's massive glass walls and commanding staircase, as well as the dramatic curving lines found throughout the building. And finally, we show you the cutting edge art currently on display in the Telfair, a ground-breaking contribution to Savannah cultural history.

Visit the Museum's website.

Photo: Richard Leo Johnson, Atlantic Archives

Music Segment: Lovell Sisters Band

The Lovell Sisters feature tight vocal harmonies with an innovative fusion of folk, country, and contemporary acoustic music. With 4.1 million tuning in, they won NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor” National Talent Competition in February 2005.

Jessica (20), Megan (17), and Rebecca (15) began lessons in classical violin and piano at age five. The sisters sang as a trio for church and in the church choir. All three were members of string quartets and youth symphonies and, at fifteen, Jessica was co-principle of the 2nd violin section in the SAU Symphony Orchestra.

Bitten by the bluegrass bug nearly two years ago, The Lovell Sisters strayed from their classical roots after friends introduced them to the jamming and traditional music of the Signal Mountain Opry in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Jerry Douglas' Slide Rule was their first introduction to bluegrass, inspiring Megan to play the resophonic guitar. The Lovell Sisters now bring youthful vigor and a wide variety of influences to bluegrass.

The Lovell Sisters line-up:

Jessica Lovell – lead vocals, fiddle
Rebecca Lovell – lead vocals, mandolin
Megan Lovell – vocals, resophonic guitar
Andy Nall – acoustic bass
Brad Frazier – vocals, guitar, banjo

Visit their website.

Oraien Catledge: Cabbagetown Photographer

If you're visually impaired but creative, how would you choose to express yourself? Maybe music, maybe sculpture – but photography? This is the story of a remarkable man, Oraien Catledge, who devoted more than twenty years to documenting the people of Cabbagetown, a dying Atlanta mill town.

Born in Mississippi in the late 1920s and living in Atlanta for the past 37 years, Oraien Catledge has established himself as the "picture man" of Cabbagetown. The former Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill [now affluent lofts] closed its doors in the early 1970s, but the Appalachian people who had worked in the mill remained. In May 1980, Catledge, inspired by a television news story, set off to explore Cabbagetown with his Leica and a station wagon full of film. Over the next 20 years, Catledge took over 25,000 images of Cabbagetown's people, sharing his photos with them and becoming a regular part of their lives.

Although he never sought publicity for his work, the quality of his photographs inevitably drew experts and collectors to his door. His images have been likened to the work of Depression-era documentary photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. In 1985, the University of Texas Press published Cabbagetown, a selection of Catledge's photographs, and more recently, his work has been exhibited in Atlanta and New York. Some of his photos can also be found in the collection of High Museum of Art.

Today Catledge can hardly recognize Cabbagetown, which is now a trendy in-town neighborhood, but he still has thousands of unprinted negatives to develop and the community's history comes back to life with each one he prints.

You can view more of Catledge's photos here.

Underground Railroad Quilt Code

For some, quilts suggest family and comfort. To others, their visual imagery is considered a folk art form. Our story about quilts is almost as old as the history of America and stitched with mystery and controversy.

In 1994, African-American quilter Ozella McDaniel Williams revealed to historians Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dubard a quilt code used by enslaved men and women for navigating the Underground Railroad. Tobin and Dubard tell Ozella's account in the book Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. The code has been passed on to Ozella's niece, Serena Wilson, and Wilson's daughter, Teresa R. Kemp, who is director of the Underground Railroad Quilt Code Museum and Cultural Center at Underground Atlanta.

Each quilt contained a specific code that conveyed important information to fugitive slaves in their flight to the next safe house on the Underground Railroad. The monkey wrench denoted it was time to gather tools required for the journey, the drunkard's path pattern served to remind freedom seekers to move in a zigzag to avoid capture, and the bear paw pattern indicated food and water sources.

Since the publication of Hidden in Plain View, historians and Underground Railroad experts have questioned the quilt code theory for its lack of corroborating evidence in either recorded historical documents or oral history.

Fact or fiction? You decide.

Visit their website here.

Portals to Shangri-La: Masterpieces from Buddhist Mongolia

The Olgethorpe University Museum of Art in Atlanta has long specialized in exhibiting art from around the world. So when China prevented Tibet from participating in Atlanta's 1996 Olympic Games, the Dalai Lama sent his private art collection to Oglethorpe instead, for a groundbreaking exhibit called The Mystical Arts of Tibet.

This year the Museum decided to honor the 800th anniversary of the founding of Mongolia by exhibiting sacred Buddhist masterpieces from the Zanabazar Mongolia National Fine Arts Museum. The exhibit's legendary Buddhist curator, Glenn H. Mullin, and the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art's director, Lloyd Nick, worked for more than a year to put the exhibit together.

But just days before it was to be shipped to Atlanta, the Mongolian government collapsed and the shipment was stopped. In a story filled with obstacles at every turn, the intrepid team of Glenn Mullin and Lloyd Nick call upon generous American collectors, who save the day, allowing great Mongolian art to come to Georgia right on schedule!

Visit the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art's website.

Educators: Robert McDuffe

For information on Robert McDuffie

American Symphony Orcestra League

Robert McDuffie biography

Augusta Symphony

Augusta Symphony website

Mercer University

Mercer University website

Music Groups

Strings Magazine Web Site

The String Pedagogy Notebook

Violin Masterclass

Zaplatynksy String Studio

Research in Music

The International Foundation for Music Research (IFMR)