I grew up in Ozark, Alabama during the sixties and seventies -- a town of about 15,000, then and now -- small town America, with a central square dominated by the Dale County Courthouse. From "the Square," Ozark fans out in all directions -- through the oldest residential neighborhoods, on to commercial and light industrial areas like the peanut mill complex just over the railroad tracks, then into newer housing subdivisions that quickly give way to forests and rural farmland.
My family goes back several generations in Ozark. My father and my two siblings live there still; my mother is buried there. I left Ozark at the age of 18, bound for a different kind of life in big east coast cities. Through the years, though, the town has had a hold on me. I have always returned once or twice a year to visit family. When my sister moved back home several years ago, my visits took on a new life as I was able to stay in her wonderful old house on Broad Street, the beautiful main street through town, just a few blocks from the Square. With my children launched, I was able to spend longer periods of time back home, and I started to settle into a routine of long daily walks through Ozark's oldest neighborhoods and beyond. On these walks, I have rediscovered the old houses and buildings that I grew up with -- all changed and mostly deteriorating with time, but still familiar. I sometimes have the odd feeing that I am seeing these places for the first time -- on foot and up close, not driving by with a casual glance. I am also seeing them from a much-altered perspective -- as an older person returning home and as an artist whose calling it is to notice and to honor those things I find visually and emotionally compelling.
Seeing things in this way has stirred wonder at the way the town and its structures are simultaneously much the same and much changed; comfort at the way some of the old places are still lovingly lived in; dismay at the way others have fallen to neglect; sadness welling up from memories of people and our lives together, now gone; gratitude for what remains of the family and friends still living in this place. The houses and other structures I see on my walks have become a visual motif that has led to a deepening exploration of this mix of feelings. My intention is to convey both a sense of the place where I came of age and my experience of going home to it.