On a sunny Saturday afternoon in early January 2017, I had the privilege of sharing a road trip to visit one of Black Belt Treasures earliest artists.
The trip is an annual one for sisters - Jan, Mary Glen and Ginny, who began the tradition years ago with their dear, art-loving mother, Janet. This year they were gracious enough to include me on the trip. We met at their family home, known to those of us in Camden as the House on the Hill. With snacks in hand, we climbed in the car and headed to Brooksville in rural Conecuh County. I had been to Brooksville several times in the past making my way through Beatrice and turning left on the state highway then right onto the county road. This day we took a different route traveling through Oak Hill, then McWilliams, and eventually turning onto the county road to Brooksville. As we traveled, we shared stories about our families, reminisced about wonderful times spent with “Miss” Janet, enjoyed “sister laughter” until our sides hurt (you know those laughs – the kind you just have to be there to understand, and this day I got to be a “sister”), and anticipated our visit with longstanding friend, Donna Wesley.
One has to just “know” when you arrive in Brooksville and we all did. As we rolled slowly along the road looking for the “birdhouse” on the right side of the road, Ginny missed it. Realizing she had done so, she backed-up and turned onto what I would call a pig trail into the woods. Ginny cautiously steered the car along this very narrow trail where at one point we were inches away from trees on both sides. By now, I’m not sure if we were holding our breath or laughing but one thing we all had come to realize – there was more than one birdhouse marking a driveway - but there was no turning back! Fortunately, Donna somehow knew we had taken the wrong route and met us to guide us safely to her door step.
Sensory overload begins immediately! Everywhere we were surrounded by Donna’s creativity – sculptures, birdhouses, handcrafted pottery, mosaics, carvings, and more, line the walkway to Donna’s A-frame house nestled on the edge of a hillside. There are no sounds of passing cars – only the sounds of water flowing down a creek bed and trickling in several birdbaths along the path. We make our way into Donna’s home and our eyes can’t take it all in!
On every wall, banister, support beam, cabinet and door in this modest home are works of art, most of which Donna created!
There are pieces of pottery from her past ceramics days, handcrafted tables and trays made from twigs harvested from beaver dams, paintings of cats, dogs, fish and old trucks, and shelves and baskets loaded down with her latest creations – carved birds.
We were simply amazed even though we knew before arriving that this quiet, unassuming woman was talented beyond belief. The creativity surrounding us was phenomenal! And, the generosity of her heart was displayed fully as she shared pieces of her creations with the “sisters” on their annual pilgrimage that day. I first came to know Donna and her father, basket weaver Walter Brooks, in the summer 2005 as artists were being sought for inclusion in the Black Belt Treasures Gallery. At that time, Donna was selling the remaining pieces of her pottery and moving on to new artistic ventures. Later, she began selling tables, trays and trivets through Black Belt Treasures. Then, Donna navigated some difficult years with the passing of her beloved father and some significant health problems of her own. Her creativity was curtailed for a while. On this January day, my heart was filled with joy as I witnessed the pleasure on Donna’s face as she shared pieces created with her hands once again.
While I encouraged Donna to bring some of her new pieces to sell at Black Belt Treasures, she has yet to do so. I continue to hope the door will open one day soon and in will walk Donna Wesley weighed down with paintings and carved birds. You are going to love them! Until then, we will continue to share her story and sell her beautifully handcrafted tables, trays and trivets.
Much thanks to the Sisters from the House on the Hill for including me in your road trip to visit our friend Donna. I am ready and waiting should you decide to venture off on another road trip again soon!
Sulynn Creswell, BBTCAC Executive Director