Carl Sandburg Home and Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center

10/26/13 Saturday at Lenoir, NC (Green Mountain Park Resort-TT/MA)

Made it out by 9:00 am. Our car was covered in frost. Later we learned it had gotten down to 22 degrees during the night. It was after 11 am before we reached Carl Sandburg’s Home, an NPS sight. There is a fee ($5/person or $3/senior-62) for the guided tour of his house. Lots of trails in the grounds so we walked to the various buildings as we waited for our 12:30 pm tour.

Interestingly, we weren’t all that excited about this visit (something to cross off the bucket list of NPS places), but left having really enjoyed ourselves. John only knew Carl Sandburg through his writing of Lincoln. I remembered him as a poet, from high school. Neither of us knew he was a folk singer, nor that his wife was world famous for the milk producing goats she raised. We found out he got Pulitzer prizes for both – as a historian and later as a poet . His favorite writings were “Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years and “The People, Yes”. He even wrote 2 childrens books: “Rootabaga Stories” and Rootabaga Pigeons”. I got carried away and bought those books as gifts for our grandchildren Lily and Gabe, along with a book of his love letters to Lilian “The Poet and The Dream Girl.”

His early life was filled with efforts to help support his Swedish immigrant family, starting at age 11, cleaning spittoons for $0.25/week. He left home at 19 to travel the country, as a hobo, a laborer. He got an appointment to West Point but failed the entrance exams in math and grammar, went to Lombard College but left without a degree. He went door to door trying to sell his poetry.

He met Lilian Steichen (her brother was Ed Steichen, famous photographer) at a socialist gathering. He was infatuated with her, but she was not so much interested in him. He began writing her and won her heart. They wrote for 6 months, getting together only 3 times before they married. He worked at a newspaper as he continued writing. He was 40 before his writings brought him recognition.

IMG_3241 IMG_3296The above photo was taken by Lilian’s famous photographer brother: Edward Steichen.

At age 67 they moved to Flat Rock, NC, in the Blue Ridge mountains. He wasn’t that interested in moving from Michigan and the Indiana Sand Dunes, but she had started raising her goats and wanted space for them to pasture. A story regarding the goats: their daughter Helga (they had 3 daughters) wanted to raise an animal, suggesting a cow. He said they weren’t any good and you couldn’t fit one in a car, so she left with mom, returning with 3 goats in the car! As for moving, he told Lilian (he called her Paula) she could make all the arrangements, moving everything (including 14,000 books), then tell him when to come. This place (named Connemara by the previous owners for its reminder of Scotland) provided room and milder climate for her goats, peace and quiet for his writing. These were productive years for Carl.

Images from the grounds and of his home.

Sandburgs' home at top of hill. Pond is part of his property.

Sandburgs’ home at top of hill. Pond is part of his property.

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Goat barn.

Goat barn.

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Goat milking shed.  Goats walk up path on left, then stick their head through the top part of the white banister, lower it to eat from the bucket while someone stands below

Goat milking shed. Goats walk up path on left, then stick their head through the top part of the white banister, lower it to eat from the bucket while someone stands below

Saanen goat.
Saanen goat.
Toggenburg goats

Toggenburg goats

Below are images from inside his home. Lilian left it to the NPS after he died, asking that it be kept in its original state. Their home was left in its 1950’s condition. This was the first park to honor a poet. He was a poet of the common people, so I think this was the perfect legacy – to share his home with the people. You’ll notice what they held important: books, magazines and music. They were most frugal with their lifestyle and furnishings, because these were not important to them and because they strove to save all that they could to care for 2 of their daughters who were disabled in some way and not able to marry or provide for themselves. What the Sandburgs left them was plenty for their entire lives.

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Notice his guitar on piano. The shelving behind is where Carl would toss his awards, then forget them

Notice his guitar on piano. The shelving behind is where Carl would toss his awards, then forget them

The papers marking pages in these books is how Carl kept track of important to him passages.

The papers marking pages in these books is how Carl kept track of important to him passages.

A table from Lincoln's bedroom, in front of little girl, was one of Carl's most precious possessions.

A table from Lincoln’s bedroom, in front of little girl, was one of Carl’s most precious possessions.

Lilian's office

Lilian’s office

The large goat image is of her top doe, who produced an average of 2.5 gallons per day, the World Toggenburg Champion

The large goat image is of her top doe, who produced an average of 2.5 gallons per day, the World Toggenburg Champion

The dining table set so everyone could enjoy the wildlife visible through the windows.

The dining table set so everyone could enjoy the wildlife visible through the windows.

The fire hose they never had to use-needed because their house was so full of paper.

The fire hose they never had to use-needed because their house was so full of paper.

 His 2nd floor study and bedroom. Since he worked late, often all night, and she was up early for the goats, this was a good arrangement.

His 2nd floor study and bedroom. Since he worked late, often all night, and she was up early for the goats, this was a good arrangement.

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Their 1950's kitchen

Their 1950’s kitchen

Once we finished our picnic lunch, we headed for the Folk Art Center, on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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John enjoyed watching the demonstration for turning a wooden bowl, with bark fringing it’s outer edges, while I checked out the 1st floor crafts for sale. Beautiful work. We both perused the gallery of folk art on the 2nd floor. No photos allowed.

Once again, we’re ready to head home by 3:30 pm and got there before 5 pm. Luckily we had leftover lasagna for an easy yet scrumptious supper, with wine even. We got to watching a taped show, then our friends Lou and June came by to invite us to join them at their campfire. So we did. It was fun, not too cold when wearing our winter coats and gloves. They told us about a ceramic space heater (DeLonghia brand) they’d just purchased because their old one had gotten really warm at the plug end. I noted that I’d noticed that happening with ours so we’re seriously thinking of getting a new one for ourselves. I’d even dreamed last night of that wire and plug bursting into flame and picturing us trying to get our house fire extinguisher in the bedroom out of its box and working. Imagination is such a fun thing.

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About Patricia Elser

I've always loved the loose, flowing, transparent look of watercolors, of Chinese paintings and their calligraphy, but alas, no watercolor classes were available when I was in school, so that interest remained buried until my children were grown. Even then, I was afraid that I couldn't really paint, so upon my sister's advice, I actually started to take classes. I signed up for every class available, determined to learn no matter how afraid I was. I came upon a teacher, Stan Miller, who inspired me, who opened the door to success in watercolor. I love to look at beautiful images. I want to capture them forever. All my life, photography was how I gathered images of the beauty I saw. Thanks to all that photography, I enjoy composing pictures, especially up close. Watercolors allow me to add more of me in their translation of that beauty. My paintings reflect my love for music and dance, with their rhythm and flow. I am fascinated by the play of light, so it appears in my pictures as drama for they are filled with darks and lights. Maybe it's the challenge, maybe it's the beauty, but now, when a work comes together, it fills my soul.
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