For the last few decades, Mobilian Ann Pond has taught history at Bishop State, Spring Hill College and the University of South Alabama in addition to her work as a freelance journalist. Now she’s managed to combine all of those pursuits into one project with the potential to impact local legends.
As part of her doctorate work at the University of Southern Mississippi, Pond decided to focus on a distinctly Creole phenomenon in the United States: Mardi Gras. Her dissertation aimed to untangle the knot of folklore around the holiday’s American origins and she has now turned all that research into a trilogy of books.
Her initial offering, “The First Cowbellion: Masons, Mummers and the Birth of America’s Mardi Gras,” couldn’t be more self-explanatory. It traces a consummate story of American creation, blending pre-existing cultural elements to fashion something new.
Pond begins the story with the first French incursions into the New World but then widens scope. With an academician’s sense for truth, she thoroughly covers the holiday’s background, its customs centuries beforehand.
However, it’s her ability as a writer to speak in relatable language that will endear the book to average Gulf Coast residents. Likewise, the picture she paints of Mobile in the 1830s — on the cusp between its frontier roots and the feudal South soon to emerge — is crucial to grasping context.
Pennsylvanian Michael Krafft and his family relocated to Mobile as it was at the beginning of the Cotton Boom. It wasn’t long before Michael reshaped Mobile’s social calendar, with New Year’s celebrations spawned in part by similar happenings in Pennsylvania and elaborated further through input from others.
Following “The First Cowbellion” is a volume entitled “Masons and Mardi Gras.” It explores how secret societies formed for Mobile New Year’s events shifted time, place and form to something we would more clearly recognize now.
New Orleans’ licentious Carnival party resulted in their banning masking in 1803. However it was the violent and rambunctious happenings of free-for-all parades in the 1840s and ‘50s that led local press to call for the events’ outlaw altogether.
Once again, customs merged as Mobile’s habits and patterns for New Year’s were applied to New Orleans pre-Lenten celebrations. What emerged was a more modern version of what we know as Mardi Gras processions.
Pond goes further, though, with an examination of possible secret purposes to the fraternal societies. She looks at the private and public lives of the men behind the masks and rumors of how it was tied to the Civil War’s beginning.
The last of the trilogy is “Cain and His Lost Cause Generation.” Pond looks at the modern connotation of Joe Cain for Mobilians and holds it up against the truth of his times.
The first book is currently available. The second goes on sale June 1 and the third will be available July 1. All are available on Google, Amazon or ann-j-pond.squarespace.com. Kindle and electronic versions may also be purchased.
It’s obvious Pond has put years of research and scholarship into this. Anyone who loves regional and national history would be well served by her efforts.
The greater part of Pond’s contributions to Gulf Coast history is that she makes a wonderful effort to not shine a light on the truth for its own sake but to fill in the divides many strive to entrench between Mobile and New Orleans on the subject of Mardi Gras. Such pedantry is not just unbecoming but self-defeating, as it robs us of our hallmark strength as Americans.
Noted local potter premieres at MMofA
For longtime Mobilians, the name Charles Smith is familiar and respected. No art collection on the Gulf Coast is complete with Smith’s three-dimensional masterpieces.
Smith was hired by the city as a resident artist as far back as the 1970s and followed that with dozens of first-place or best-in-show awards. His work adorns the front of Mobile’s Government Plaza, was included in a traveling exhibit of African-American artists and has shown in such lofty venues as the National Museum of American Art in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the American Craft Museum in New York City. He was also highlighted in the Alabama Public Television 2009 program “Alabama Craft Tradition and Innovation.”
Now, MMofA will feature a retrospective of his 40-year career and his constant evolution with “Black Hands/I Am.” The exhibit opens June 4 with a reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The exhibit remains in place until Oct. 11.
Also new to the facility are the exhibits “The New Landscape” and “Landscapes of the MMofA Collection.”
For more information, call 251-208-5209 or go to mobilemuseumofart.com.
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