Hurricane Sally made a mess of the city’s metaphorical heart a few weeks ago when she wrenched and shattered trees on the eastern side of Bienville Square. It proved another opportunity for human resilience.
“We had a lot of people reach out to us and [artist] Steve Joynt was adamant about trying to do something with it,” Mobile Arts Council (MAC) Director Lucy Gafford said.
The “it” was the wood from the square’s felled oak trees. Joynt is the creative force behind Mobile Mask, a website cornucopia on Mobile’s Mardi Gras, and one of the competitors in MAC’s all-virtual, 2020 version of the Arts Throwdown fundraiser. Gafford said he makes small-scale wood pieces and wanted some pieces of the beloved trees for raw material.
Other interested parties contacted administrative offices in Government Plaza as well, searching for access to the scrapped trees. MAC and the mayor put their heads together.
“It’s still in the beginning stages right now, so I don’t know how much wood will be salvageable. They had no problem setting it aside for us and the people who collected the trees had the salvageable wood drying,” Gafford said.
MAC was deluged with inquiries, creating another puzzle. There may not be enough wood to meet demand.
Gafford mentioned a possible application process. Another choice might be a raffle, even an auction to raise funds for Bienville Square cleanup and renovation.
“I don’t want to make people unhappy because we likely won’t have enough for everyone, but our goal is to create something positive out of it, no matter how that ends up happening,” Gafford said.
Though individual disappointment might be inevitable, it’s encouraging to see so many locals act on their emotional connection to the city’s core.
On a lighter note, Gafford got a kick out of TV news crews who contacted MAC in recent days. They wanted to drop by and shoot footage of locals picking up wood.
“We’re not there yet. We don’t have it stacked up at the office,” Gafford said.
One of the hardest-hit spots around Bienville Square was The Haunted Book Shop (109 Dauphin St.). The legendary independent bookstore suffered shattered display windows and roof damage from the storm.
“The roof seems like it was damaged during the wind portion and not the rain portion of the storm, so we didn’t lose any stock on the inside from water damage, thankfully,” business owner Angela Trigg said.
Trigg mentioned a few other nearby locations — Hargrove Engineers and Constructors, Source One and others — that took blows. Damage was spotty, though.
“The Haberdasher, Muffin Shop and Sophiella Gallery were all fine,” Trigg said of her immediate neighbors. She hypothesized the hit-and-miss was from a small twister, or maybe a microburst.
New windows and security cameras were being installed while Artifice spoke with Trigg on Oct. 2. New technology has been a theme this year; she also installed a new air purifier for the pandemic.
“It recirculates air through there four times an hour and gets rid of 99.97 percent of germs and viruses and stuff,” Trigg said. Currently, the shop allows up to eight patrons inside at a time.
Longtime University of Mobile instructor and local arts figure Melba Brown passed away in early September. The William Carey University and University of Southern Mississippi alum was active with Mobile Opera and Mobile Symphony, performed in local operas and steered students into active support roles for local companies.
“She supported everything musically. She was in the Schumann Club, always willing to come up with something that they needed. She was very generous with her time,” Mobile Opera Director Scott Wright said.
Wright cited Brown as one of the first people he met after moving to Mobile in 1979.
“One of the most notable things about Melba was her ‘calm wisdom.’ I think she did more for young singers in life coaching than she did even in her considerably talented vocal coaching,” Wright said.
On Oct. 3, the Melba Sue Roper Brown Endowed Scholarship was announced in a special online ceremony. It will be made available for a female music major at William Carey.
The announcement ceremony included musical performances from Jeff Crause and Metropolitan Opera star Chauncey Packer, both University of Mobile alumni. Actress Morgan Fairchild, a friend of Brown’s, encouraged donations to the scholarship fund.
University of Mobile alum Chuck Steelman formed an endowment committee with former students, family members, close friends and Carey alumni.
Tax-deductible donations can be made online at wmcarey.edu/office/advancement.
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