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Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Doo-Nanny: Butch Anthony, Natalie Chanin, and Alabama Living


Posted by Sara | View all posts by Sara

Last week, Becky posted a bunch of photos from our trip to Doo-Nanny. (Thanks B!) Down in Seale, we soaked up tons of inspiration for working and living, and I thought some detail would give y’all some, too.

At Butch Anthony’s house, everything seems to have a place. The overlooked, the discarded, the mundane, the unloved — it all gets woven into a thoughtful, handcrafted collage.

Dozens of old tires wall up plantings in the garden. Old license plates, whitewashed over, make a platform for a bed. Tin cans make their way into ingenious chandeliers, and even a rusted-out bedspring has a place on the wall, underneath a brass picture light that treats it like art.

I’ve known Butch — an artist of few words and sneaky wit — for years, ever since my early stint as a reporter at a little newspaper in Alabama. For more than half of those years, I’ve been saying I would trek down to Seale for the annual Doo-Nanny. This year, towing two Yankees and a Lebanese friend along, I finally did.

If you spun off a tiny piece of Burning Man, swapped out the techies for Southerners and moved it to Butch’s property in a tiny Alabama town…well, you might have something resembling Doo-Nanny. There are costumes and art cars and music, and even a burn. But there is also pulled pork smoked over an open fire, pickled okra sold in heavy jars, and peeper frogs singing through the night.

We spent our nights sleeping in a tipi on the edge of a little lake, in the mornings wandering over to the communal outdoor kitchen to make and share eggs, bacon, and whatever else had been ginned up. We made our way slowly down the row of folk art booths, chatting with master potter Randy S. Adams, reading the first book by little Ruby Laster (“Snails in Love,” a work of genius I hope some day to see in bookstores).

One peaceful afternoon, we lingered around a table with Natalie Chanin, creator of the Southern couture line Alabama Chanin and an authentic presence if I ever met one. Local women sew her garments by hand, quilting, appliquéing and embellishing each one so it is unique. We stitched away at bandanas and talked about inspiration, journeys, losing and finding, and the importance of loving one’s thread. (Lucky you–she did an online video after the Doo.)

A couple of days after we returned, after describing a tough day Drew said he was trying to stay “Alabama” about it. He meant unruffled and unhurried. To me it means much more. – Sara Clemence

The Museum of Wonder, one of several buildings on the property, is packed with Butch Anthony’s art. For instance, his sculpture of the Mile-A-Mo bird, which sits on a pedestal in his Museum of Wonder. Accompanying text of the black-feathered thing explains that the bird characteristically dives out of the sky with its wings folded, to land beak-down in the dirt and whistle “Dixie” out of its rear end. “You can hear it for a mile or more,” it concludes. “Very rare bird.”

Bloody Marys. ‘Nuff said.

A lightless chandelier in Butch’s house, hung with forest findings, bird carvings, and handmade metal figures.

A close-up of one of Alabama Chanin’s quilts, each section hand-beaded and appliquéd on cotton jersey.

The Possum Trot auction, around the corner, where everything from
authentic antiques to genuine junk is sold, took bids for donated art on Friday night.

The outdoor kitchen, decorated with mannequin parts and an old license
plate reading SNAKBAR.

One of the art cars–not sure whose.

Hood ornamentation.

A work of Butch’s in the Museum of Wonder.

A bone-and-wire sculpture by Butch Anthony.

Bottle trees in the garden.

A crystal, bone and tin-can chandelier in Butch’s house.

A downstairs bathroom has open walls woven with branches, and an old office door on a metal slider.

An angelic Alabama Chanin quilt covers the old sofa.  The beams that make up the wall were salvaged from an old cotton mill.

Butch’s art mixes with whitewashed candlesticks.