Carolyn Hutcheson with Troy Public Radio interviewed me about my Celebration & Preservation Bicentennial Project on her In Focus program. We had so much to talk about that she did it in two parts. You can listen here. Or you may read the transcript below.
Troy Public Radio “In Focus” Transcript
Host: Carolyn Hutcheson
Guest: Melissa B. Tubbs
Carolyn: From Troy Public Radio this is In Focus for Thursday, March eighth, I’m Carolyn Hutcheson. Melissa B. Tubbs, the celebrated pen and ink artist, was selected by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission to document 200 years of Alabama's architectural history. Today she talks about Alabama's capitol and the unique way she captured the history of Dexter Avenue. Then the conversation turns to the Macon County courthouse and the Usonian house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Florence. Melissa Tubbs welcome back.
Melissa: Thank you, and it's a pleasure to be here.
Carolyn: When we were together before we were talking about some of the most notable structures that appear in your catalog, which is circulating statewide with an exhibition this year and next year. Of course, one of the most famous structures in our coverage area is the state capitol of Alabama.
Melissa: Yes. I felt like I needed to create a drawing that represented the state capital, city of Montgomery. Rather than just take a typical up Dexter Avenue view of the capitol, I went up on the roof of court square one and took photographs because I decided since the Winter Building is on the right side of the street and the Alabama Judicial Building and the Martin Luther King Dexter Avenue Church. that I could get the rooftops of those buildings. It would make it a little more interesting, so that's what I did. The capital of course was burned down in 1849 and rebuilt in 1851 and a clock was placed on the dome in 1852.
So many historical events have happened on the steps of the Capitol, but then on the right side of the street going up, you can see the roof line of the Winter Building where the telegraph office was that sent the telegram that started the civil war at Fort Sumter, and then you get the Alabama judicial building which was built in 1994 and it's the first state building to house all three courts: The Alabama Supreme Court, the Alabama Court of criminal appeals and the Alabama Court of civil appeals. Then on up the street in the drawing, you can see the steeple from the Dexter Avenue Baptist church where Martin Luther King was the minister and involved in the early civil rights events.
Carolyn: This is a fascinating perspective to include those rooftops of those famous buildings in history.
Melissa: I felt like, because we are the state capital city, rather than just saying, oh, here's the state capitol; so many great historical events have happened in the city on this street that I wanted to find a way to include that in the one drawing and this is why I've used this drawing on the cover as well as inside the catalog. For me, it represents our history and our architectural history.
Carolyn: The Macon county courthouse. What's special about that courthouse?
Melissa: I was not familiar with it at all until a friend pointed it out to me and I thought, OK, I have to draw that. I really love Gargoyles and this courthouse is the only courthouse in the state that has gargoyles on it. It's got four of them carved out of granite around the top of the tower and it's also an unusually shaped building because it has this tall, tall tower and then it's got turrets at each corner of the building and it's Romanesque Revival style. I was really happy with the way it turned out. It was built in 1906, and there were previous court houses built on the site, but this was the last one that they built.
Carolyn: When a structure has gargoyles what do those usually mean?
Melissa: People think, you know, originally they were to scare away spirits on cathedrals, churches, but they were mainly used as rain spouts so that the rain wouldn't stay on the roof up high and then they just became part of the decorative elements that were put on a building; and this one is a combination of an eagle and a dragon, which I thought was very appropriate because of its close proximity to war eagle country.
Carolyn: Now, Eufaula, the Carnegie Public Library is in your exhibition catalog. Why did you include that?
Melissa: Well, it's an Italianate style architecture and there's not very much of that in the state because when it was in style was right after the civil war and then they had a recession and by the time the south came out of all that, the style had passed out of prominence. Carnegie was well known for giving money to cities all over the country to build libraries. There were 14 of these libraries built in Alabama and only two of them, this one and the one in Union Springs, are actually still used as libraries.
Carolyn: Did they mostly use the same designs?
Melissa: No, this Italianate building has a very different style from say ours here in Montgomery, which is a more classical design with columns and wreaths and things as decoration on the building. There was no stipulation as to style to be used on these. And so, you will see a wide variety of, them.
Carolyn: Melissa, a lot of people are intrigued by the only Frank Lloyd Wright House in Alabama. And you made a trip there?
Melissa: Yes, I did because it has intrigued me and I'd always wanted to go up there and see it in Florence. It's on a corner of two streets. Frank Lloyd Wright never built his homes facing the street, the side that faces the street was the back of the building. The front of the building faced what we would consider as the back yard. And the same thing applies here. He never came to Alabama. This was all done by letter and phone. It was a wedding gift from a father to his son and new wife to build them a home because they could not find one that they really liked. It's, the only one that he designed an addition to. The family had four sons and the bedrooms are small and sparse. The addition included a large bedroom with bunk beds at the end of the room and plenty of room for them to play and big closets for their games, which wouldn't have fit in any of the other rooms because he felt like each room should only be used for what it was designed for; and a bedroom should only be slept in.
Carolyn: Is this part of the Usonian concept of architecture?
Melissa: Yes, it is. This was his idea for resolving the housing situation for say Middle America. He'd been playing with it since the late 1930s. This was built in 1940 and he envisioned it as being whole residential areas built of all this style of home to make it more affordable for families to be able to buy. It never really caught on. My guess, having been in this house, is that they were long and low buildings, very low ceilings, fairly small rooms, and very sparse in feel.
Carolyn: It reminds you of being on a train.
Melissa: Yes, it does because the hallways down to where the bedrooms are, are very, very narrow. He designed a hotel in Japan. It was very popular; and while he was over there, he really liked the idea of the Japanese always, in their homes, had doorways to the outside from just about every room, and so that's what he applied in this Rosenbaum house. He uses a lot of windows and there was a glass door that you could leave a bedroom and go across the yard and come into the living room without having to go in the hallways.
Carolyn: Melissa, can the schedule of exhibitions be found on the Facebook page of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission?
Melissa: Yes. If you just get on Facebook and key in Alabama 200 is how they've listed that page, schedules and information about different projects.
Carolyn: Well you have 25 intriguing pen-and-ink drawings, 1820 to 1997, illustrating Alabama's history. Thank you so much for being here.
Melissa: Well, thank you for having me. I've enjoyed it.
Carolyn: That was Montgomery artist, Melissa B. Tubbs who was selected by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission to create a collection of detailed pen-and-ink illustrations, Celebration & Preservation: Drawing Alabama's Architectural History. Thanks for joining us today for In Focus. I'm Carolyn Hutcheson and this is Troy Public Radio.