Birth of Country Museum Opens

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 7, 2014

by Robert K. Oermann — full article on the MusicRow site.

In the summer of 1927, Victor Records talent scout Ralph Peer discovered two of country music’s most enduring superstars, and that historic event is commemorated in a new museum.

Bristol, the small Appalachian city that straddles the state line between Tennessee and Virginia, staged a weekend celebration for the opening of its Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the $12 million museum honors Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family and the other 17 artists recorded by Victor during those 1927 recording sessions. The Bristol Sessions have been called “The Big Bang of Country Music.”

Photo includes: Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey, Jim Lauderdale, Roni Stoneman, Georgia Warren. Photo: Mary Bufwack

Photo includes: Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey, Jim Lauderdale, Roni Stoneman, Georgia Warren. Photo: Mary Bufwack

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Book Review: ‘Voices from the Headwaters’

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 7, 2014

hilda downerPlease welcome guest author Hilda Downer. Downer is an Appalachian poet who grew up in Bandana, NC. She works as a nurse with severely traumatized children. She is a member of the Appalachian Studies Association, NC Writers Conference, and the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. Her most recent book of poetry, Sky Under the Roof, was published by Bottom Dog Press in 2013. She lives in Sugar Grove, NC.

 

In the tradition of the admirable Foxfire Books and their archive of oral histories collected by students, some fine books have sprung from that catalyst. Sitting on the Courthouse Bench, for example, edited by Lee Smith, records the memories of the people of Grundy, VA, before a dam was to be built which would have literally flooded out the town and its stories. Now, following suit is Voices from the Headwaters: Stories From Meat Camp, Tamarack (Pottertown), & Sutherland, NC published by the Center of Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC; edited by Patricia Beaver and Sandra Ballard with associate editor, Brittany Hicks.

voices_from_the_headwaters

In collaboration with the Elk Knob Community Heritage Organization (EKCHO), Appalachian State University students have for more than a decade collected the remembrances of mountain life as it used to be at the headwaters of the New River’s North Fork – beginning at the gap between the Elk and Snake Mountains in Watauga County, including the area in between Boone, Mountain City, and Jefferson in Ashe County, NC.

The interviews gathered by the students of Patricia Beaver in Sustainable Living classes at ASU help clarify what hardship and joy the people of this area come from. Here are the stories of several generations, from those who first settled to those living in the present day. While dispelling the specific myth that one might get shot that dissuades even local people from visiting Pottertown, these stories collectively help diminish mountain stereotypes altogether.

People from the area might remember where the white farmhouse in a field with the big silo once cornered the junction of 194 and 421; New Market Center now proudly hails customers, with the silo left standing. They might recognize the band, The Dollar Brothers, from local festivals and venues. However, people from almost anywhere would recognize the faces and stories of relatives in WWII, the first appearances of Model-T Fords, the hard and rewarding work of living on a farm, and the love amid family gatherings. The stories are not just Appalachian and not just American. They are universal and show how connected such an isolated region is to the rest of the world – and how affected the region is on a global level.

The book also chronicles the formation of the Elk Knob State Park and the subsequent annual Elk Knob Headwaters Community Day. The state park includes the Elk Knob Summit Trail, a steady climb with idyllic views and unique stone “chairs” that invite one to rest along the way. The Elk Knob Summit Community Day celebrates the tradition of the mountain community coming together with food, crafts, and music. The celebration is representative of how hard times past did include potluck dinners provided by the good cooks in the community, and is a lot of fun. Among the many things that attendees can partake in is to learn how to make a corn shuck doll, taste apple cider pressed fresh right in front of them, and listen to local well known musicians whose talent further connect this community to the outside world.

Voices From the Headwaters includes stories of people shaped by and connected to place. Now that the place, Elk Knob, is preserved as a state park, the stories of the people from this area are now preserved in this book as well. The book itself carries on the mountain tradition of storytelling. As more young people set out to gain their own sustainable houses and farms, they need these stories to learn and gain inspiration from. The point of the entertainment of storytelling, after all, was to teach or learn something from the past in order to use it in the present and future. This book is not just for the sake of the people telling the stories or the students that collected them. Their stories are for our sake and the sake of the young people’s future.

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Churchill Weavers of Berea, KY

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 6, 2014

Please welcome guest author Adam MacPharlain. He has been working hands-on with the Churchill Weavers Collection at the Kentucky Historical Society for over a year now. Adam has also worked with collections at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City, the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Appalachian Craft Revival brought about a resurgence of various handcrafts such as woodworking, basketry, and weaving. These renewed ventures were often cottage industries comprised of home workers selling their wares privately or through regional crafts centers; however, one company in the small town of Berea, KY, rose up to become one of the nation’s foremost companies to specialize in handweaving. The company, Churchill Weavers, played a pivotal role in expanding the visibility of handwoven goods through its business practices, marketing, design, and willingness to experiment.

Color postcard showing the Churchill Weavers building, ca. 1950. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Color postcard showing the Churchill Weavers building, ca. 1950. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Churchill Weavers was founded by David Carroll Churchill and his wife, Eleanor Franzen Churchill, in 1922. Carroll Churchill, who was from Oberlin, OH, graduated in engineering from MIT at the turn of the century. In 1901 he traveled to India on behalf the British government to study the local handweaving industry.

Churchill noticed that handweavers could not compete with the output of power looms, so he developed adaptations to the fly-shuttle loom that increased the output of handweavers so that the individuals could make a solid living with their craft. Also while in India, Carroll met and married his second wife, Eleanor, who was there on missionary work. The Churchills returned to Oberlin in 1917.

Three years later Carroll moved the family to Berea, KY, where he began teaching at Berea College. He taught in the engineering department for two years before deciding to leave the college; he and the family, however, decided to remain in Berea. It was around this time that Carroll built a loom for Eleanor, who had not woven before that time. Set up in a room at a local hotel, Boone Tavern, Eleanor quickly learned the weaving handcraft and drew international attention for her design aesthetics.

By August of 1922, the couple formed the Churchill Weavers with their first order of scarves for the American Lace Co. of Elyria, OH. With the profit from this order and a small amount of additional money, Carroll built a temporary shed on the lot that would later hold many additional permanent structures, including their loomhouse, gift shop, offices, and more. For their second big order, Churchill Weavers had seven looms and seven weavers; at the company’s peak, the company could have as many as 150 looms of various sizes and uses.

David Carroll Churchill and his wife, Eleanor Franzen Churchill, 1953. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

David Carroll Churchill and his wife, Eleanor Franzen Churchill, 1953. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Carroll and Eleanor Churchill both had vital rolls in how the company was run. Carroll designed and built the looms, continuing throughout his life to modify the functionality of the looms and other machinery; he also helped to manage other aspects of daily business.

Eleanor started as the designer and saleswoman in the beginning, and in later years, hired others to take on those roles while she supervised with a watchful eye and regular input.

Unlike other handcrafts enterprises of the time, which often were work-at-your-own-pace jobs for the benefit of the craftsperson, Churchill Weavers was set up using formal business practices that were meant to ensure a long-running, self-sufficient company. Nevertheless, the Churchills did encourage locals to come and be trained in weaving as a way to boost the local economy. Carroll believed that a handweaver should be able to support herself solely on the goods she produces.

While many weaving studios of this time period often stuck to making home linens such as placemats and towels, Churchill Weavers produced a large number of products that included: ladies’ accessories (scarves and shawls), men’s neckwear, baby blankets, bags, couch throws, yardage fabric, ready-to-wear garments, and home linens.

At various points in their operation, Churchill Weavers managed stores in Berea, New York City, Chicago, and Detroit. They had sales representatives throughout the country, and in later years, for international markets in Europe and Asia. In addition to their own stores, Churchill Weavers products were sold in high-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and more. Often these stores would commission special styles exclusively for their stores, such as an order of suiting yardage for Sears in the early 1940s, totaling over 6,000 yards.

The early pieces produced by Churchill Weavers were often fabricated from wool that was purchased from outside mills and dyed per their specification. They also used rayon, cotton, linen, and other fibers, blended yarns, and various twist and novelty yarns. While the weave structures themselves were nothing new, the sheer variety Churchill Weavers produced was impressive. Beyond plain and twill weaves, which could be done in multiple combinations, Churchill Weavers also made pieces in traditional weaves such as Ms and Os, huck, and Bronson lace, as well as overshots with patterns like Chariot Wheel and Whig Rose.

Rebecca Boone carriage throw, 1975. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Rebecca Boone carriage throw, 1975. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Some products used additional notions, including purses and some sewn goods; these parts were often purchased from outside suppliers, though some were made in the company’s own woodshop. Notions could include plastic or wood purse handles, satin lining fabric, snaps, buttons, and so on. For sewn goods, the woven and laundered cloth would be sent to at-home “finishers” who would cut and sew pieces, as well as add embellishments such as trim and embroidery.

In an effort to keep up with the market, Churchill Weavers was always looking at new trends and experimenting with new endeavors. They quickly began using Orlon® acrylic yarns and Lurex® metallic threads soon after they were developed in the 1940s and early 1950s. In the 1990s, the company began regularly incorporating rayon chenille yarns into their products, which would later become their signature look, keeping them on point with the greater home furnishings market.

Over the decades, Churchill Weavers would see rises and falls in business, fluctuating with the national economy, raises in minimum wage, and changing tastes. When Carroll died in 1969, Eleanor continued to run the business until 1973. At that point, Eleanor sought out new owners, knowing their children were not interested in continuing on in the business. She was able to find new owners in Richard and Lila Bellando. The couple were well-versed in the crafts world. Richard had been the director of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen up until 1971 and had started their annual crafts fair. Lila had been an art teacher at all levels of education, from elementary school to college; she had also worked with Kentucky Educational Television, the state’s public broadcast station, on arts programming.

Richard Bellando took over as the president of Churchill Weavers and Lila was a board member and took charge of design, while Eleanor continued as board president and consultant until her death. In 1980, Lila took over as president of Churchill Weavers. The Bellandos maintained the same spirit of the company as its founders—enhancing the traditional aspects of handweaving while seeking new and innovative ventures.

Detail of fabric for Gerhardt Knodel, ca. 1980. Photograph by M.S. Rezny. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

Detail of fabric for Gerhardt Knodel, ca. 1980. Photograph by M.S. Rezny. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

As imported foreign goods such as home furnishings became cheaper and easier to access, Churchill Weavers found itself needing new life, so the business was sold to Crown Crafts, Inc. The company, which also owned Goodwin Weavers and other fashion and home furnishings brands, was positioned to provide new markets for Churchill Weavers to sell in. The Bellandos continued to run the company on the ground, while Crown Crafts provided financial backing and a larger community.

Unfortunately, this partnership did not last long due to falling profits on both sides. Churchill Weavers was unable to secure a new buyer and was forced to close its doors in 2007. Luckily all was not lost. Throughout its 85-year history, Churchill Weavers kept samples of nearly every product and experimental style they made. Lila recognized the importance of this collection and purchased it to be sold at auction. Not long after the shuttles stopped flying across the looms, the Kentucky Historical Society was able to purchase the Churchill Weavers collection, which consists of nearly 32,000 fabric samples, as well as numerous loom parts, tools, office pieces, and a large collection of paper business records.

Within the fabric archive are finished products for many of their styles, specialty commemorative pieces, and samples of commissioned works. Some of the highlights in the collection include:

-Upholstery fabric commissioned in 1932 for an amphitheater at the Toledo Art Museum. This cotton fabric was woven with such high quality that it is still in the theater today, over 80 years later!

-Experimental “space cloth” woven for possible use as part of NASA’s Mercury Mission spacesuits in the 1960s. The fabric was made of Teflon-coated glass and rayon fibers. A mockup suit was made using this fabric, but the commission was unfortunately awarded to another company.

-Examples of neckties and samples for IBM employee uniforms in 1973. These navy blue ties feature an embroidered white logo.

-The “Rebecca Boone” carriage throw commemorating the national bicentennial in 1976. The throw, named after the wife of Kentucky pioneer Daniel Boone, featured a traditional coverlet appearance in groovy 70s colors.-Fabric made for textile artist Gerhardt Knodel in the late 70s and early 80s for various installation pieces. Churchill Weavers wove yardage designed by Knodel using strips of clear and metallic plastic combined with wool and other yarns. The installation art hung in buildings across the US, including in Detroit, Oklahoma City, Miami, and Chicago.

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Historic Building Finds New Life as John Henry Museum

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 5, 2014

William JonesPlease welcome guest author William Jones. Jones is a member of the John Henry Historical Society and a John Henry Historic Park Steering Committee Member.

 

 

 

L. G. Rhodes Store, built in 1905, served the needs of the people in the small village of Talcott, WV, for more than 107 years. At one time, the once thriving railroad community had numerous stores, restaurants, service stations, hotels, boarding houses and other businesses. Talcott suffered the same fate as many other railroad towns and saw a sharp decline in its economy and population throughout the 1950s and 60s.

However, one business survived and continued to prosper: Dillion’s Superette, which was owned and operated by Donna and Ellery Wykle. They ran their convenience store out of the L. G. Rhodes Store building for more than 30 years before retiring in 2012.

L. G. Rhodes Store, built in 1905, Talcott, WV. Undated photo. Courtesy the author.

L. G. Rhodes Store, built in 1905, Talcott, WV. Undated photo. Courtesy the author.

Prior to Donna and Ellery taking possession of the building, it had been renovated in the 1970s and had a drop ceiling installed over the original pressed tin ceiling, industrial tile placed over oak floors, wood paneling installed over the 1905 beadboard walls, a faux wall installed in the rear of the store room which hid the mezzanine and all of its beautiful oak woodwork, and vinyl siding installed over the exterior of the building.

But even with all of the modern amenities, when you walked into Dillion’s Superette you felt as if you were walking into a turn of the century general store. I can remember being a child and going in for a piece of candy. You were always greeted and personally assisted with any need that you had. There was a charm to this building, and it lured people in not only for the items that were for sale (on the original shelving that had been there from the day the store first opened), or the clang of the 1930s cash register that was still being used by Donna, but for the sense of community and enjoyment that the Wykles brought to Talcott.

Over the years, Dillion’s Superette became a hangout for many of the town’s eldest citizens. They would meet there every day and sit on an antique church bench behind the checkout counter, reminiscing about years gone by. One of these citizens was my now 87 year old grandfather, Bernard Thompson. I can recall numerous times being in the store while he and his friends told stories of their youth, especially in reference to Rhodes’ corner (meaning the store building).

Currently, there is a 26 acre John Henry Historic Park being developed in our community to honor and tell the 1871 story of John Henry’s legendary battle with a steam drill at the Big Bend Tunnel. Donna and Ellery were both very active in this process, as well as with the annual John Henry Days festival. This festival takes place during the second weekend of July to celebrate John Henry and the history of Talcott. When Dillion’s Superette was still open, it was the focal point of the festival. It featured the Talcott Area Memorabilia Room (a collection of local history, photographs and artifacts) as well as a vast collection of railroad memorabilia.

The author (l) with Cheryl Jones (John Henry Historical Member) and Bill Dillion (John Henry Historical Society President and John Henry Park Committee President.)

The author (l) with Cheryl Jones (John Henry Historical Member) and Bill Dillion (John Henry Historical Society President and John Henry Park Committee President.)

The Wykles’ love of Talcott was no secret to anyone who lived there. Upon their retirement, they gave a priceless gift to their town. They donated the 1905 L. G. Rhodes store building to be used as a museum and gift shop. The John Henry Historical Society was then formed and took possession of the building in 2013. The only request that Donna and Ellery had was that the original pressed tin ceiling be exposed and restored, the oak floor refinished, and both the tiles and vinyl siding removed.

Volunteers quickly organized and started work to restore the building, removing all of the 1970s construction that hid virtually all of the historical integrity of the building. Ellery even took it upon himself to restore the ceiling that he and Donna had valued greatly. Donna was able to see the restoration process and was greatly warmed to see the building’s historical integrity beginning to shine through once again. Heartbreakingly, she was later diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed before the main floor was completed.

Meticulous detail went into the restoration. Period colors were selected for the walls, which were refurbished in tongue and groove beadboard just as L. G. Rhodes himself had selected. The ceiling has been beautifully painted fresh white, and the wood floors once again glisten beneath the reproduction porcelain light fixtures that would have once hung over store displays and showcases. The staircase and all of the beautiful woodwork on the mezzanine is once again the focal point of the store, just as it would have been on its opening day in 1905.

With all of the progress that has been made, much more is still in wait to be completed. The vinyl siding still needs to be removed, the newly added public restrooms need to be completed, and an authentic replica of the original balcony over the front of the store needs to be finished. The second floor is also waiting to be completely renovated.

This space was once the Masonic Lodge for Talcott and was an addition to L.G. Rhodes’ original plans. The Freemasons approached him and asked to add a second story to their building to be used for their lodge. Mr. Rhodes did so, and it was the meeting space for the Masons and Eastern Star for over 50 years. This floor will be restored just as it was during its time as the Talcott Lodge and will function as additional museum space.

John Henry Museum under construction

Fortunately, a community of volunteers and donors has come together to help us achieve this goal. In May of this year, this group of volunteers organized the John Henry Museum Restoration Gala. It featured a huge silent auction with pieces from local artisans, antiques, handcrafted jewelry and many other unique items. Two live bluegrass bands performed traditional railroad music to the crowd’s great pleasure, and the Wykle family provided a buffet.

Over 150 people attended, and more than $4,000 was raised in a single night. This event was a huge success and a great prelude to the opening of the John Henry Museum and Gift Shop that took place following the gala. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, visitors come to the historic building to view John Henry memorabilia and historical artifacts from Talcott and admire the grandeur of the newly restored main store room. There is a fully stocked gift shop featuring John Henry and Talcott souvenirs, pieces that are hand crafted by local artisans, Blenko Glass, homemade jams and jellies and many other exciting products.

Museum fundraiser

With all of the success that has happened over this past year with the restoration process, and the opening of the museum and gift shop, it is easy to forget about all of the work that still lies ahead. In order to complete Donna and Ellery’s wishes, more funding is still needed.

 

If you would like to see the restoration of this historic structure completed and support its continuing education about John Henry, the most famous African American laborer in history, please make checks payable to the John Henry Historical Society and mail to 104 Pence Springs Drive, Alderson, WV 24910. And if you would like any further information about this project, or to get involved, please feel free to contact William Jones at (304) 445-8839.

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My Life as Ephraim Cutler

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 4, 2014

Please welcome guest author C. Richard Dean. Dr. Dean is a retired Ohio University professor who has studied and reenacted early Ohio pioneer Ephraim Cutler for over 15 years.

 

Richard Dean as Ephraim Cutler

Richard Dean as Ephraim Cutler.

Ephraim Cutler came to Ohio in 1795 soon after the Northwest Territory was established. Throughout his life he worked to benefit Southeast Ohio and Ohio University. For seven years he and his family lived in what is now Amesville, OH, which is also my childhood home.

I knew of Cutler’s presence and influence in my community from an early age; Cutler had been one of the organizers of the famed Coonskin Library established there in 1804 by area residents who craved printed materials on the then US frontier. Cutler was the first secretary of the Western Library, the real name of that subscription library. School children of the town frequently presented a play portraying the creation of this library.

While an active professor in communication disorders I learned of the book The Life and Times of Ephraim Cutler, by his daughter, Julia Cutler. I soon became aware how much more Ephraim had done for SE Ohio, Ohio University and the State of Ohio than his father, Manasseh, the man credited for the establishment of Ohio University, although he was never there and only spent 7 days visiting early Marietta.

I was a Boy Scout leader who participated in many scouting events including annual district campouts at Burr Oak State Park. Each year there was a featured area – History Hill – where Civil War skirmishes and Native American life styles were reenacted. For many years I set up a small tent and interacted with scouts and their leaders portraying Ephraim. These were my first Cutler portrayals, motivated primarily because I felt Cutler was an important unknown historical figure.

My presentations featured speaking with a New England accent and requesting ages of those visiting my tent so that I could relate what Cutler was doing at the same age as the scouts. Generally their ages enabled me to share knowledge of events leading up to and during the American Revolution. For example, at age 8 Cutler was awakened by his grandfather preparing to march from Killingly, CT to Lexington, MA to repel the British, who had just attacked there.

Richard Dean as Cutler in front of Ohio University visitor center.

Richard Dean as Cutler in front of Ohio University visitor center.

Over the 15 year period of reenacting I have spoken at many historical groups. Most have been in the Marietta, OH area where Cutler lived most of his life, and where many local events are dedicated to the history of Marietta, the first established community in the Northwest Territory.

This was area north and west of the Ohio River, which ultimately became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. My presentations always include Cutler’s participation in the establishment of the State of Ohio. He was one of the youngest representatives at the 2nd Territorial Convention (1801) and the Ohio Constitutional Convention (1802).

He represented Washington County as a minority party Federalist. Opponents at the time were the Thomas Jefferson Democrats who settled the Virginia Military District in Southwest Ohio, generally the Chillicothe and Cincinnati areas. They were the majority party. The main issues of the time were the nature of government (strong or weak) and slavery.

These conventions took place in Chillicothe, a frontier town of the time. They were frequently boisterous and violent. Cutler’s claim to fame was his success in defeating the Jefferson plan for eliminating slavery in the new state; it would have allowed slavery, but provided for a prolonged process to eliminate it.

A common belief in Southeastern Ohio and described in some college and university Ohio history texts is that Cutler defeated slavery in a last minute vote in which he was brought from a sick bed to cast a tying vote and convince a young colleague to change a vote in order to defeat an amendment to the finale draft of the Ohio constitution that would permit slavery in the new state of Ohio. In reality there was no major opposition to Article preventing slavery; the last minute defeat of an amendment was one that would only have limited the rights of black citizens. Cutler had worked earlier in committee work on Article 8 to change committee opinions to prevent slavery in Ohio. So he is credited with preventing slavery but not in the dramatic way frequently described. To honor his work to prevent slavery in Ohio his home north of Belpre, OH was named Constitution and a nearby community was called Veto. A historic marker commemorates his efforts.

Ephraim Cutler, age 33, in a restored portrait painted by Sala Bosworth. Courtesy the author.

Ephraim Cutler, age 33, in a restored portrait painted by Sala Bosworth. Courtesy the author.

Over the years I have presented at museums, local historical celebrations, community groups, elementary and high schools and universities to name the more frequent ones. I adapt each to include information about, or of interest to, the sponsoring group.

When in Marietta I include Cutler’s role in preserving local history and successfully lobbying to bring railroads to the area. When speaking to a Prisoner of War group I include information about treatment of POWs during the Revolution. Speaking at the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati was a bit of a challenge; there is no documentation of his ever being there.

However, he was invited to accompany former president, then congressman, John Quincy Adams on his return trip up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh from Cincinnati where he dedicated the National Observatory on Mt. Ida (later named Mt. Adams.) He joined Adams at his home on the river near Belpre.

Over the years I’ve become more accustomed to speaking in dialect and to include a Q and A period to allow me to step out of character to analyze Cutler’s influence and to make comparisons to current society. For example, children frequently want to know why Cutler did or didn’t do something, because they have difficulty relating something I discussed to their own life (e.g. why didn’t his very ill children go the doctor?) I cannot answer this while in character, restricted to Cutler’s lifetime.

Ephraim Cutler was born a British citizen and lived to witness the establishment of 18 states and the election of 14 presidents. You can learn more of him HERE.

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