• Lakelife Magazine

Imagine each child having a head start in school before they ever walk through the school door for the first time. Imagine them enjoying learning and being able to communicate effectively, which are foundations of success in life.

Ferst Readers strives to create lifelong learners by providing engaging books and valuable literacy resources during the earliest stages of development.

Because the key to helping a baby’s brain develop is exposure to rich language and loving interactions, children in the Ferst Readers program receive a free, bookstore-quality, age-specific book every month until their 5th birthday, while their parents receive resources to enhance the reading experience.

In Greene and Morgan counties, these books automatically arrive at the child’s home in the mail. In Putnam County, the books are sent home from school or daycare in the child’s backpack.

Colby Hunter, a foster parent in Putnam County who also is the Morgan County Library Manager, says Ferst Readers has been a great program to help his 4-year-old foster child follow the steps to reading readiness.

“She really enjoys reading all the books, and she gets really excited when they are delivered to her at school,” Colby says. “She loves to bring them home and wants us to read them right away. I think Ferst Readers is great to help build the foundation for a child to read, and it’s especially good for parents who can’t afford to go out and buy books themselves.”

With an estimated 1,000 children currently receiving Ferst books in Putnam County, and approximately 500 in Greene, and another 750 in Morgan County, plus the need to serve additional children who aren’t yet enrolled, any donation to the respective Ferst Readers “Community Action Teams” is an extremely worthwhile investment in making a difference in the lives of local children and the future of our communities.

Many businesses, civic clubs, and individual persons offer financial support to the Greene, Morgan, and Putnam counties’ programs, but more are needed. Each of the Community Action Teams’ previously-planned fundraiser events had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 restrictions, so they are appealing to members of their respective communities to “Adopt a Reader.”

How to help:

A donation of $36 will provide one child an age-appropriate book each month for one year, and will provide Ferst’s “Leap Into Books” parent engagement newsletter monthly.

For Greene or Putnam County, checks made out to Ferst Readers can be mailed to P.O. Box 111, Greensboro, GA 30642. Donations made by mail are accepted anytime. Or, donations made online via credit card are accepted until Dec. 31, 2020 at the Ferst Readers website. Putnam and Greene evenly split the proceeds of their fundraisers even though their budgets are separate, according to Putnam’s spokesperson, Gail Farmer. Greene is supported by many more affluent homeowners while Putnam has more CAT members/volunteers, so they each share the responsibilities.

In addition to adopting one reader, Morgan County has other direct-give opportunities:

(1) Ferst Fifty – support 10 children for one year for $360; or (2) Business donation of $500 per year. Donations can be made via Morgan’s website, www.childrenferst.org and clicking on the donate button. Morgan’s CAT currently has 20 members, according to CAT President Wayne Myers. Other interested volunteers may email info@childrenferst.org.

Registering a child:

The CAT’s not only work to raise funds, but also register children to receive the books. They have partnered with their respective libraries, schools, and health departments to register future readers, as well as manning booths at many local events.

Parents wishing to register a child ages birth to 5 years old, may do so by visiting one of the places listed in the previous paragraph, or online at the respective websites of the Ferst CAT where the child lives: Morgan - http://www.childrenferst.org/register;

Greene and Putnam - https://ferstreaders.org/resources/register-a-child-sub/register-a-child.

To keep up with each of the latest happenings of each CAT, follow their respective Facebook pages.

This article, by Lynn Hobbs, appeared in our November/December 2020 edition of Lakelife.

Updated: 6 days ago

When you first meet celebrated “folk/outsider artist” Leonard Jones, he does not tell you his work is collected by noted celebrities, a U.S. president and The House of Blues. In fact, nothing about Leonard flaunts his fame.

According to the noted artist’s bio, he chooses to live an uncluttered, off-the-grid lifestyle in a house with no telephone, no electricity, no central heat and no running water. Leonard says he likes to keep his life simple and connected to his roots — the source of inspiration for his paintings.

“Weeding the Garden” uses strong whites and saturated green and reds to bring the subject forward while blues and muted greens and yellows recess and create perspective.

A sharecropper’s son starts life in obscurity

Leonard Jones started life in obscurity on July 8, 1955 in rural Lincolnton, Georgia. Born a sharecropper’s son, he was forced to drop out of school at an early age to earn his living as a laborer.

Life can be hard on the edge of poverty. Yet, Leonard’s paintings—many inspired by his childhood memories—capture a treasure of his happy moments: boys fishing the Savannah River, a pet dog’s play, a mother hen’s cluck to her biddies, the jam session of a guitar and banjo player, the pride of a pie baker, the delight of a gardener gathering ripe tomatoes, and countless other joyful moments of everyday life caught in “freeze frame” on a roofing tin. Leonard’s body of work stands as testament to his belief about the richness of life.

“Duck Hunting” illustrates Jones’ signature use of mostly unblended white for contour lines and reflective surfaces.

Folk artist or “outsider artist”...or both?

Some classify Jones’ paintings as “folk art.” Others add “outsider artist.” Leonard leaves the labeling to others.

Cynthia Smith, owner/operator of Genuine Georgia in Greensboro, notes, “Leonard lacks formal art training, so he does not adhere to conventional art forms. But he instinctively uses ‘folk art’ techniques (bright colors, flattened perspective, immediacy of meaning) to convey memorable moments of everyday life.”

Jeanne Kronsnoble of Main Street Gallery in Clayton remarks, “Leonard’s paintings have the understated simplicity of folk art. And a deeper look reveals a remarkably delicate touch that animates his figures and reflects a winsome perception of people in his world.

“His total lack of classical training leads him to veer away from all traditional art technique. And his self-imposed isolation from the conventional art world keeps his art ‘pure’ and earns him the additional designation of ‘outsider artist.’ Leonard’s work is fresh, unpretentious, compelling and highly personal.”

“Strumming the Blues” is an example from the artist’s musician series.

Noted celebrities, a U.S. president & The House of Blues

Gallery owners appreciate and promote his talent, but Leonard does not seek fame. Often, they have to chase him down to buy his work.

According to Leonard’s artist bio provided by Judy Evans of Connely Gallery in Washington, Georgia, his paintings are collected by such notables as President George W. Bush for the Presidential Library in Texas, the Minnesota Timberwolves of the National Basketball League (NBA), Alice Walton of Walmart, Donna Brazile of CNN and Fox News, and The House of Blues, just to mention a few.

In a rare appearance, Leonard Jones demonstrates his painting technique using broken sticks as brushes.

Living and painting “off the grid”

That same self-imposed isolation carries over into the artist’s studio time. No visitors allowed. He paints in solitude. About his painting medium and tools, Leonard keeps that simple, too. He paints with things other people throw away: a house painter’s leftover oil-based and enamel paints and used brush, old roofing tins, broken sticks, and his hands.

If you could visit, you would find Leonard has no formal studio. He paints on a patch of dirt behind his house. There, he swipes his hands—filled with recycled, oil-based house paint—across a sheet of old roofing tin he lays flat on the ground. Evans notes, “Leonard makes his finer marks with broken sticks and his fingers used as brushes. His tactile style renders unique paint marks unachievable with traditional artist brushes.”

“Fresh Baked Cherry Pie” is one in a series of painting dedicated to women.

Art that conjures up memories

Leonard does not paint from sketches, models or photographs. Images come from his own stored memories. His full range of subjects is too broad to treat here. So I will concentrate on two favorites.

One series features a young boy. You may find him in an orchard dressed in bright, cerulean blue coveralls and a sap green straw hat. Bright red apples scatter across grass and fill a bucket at his feet. In another painting, the boy, still in bright coveralls and now wearing a goldenrod yellow straw hat, walks down a shaded country lane. Black and white puppies play tag around his feet. In yet another painting—“dressed up” in bright blue designer jeans—the boy watches a golf ball roll down a grassy incline toward a flagged hole on an emerald green.

“Tomatoes Fresh Off The Vine” captures a young boy gathering the summer tomato harvest. The color pallet stays true to Jones’ signature use of mostly saturated hues of blue, green, red and yellow strongly accented with white.

Leonard studies the joy of womanhood

Another series of painting celebrates Leonard’s lovely ladies. One is a woman dressed in a long, chartreuse yellow-green dress and sassy, white hat. She sways to a happy dance rhythm, flings her hands gaily in the air, and spins two red and white hula hoops around her waist.

The second is a woman dressed in white. She wears a flashy red and white bandana. With bright blue, gloved hands, she carries a hot, fresh baked cherry pie topped with a lattice-work crust. Straight from the oven, steam rises above the pie in a misty curl.

A third woman is dressed for an afternoon social. Donned in her best red dress, yellow and white head scarf, and blue stone necklace, she puckers her lips in the moment of blowing a cooling breath across her cup of hot coffee. A fourth woman gathers tomatoes. A fifth weeds her garden. A sixth blows soap bubbles through a plastic hoop.

“Dancing with Hula Hoops” celebrates the dancer’s joy of music and motion and feeling pretty in her long dress and fancy hat.

A flying man sketch on a cardboard box

Evans noted, “Leonard started drawing at age two. His first known subject was a flying man sketch on a cardboard box. At age seven, he developed his first ‘All American Folk Talent’ after seeing Sammy Davis, Jr. on his first exposure to television. Leonard wanted to ‘capture Sammy’s soul.’ That ignited a lifelong desire to capture the soul of people, places and events in Leonard’s world.”

“Fishing the Savannah River” illustrates how Leonard uses point- of-view to give his subject a fresh perspective.

“Artist of the Month”

This writer recalls a photo of Leonard Jones outside Genuine Georgia. It is from the gallery’s social media postings and announces him as “Artist of the Month.” He stands in front of the entryway and displays a recent painting of the young boy.

In the painting, the boy holds a fishing pole and fresh caught fish. And the little boy who so long ago “captured the soul” of Sammy Davis, now stands in the photograph, captured in grown-up form — a celebrated artist dedicated to capturing the soul of all he paints. In so doing, Leonard Jones captures and shares his own happy soul. And sharing that soul has made him famous.

Genuine Georgia selects noted artist Leonard Jones as “Artist of the Month.”

This article, by Judi Martha Collins, appeared in our November/December 2020 edition of Lakelife.

Photos provided by Main Street Gallery, Genuine Georgia, Connely Gallery, and Mike's Art Truck.

  • Lakelife Magazine

A Lake Country cake designer is top winner of Food Network’s Wedding Cake Championships

Reva proudly stands with her new design studio and sweet school on Clack Circle. Photo/Leila Scoggins

Celebrity cake designer and television personality Reva Alexander-Hawk is putting down new roots in Georgia’s Lake Country, establishing a home base location from which she will expand her teaching efforts and share her love of sweet treats with people from near and far.

Reva moved to Eatonton two years ago after her parents retired to Lake Oconee and her sister relocated shortly after.

“I was like, well I guess it is my turn to move out there because I can do what I do anywhere,” says Reva. “People need cakes no matter where I am at. Now I can be with my family and make cakes.”

A simple buttercream cake with floral accents created by Reva. Photo courtesy Reva Alexander-Hawk

Reva’s love for baking began as a child. She was always the go-to person in her family for making all the sweets for the holidays and eventually began making gift baskets. Her other love was, and still is, singing.

“I thought, okay, if I want to be a singer I have to have something else to do, so I really liked sugar and sweets,” Reva says. “So I will go to school and be a pastry chef because I can work anywhere in the world making desserts and then try to sing and get gigs places. I thought that is the perfect solution, I will make cakes and sing.”

But then, Reva ended up just making cakes, putting her singing career on the back burner.

She attended The California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. In 2000, she graduated from the school’s baking and pastry program and started making cakes independently in 2002. She has been creating cakes ever since.

During her time in California, Reva was contacted by Food Network to participate in various competition style baking shows. Over the years, Reva has been a contestant on three episodes of Cake Wars. She won two episodes of them, Wonder Woman and Hello Kitty.

Later, she was on the special Halloween Wars: Hayride of Horrors. Most recently, Reva won Food Network’s Wedding Cake Championships.

“Now Eatonton, Georgia, has the wedding cake champion, so that is kind of cool,” Reva declares.

Tiny pies are ready for eating. Photo courtesy Reva Alexander-Hawk

“It’s fun,” she continues. “It’s very challenging. You have a time limit and you have a lot that you have to get done in that certain amount of time. It takes a special person, someone who is crazy enough to say, ‘sure, I’ll do that.’ It’s like running a marathon.”

When she first moved to Eatonton, Reva didn’t know many people other than her family. A friend of her mother’s suggested she join the Reynolds Choir. Apprehensive, Reva attended a practice and later auditioned for the group. Next, she joined her church choir and then the Greensboro Chamber Choir.

“It, for me, was a way to meet people in the area and get to know people and then also for them to get to know me,” Reva explains. “Of course I would bring sweet treats and then they would find out, ‘oh gosh, you make cakes’ or ‘oh, you’re going to be on TV.’ I kind of kept that on the down low when I first moved here. It was just like, ‘oh I am Reva, I happen to make cakes and, oh yeah, I am going to be on TV this week.’ I don’t like to make it a big deal.”

Reva teaches a cake decorating class on buttercream florals. Photo courtesy Reva Alexander-Hawk

For the past two years, Reva has been trying to decide exactly what she wants to do. When I entered her latest venture, a shop located behind Sweet Kneads, I found Reva decorating Christmas cookies at a large baking island. Two cell phones and lighting equipment were set up capturing her hands as she decorated the stocking-shaped cookies. “I do a lot of social media stuff so I decided, okay I am just going to concentrate on my teaching and then still do cakes on the side,” Reva says.

Her new little place will be a small baking school where she will do online tutorials and give enthusiasts a hands-on experience.

“It’s just a place to learn and have fun,” Reva says.

Reva began renting the shop in October 2018 and spent several months transforming it into her business, Merci Beaucoup Cakes. The first step in the transformation was painting the quaint shop and then getting in the kitchen appliances. The classes that she offers can be found on her company’s website or Facebook page.

“I have been fortunate enough to travel the country and actually internationally, teaching cake decorating and cookie decorating,” Reva says. “So, instead of traveling everywhere to do that, I am going to make people come to me, and what a wonderful place to make them come to me at. You have the lake here, so during the summer when it’s hot outside, you can come into a nice air conditioned place and learn how to make sugar flowers, decorate cookies and cakes, anything that has to do with sweets.”

Reva will continue to travel and teach. In fact, she had just returned from England when I stopped in her shop in November. She will also take special orders for cakes and cookies, as people hear about her by word of mouth. Reva’s favorite cakes to make are either really big cakes or one little one. She’s not a fan of the in-between stuff. Perhaps best known for her buttercream work and making buttercream florals, Reva loves to make colorful fun cakes where she can display her lively personality.

One of Reva’s color creations features birds and live florals. Photo courtesy Reva Alexander-Hawk

Reva isn’t done with television yet. She has chosen to invest the money she won on Wedding Cake Championships into creating a show called Back Roads Baker. The series will begin on YouTube as she and her team look for funding and try to sell it to a network.

On Back Roads Baker, Reva will travel to different bakeries in the Southeast and talk to them about their baking process. She’ll glean tips from the bakers and then bring them back to her kitchen and create something with the skills she learned. Reva describes the show as being like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives meets American Pickers.

“It’s kind of weird,” she says. “I am out here; I sing in the choirs; I make cakes, and then I do TV. It’s like this weird vortex of Reva.”

This article, by Leila Scoggins, appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Lakelife.


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