Glass Blowing in the Delta

Glass Blowing on the Delta

Muffinjaw Designs

Freddie Blache of Muffinjaw Designs is a 25 year old musician who found his passion in blowing glass.  Blache will graduate from the University of South Alabama with his Fine Arts Degree in December.  “It’s about performance”, he said as we chatted during the Halloween Bash at Cypress Gift Shop at 5 Rivers Delta on a cold October morning.

Freddie Blache

Freddie had been up early.”I don’t sleep a lot before a show.”  For this October outing, he was set up on the porch of the Cypress gift shop at 5 Rivers. With temperature in the fifties, his small propane fueled furnace nicknamed “Smog” was taking a little more time to get up to its glass melting temperature of twenty-one hundred degrees. “I’m used to working in a shop where it’s a hundred degrees.” He joked about the cold damp temperature as a crowd gathered for a demonstration.

Blowing the glass
Shaping the glass

Freddie began taking classes in 2013 and knew he had found his life’s calling.  “It’s my passion and I believe I will be doing this for the rest of my life.” He began showing his creations at a downtown Mobile Artwalk in 2014 and began public demonstration of glass blowing at South Sounds in 2014.  He was a hit and he continues his demonstrations at each show.  By 2016, he had a number of repeat customers for his pieces and began signing his handmade creations.

Glass bubble
Shaping the glass with wet newspaper

“Muffinjaw” was a term a coined by a classmate of Freddie’s dad, Fred, Sr. when he had swollen cheeks in school due to a tooth infection. Freddie Jr. said, “It’s what we call our cheeks when we puff them out to blow bubbles in the glass.” Muffinjaw Designs is a family affair. Freddie admits he could not make this journey without the support of his wife, Caroline and baby, Eva, as well as his family and friends. They were there supporting him on this cold, damp morning.

Freddie and Caroline 

His Dad, Fred Sr., explained that when Freddie told him he wanted to change his major to glass blowing Senior encouraged him to have a back-up plan, because an artist’s life is never a sure thing.  Freddie took the advice in stride and will give himself a year to make a go of it as a glass artist.  “We are living in the age of glass, it’s all around us and we don’t see it.”

Currently, his handmade pieces sell for between $10 and $40 for the smaller pieces.  Some of the large pieces are a bit higher priced and are sold locally at the following locations: Cypress Gift Shop at 5 Rivers, Ashland Gallery in Midtown, Red Beard’s Outfitters, The Happy Octopus on Dauphin Island and at Haint Blue Brewing in Mobile.

Glass ornaments

Among Freddie’s glass artist influences are Lino Tagliapietra, a Venetian artist who is known for his flare with sculpting molten glass and William Gudenrath. Freddie wants to work on Tagliapietra’s technique in the future.  He also hopes to work with William Gudenrath at the renowned Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

Freddie Blache, a self proclaimed “Nerd for Glass” is an up and coming Mobile artist. He is setting the local art scene on fire with one molten glass creation at a time.

Update: Freddie’s thesis exhibit December 4-8, 2017 at the University of South Alabama Visual Arts Gallery.

At Dauphin Island Art Trail

Freddie at work

National Civil War Naval Museum

National Civil War Naval Museum-Columbus, GA

Located along the Chattahoochee River, the National Civil Naval Museum, houses a number of civil war naval relics from both the Confederate and Union sides of the conflict. The first question asked by many of its twenty-five thousand yearly visitors, is ‘Why is a naval museum located in Columbus?” The Chattahoochee River played a key role in the civil war. Although true that it is a long way from a major body of water. In actuality, the Chattahoochee connects with the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola Florida. Columbus was an integral part of the Confederate infrastructure as a construction and manufacturing hub for munitions and uniforms. The last major land battle of the civil war was fought in Columbus and the town was burnt to the ground after the battle.

CSS Jackson
CSS Jackson. The metal work above is how the original ships structure was designed

The CSS Jackson, the largest of the four surviving Ironclads from the Civil War, is ensconced at the museum. Launched at Columbus in December, 1864, it saw no action and was set ablaze and set adrift by Union troops in what is considered to be the last land battle of the Civil War. It burned for two weeks until it sank in the middle of the river.  While the location of the wreck was known, it spent 100 years at the bottom of the Chattahoochee River until 1961 when the raising of the hull began. Even today, the hull still carries the burn marks from 1865. The Columbus Jaycee club played a most important role in the raising of the ship with volunteers and fund raising efforts to raise the ship.

CSS Jackson propeller
CSS Jackson, burn marks on hull

The museum also displays the wreckage of CSS Chattahoochee,   a full scale replica of the USS Water Witch, a replica of the USS Harford’s captain’s cabin, a ships boat from the USS Hartford, a replica of the USS Monitor’s turret and both interior and exterior views of the CSS Albermarle. Many other artifacts have been meticulously preserved and are on display.

CSS Chattahoochee
CSS Albermarle.

The museum houses the largest collection of Civil War related naval flags including ship flags, coastal fort flags and pennants in the county and are prominently display at the museum.

Civil War Flags

The museum offers daily guided tours of museum. Brandon Gilland, an education associate for the museum, is well versed in every aspect of the exhibits.  I also had the pleasure of meeting the museum’s archivist, Jeff Seymour.  I have included a short interview with Jeff from C-span from February, 2015.

The National Civil War Naval Museum it is well worth your time and a visit there will immerse you in moments from the Civil War and United States naval history.

Jubilee Festival of Arts

Jubilee Festival of Arts,   Olde Town Daphne, Alabama

September, 2017 marked the 29th year of the Jubilee Festival of Arts in Daphne, Alabama.  Over 100 vendors packed the main street of Daphne for the free weekend event.  The warm weather did not deter the crowds as they wandered though the tents filled with the merchant’s offerings. Local artisans, photographers and craftsmen along with those from Texas and Tennessee, provided a sea of artwork and crafts for purchase.

Various musical acts and cooking demonstrations took to the stage for the enjoyment of the festival attendees. Local hospitals, medical practices as well as local utilities and government dispensed information.

The two-day event was a good way to get started on that Christmas shopping list.

Applying for Global Entry

I applied for TSA Pre check three years ago and have used the expedited service going through security.  It was an easy application process and a brief interview process at a local transportation licensing center.  Last week I applied for Global Entry, which enables a quicker re-entry process to the U.S. in airports from international destinations using of a kiosk to fill out your declaration instead of going through the cue. Global entry also provides a card for use in quicker crossing at landed borders (Canada and Mexico). Global entry also provides you with TSA Pre check, so you get the benefits of both programs.  Again, it was an easy application process and interview, taking only about five minutes.  The only downside was the only center near Mobile for the interview was at the Gulfport airport about an hour’s drive. The website offers a number of centers across the county where the interview can be conducted.  I recommend both as they are timesavers when traveling domestically or abroad.

Gators, Birds and Sunsets, Oh my!

Bartram Landing

Wild Native Delta Eco tour

The 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center is located just off the Mobile-Spanish Fort causeway in Spanish Fort just past the Bluegill Restaurant. Meaher State Park is located just across the street. Located at the Bartram Landing is Wild Native’s Delta Safaris’ Eco Cruise is a relaxing way to spend a Saturday evening.

The Delta

The water was calm and peaceful as we boarded the open canopy 40 passenger Osprey with Captain Chris and our scenic guide Chista. Both were passionate about the Delta’s eco system and wildlife. They provided an ongoing narration and provided vast amounts of details about the 2nd largest delta in the US. The Mobile Delta is second only to Mississippi.

Chris talking about gators

Providing tours since 2006, Wild Native provides multiple daily boat tours of the Delta and Mobile Harbor as well as Kayak tours. The Osprey seats 40 people of all ages. Beverages (adult and other) and snacks are welcomed onboard and there is a restroom available onboard.

Our Ride

After a quick safety briefing, we departed with a cool afternoon breeze beckoning the passengers to the water. Within moments of leaving the dock, we spotted a gator just below the water line. He only had his eyes above the water but he was estimated to be about six feet long. Gators grow at about a rate of one foot per year.

Gator eyes

We spotted a Great Heron on the water as well as ducks and blackbirds. There were also white cranes, Pelicans and Mullet jumping in the water.  There are several venous snakes that inhabit the Delta, thankfully we didn’t come across any of those.

Heron on the bank

We passed underneath the Mobile Bayway and entered Mobile Bay. Watching the sunset over downtown Mobile was spectacular ending to our hour and half tour.

Majestic Cypress trees line the shore and are adorned with Spanish moss and guard the coastline. After the devastation of Hurricane Katina in 2005, it was discovered that the sand in Mobile had undergone a major shift and uncovered Cypress trees at the bottom of the bay. They have been estimated to be 50,000 years old. The samples retrieved still contained the fresh scent of Cypress because the trees do not rot.

Cypress Trees

Two-thirds of Alabama’s rivers drain into the Mobile Delta. The five rivers of the Delta are: Blakley, Apalachee, Tensaw, Spanish and Mobile. (BATSM)

Sunset Kayaks

If you want a quick relaxing boat cruise only minutes from downtown Mobile, book a fun-filled beautiful sunset Delta cruise. You might even get up-close to a gator.

Other Sites to See in Texas

Sites to see  in Texas

Last December I drove through Texas in order to visit the three Presidential libraries. During my three day trip, I made a few other stops along the way.

Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas

The Sixth Street museum and Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where President John Kennedy was assassinated are well preserved monuments to day in November, 1963. Little as changed in The Plaza since ’63 and the old Texas School Book Depository building, now the Dallas County Administration building, houses the Sixth Street museum.  There you can purchase an audio tour of the museum which includes a walk through the sixties and exhibits that walk you through the events of that November day. You can view the corner window where Lee Harvey Oswald shot the President Kennedy and Governor John Connelly.  It is a thought provoking.  I received a photo tip from a local resident, there is a pedestrian bridge that overlooks the Plaza and is a good location for photos of the plaza.  Be sure to buy your ticket online before your visit as the tour fills up quickly.  There are numerous parking lots in the area and parking can be a bit pricey.

Magnolia Market at the Silos

HGTV personalities, Chip and Joanna Gaines, have reclaimed two old grain silos near downtown Waco that stand watch over the area.  Magnolia Market is the large shop for their lines of home goods which I found a tad on the expensive side. There is a large area of picnic tables and a green space for kids to play.  Surrounding the green space are various local food trucks which sell all types of foods from barbeque to ice cream.

The Silo Baking Company, usually with a line out the door, is small building that turns at dozens of tasty treats daily. Yes, it is worth the wait. It is a hot spot in town and usually crowded. The Gaines’ have obviously hit the nail on the head for the visiting public.

Official Texas Ranger Hall of Fame

I passed the sign for the Official Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco, so I went to investigate. The Hall of Fame is look at the role of the Texas Rangers throughout the history of Texas. There are numerous displays, consisting of guns, rifles and other law enforcement items that provide visitors with an overview of the roll of the Ranger’s in law enforcement.  A forty-five minute film provides a look into just what Rangers accomplish on a daily basis.  A wall of photographs honor each Ranger that as died while in performance of his duty.  Excellent historical references and oral histories are provided that put you in the moment of an arrest.  The statuary alone is worth a stop to see.

Trattoria Lisina and Mandola Winery

Even after a long drive from State College to San Antonio, I wanted to visit Trattoria Lisina and Mandola Winery in Driftwood, Texas again.  While it is a bit off the beaten path, it is worth every minute spent getting there. The surrounding vineyard reminds you think of Italy and the food puts you in the midst of the Italian countryside. The wine tasting room was buzzing when I arrived a little early for my reservation. I opted to wait for a glass of wine with dinner.  Dinner was a scrumptious seafood risotto with plenty of parmesan.  Service was top notch. If you’re close by, go and have a meal.  It’s worth it.

State Capitol of Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas and it is true of the State Capitol which is a bit taller than the US Capitol. It is an impressive site to behold and even more impressive on the interior.  Guided and self guided tours are available daily.  The nearby Visitors Center also maintains a wealth of information about the capitol and grounds.   Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy learning more about Texas.