Sharman Chapman-Crane

Sharman Chapman-Crane, Artist, Eolia, Kentucky (Originally From Wooster, Ohio):

“I was born in Wooster, Ohio. Wooster, Ohio, is in the northeast part of the state, and it has always been known as one of the first to recover from a recession or a depression, and one of the last to be affected negatively by a recession or depression. It was always really well balanced between agriculture and manufacturing, and that was not the case here. 

In my home county, there were three different colleges. That’s Wayne County, Ohio, and, so there was lots of educational opportunities close to home, and it was very important to people. Probably there were over three hundred people in my graduating class, and at least ninety percent of them went on to higher education after graduating.

People [here in Appalachia] just haven’t had the options that I took for granted and grew up with economically, educationally, job variety. And I left Wayne County in ’84, and I graduated in ’70. The longest I was ever without work was a week, and that was pretty much by choice. I needed a break. 

I met Jeff [Husband and Kentucky Artist Jeff Chapman-Crane] through a Presbyterian event that was held at the College of Wooster, in my hometown. It was a weeklong event. We were in a class together, and he was twenty-nine and I was thirty-one. We just knew what we wanted in life, and what we didn’t want by that point. I knew I didn’t want to stay up in Wooster anymore, where I had my B.S. in Business Management and Accounting, and I was director of internal accounting for two nursing homes, and office manager. 

It wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but it gave me a lot of inner confidence as far as, if I came to some place where I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t have the job security and availability that I had up there. That wasn’t a stress on the relationship. I knew. I made the decision to move here, because he was here, but I knew in myself that I could do this. 

I think a lot of times, when we make those life changing decisions, and we’re young we’re just not totally aware of all the ramifications. I never wanted to be in the position where I would blame him for bringing me to this place. And that turned out to be real important, because five months after we got married, the apartment building we were living in burned down, and furniture and clothes, and everything I had accumulated up to that point. Writing I had done. Artwork I had done. Some furniture that I had designed, and had built was gone, made real good fire fodder, you know. So it was just real important that I have that, that I did it for me.

The difficult thing was I had been to the mountains, to Morris Fork, in Breathitt County, as a high school student through my church youth group. I had had a very romanticized view [of Appalachia], plus I had read the book ‘Christy,’ by Katherine Marshall, and my experience in Morris Fork reinforced that, and the people I met, in large part, had had enough of northerners by that time, and were very conservative about being accepting and welcoming, and that was difficult, because I left my family, my people, my culture, the job I’d had. 

My mom felt like I’d given up my education. Just things like that, so that was difficult, but Jeff’s family, they just live a couple of hours away in the Kingsport area, and they embraced this Yankee. I mean, I did meet people that accepted me, you know. I love the people, and I love the culture. 

I’m unable to embrace the devastation left by coal mining, but that doesn’t mean that I love the people any less, or respect them any less. We all have to make a living. We have to support our families, and we do the best with the options we’re given. And what I want is a better future not just for my child, but a better future for their children, and their grandchildren. I want them to have more options that are healthy, and sustainable, and that kind of thing. I want them to have clean water, clean air, and better health. Better education and opportunities. 

It seemed like there were two words they had the hardest time understanding me, and that was when Jeff and I were dating. He didn’t have a phone, so I would have to call the pay phone at the gas station across the street from his apartment building, and I would tell them I wanted to talk to Jeff Crane, and they could not understand Crane. That was difficult for a while, because they’d hang up. I’d call back in awhile, in five minutes after they had gone and brought him. So I’d say, ‘The real, tall artist with the beard, and wears a camera around town.’ 

And the other thing they couldn’t understand me [saying] was ice. When I’d want ice in my drink. They couldn’t get, they didn’t get what I was saying. So those were the two main things. 

The most interesting story that happened though, I worked with non-profits that did advocacy and helped people, and there was a mountain woman in our community that had talked to the Sisters of Charity, in Jenkins, that had come to work here from the country of India. I took this woman over to Jenkins to get a box of food. We were in line, and we got to the door, and they said, ‘Oh, this door is for clothing. If you want food, you have to go around to the other door.’

You had to go around the house, and go into another door, and they let us in and told us to have a seat. The mountain woman that was with me noticed that they had this real lacy veil separating a room where we were seated, and she said how pretty it was, and she noticed that there was a little font on the, she didn’t know what to call it, on the wall beside it. And it had some liquid in it, and the sisters would dip their fingers in it, and cross themselves, and genuflect. Of course, she didn’t know any of those terms, or what was going on. 

The Indian woman had come back at that point, and she says, ‘What is she saying?’ So I said, ‘Oh, she was commenting on how pretty that curtain is.’ And she says, ‘Well, would you like to go in there?’ Well, it was their chapel, and in the Catholic Church they have a decorative box that they call the tabernacle, and they had another piece of lace over it. And the mountain woman asked me, or asked in general what is in there, or what is that for? 

And the Sister said, ‘Jesus is in there.’ At this point, I lost all ability to translate, and I was so relieved that they both were speaking English. We all three were speaking English, but one was speaking mountain English, I was speaking maybe more mainstream, and this woman from India was speaking pretty broken English. I was just at a total loss, because I had not a clue how I would explain to a mountain woman what was meant by, ‘Jesus is in there.’ I thought if I were even to attempt [it] it would be so misunderstood, and I could just imagine how this would go out in the community. 

So that’s the funniest story I have about dialect, and trying to understand, and on top of that I mean, here is the mountain woman with indigenous religion, religious understanding, Christian understanding. I’m Presbyterian by birth and raising, and then this is a Catholic faith, and just trying to, yeah, it was pretty wild. (Laughs)

People know their stories. They knew who they are, and where they’ve come from, and I think in large part it’s because they didn’t get the TV as early as some parts of the country. Where I grew up, we were left to our own devices with the TV, and if we tried asking questions even, ‘Oh, I don’t remember,’ or ‘I don’t have time.’ Here, even though we still have TV here, they’re better at explaining; they’re just better at telling their stories, and sharing their stories. My family didn’t do that, and the little bit I know, I had to dig for. 

My dad’s parents were from Ohio County, Kentucky, actually, but they grew up going to a one-room schoolhouse. My grandfather was a coal miner for three days, and couldn’t stand being underground, and so they left Ohio County, Kentucky, and they moved to Rutland, Iowa, and my dad’s the oldest of eight, and that’s where they had all eight of their children. Then when my dad was in his early twenties, he and a younger brother came to Wayne County, Ohio, and that’s where they ended up staying. 

[The pronunciation of Appalachia] I had been raised Ap-pa-la-sha, but I grew up in Wooster, and Jeff knew it as Wooster pronounced Wuster with a long U, so we agreed, since we were interested in each other, and had much motivation, I immediately said, ‘It’s Appalachia,’ and he said, ‘All right, it’s Wooster.’ So we sorted that out right away.

My heart is much more Appalachian, than Yankee. I’ve been here thirty-one years, and I have come to such an appreciation, and our son is Appalachian. But people will ask him where he’s from, because both his mom and dad speak, I don’t know what you want to call it, but we don’t speak mountain. I guess I’ll say it that way, but I mean, I don’t know if any of us can really disclaim where we’ve come from. 

But interestingly enough, I have family and cousins from Detroit, Michigan, who say I’m from the south, and have said that before ever I had lived in Kentucky. So they said that for the first thirty years of my life, that I was a southerner. So that, in part, too, defines you. 

I can’t disclaim being a Yankee, and sometimes that’s great, and sometimes that’s cause for apology.”