Interesting People

Nov 28

A Wood Carver's Journey

By Elizabeth Mann

Carving begins with a vision, and for Dave Carter, his mountain home in Blairsville, Georgia, is a constant source of inspiration. From his home porch, he can watch as black bears, deer, and other animals meander through the woods. He may come across a knobby stump or a fallen limb and visualize what it could become. He patiently chips away the wood until his creation is revealed to others.

Carter’s journey as a carver started with a small hand-carved owl and bear that he still has to this very day. He credits his neighbor John Barker with starting him on the carving path, which began in 2007. While visiting Barker, he observed his friend’s carving work and expressed a desire to learn more. Barker, who is retired, now spends his time traveling, but his love for carving carries on through Carter’s work.

Through experience, participating in workshops, and under the instruction of Helen Gibson, a Resident Carver of the John C. Campbell Folk School, Carter has become a carver in his own right. In 2008, with Gibson’s guidance, he began carving a nativity scene. The ongoing project has been slow and tedious at times, he noted. “Carving the nativity for me is an object of enjoyment, a hobby, and something never to be rushed,” he said. “I am constantly honing my craft. Thus, I am slower in detailing a piece.”

He currently has 13 pieces in his nativity collection, which is to be displayed in his home. And each piece is a labor of love. When he first began carving, he always kept the first piece of anything he carved. Now that he no longer does that, the ongoing process continues as pieces of the nativity set are sold and replaced.

Although Carter, who at 74 is retired, carves for the mere love of doing it, his carvings have been displayed at the Olive Tree Art Centre. He also sells some of his work based on commission and has had clients hail from Georgia, Texas, and even England. Much of his work takes place in a shop he created in the lower part of his home. The shop is purely for personal use and a representation of his dedication to the hobby.

Whether carving professionally or as a hobby, the crafting process requires high quality wood. Carter’s choice of woods include walnut, cherry, and mahogany, but his favorites are basswood and butternut. Specifically, basswood’s soft and close grain allow for patterns to easily be transferred onto the wood. Greater detailed work can be accomplished because it does not chip or break off as easily like other wood does. “I enjoy carving for many reasons, but mainly because I can take a piece of wood and create something from it that is unique and pleasing to the eye,” he said. “It has taught me patience and taking your time. You can’t rush it. If you do, you will forget the grain of the wood with which you are working and lose focus, leading to something breaking.”

Every piece has a story to tell. One of his relief carvings is of a rustic bridge that he passed by many times growing up. Another time he came across a black walnut tree with jagged pieces and limbs. He transformed it into a black bear. “Sometimes you see a piece you relate well with,” he said. The simplest of things are sometimes the ones that give us inspiration in life.

For more information on carvings, contact Dave at or 706.994.7786

Sep 18

Lamar Paris

A Man With a Passion for Community

By Katrina M. Randall

Lamar Paris

Even in the midst of pursuing his love of photography, Lamar Paris is focused on community. In fact, he’s a man with many interests, of which include golfing, flying, kayaking, University of Georgia football, and traveling. But Georgia’s Union County sole commissioner rarely has the time to pursue all of them. Instead, much of his time is spent attending events, working on the next community project, or posting to Facebook pictures he’s taken around the county with updates and news, merging his deep ability to communicate and his desire to serve a community he’s lived in his entire life.

Paris only left Blairsville once—when he went to the University of Georgia for college. A trip to California for a job interview made him realize quickly that Union County was where he wanted to live and build a life. He grew up in a bygone era when children traipsed through the woods until dinnertime, rode bikes on dirt roads, and recreation was fishing and hunting. “It was a cool way to grow up,” he said. That’s why he wanted to give back to the community and make it a place the youth will want to come back and live. So before he even took office as chairman in 2001, he dedicated himself to the community through volunteering.

He credits much of this mind-set to his parents. Even though his father, Paul Paris, died when he was 12, he recalled his friendly manner and that he was the first member of Kiwanis Club. Paul also started the Blairsville Hardware and Supply Company and was partly responsible for bringing some of the first industry to the area. His mother, Edith Paris, also heavily influenced him. She served as a charter member of the Blairsville Garden Club, Union General Hospital Auxiliary, and the Union County Historical Society, and she volunteered her entire life. “Her friends were people who volunteered and did things, so that’s all I was around,” Paris said. “I just always had the mentality in the back of my mind that we want to look out for other people and try to do for other people,” he said.

Through the years, Paris, who worked in real estate and finance, dedicated time with the youth sports programs, coached youth football, and volunteered on the recreation authority. Working with the kids has always been one of his great loves, noted Dinah Paris, his wife. “When he was a young man he coached Pee Wee football and he always loved that, and he has always been interested in giving his time to the children,” she said.

His list of accomplishments is long, including the revamped library and the creation of the farmers market. In addition, he oversaw the expansion of Butternut Creek Golf Course from nine-holes to 18-holes in 1994, which he did while serving as chairman of the recreation authority. Dinah said her favorite of his projects is the beautiful Meeks Parks, which she walks almost every day. But while Paris is recreation minded, one of his proudest accomplishments was implementing the new addressing system.

The addressing system was outdated and confusing, he said, noting that unless a person had been raised in the area it was difficult to find anyone, in addition to it being a safety issue in emergency situations. “That’s probably the one thing I think has done more, it’s a really progressive tool that has made it a lot safer in the county.”

Outside of the greater Union County area, Paris has been heavily active with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, where he previously served as president. Through the years, Laura Meadows, director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, has gotten to know Paris. Referring to him as a “lifelong learner,” she noted how well he communicates with his community.

In addition to connecting with people on social media, Paris also contributes a column to the North Georgia News, Blairsville’s weekly newspaper, called “Q&A from Union County Commissioner Lamar Paris.” According to Dinah, Paris chooses questions people ask him on the street, on Facebook, or at a gathering and answers them, expressing the sentiment that if one person has that question, many have the same question.

“I’m not sure how many commissioners do that,” Meadows said. “And I think it’s a great thing he does on a variety of topics. I think he has the ability to communicate what the government is doing and the challenges and opportunities, and he’s always taking back great ideas he’s learned to help the county.”

While the community is near and dear to his heart, he’s also just as committed to his family. “My wife would tell you I work all the time, I get home too late. But she puts up with me, and I couldn’t do it without her,” Paris said. Meanwhile, his daughter, Jessica Paris, had just returned to the University of Georgia, where she attends veterinary school, for the start of a new school year when Dinah received a message from her that was telling. In the message, she detailed her appreciation for her father’s support and his presence at all her games and all major events in her life.

Although some may think Paris was always the gregarious man seen at community events, Dinah said he was once a shy man. “He just changed when he got to do something he loved, and he does enjoy going to work everyday,” she said. “He just lights up when he’s got a new project going on or when something is accomplished in the county.”

Sep 18

Habitat for Humanity

Giving New Homes to Deserving People

By Megan Parry

Towns and Union County Habitat Homeowner

When lifelong Blairsville resident Michelle Seay moved into her brand new house off Murphy Highway in Blairsville, Georgia, with her daughter, Anna, and two grandchildren, nine-month-old Allyson and three-year-old Adalynn, this past June, the oldest of the two was thrilled with having her own room to decorate.

Seay is the most recent Habitat for Humanity homeowner in Blairsville. Potential homeowners are chosen after they’ve submitted an application with supporting documents, met all income-based requirements, proven they currently live in sub-standard housing, and agreed to the financial and time-based obligations. As Habitat homeowners, they must qualify for a mortgage and put in “sweat equity” into their new house. This means they must work 150 hours at the ReStore, the Habitat-run, second-hand furniture and home-building material store, volunteer in the Habitat offices, and contribute hands-on construction work on their own home.

Seay’s new home is 1,100 square feet. Her previous home was around 950 square feet, extremely drafty and expensive to heat during winters, and had mold among other issues that made it meet Habitat requirements. She applied for housing in October 2013, but the project didn’t break ground until October 2015. Although Seay said the wait was tough, the entire family is enjoying the larger new digs.

The long wait is one of the problems the local Habitat affiliates face regularly, said Bryan Thomas, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Towns/Union Counties. With an area population skewing toward retirement age and a service area of approximately 40,000 people, the volunteer base is considerably small so the number of houses they can build yearly, and the time in which they can build them, is not always as quick as the homeowners or the Habitat team would like. To help mitigate time, cost, and labor issues, Thomas said they partner with local general contractors to help get the foundation and frame of the home built—basically everything up to the sheet rock. That’s when the volunteers take over, installing flooring, painting, putting up dry wall, hardware, and any of the many finishing tasks.

When Seay first visited her home-in-progress the day after a group of volunteers painted the house, she saw a few holes and streaks that the volunteers missed in their effort to finish her house on time. Instead of mentioning the inconsistencies to Thomas she simply repainted the entire house by herself. It’s this unwavering dedication to building her home that made Seay such an exceptional homeowner to work with, Thomas noted. “She was the perfect homeowner, just so invested in the process,” he said, explaining that she often came home from one of her two jobs and would work until midnight.

Thomas said the most important and rewarding aspect of working for Habitat is putting deserving families into a position of control in their own lives and in some cases, helping “break the cycle of generational poverty.” And that’s no small feat.

For her part, Seay is thrilled with how the house turned out and enjoyed her time working at the ReStore on Saturdays. In fact, she said she found a lot of great deals for her house at the store, including a leather couch for the living room.

“I’m just thankful to be selected – it’s been such a blessing,” Seay said.

Jul 01

Scuba Diving Journeys

From Seas to Mountain Lakes

By Elizabeth Mann

SCUBA in the Georgia Mountains

Being in the water is like a second home to Arthur McCann. He likes how water gives him the ability to suspend himself at any depth and feel a sense of control in an environment where there seems to be none.

Arthur McCann

The master scuba diving trainer has accumulated more than 700-recorded dives to his name from when he started in 1997. The first time McCann went diving, he felt instantly at ease. “My ears were focused on the rhythm of my breathing. Under water my heavy gear transitioned to being weightless and comfortable.”

Although his first dive was in an ocean, the Union County High School teacher spends much of his time diving into the cold depths of the lakes, surrounded by towering North Georgia Mountains. Scuba diving in the mountains and instructing others has been a whole new experience when compared to ocean diving. “The difference is that you are mostly in lakes,” McCann said. “It is different than sea water because it is colder and going down to a depth of twenty-five feet can change the temperature to have a decrease of ten degrees.” Though lake diving is a good place to train, McCann still prefers ocean diving. He likes seeing more aquatic life, exploring wrecks, and he appreciates the greater adventure that comes with diving in the seas. But beneath the looming inclines of the mountains, McCann has even taken dives at night and brought students with him as well.

McCann’s journey began with open water diving and he worked his way up through the ranks to dive master. He got his start while serving in the U.S. army as a command sergeant major. His frequent traveling to various stations gave him diverse experiences, which prepared him for instructing others. From the untouched coral reefs in Italy to the lakes tucked away in the mountains of Georgia, he has expanded his learning and reached new goals.

SCUBA in the Georgia Mountains

Much of the diving McCann has done in the mountains is to train individuals who want to be prepared for vacations and cruises that involve diving. Training new divers in the mountains gives them the opportunity to learn safety skills in a smaller and less intimidating environment. McCann’s students are also exposed to the difference in air pressure, readying them for the atmospheric drops they will encounter every 33 feet, from sea level to ocean bottom, as well as the ambient pressure, which increases with depth. On the other hand, when diving above sea level the air becomes thinner. For every 1,000 feet above sea level, ten feet is added to a diver’s actual depth to compensate for atmospheric pressure.

During his tenure as an instructor, McCann has traveled across the world, diving in the Pacific, Atlantic, Red Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Adriatic Sea, and lakes across the country. He has also taught many how to dive and certified a few people, making friends along the way. Ricky Silver, one of McCann’s diving companions who conveniently lives nearby and works as a high school guidance counselor in Union County School District, is one of those friends. “I was fifty-six years old when I overheard at the lunch table McCann talking with someone about scuba diving,” Silver said. “He told me he was a scuba instructor and challenged me to take his class and get my diving certification. I accepted the challenge and then my scuba diving adventure in the mountains began.” In fact, Silver’s very first dive with McCann quickly turned into an experience to remember.

In summer 2015, McCann took Silver for his first dive to some wrecks off the North Carolina coast in Wilmington. They anchored 19 miles out in crystal clear waters, which allowed them to vaguely see the ship wreck 33 feet below. They dove to the bottom, where it was fairly clear, when McCann noticed a bull shark watching them.

SCUBA instruction the Georgia Mountains

“McCann’s laser vision was staring to my right and his body was in a defense pose. I slowly turned to see what had McCann’s attention. Fifteen feet away, staring directly at me with black eyes, was a bull shark, who was showing me that he still had all of his teeth,” Silver said, noting he had to battle the urge to flee as he realized any sudden movement could cause the hungry shark to attack. Since McCann is a highly decorated Army veteran who had led 20,000 soldiers in Southern Afghanistan and was certainly capable of fending off a ten-foot shark, Silver finned his way behind his instructor, who had his fists up, ready for battle. Fortunately, they didn’t have to defend themselves. “In a split second, the bull shark snapped around and disappeared behind the ship wreck. The shark turned so fast you could actually hear his tail snap in the water,” Silver said. McCann ended up getting his camera and diving back down to take pictures of the uncommon occurrence.

For McCann, scuba diving is more than just a hobby or sport, it is a passion he has turned into a business. Offering diving classes from spring to early fall, he usually certifies six to eight students during the summer months. But teaching diving isn’t about the profit; he just wants to make sure each individual is thoroughly prepared for potential diving encounters, and he enjoys one-on-one time with his students. “It helps people face their fears and it challenges them. Once they are certified they have a new goal they have achieved in life.” His whole family has followed in his footsteps. His wife is certified. He has four kids, ranging in ages from 19 to 29, and they are all active scuba divers, making it an activity that draws them together as a family.

From the everyday to the exotic, scuba diving has allowed McCann to experience a different world. “Getting under forty feet is beautiful as the rays of moonlight hit the water. Once you get down deep with the light you are able to see a lot of color. Lots of fish are down there sleeping. A fish can be dead still and when you touch it, it will suddenly move,” he said. “Diving is like a fantasy world. You can go deep and see so much sea life. It is almost like being in an aquarium.”

To inquire for SCUBA lessons, email Art at or call 910.603.6497

Jul 01

Writing With Creative Abandon in the Mountains

By Megan Parry

Author Nancy Carter

If the idea of spending afternoons writing a novel in a third story loft on a mountaintop house a few miles outside of Blairsville, Georgia, sounds like a dreamy paradise, it’s because it is exactly that. Or at least novelist Nancy Carter thinks so. That’s why she lives here.

But the Southern Appalachians isn’t where Carter’s story begins. She was born and raised in the mountains of Martinsville, West Virginia, and spent twenty years in Jacksonville, Florida, as a high school home economics teacher, raising three daughters before retiring to Blairsville with her husband in 2006.

The couple first visited the region after friends suggested they take a trip to the Georgia mountains. Their initial reaction was an incredulous one: “Georgia has mountains?” But of course Georgia has mountains, and beautiful ones too. The area immediately enchanted the couple, and they fell in love with it, Carter noted.

Carter and her husband have always been incredibly active people. The hiking, fishing, and outdoor festivals that make Blairsville such a vibrant community are just some of the reasons she’s so enamored with it. Recalling one of their first weeks in Blairsville, Carter said they stopped at a restaurant for lunch, and before they’d even finished their meal, they’d been invited over to a fellow diner’s home for a visit. “Living here has been a tremendous feather in my cap for my writing too,” Carter said, noting the quiet peacefulness that blankets the area and allows her to write with creative abandon.

Although Carter has always been interested in reading and writing, her real storytelling journey was borne out of personal tragedy. When her eldest daughter passed away in 1992 and left a daughter behind too young to remember her late mom, Carter’s strong Christian convictions helped her heal by way of words. She felt spiritually-compelled to write it down and Carter took the directive to mean that she was meant to write her daughter’s life story for her granddaughter to read one day.

Author Nancy Carter

Years later, only a few months before her granddaughter’s 18th birthday, the young girl was tragically killed in a car accident. Carter never got the chance to give her the short story collection. Ever the hopeful optimist, Carter didn’t let the incredible misfortune deter her life’s calling of storytelling. Instead, she turned her writing focus on another story she’d always wanted to tell: the biography of her grandfather Charles Schultz. He’d grown up on a farm in West Virginia and always “wanted more” from life. So he decided to join the Army during World War II, and his entire life changed. Not only did he find his life’s calling, he also found adventure, love, and mystery.

She began stealing chunks of time over the holiday and summer breaks to craft the historical fiction account surrounding her grandfather’s life, The Telegram. While it’s a war story, it’s also a love story, but not in the way you’d expect. “Well, there is a romantic love story, yes,” Carter said, but she noted it’s more a story of passion and love of country.

Carter, who has been simultaneously writing all three books in the trilogy based on her grandfather at once, said the biggest challenge is keeping the story straight in her mind. She affectionately calls her airy loft a “serial killer’s den,” because of the photos, timelines, articles, and scraps of paper pinned up to the walls, which all serve to provide endless inspiration.

Like Hemingway, Carter relishes her mornings. “Hemingway got up early and wrote all morning before heading off to the cafe to drink with his buddies,” she said. And while she may not be living the bohemian life Hemingway did, she does subscribe to his morning writing routine. But if inspiration strikes at midnight, she’s powerless to resist its pull. “If I don’t write it down immediately, I will lose it!”

Since publishing The Telegram, Carter has been happily promoting her labor of love both locally and regionally. From a book signing at the Olive Tree in Blairsville to stocking the shelves of the notoriously-choosy Tamarack store in West Virginia with copies, she’s kept busy sharing her grandfather’s story with as many people as possible—in addition, of course, to writing the two remaining volumes in the story. It’s a new chapter in her life that she doesn’t take for granted—nor ever expected to happen. In fact, Carter says she often thinks to herself, “I don’t believe I wrote this!” after re-reading a passage from The Telegram. Oh, but write it she did, and right here in Blairsville.

For a signed copy of her book, email

Jul 01

A Fly Fishing Way of Life

By Samantha Sopher

For John Hollifield, fly fishing is an escape. As an avid fisherman from North Carolina, the sport isn’t just a hobby, it’s his way of life. He began fly fishing with his dad at eight years old and can vividly remember holding tight to his father’s vest while wading beside him so he didn’t get swept away by the current.

John Hollifield custom fly fishing rods

“Most weekends would find us afield together, pursuing either wild trout or ruffled grouse in the streams and forests around our home,” Hollifield said. Around the same time he started fishing was when he began to tie his own flies as well. Today, he is the owner of Hollifield Bamboo, a fly fishing rod shop located in his hometown of Hayesville.

John Hollifield custom fly fishing rods

Hollifield spent most of his life working in various management jobs for the local manufacturing company, though he said it was never quite fulfilling enough. He wanted a way to express himself creatively and, after spending time refurbishing his own poles, he decided to take an early retirement and opened Hollifield Bamboo. “Since making that decision, I couldn’t be happier,” he said.

Nowadays, Hollifield spends his time making fly fishing rods and engravings in his shop, while his downtime is spent going out on camping and fishing trips. “I once heard you seldom see someone agitated while casting a fly rod or rocking in a rocking chair. That certainly is true for me,” he said. Fly fishing is a stress reliever, an escape, and one he certainly knows how to take advantage of.

The days Hollifield goes fishing start off with excitement and are often affected by the day’s conditions. He approaches the water to get a feel for what is to be expected, watching for bug activity and judging his flies accordingly. He looks for indicators pointing to fish activity such as seams in the water where the water flows more slowly or where there is foam from bubbles collecting on the water. Areas around boulders or logs are favored. He then selects his fly, slowly makes his way into the water, and begins casting. He prefers to go fishing when the fish are biting, the bugs aren’t, and there aren’t too many other fishermen around. Trout is Hollifield’s fish of choice, especially the native speckled trout, also known as brooks trout.

His equipment depends on the water, the fish, and the time of year. Smaller streams in warmer weather call for shorts and wading shoes, while larger rivers or cold weather call for chest waders and wading boots. When he’s in smaller waters where fish aren’t selective about their flies, he’ll carry a few fly boxes and a sling pack. Larger rivers with fish that are picky about their food require his full vest and all of his fly boxes. The rod he selects depends upon the water. Smaller streams require smaller rods and larger rivers require larger rods.

As for the equipment he uses, Hollifield makes everything. While he does own fiberglass and graphite rods, he only uses his own creations. His line is a new type by Rio, called single handed spey line, which is designed for roll casting, his preferred cast. Although Hollifield uses a variety of casts, the roll cast should be in every fisherman’s arsenal, he said. “Good line control is essential to being a successful angler so curve casts and reach casts are often helpful as well.”

He favors dry flies, but he said he’d use nymphs and streamers if that is what the fish are biting. Just like his rods, he uses his own flies. When he first began tying his flies he used India hackle from roosters, which were poor quality. As time went by, domestically raised and genetically improved hackle made it easier to tie flies of excellent quality, and now that synthetic materials have “exploded on the scene,” tiers have a variety of options, allowing them to go wild with creative ideas, Hollifield noted.

Being a successful fisherman, it only makes sense that Hollifield’s career would revolve around fishing. At Hollifield Bamboo, he creates intricate bamboo fly rods with custom engravings, handcrafting every component except for the guides.

Starting with the rod, there is only one type of bamboo that is acceptable for making fly rods, and this is called Arundinaria Amabilis, or Tonkin Cane, which is only grown in China. It is the only bamboo that has the correct amount of power fiber to provide the strength, stiffness, and resiliency required for fly fishing.

The reel seats he turns himself in his shop. They’re made from exotic hardwoods and appointed with nickel silver metal work. The ferrules, or joints between the sections of the blank, are made from nickel silver tubing. These are also made by him in his shop. The wrappings that hold the ferrules in the blank are in complementing shades of pure silk thread, and everything is topped off with multiple hand rubbed coats of spar varnish to protect the rods from wear and tear and to keep them looking beautiful for years to come. The finishing touches on the bamboo rods are the detailed engravings that Hollifield adds to the reel seats. He wanted to do something unique with his rods, and he has always admired the fine engravings on shotguns.

Hollifield also offers classes in his shop to teach others in rod making and to instruct them on their casting techniques. Offering these classes brings him joy and satisfaction by helping other fishermen improve their skills, while giving him the opportunity to encourage interest in bamboo rod making in hopes the practice will continue to live on in generations to come.

As an avid fly fisherman, and one with plenty of experience, Hollifield imparted this advice upon any aspiring fishermen and rod makers: “Don’t hesitate to call on others who may have more insight and experience than you do.”


To find Hollifield’s rods nearby, visit Southern Highroads Outfitters in Blairsville, Georgia. The store, which is owned by Zack and Kelly Phillips, offers fly-fishing guide trips, fly tying classes, fly casting classes, and fly fishing classes based on the different types of fish. The fishing classes include trout, bass, and saltwater fish. Southern Highroads Outfitters is full of friendly, knowledgeable fishermen who love to talk and assist aspiring fishermen.

For more information, visit: or

Apr 01

Powerlifting Principal

By Cassidy Horn

Principal John Hill starts everyday to the tune of his alarm going off at 4:45 a.m. He drinks his coffee and then hits the treadmill for 45 minutes before eating his breakfast of egg whites, oats, and almond butter. The students at Union County High School know their principal takes his health seriously, but few know just how seriously.

Benching 540 pounds, squatting 660 pounds, and deadlifting 635 pounds, Hill’s muscular build isn’t for show. Hill started powerlifting as a sophomore at the University of North Georgia. His interest in the sport quickly grew into a lifelong passion. When he was only 20 years old, he opened a gym to help pay his way through a degree in business. After being offered a job teaching, he returned for a second degree in education. Eventually, he ended up back at the high school he grew up in, but this time as principal.


“I don’t know that they know exactly the details or how often I compete or anything like that, but I don’t really advertise it at work. The kids know I lift, it is pretty evident,” Hill said of his students. Although seemingly unrelated, his passion for education and lifting share common threads, he said, crediting some of his successes with the high school to his powerlifting training.

Last year, Union County High School was ranked by the Georgia Department of Education as one of the top schools in the state based on college and career readiness. The school also had a graduation rate of 97.7 percent in 2014. Athletics are held to a high standard as well. In the most recent season, the football team won nine to two, the softball team made it to the elite eight—the last eight teams left in the running for state champions—and the cross country team won the state championships.

“We could talk all day about how good Union County High School is. We have got excellent kids and teachers. This has always been a strong performing school, to be honest with you, so it’s a challenge when you already have a strong performing school to make it better. It is the same thing when you are training someone in the gym: If someone is already very strong, how do you get them stronger?” Hill said. “What it boils down to is having people that are doing a really good job and you are helping them improve their skill sets. Whether it’s training or it’s in education or a business, it’s all about fine tuning the process and making sure everyone is moving in the same direction.”

The pride Hill feels for his school is similar to how he feels when he walks into his gym, Shotgun Alley Powerhouse. The gym is a nonprofit, invitation-only gym that has roughly 20 members, all who take their lifting and training very seriously. “There is a lot of camaraderie and it gives you a purpose for your training, which is important. It is also very important to establish goals when you are doing this type of thing. You need to have goals set and you need to work really hard to achieve your goals, that’s how you become successful.”

Hill knows success. He has earned 30 to 40 powerlifting trophies, earned two degrees while working his way through college, and is principal at one of the best high schools in the state. One of his proudest moments, however, was for a student during a powerlifting competition. In the past, the school has had an informal powerlifting team and when Hill coached, he’d take them to compete. At one competition, a student named Jonathan Taylor came in fourth in the collegiate nationals in Texas. “That was just a huge achievement on his part,” Hill said.

Hill and his faculty try to instill that kind of success in all their students, pushing them to make goals and work hard. “Your body is capable of doing things you don’t realize it can do. It really takes time and takes other people pushing you for you to realize you are actually able to do more than you are,” Hill said.

A key concept he has embraced in his life is “delayed gratification,” which essentially means work now for future rewards. The school focuses on literacy, good attendance, and tries to instill the benefits of opting for the college class instead of the easy class.

Although Hill continues to set goals for himself, he said he is already reaping the rewards that come from his passion for lifting and education. “I plan on staying in this community for the rest of my life. We have a really supportive community of parents and school board members. It’s a great place to live and a great place to work. We just have great kids that are talented, intelligent, and civically minded. They do a lot of things for the less fortunate. It is just very enjoyable to come to work.”

Apr 01

Mark Wingertsahn: Man Behind the Birdhouse

By Cassidy Horn

“It is a beautiful area,” artist Mark Wingertsahn said of the North Georgia Mountains. “We don’t have mountains like the Rocky Mountains, but our mountains are still very beautiful, and it just stimulates the artistic juices.”

Wingertsahn, who is known for his whimsical clay birdhouses, is an award-winning potter who moved to Blairsville, Georgia, from Atlanta 15 years ago after retiring from Bellsouth Telephone Company. He started potting in his early 40s, and he now owns an art gallery in Blairsville and teaches a one-week class at John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina.

“I collected pottery, and I used to go out and visit the different potters that are in this region up in the North Georgia Mountains and Western North Carolina,” Wingertsahn said. “I finally realized I could probably make pottery, so I started doing it on my own.”


With no formal training, Wingertsahn started making pots as a way to escape his daily work life. “I was pretty much self-taught,” he said. “I took a little class at a high school, and that’s where I learned the basics of making pottery, but after that, I pretty much took off on my own. I bought my own equipment—my kiln, my wheel, and the basic tools you use to make pottery.”

Wingertsahn bought a potter’s wheel and firing kiln and set up his makeshift art studio in his garage, where he would make his art for the next 10 years.

“I worked budget jobs, and I worked in different support roles. Most of my career, about 22 years, I actually spent in the corporate headquarters,” Wingertsahn said. “It was stressful, and it was really nice to be able to go home and make pots.” His first pot is marked November 1992, and since then, Wingertsahn has mastered the art of creating clay birdhouses. His skill caught the attention of the John C. Campbell Folk School.

“I started doing art festivals,” he said. “I was doing about 23 shows a year. After we moved to the North Georgia Mountains, I was at a show, and I had a woman come up into my booth and ask me if I would be interested in teaching at the John Campbell Folk School. I thought it was a privilege to be asked to teach there. I’ve been doing that for about nine years now.”

The one-week class requires no previous experience with clay, and students walk away with two or three completed birdhouses. Wingertsahn said students are typically very happy with what they’ve done. However, he doesn’t always teach the classes alone. Sharon, his wife of 47 years, is his assistant when needed.

“She is extremely talented,” he said. “She did a lot of quilting and sewing and that kind of stuff. She pretty much knows how I do my processes, so she has been very helpful in that respect. If the truth were to be known, she probably could do a very good birdhouse.”

Wingertsahn's creative flair, love for pottery, and his retirement in the North Georgia Mountains grew his business and artistic skills. “We have a lot of traffic flow here from Atlanta, so from an artistic standpoint, that is really a benefit if you are producing work that you are selling,” he said. “In fact, that is probably the majority of our clientele in addition to the people that are coming out of Florida that have summer homes up here.”

Other potters in the area, likewise drawn by the abundance of traveling customers, are a benefit for Wingertsahn as well. “There is just a collection of them here,” he said. “If you go out and visit them, that in itself can be very stimulating from a creative standpoint. It’s just one of those places that stimulates creativity. It’s just a beautiful place to live; we have waterfalls and mountains and lots of trees.”

Wingertsahn says he doesn’t want to make a statement with his art, that he is inspired simply by the useful, basic shapes that he throws on his wheel.

“I like it simple, useful, and attractive from a color standpoint,” he said. “On the other hand, my birdhouses are whimsical and probably come from the desire to get a little out of the box and to have some fun. Color is really important and the wrong color glaze can make a cool piece look really ugly, but with that being said, the birds don’t really care.”