Philanthropy For and By The People

Presenting a richer picture of how generosity builds community by reframing portraits of philanthropy is my passion.

VF at NC Nonprofits ConfOn September 19, I experienced the joy of delivering the keynote message to more than 600 people at the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits Statewide Conference in Concord. To my delight, the audience responded with a standing ovation. Here’s a Storify recap of the event.

VF at NC Nonprofit Conference Sep 2013Titled Philanthropy For and By The People, my talk celebrated the line of sight and the assets that everyday people, deep within communities, can bring to the field of philanthropy. Bringing about change in today’s world requires shifts in perspective and in thinking and approach. While writing Giving Back and engaging diverse audiences, I gained potent lessons from unsung yet generous donors who are democratizing giving and enlivening the soul of philanthropy. There’s value in including a wider slice of society as benefactors of the nonprofit sector.

Nothing Finer

In The Garden_Winghaven

Abundant home-state pride spurred me to instigate a friendly photo-fueled feud via my Twitter feed. The conflict centered on the prettiest and best-est springtimes ever: New Jersey vs. North Carolina. Having spent eight spring seasons in the Garden State, I give props to the beauty that blossoms there once winter ends. But that was precisely the problem. Winters in Jersey were so harsh and long, the thaw melted into and chilled most of the spring months. I prefer springs that arrive on time, or better yet early and then linger. After eight fun-filled years, I quit my Jersey Girl stint and returned home, again a true-blue Carolina Girl.

Pride is among the deadly sins, and my competitive drive is no virtue either. That said, I set out to advance my stance in the online “feud.” Painstaking finesse aided my quest for the most verdurous visions of spring’s breathtaking essence. Then the perfect moment arose and I plucked it. At the height of the fairest season in the Tarheel State, an invitation from my green-thumbed sister, who’s on the Charlotte Garden Club board, to the annual member picnic in the celebrated gardens of Wing Haven.


Here’s a fountain of iPhone photos from that magnificent May day, which makes a convincing case about North Carolina’s springtime supremacy. Good thing Jersey Guys Sidney and Brian are such good sports.

— VF


Great White Way_Winghaven

Vines_WinghavenTerra Cotta Pot_WinghavenBronte Quote_WinghaveBlue Berries

If I had Aladdin‘s lamp for only a day,
I’d make a wish and here’s what I’d say:
Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.

From the song “Carolina in the Morning

guest blog post // Vessels From The Heart

To prepare an award nomination, Anne Lambert recently interviewed the artist Charles Farrar. The discussion covered Farrar’s contributions to his artistic tradition and impact in North Carolina. Below is the written piece that Anne compiled. 

WhiteHouseCollectionThere are two Charles Farrars—the first, a retiree enjoying his leisure time after a 25-year corporate career, and the second, a world-class North Carolina artisan and teacher whose finely crafted bowls and vases are spectacular examples of the art of woodturning, prized by museums and private collectors.

Charles Farrar Artist Statement:

My fascination with the many properties of wood began when I was a child growing up in Southern Virginia. I am happiest when creating from found woods that feature irregular grain patterns, knots, burls or voids, such that the finished work provokes a different commentary. I work using a custom built Nichols lathe and tools for the different stages of turning; shaping, hollowing, etc. Ecological sensibility prevents my harvesting living trees solely for the purpose of turning vessels. Some of my vessels are classical forms with finely finished surfaces. Others have hand carved, textured or pigmented surfaces. I’m reminded of my ancestors when I embellish the surface of a piece. While Sub-Saharan Africans were master carvers, it was the Egyptians in North Africa who gave to the world the process of turning wood using a lathe as early as the time of the great pyramids.

Since 1997, Farrar’s artwork has shown in major U.S. cities including Albuquerque, Charlotte, St. Paul, Richmond, Atlanta and New York. Work has been on permanent loan with the State Department at the United States Embassy in Madagascar. His recent exhibit schedule includes The Mary Martin Gallery, Charleston, SC; Old Courthouse Galleries, Concord, NC; Whitespace Gallery, Winston-Salem, NC; The American Association of Woodturners Invitational Exhibit, Albuquerque, NM; The Gregg Museum at NCSU School of Art and Design, Raleigh, NC; and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Charlotte, NC. Among corporate commissions/purchasers are Bank of America, First Citizens Bank & Trust Company, and The David Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles.

Work is in the permanent collection of the Danville Museum of Fine Art, John & Vivian Hewitt Collection (at the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte), The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, Essence Magazine editor, Susan Taylor; actress, Debbie Allen; author and poet laureate, Dr. Maya Angelou; Former US Solicitor General, Walter Dellinger; Artist/Art Historian, David C. Driskell; The White House Collection, and The Archbishop of Canterbury.

Farrar’s studio is in Concord, NC. This is where he lives and creates his beautiful works of art. Farrar moved to the Charlotte area in 1974 when he began his career working for Southern Bell (now AT&T). He describes how he became interested in woodturning:

In about the twentieth year of my corporate career in Charlotte, North Carolina, I purchased a turned wood vessel from artist David Goines during the SpringFest street arts festival. I liked the Camphor wood vessel so much that the next year—maybe 1991—I went back to the festival hoping to find the same artist. I did and said to him, “I’m going to buy another vessel, but I wish I knew how you did this.” He understood my fascination with his vessels, and he said, “Come up the mountain next Saturday and I’ll show you everything I know about woodturning.” He was my first mentor. For half a year I would take the best examples of my work from the previous two-month period for him to critique. He was very direct in his criticisms; he drove home the point that wood art is collected for its line and form more than wood color. Goines always left me inspired and wanting to improve my skills. Turning wood was just a hobby for me at that point. A few years later I took an early retirement from my corporate job and had the time to immerse myself fully in my hobby. Within two years of my retirement, a very fine gallery in downtown Charlotte saw my work and offered me a solo exhibition. It is then that I began to think of myself as an artist.

The ‘very fine gallery’ in downtown Charlotte was owned by B.E. Noel, who first encouraged Farrar to sell his works. When B.E. told him she wanted to represent him, Farrar laughs, “I asked her ‘What does that mean?’” Within a year, Noel Gallery had sponsored a major exhibition of his work and he began displaying at art shows and festivals. B.E. Noel moved her gallery to New York in the mid 2000s, but continues her exclusive representation of Farrar to this day, although his work is also shown in galleries across the US, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta and Charlotte Fine Art Gallery.

Farrar describes the ancient threads and meticulous techniques that provide inspiration for his work:

I am drawn to hollow turned vessels, usually with walls about 3/16″ thick, where the inside wood chips have to be evacuated through the small opening at the top center. The challenge of hollowing large vessels through small openings is addictive. I am very much moved by shapes of ancient ceremonial and utilitarian vessels from the Motherland, if you will, and I am especially partial to the perennial egg shape, which works, no matter whether the pointed end is fashioned as top or bottom.

Not everyone knows that historians now agree that the woodturning device, the lathe, was given to the world by the Egyptians some 4,500 years ago, about the time of the Fourth Dynasty or the period of the great pyramids. When I teach the woodturning process at craft schools—i.e., Arrowmont or John C. Campbell—I also show hand-carved bowls that demonstrate how sub-Saharan Africans created beautifully formed and adorned vessels, using solely their skills as master carvers. In my collection is a large hand carved Senegalese bowl from a Fromager tree, perfectly round, except for delicate hand tool marks.

As a woodturner, I hope to create vessels that speak to people who have a love of this very ubiquitous and tactile medium. I hope that my audience will appreciate and enjoy my sometimes use of color and other enhancements on turned and/or carved vessels. I believe that wood happens to be my canvas, and that I have license and freedom to be as creative as the imagination allows. If line and form (design), surface texturing or carving is appropriately executed, then the work will appeal to the greatest number of admirers.

When asked about how he turns a piece of wood into a work of art, Farrar speaks with passion about his process:

It simply boggles the mind sometimes! Whenever I see a blank of wood and I put it in my lathe, soon, within a few hours or a day, the shape of the art begins to reveal itself. [After all these years] I am pretty much able to see the shape inside the wood before I start the process. Sometimes I will spend half a day just seeing the wood, rolling it around in my hand, seeing the grain pattern, or the knots or the void, seeing how I might be able to feature that knot or that void. I [often] go in the opposite direction of a museum quality piece of wood. I prefer those blanks with a flaw, because the flaw is where the character is and where the story is. The story can be as valuable as the piece itself.

Just as David Goines mentored him, Farrar feels compelled to teach others. He has taught at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC and at Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. “When the schools invite you,” Farrar says modestly, “it’s something of a comfort that your work is being recognized, and that they welcome your ability to share your art and your craft.”

Farrar is especially motivated to inspire young African-American artists. “There are so few blacks [who are practicing traditional crafts], yet we were the folks who first made our lives easier by creating and fashioning things that we could use that were also beautiful. But we didn’t carry it forward as we should have.” Farrar recalls attending a national conference for traditional craft making. “Out of 1,500 attendees, fewer than 10 looked like me [were African American], and that was an increase from five a few years before.”  Farrar also recognizes that few public high schools still offer shop and industrial arts programs, where students might have previously learned these specialized skills. As a result, Farrar feels obligated to “go back and give back…to excite these young folks” by exposing them to traditional crafts and wood turning. The first project he often gives high school students is to make a pen. “We make a pen, a usable, workable pen – and these students get so excited, their faces light up and they get a gleam in their eyes, they can’t believe that they have made something so beautiful and useful. They don’t want to stop creating art. I owe it to them to help them.”

Farrar was honored in 2010 when Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx presented President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama with a gift of one of his works, a turned hemlock vessel with a lid adorned by a filial. The work (featured in the photo above) is now part of the White House collection. Farrar’s work was also featured at an exhibition at the Harvey B. Gantt Center—Romancing the Eye: Louis Delsarte, Charles Farrar and Larry Lebby—from June 25 through September 3, 2010. A video of some of Farrar’s works from that exhibit can be found here. More information about Charles Farrar and his portfolio can be found here.


Anne Lamberttoday’s guest blogger, is an accomplished non-profit professional with more than 20 years of experience in fundraising, project planning and arts management. She has worked as a fundraiser, grant writer and development consultant for a variety of organizations, including Harvey B. Gantt Center, Carolina Raptor Center, North Carolina Dance Theatre, UNC Charlotte, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, Charlotte Country Day School and Foundation For The Carolinas. Anne also is an actor, director and producer and two-time Metrolina Theatre Award acting award winner. She has produced plays, theatrical events and fringe theater festivals in Charlotte, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Seven Generations and One Hundred, Ten Years Ago

Christian and Riley McGimpsey with family and friends, 1903

Christian and Riley McGimpsey with family and friends, 1903

This is a story about Riley R. McGimpsey (28 Mar 1845 – 20 Apr 1934), my great-great-grandfather, as told to me by my elder cousin Nettie McGimpsey McIntosh for my book Giving Back:

Despite common perceptions, Black men have long been industrious. And evidently my grandfather Riley was as hardworking as men of any race come. I call him a Black entrepreneur, but back then industrious is the word people used.

I archive and keep our family’s history. I have scoured over family artifacts and Census data. Some time in the mid-1800s on the McGimpsey farm in Burke County, North Carolina, a slave named Clarissa gave birth to a son she named Riley. While born into slavery, Riley eventually became a sharecropper who sold his part of the produce—corn, wheat, molasses and such. Documents I have come across show his products sold as far away as Mullins, South Carolina, which was hundreds of miles from the farmland of Fonta Flora. He even owned one of the county’s few reaper-binders and loaned it out to others.

Fondly remembered and respected by people all over the county, my grandfather prospered in farming and with various small enterprises. He grew well known for giving away fresh produce and all kinds of things to community people, regardless of color. Riley was born a slave, but died an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Don’t let a meager start or scant resources limit what you do in life.

The portrait above is on display at the History Museum of Burke County. Riley is seated on the far right and his wife Christian V. Moore McGimpsey is seated next to him. Their daughter Mary Maldonia, who is my great-grandmother is seated on the far left.

Fast forward one hundred and ten years: There will be a family reunion this summer, kicking off at the History Museum of Burke County, with five more generations—the far-flung descendants of Maldonia McGimpsey and the man she would later marry John Wesley Fullwood. Cannot wait!

— VF

Picturing Home

View from around Morganton, my beloved hometown. This iPhone photograph was taken through a screened-in porch, hence the pixelated effect. Looking at this photo takes me home again.

Taken with Valaida's iPhone

Taken with Valaida’s iPhone

An Exquisite Truth

Earlier today at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, I participated in the annual meeting of North Carolina Network of Grantmakers (NCNG). Joining me on the panel were CIN members Tim McIntosh and Darryl Lester. Our session on bold and unconventional philanthropy drew an audience of over 80 people, who listened intently and posed thoughtful questions.

Over lunch, Martin Eakes, founder of Self-Help, delivered a stirring and, at times, eyebrow-raising keynote message about moving people from “poverty to justice” and the possibilities and responsibilities of philanthropy, today and into the future. His speech punctuated the words and philanthropic deeds of the panelists in my session. In wrapping up, Martin shared a passage from one of his favorite quotes (and mine, too), which is featured in Giving BackIf only more work in philanthropy were threaded with this exquisite truth.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” ― Frederick Douglass

Home Again

Earlier this month, I was a guest blogger on The Blair Essentials, the indie book blog of John F. Blair, Publisher. Blair is a publishing house in Winston-Salem, NC that distributes Giving Back to the book trade.

The blog piece was a joy to write and share, and as I prepare to return to my beloved hometown for the holidays, I thought I’d share it again.

So much about Giving Back is rooted in Morganton, North Carolina. Though a large share of the book’s stories and photography feature people and places in Charlotte, the city where I now reside, my hometown is without a doubt the book’s epicenter.

Morganton, a hilly prelude to North Carolina’s western mountains, is where I grew up and…read the entire blog post.