MAKING CONNECTIONS THROUGH PIE
My documentary career didn’t start with pie; it started with barbecue.
The year was 2002. The Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) was just three years old, and there was this new idea that collecting stories about food would be a worthy enterprise. I hit the road with a couple of colleagues to explore the culture of barbecue in Tennessee. One of the last stops we made was in Humboldt, where we met Sam Donald and his wife, Mary. Together, they ran Sam’s Bar-B-Q.
In 2012, ten years after that first visit, Sam’s Bar-B-Q suffered a devastating fire. Word traveled fast and, within days, a group of SFA members and staff were in Humboldt, helping to clear debris and prep the site for a rebuild.
Two weeks later, I drove back to Humboldt to complete another job: restoring the mural on the side of the building, the one of the man chasing a hog with a cleaver. Sam and Mary Donald’s son, Alfred, had painted it, and it was the one element of the original structure that remained
remained partially intact after the fire. Knowing that I am an artist, the family asked if I would have a go at bringing this barbecue heirloom back to its original glory. That hot August afternoon, standing on a makeshift scaffold held by Sam and Mary’s daughter, Seresa, and their granddaughter, Francesca, remains a highlight of my professional life and the perfect symbol of the connections that I’ve made in the field. What’s more, it’s a wonderful illustration of the coming together of all of the things I’m passionate about: people and stories, art and pie.
When I finished the mural, Seresa and Francesca insisted that I sign it. I signed it in the only way I knew how: with pie.
In 2014, Sam’s Bar-B-Q celebrated its second year back in business after recovering from the fire that destroyed the building two years earlier—the building where I first met Sam and Mary Donald.
A lot happens in twelve years. In that time, both Sam and Mary Donald have passed (Sam in 2011 and Mary in 2005). The SFA now has an archive of more than 800 stories behind the food. And this curious gal from Texas has made a career of traveling the region to meet people and record their life stories.
I resigned from the SFA in 2014 to return to my hometown of Houston, where I continue to conduct fieldwork and have been able to devote more time to making paintings. I’m still sharing stories—in words, sounds, and paint.
“Amy built the SFA’s documentary program. We’re very proud of what she accomplished, of how she comported herself, and of how she stewarded the people she interviewed.”
- John T. Edge, SFA Director
TOP: Sam's Bar-B-Q just weeks after the 2012 fire. MIDDLE: Seresa, Francesca, and me in front of the completed mural. BOTTOM: My signature on the exterior wall of Sams Bar-B-Q.