Journal of 100 Miles

Celebrating the communities and culture along the 100 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tennessee.


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Trace of Light – Photographer Mike Serkownek

Living a few miles off the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mt. Pleasant, TN is Mike Serkownek, businessman turned photographer. Having traveled to many parts of the country to capture beautiful landscapes through his camera, he claims, “The best places you do your best work seem to be close to home.” With the convenience of neighboring the Trace, he will often go back and find a different look to each setting depending on the time of year. Serkownek is intrigued by his discoveries and the mystery of whether he’ll find something he’s been looking for or fall upon that moment, “When it just happens to become a great picture,” the photographer says.

A lover of nature and supporter of environmental preservation, Serkownek’s photos have appeared numerous times on the cover of Tennessee Conservationist Magazine.  His keen eye for composition and play on light can turn simple elements like water, the sun, moon and leaves into a compelling work of beauty. Patience and observation allows him to find those moments that, captured on one particular day, will inevitably change with the season or simply by a rainy day.  A mere ripple in the water changes with the wind.  A winter fog reveals a river that will glow with the spring blossoms.  His work is a reminder of how nature in itself gives a photographer plenty of choices for fine details. Favorite spots for Mike to work include Fall Hollow, Water Valley and Metal Ford.

Emerging from Serkownek’s work is a heightened awareness of his surroundings.  His daughter, Rachel, points out by saying, “You see things I don’t see.” A talent also appreciated by wife Sandra and youngest daughter, Sara.

Serkownek strives for a “picture with a story in it; one that moves you somehow. “  He will attest, “There are two pictures in one:  the photographer’s and the viewer’s.”

Mike is a mostly self-taught photographer who has been featured in numerous publications, galleries and festivals.  He teaches classes and workshops in his home and on site in digital photography basics, composition, exposure and printing.  To experience nature, wildlife and rural life at it’s best among light, visit Mike Serkownek at www.traceoflight.com.

December 2009


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Tommy Thompson – Plein Air Artist


There are winding roads neighboring the Natchez Trace Parkway where Tommy Thompson can be found capturing his surroundings.  “I always want to know what’s around the bend,” he says, as he loves to discover new places with his wife, Marie.  For this plein air artist, around the bend is a few more miles of the unknown and endless possibilities.  When finding that perfect spot, where sunlight dances on the fields, he’ll pull out his easel and, like a poet putting words to paper, brush paint to canvas of a peaceful landscape and unsuspecting subjects.

Thompson’s impressionistic style with a play on light and color creates a tranquil display of a rural environment along with elements that “give life” to his art.  Horses and children are among his specialty. “With both you have to stay with them long enough for them to get accustomed to you, when they finally get quiet and move away from you, you can get a natural painting.”

The former architectural and commercial illustrator turned painter has been featured in numerous publications and solo exhibitions throughout the south and has studied under top painters like Kevin McPherson, Roger Dale Brown and Jason Saunders.  A labor of love, to be a painter, he will declare, “You have to work at it every day, never stop painting.”

Inspired by the Tennessee’s hillsides, his work here includes Dream Acres, Hillside Horses and Southern Light.  Left, Tommy paints with equine friend Sedona.  This picture was published in the Winter 2008 issue of Horses in Art Magazine.

To inquire about Tommy Thompson artwork, please visit www.TommyThompsonArt.com and tell them Natchez100Journal.com sent you.

August 2009


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The Dragonfly Emporium

The dragonfly is a luminous creature of change and a messenger of life’s beauty, a reminder of the importance of making every minute special and to not limit ourselves.  It is also the inspiration behind the Dragonfly Emporium, a unique café housed in a small cottage, circa 1938, that sits on Second Avenue in Collinwood.

Owner David Harrison, grew up under the influence of an entrepreneurial father in the grocery business in West Tennessee. With years of retail experience, he took his knowledge to the bustling town of Atlanta, GA.  After spending a decade in the metropolitan area working in the restaurant business, he learned to enjoy the culture and the crowds, but knew it was time to make a change.

Family ties drew Harrison to Collinwood where his parents had bought his great-grandmothers house.  When fire overtook the home a few years ago, Harrison made a permanent move to help design and build a new home for them.   While looking for other work, he came across a job to renovate an old house, and noticing the “For Sale” sign, decided to make an offer on what appeared to be a promising venture.  In conversations with community members about what type of business might be needed, Harrison determined the town called for something new and different.  Marrying his knowledge of retail and a genuine knack for working with the public, Harrison came up with the perfect emporium experience, featuring locally created arts & crafts, antiques, gift items and a fun and inviting coffee lounge.

The atmosphere is definitely one of a cozy and eclectic ambiance.  A small front porch with a bistro table welcomes you as you enter.  On occasion, local artists will be creating their work out there.   Inside is a comfortable café surrounded by adjoining rooms that house the unique gifts and antiques while Big Band music plays overhead creating a hip and nostalgic vibe and very original environment.  David has made a successful attempt at creating a great brand – the name coming from serendipitous moments where the dragonfly would keep appearing – where people are proud to say, “I got this at the Dragonfly.”

The proprietor has a wonderful philosophy when it comes to owning a business, as he states, “To give people the best you can give them because they deserve it, there’s no reason not to give the best you can offer.”  Harrison speaks highly of the support and cooperation among the town of Collinwood and hopes he can contribute to building the town as a destination for travelers, as well as, a great place to shop for local folks.

Even more interesting, Harrison’s conviction on life, “Don’t put the good china in the cabinet, use it all the time and enjoy it.”  Just as the Dragonfly Emporium makes every minute special for visitors.

July 2009


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The Strand Theatre- Circa 1938

It was a misty Saturday this past March as we ventured to Hohenwald, a quaint town of just over 3,700 people, to visit The Strand Theatre.  Built in 1938, the splendid building, in earlier days, was home to popular Hollywood movies and live performances from members of the Grand Ole Opry.  Even more remarkable were the news reels that played as family members watched hoping to catch a glimpse of loved ones overseas during WWII.  Soldiers on leave would even make surprise appearances.  Wilda Lawson, 72, whose family owned the theatre at the time, recalls working in the theatre when she was a young girl. “I remember popping popcorn and standing on wooden Coca-Cola trays so we could reach the popper,” says the local resident.  “I first sold tickets by myself when I was in the fifth grade,” she adds, “That’s how times were, they could trust you.”  Wilda can also remember when ticket prices were a mere 35 cents for adults and 11 cents for children.

This particular night of 2009 was a performance by the Highland String Quartet, four classical players with impressive credentials.  Collectively, they have performed at Carnegie Hall, with Opera Companies and Symphonies around the US and the world, are graduates and faculty of top music schools, Grammy winners and members of the Nashville String Machine who have recorded with the likes of Garth Brooks, Amy Grant, Carrie Underwood, Bruce Springsteen, Rascal Flatts, to name just a few. The acoustics were pure and beautiful resonating the sounds of their evening program, “Music Through the Ages from Mozart to Zeppelin.”  It was a true display of art and talent with a timeless sensation.

When the original theatre had closed many years ago, the building was turned into a general store. The theatre space, however, would remain hidden and unused until recent renovations recovered the stage with new shows brought to life.  Original brick and floors still remain throughout parts of the historic structure.   The re-opening of the theatre in 2007 was a grand celebration.  And, Wilda was there. “We started having swing bands in the ’30’s, and the first one that played (for the re-opening) was a salute to the WWII veterans, and it just brought the house down,” she happily recalls.

The Strand Theatre is now part of the Hohenwald Discovery Center complex and a program of the Hohenwald Arts Council that is solely run by volunteers.  Definitely worth a visit, be sure to check their calendar of events to find a show you can take in like the old days.   Visit hohenwaldtn.org or hohenwaldlewischamber.com for more information.

May 2009


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Larry Montgomery – “As the Crows Fly” Artist

A jailhouse sits in a grassy corridor just off the main thoroughfare of Leipers Fork.  It’s an imitation, but unique nonetheless.  The small, log building is a renovated smoke house from the late 1800s, that now houses a mock jail cell, civil war artifacts, vintage clothing and entertaining photo opportunities for visitors.  There’s artwork also on display from the man behind the enterprise, Larry Montgomery.  The man of many hats runs his own residential cleaning business, the Jailhouse Industries and the Lawnchair Theatre.  But, what speaks most from his heart and is rooted in his soul is his art.

Perhaps sparked by the challenge of his mother when she said to him, “You couldn’t draw a fly,” the local resident discovered pencil and brush as a young boy that turned to a style all his own.  He would often draw funny characters, twerps and nerds he would call them, that even got the attention of National Lampoon.   A talent that has existed some forty years now, the artist’s work is colorful, quirky, folky and, as some like to say, drawn “as the crows fly,” which is noticeable in his unique maps of the town.   While studying at Louisiana Tech, his teachers included world-renowned painters Robert E. Woods and Douglas Walton.

Speaking with Larry is always enjoyable.  He’s a southern gentleman friendly in conversation, who likes to refer to himself as a “Tennessee Boy.”   The resident is full of historical knowledge of the south, the civil war, Indians and the Natchez Trace and loves to share his passion of capturing the local area with his artwork.  Pencil sketches with a touch of watercolor, with added detail and character, are a display of subjects that have meaning to people, like their homes, the towns they live in, the church they attend. “I love creating art that is about what people cherish, and I’ll add other images to it to make it come alive,” declares the artist. 

Fuel for this creative mind comes from having old movies on in the background and painting at night.   “When I’m painting, I get into a different zone,” says Montgomery.   And, like many of us who have juggled too many irons in the fire, he will admit to a period of time the brush was put down, until inspiration would hit again and he realized the importance of making the time.

Larry Montgomery is an artist, entrepreneur, a pillar of the community and a creative soul.  He has original art, prints, note cards and maps for sale.  Give him a call at 615.477.6799 to schedule a visit.

May 2009