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  When James A. Michener discovered Roger Bansemer's book Southern Shores he used it as reference for Recessional, a book he was writing at the time. Michener then contacted Bansemer and a friendship developed. Later Michener and Bansemer traveled to the Smoky Mountains where Michener wrote the foreword to Bansemer's book, "Mountains in the Mist.

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Photos of James A. Michener & Roger Bansemer

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James A. Michener and Roger Bansemer
cooking  lunch in the van at Tallulah Gorge.
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Michener roughing it with sleeping bags in  Bansemer's van during their trip to the Smoky Mountains.
Michener was 84 at the time.
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Michener and Bansemer in the Smokys
 with fog in the valley below
.
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Jim Michener and Roger Bansemer
during a rest stop in the Smokys.

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Mari Michener and Roger Bansemer
at the Michener home in Austin, Texas,
about a year before she passed away.

This was the last sketch ever made
of James Michener before his death
Roger Bansemer did the sketch on July 22, 1995
while the two were watching a video
at Michener's  home in Austin, Texas. 

 

Foreword by James A. Michener
A
friend owed me a debt which could not properly be discharged with money, so, in a burst of genius, he gave me a copy of Southern Shores by Roger Bansemer, an artist-naturalist from nearby Clearwater. It was a handsome affair, beautiful color plates of the rich wildlife that exists along the unique shorelines of Florida. Here were the pelicans, the egrets, the great blue herons, the Washingtonia palms, never seen in the north, and all the features that make towns like Tampa and St. Petersburg so rich in natural beauty.

 What my friend who gave it could nut have known was that his gift arrived just as I was in the process of drawing my own portraits of the very birds and trees and shrubs depicted in the Bansemer book. I was doing this because I had in the back of my mind the idea that I might want to write, one of these days, a book about some aspect of life in semitropical Florida, and here was a major part of my research already done for me, in fine style and in full color. Southern Shores was a godsend, the best gift I'd received in years.

 In fact, I was so favorably impressed by it that I sat immediately down and typed out a fan letter to the author, praising him for the excellent work he'd done and inviting him to stop by where I was living not far from his home, and like all the writers I know, he jumped at the chance of a free meal. After lunch we walked through the woods near my home and he explained aspects of the wild life that had captivated me so powerfully. Under his tutelage I saw things that I had not noticed closely before, and a friendship developed, because I realized that with his artist's eye he could see things I didn't.

 After several meetings, an amazing coincidence surfaced. He was deep in the process of painting and writing his next book, an account of living habitats in the colorful mountain country that includes western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, forming The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When I visited his studio I found that he had completed about ninety per cent of his illustrations and a fair portion of the text to accompany them. The proposed book promised to be just as engaging as his Southern Shores.

 What he could not know was that for some time I had become increasingly involved with a novel 1 might want to write about aspects of life in western Florida, the scene of Southern Shores, and the mountains of Tennessee-North Carolina, the locale of Mountains in the Mist, the title of his new book. Thus we were engaged in identical research problems, although with vastly different end results in mind.

He spoke first: "You said the other day that you knew the Highlands district of North Carolina rather well. That could be judged as an extension of the area I'm focusing on. Since you liked my last book would you consider doing the foreword to my book, when it's finished?"

 A writer like me receives many such requests, most of them irrelevant, because an ordinary foreword does little to help the sales of a book. That's especially true when the writer in question has no serious affiliation with the subject matter of the book. The few forewords I've done have amounted to little, but I concede that if James Baldwin, the fine black writer, had said of a beginning black novelist, "This is a splendid work by a young man who knows what he's writing about," such an endorsement might be significant. Mine aren't.

Next night, at ten o'clock, he met me after the close of the seminar on creative writing I was conducting in a small Florida college, and we set off for an all-night drive north to the mountains. Our round trip would cover 1485 miles of exciting countryside. We slept in the rear of his spacious van, ate at drive-ins, and explored in deep detail not only the mountains and valleys but also the scenes of daily living that Roger had illustrated in his paintings. And gradually, after having visited a score of settings with which I was already familiar from his paintings, I began to appreciate the ambitious task he had set for himself.

 

 By painting in acrylics and describing in words the buildings and procedures of the past century, he was endeavoring to perpetuate the colorful ways of mountain life. But he was not dealing sentimentally with eye-catching relies of the past; he was concentrating on buildings which were currently occupied, on people who were right now preserving many of the old ways. OAen as we visited some scene he had caught perfectly in his art and words, I thought: "It's lucky he came along when he did and took the pains he did. Because ten years from now this record might be lost."

What I saw as we probed various crannies tucked away in the hills of Tennessee and North Carolina was the past clinging to the last vestiges of life in the present. It was a compelling experience which, I believe, Bansemer has captured in this book.

 While traveling, we met the quintessential mountain man, a real fellow who tracked us down when we were parked at Tallulah Gorge, studying the chasm across which the famous acrobat Karl Wallenda walked on a tightrope in 1970. The congenial figure who stepped forward to greet us could not have known we were coming to that spot, or that we were even in the vicinity. He was, like all the people Roger painted, a very real man.

 In Habersham County, I found a spot of peculiar interest to me. For many years I had served on a committee of our Postal Service and am currently engaged in the construction of a major historical museum depicting the history of our postal customs.  From here, in this small, remote village, came Joseph Habersham, who served as postmaster general for three presidents: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. He was largely responsible for getting our national postal service extended and properly based.

 At the Pioneer Farmstead near the eastern edge of the Park, I was enchanted by the manner in which old farm buildings had been preserved along the banks of a flowing stream. They recapitulated a wealth of family history, for it was in such buildings that our pioneer families toiled to build the nation.

 I enjoyed the care with which Bansemer created his images of the pig and explained in his text the importance of this humble animal during the years of our westward expansion. It was fun seeing the incredible jumble of Popcorn Sutton's junkyard posing as a center for antiques, but my more lasting impressions came from the old buildings depicted in Bansemer's paintings: old barns, the tub mill, a contraption that was unfamiliar to me, the various country stores, and especially the old houses in which the mountain people had lived in times past or were occupying even today.

 Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well regarded not only for its colorful landscapes and restful valleys, but also for the people who have through the centuries wrestled a hard, meager living from its soil, t3ansemer catches the faces of these people, and they provide the human coloring to this book.

 In retrospect, I'm glad Roger invited me to write this forword, because the study involved enabled me to inspect in close detail a corner of our republic about which I would myself be writing. And what I saw assured me that he had produced a fine book. I hope it does well.

 And what of my own project? As I wandered these mountain paths and relished their grand vistas I found myself in quandary. When I was in Tennessee, I said: "This is exactly what I've been seeking! But when I crossed over into North Carolina i found it equally rewarding and cried with vigor: "This has got to be it! I can see it now!" Soon I shall have to choose between them.

 James A. Michener