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old try

by Grace Bonney


When we were planning our book tour I was so happy to see how extensively we’re traveling throughout the South. From Virginia and North Carolina down to South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, we’re hitting some of my favorite spots throughout the region (I can’t wait to show Amy around Savannah when it’s not the dead of winter). I didn’t really learn to appreciate being Southern until I left Virginia and went to college in NYC. I was so homesick that I wound up spending my afternoons watching Designing Women on my dorm TV just to get a dose of Southern accents. There’s something about just thinking about the South that always makes me feel at home.



These prints are from a new business called Old Try. Started by a Southern couple who moved to Boston a few years ago, Old Try operates with the same longing for the South that only really happens when you move away from it. The Old Try team found an old letterpress shop run by locals in Massachusetts and decided to set up came there, sending “love letters to the south” from their new home. Each of their prints are made on cotton paper and feature hand-carved designs celebrating states like Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina. I’m partial to the North Carolina and Georgia prints, but you can check out the full collection right here, along with the designers’ thoughts on each design and why they chose it. My favorite anecdote from their email to me involved ruffling a few feathers in Massachusetts in their process. They said they’re often asked why they aren’t drawing more Boston designs, to which they answered, “Well ma’am, I don’t dream of Boston when I fall asleep.” I certainly know what it’s like to dream of warm summer days in the South. Thanks to Old Try for reminding me of those quieter moments. xo, grace

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Comments

    • christine

      there is a difference between celebrating southern history and culture and celebrating the more negative aspects of the confederacy you’re implying. it’s frustrating as a southerner to feel like any time you mention being proud of where you come from someone immediately brings up the confederacy as though that is all southern history is.

      grace

  • Agreed, Grace, re your comment above. Thank you for handling that well. As a (very!) proud Southerner, it irks me when people assume the worst if I want to celebrate my history. And I love these prints!

    When you’re in Raleigh/Durham, take some time to explore the city – I’ll be happy to show y’all around :)

  • Im from South Georgia and recently moved to Missouri. I miss the good ol’ south everyday. I know i will be going back someday. Love the prints! And i love that they are representing the South in a good way. Proud to be a Southerner!

  • Warm (or too warm) summer evenings on the patio with friends. The South definitely has its charms. Though I could do without the humidity and kudzu. Greetings from Greenville, SC.

  • I agree with Christine. It’s unfortunate that this company chose to reminisce on the Old South using the hateful image of the Confederate flag. There are plenty of other less offensive iconic “southern” images that they could have used. Coca-Cola? Magnolia trees? When people think about the Old South of course the Confederacy comes to mind because it permeated southern culture for generations, even following the Civil War. Why not do a design “celebrating” Jim Crow? It would be pretty much the same thing. – Julie, born and raised and still living in Richmond, Va.

  • Born in Alabama, live in Tennessee. Absolutely ambivalent about the South and the concept of “Southern Pride.” I am a huge fan of letterpress work, admire the design thinking in these. But on their website, they have a poster featuring the Mississippi state flag. There’s not a reason in the world that the Confederate battle flag should appear anywhere, my opinion, even if it’s as part of the Mississippi state flag. Can’t stand that thing and what it represents. Celebrate the South, sure–capitalize it and everything–but just let that particular symbol go. Just let it go. Some people use it to indicate something very low, so why elevate it at all?

  • I am Southerner through and through & love, love, love my heritage which is DEEP, DEEP South…and in that I embrace the confederacy as part of it. Hear that. I mean it. However, with all due respect to every comment & person submitting them, I do see the concerns of the first writer. The snippet of the old flag..the dates, resurgens, does jump out IF you are sensitive to the sorrows of our past. I love it and hate it …like dsyfunctional family! I think the art is great and perhaps they might expand it with some visuals of other things we southerners all love…yep, our animals, flora, fauna, sweet tea, green maters, grits, magnolia, cotton, even kudzu, the coast, the mountains, the deltas, the blues…our music, our stories, architecture, our famous people. There’s a lot of stuff beloved by all of us and these people can do it well!

  • Ann, it’s never a good idea to just bury and forget these symbols of the past. We need to remember them, talk about them, and learn from them, so that we don’t repeat mistakes of the past.

  • Thank you so much for sharing Old Try! I went over to their site and the second I saw the “Yellowhammer” I bought it! I love the story they tell about where the name came from….

    “As an elementary school kid, I never knew this story: In the War, men of Huntsville arrived in Kentucky later than those troops who’d been fighting for weeks. The men had bright yellow on their uniforms, whereas the other Confederates’ colors had faded. The Huntsville company became known as the Yellowhammers. And years later, the state got an idea for it’s official bird. And the University found something to rhyme with Rammer Jammer.”

    I live in Huntsville, Alabama and my husband and I both graduated from the University of Alabama. This is perfect for us! Roll Tide.

  • The history of the south is complicated and sorrowful. I grew up in and love the south. But there is so much real (and lasting!) pain behind some of these symbols. I am wary of any attempt to fetishize/cuteify the south, as much as I love it. There is too much at stake in the history for it to be simplified this way. Just my thoughts. I have seen a boom in bloggers traveling to the south for the “Spanish moss of it all” but without an understanding of the violence that is a part of the same places that the photographers and tourists are drawn to. Just get educated, that’s all.

  • I’m from Louisiana, and I have to agree with those who find these prints problematic. The reason they are making people think of the confederacy is that they are reproductions of confederate emblems and slogans. There’s so much that’s lovely about the south– why would I want to celebrate the worst aspects of its history? Frankly, I’m a little offended that d*s thinks I would.

    • JP

      Other than the portion of the current Mississippi flag that uses a portion of the confederate flag (which I don’t like), what other emblems and slogans are you seeing from the confederacy? I don’t see any. The Atlanta “resurgens” phrase refers to the destruction and rebuilding of the city.

      Grace

  • I’m with Grace (and also a southerner, from other underrepresented state of Florida ;). I’ve already recommended Old Try to a dozen fellow southerners who love design. I see beautiful designs and prints that drawing on many great inpirations — Alabama’s yellow hammer, the diversity of the old/new South, the ‘Ol Miss yell, Atlanta pre-Sherman, Chapel Hill’s alma mater, the Durham bulls, and my personal favorite, the New Orleans inspired “Love me some Jesus”. Can’t wait to see you in Birmingham! Molly in Pensacola FL

  • I moved to Atlanta from New York a few years ago, and although I have family in the South and lived here as a young child I never fully appreciated how deeply the South is still efffected by the Civil War/Civil Rights movement. It is easy I think for people living in other places to see it as past history but it has such a deeply felt presence here in the day to day. Every place has it issues it struggles with, and Southern “pride” is certainly fraught with many of these. Having lived in various parts of the country though, I see the struggle with race just as prominent everywhere else. It is difficult for Sotherners to embrace a pride in their past without being shamed but I agree that turning a blind eye and ignoring it or completely rejecting it is just as dangerous.

    I own a house that most likely survived the burning of Atlanta. It is dificult to determine it’s true age because all city records before 1870 were burned up too. I see houses and buildings like mine that so few information is known about. Many have been torn down and lost because people chose to ignore the importance of their history. When I see pictures of the old beautiful buildings lost (many who were built after the civil war) it breaks my heart. You can see the effects of choosing not to honor the positive aspects of the past everytime you drive by some ugly 70’s building that replaced a beautiful one torn down. I don’t think we should fetishize the symbols of the Confederacy either but after reading through the descriptions of the art work from the company I can see they aren’t doing that. They are raising these complex issues for us to think about. Isn’t that the point of art? I would much rather that than promoting the Coca Cola company, as if that is something to be really proud of!

  • The Old Try is simply grabbing on to specific state nostalgia and it doing a wonderful job with this idea. Yes it’s unfortunate that some states still use these old designs, but it’s part of the state’s visual identity and a swift way to establish pride in a simple poster design. After Grace’s well put comment, I’m actually surprised that there are any other negative comments about the Civil War. I hate when people give the past more power then it should hold in the present. Yes this country was built on some odd ways of thinking, but I feel there’s been enough passed time and much has changed since then so can we pretty please drop the dramatic gasps for symbols that have lost their original meaning? It’s really frustrating.

  • The violence is written into the landscape. The town square (home of a confederate soldier statue) in one NC town is de facto an unwelcoming place to people of color b/c of lynchings and other acts of violence that took place there. I know people who don’t feel comfortable going into their own town square today because of this! Historical memory and attempts to memorialize history in the south mostly tell one side of the story and it’s usually the white one. This ain’t ancient history. The South and other regions are home to institutional racism and inequality whose effects are still very much with us. A little more sensitivity about promulgating some of these symbols would have been nice, but it’s not surprising that this is what the marketplace produces. This will conclude my commentary. Thanks D*S for hosting the discussion!

    • Erica

      Violence is written into every landscape in America. Wars, discrimination, battles with Native Americans and religious conflicts have happened in just about every region. The South is not unique in that, and I feel like we’re laying a lot of historical burden on prints that barely touch on these issues.

      I understand why anyone would be offended by the portion of the Mississippi state flag that is drawn from the original Confederate flag, period. But there is nothing else in these prints that suggests any of the negative and unfortunate aspects of the Confederacy. I respect your right to discuss these issues completely, but I want to make sure we’re having them about things actually featured in this post. And I don’t think there is more than one symbol that people are having issue with here. People are leaving comments about multiple symbols and phrases being used here in reference to the Confederacy and that’s not accurate. If you’re seeing multiple symbols that I’m missing, please let me know.

      Also, I think it’s important to note that not every Southern town or town square is the home of a Confederate soldier or leader being glorified. I feel as if one incredibly sad aspect of history of the South is overshadowing all of the rich history that has taken place, and continues to take place, there. I grew up in the South and while I’ve met (and unfortunately continue to meet) people that continue to behave in prejudiced ways, those people are in no way limited to the South and nor do the represent the majority of Southern people. I think it’s really unfair to imply that that behavior exists in the South or that everyone is ok with it. I can tell you from experience that there is a newer generation of Southern people who are working very, very hard to undo that institutionalized behavior you’re still seeing in parts of the South.

      Grace

  • Very well written, Grace. I trust you to continue to speak for me and our shared pride in our southern heritage as well as the educated, insightful and advanced future of our region.

  • Hi friends-

    This is Micah of Old Try. 

    Let me be the first one to say that the Stars and bars, the confederate battle flag in and of itself, has offended me from day one of my birth. 

    I grew up to learn to value each person for their worth and not to care about their skin color. Jesus doesn’t value one person over another. Nor do I.

    And that is one of the reasons I don’t live in the South now. I am seeking to discover other parts of the country and to see how people live together. And at least in the South folks will discuss it, because of all we have to deal with.

    I moved to Mississippi for college and was utterly amazed that the stars and bars was on their state flag. I still am, and I will applaud the day they choose to change it.

    But it is their current flag. And as you’ll see in our Alabama and Georgia prints, we are using their current state flags as well. Do I disagree with a symbol in their flag? Yes. Do I think reprinting their flag in its current iteration with their state motto is condoning hateful acts? I do not.

    This won’t be the spark that causes the state to change their flag design. Even if I wish it were.

    I am merely printing one print that features a current state flag so that the people of Mississippi can have something to hang on their walls to remember where they are from. Could I have chosen a different symbol? I could have, and the next iteration of the state motto will feature something else. We plan to evolve and alter our prints with each edition.

    This edition features a flag.

    A flag that the state of Mississippi has chosen for themselves. 

    But you know what? While this discussion is worth having, upsetting folks is not what I want Old Try to be about. The reason we started this is so we didn’t only see Confederate flags representing our past.

    We’re going to pull the version of the state flag. And we’re going to print something else. And we’re going to hug each of you around your necks when we see you.

    I thank you all for having this discussion. 

  • Grace, you asked about the other symbols and so I would like to give you my response to these images, which is close to Christine’s, Julie’s, Ann’s, VN’s, etc. When I first saw the post, I loved the first print, and then began to feel uneasy with the Old/New South print and the Resurgens print. To my eye–and I know that this is subjective–the words “Old South” were barely covered by the word “New,” as if what was being portrayed was the persistence of the Old South. And the Resurgens print, with the prominent dates, seemed to recall a moment of Southern pride too closely tied to the Civil War. I actually went to the site because I was curious to see the explanations you said they gave for their image choices, and I was disturbed to see the reference to the Confederate flag and the explanation for the Resurgens print talking about Atlantans being “madder than hell.” (Understandable, after Sherman, but is Southern anger the central thing I think we should celebrate about the Civil War?)

    I am an historian and I live in the South, so I admit that these issues are more on my mind than they are on most people’s. But I also teach, every year, the true horrors of slave society, and the heroism of the people who fought (and continue to fight) to achieve racial justice in the U.S. in its wake. I know that there is a wonderful South in which these issues are confronted head on–more so in the South, I’d say, than in other places in the U.S. I’ve lived, and that’s fantastic. And, as you so nicely said, I know also that there is so much going on in the South that is not about this past, and there is so much else in the nation’s past other than slavery about which we should think critically. But we still deal with the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, the Confederate flag is still used by white supremacists all over the world, and to me these prints seemed to thumb their nose at the real violence of slavery, which cannot be separated from the rest of the history of the Old South.

  • “whatever” to the social discourse these prints precipitated. This Durham girl needs that Bull City print. Nothing could be finer.

  • Shauna writes, “Ann, it’s never a good idea to just bury and forget these symbols of the past. We need to remember them, talk about them, and learn from them, so that we don’t repeat mistakes of the past.”

    I agree completely with you. I also think it’s completely inappropriate to feature such a symbol as the Confederate battle flag on a decorative poster that presumably will be hung with pride and/or admiration in somebody’s living room. You don’t see a lot of swastikas decorating people’s houses–this is about the same sort of symbol. We study the swastika and its potent symbolism. But we don’t needlepoint pillows with them.

  • I would like to support D.P.’s powerful commentary. It is irresponsible to make the sweeping generalization that violent atrocities have taken place everywhere in the world as a justification for glorifying/cuteifying/fetishizing a horrifying past that still has incredible cultural power. There is no way to separate Southern culture from the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow because it continues to persist in our modern society. Yes, this is the internet and people have every right to curate their content and their online world, however, to promote and defend something that is so obviously hurtful, (and holy heck the South is like a “dysfunctional family”? that made me ill when I read it.) magnifies the refusal of the lifestyle blogging community to have even one toe firmly placed in the real world.

  • As a VERY proud Southerner – the Confederate Flag is a very proud symbol of my heritage – that includes slaves and poor farmers that fought UNDER that FLAG. It is regrettable that many people choose to look at a symbol from only one aspect – instead of as a whole. PLEASE bring back the print.

  • I squealed in delight to run across my friends new business on my favorite design blog! The creators of Old Try are fantastic people and as a southerner myself I feel like they’ve embodied the spirit of the south while maintaining great design, which isn’t always easy to do. Congrats M&M you’ve made this southern gal proud!

  • I’m a yankee transplant to the deep south, and in the small, progressive college town in which I live and teach, efforts are constantly made on the part of Southerners to better understand its history, and to work through the problematic periods and their living remnants. I really appreciate that, and it’s taught me to abandon a number of my ignorant prejudices about the South and embrace this place for all of its layers and conflicts, in part because of the current spirit to educate, learn and make peace with the tumultuous past. That said, I’m curious to know how many African American Southerners would be comfortable with the letter press images depicted above.

  • Hi Grace,

    I should start by saying how nice it is that this discussion is as civil as it has been – everyone seems to be trying to understand everyone else’s point of view, which is really a testament to the community you’ve created here. Although you’re welcome to post this comment, I mainly just wanted to respond to your question so as not to be rude. I was in fact referring to the Atlanta motto, and so far as emblems, the yellow hammer (which, when taken in the context of the story on Old Try’s website, is essentially an imagined insignia for a Confederate regiment). I understand the need to remember the complicated history of the south, and I can even see an argument that, because these phrases & images haven taken on new meanings, they demonstrate just how far the south has come. But I just can’t get over where they came from, and while the folks at Old Try really do sound like kind, well-intentioned people, that’s why I was disappointed to see their work featured here.

  • The “stars and bars” in no way refers to the Confederate battle flag that everyone automatically envisions. It is a flag with 3 solid lines and a ring of stars much like the modern GA flag. Google it.

    If we start to attack images of battle flags used by the Southern states should we not also object to the American flag who has seen many many many atrocities commited in her name? Native Americans? Slavery – other states did it too! Japanese work camps?

    Many of my ancestors were confederate soilders and they like the majority of soildiers were farmers and sharecroppers who could barely read or write – they signed their forms with Xs. Personally I find it offensive that the rest of the world assumes everyone was rich and lived in plantations and owned slaves when very few people were actually that rich – much like modern times.

  • I’m a southerner, from North Carolina, and I love the South. However, as an African-American, I find this all really distasteful. The Bull City stuff is great, but a portion of the confederate flag? No way. Even the Resurgens stuff gives me the heebie jeebies. It’s one thing to be interested in the history — it is fascinating and very important — but using it as a design element implies that you’re celebrating it. Or at least to black people like me it does. Nobody would put a picture of a swastika on their wall and call it not celebrating the negative aspects of the Third Reich. (Extreme example, I know). I understand if you disagree, and I think you make an excellent point that people often only connect the South with its brutal past, but you’re taking the risk that you’re offending people you may invite into your home for whom such symbols mean hate — for the sake of design.

  • To answer Pamphilia’s question, as an African American (from Nashville), I would not feel comfortable in a home or establishment with art work which commemorates the Confederacy, and
    I agree with Ann and Alanna.

    Kristina

  • Here’s more African American input (and southern-reared too). I understand that Old Try wants to corner a niche market, but southern romantic revisionism of the Dixie flag is just flat out wrong and offensive. Sadly, most who glorify southern history may mean well and innocently, but : (1) Are concentrating solely on the romantic accounts from their mint julep-drinking and biased “belle” grandmas, etc. (2) Aren’t being mindful of the nightmarish conditions for “colored/negro” –a significant portion of the southern populace. I really don’t know how someone can celebrate the “south” while ignoring blacks–states like Mississippi were >60% AA at one time. Why isn’t there any Old Try artwork that reflects that [read: tastefully]? And no matter how someone gushes and waxes about the gallant south, kindly remember: the number one priority and tenet of the Confederate Constitution was to maintain slavery. I’m done. Thanks for letting me “air”. Heading back to great design.

  • the county flag where i come from has a tobacco leaf… people probably have kneejerk reactions to that as well. but i think it’s important to remember that the very concept of statehood, and of nationalism, in this country and many, many others, has violence/hate/colonialism, on and on implicity or explicitly written into it. you could react to the symbolism or you could react to policy and practice…I feel there is a difference, and that waging intellectual ‘war’ on symbols is futile while waging ‘war’ on perpetrators of violence/hate/colonialism/rampant nationalism is meaningful. which is to say, take it up with your leaders, not your designers, or curators of good design. pick your battles, is all.

  • I am thoroughly impressed by the level of discourse by all. thank you each and every one for having an opinion and passionate enough to voice it.

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