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Interview with John Golden and Mary Ellen Golden, September 28, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with John Golden and Mary Ellen Golden, September 28, 2006
September 28, 2006
Born in Florida and North Carolina respectively, musician John Golden and his wife, artist Mary Ellen Golden, first met on the campus of Duke University in the late 1960s. After arriving in Wilmington in the 1970s, the couple signed a lease at the Cotton Exchange while it was still in the renovation stage, and their store now occupies the fourth space there. Both John and Mary Ellen view their art as a method of historical preservation: while John collects the music and stories of the Carolinas, Mary Ellen captures seascapes, tobacco barns, and historic homes and buildings through her painting.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Golden, John and Golden, Mary Ellen Interviewer:  Jones, Carroll / Osinski, John Date of Interview:  9/28/2006 Series:  Arts Length  45 minutes


Q: Today is September 28th, 2006, and I'm Carroll Jones with John Osinski for the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Program. Today, we're talking with Mary Ellen and John Golden in the Golden Gallery at Wilmington, North Carolina. Good afternoon, Mary Ellen and John.

John Golden: Good afternoon.

Mary Ellen Golden: Good afternoon.

Q: I'd like to start the afternoon by asking you both where you grew up, what kind of work your families did, and how many siblings you had, and anything of interest that you'd like to share with us. Either one of you start.

Mary Ellen Golden: Well, I grew up closest. I grew up in Rose Hill, which is forty-five miles up 117 it was then, and my father was in the lumber business. My mother had been a teacher before I was born and taught again after I was gone. And when my youngest brother went to school, she went back to school. I have two brothers, both of them are now physicians. And it was a very good place to grow up, small town. Everybody knew you and you knew that they cared about you.

Q: Where did you go to school?

Mary Ellen Golden: I went to Rose Hill and then to Wallace Rose Hill and then to Duke.

Q: You went to Duke?

Mary Ellen Golden: I went to Duke, thinking I was going to be an art major.

Q: Thinking you were going to be an art major? (laughter)

Mary Ellen Golden: And then I hit collage and I became an English major, which didn't keep me from my for art too long, but John came for a reason that wasn't there, either, so we kind of felt like maybe we're just meant to meet each other.

Q: And that's where you met, Duke?

Mary Ellen Golden: That's where we met.

Q: John, where were you raised? Where were you born?

John Golden: I was born and raised in South Florida, a little town called Lakeworth. I'm the oldest of five children. I have two brothers and two sisters. One of-- my next younger brother has since died though but-- and I feel fortunate that I was kind of raised in the outdoors. We lived at the edge of town so, you know, we had to watch out for alligators and, you know, things like that. I mean, we had to be aware of those kind of things and I got to play in, you know, the wilds and the swamps and so forth down there. And then I went to Duke University...

Q: How did you happen to go...

John Golden: ...from Lakeworth.

Q: Duke from...

John Golden: Well, I had competed for a navy ROTC scholarship and I got it and Duke had a navy ROTC program and so I had applied to Duke and got into Duke.

Q: And what did you major in?

John Golden: I majored in civil engineering.

Q: Ah hah.

John Golden: Which prepared me to be-- I have thirty-four years, I'm retired from thirty-four years with the Army Corps of Engineers as a civil engineer.

Q: So the two of you met at Duke and were you married shortly after or...

John Golden: Mmhmm. Right after we graduated.

Q: Oh, my goodness' sakes. Then you traveled around...

John Golden: We went to Huntington, West Virginia. That was my first assignment. I was a civilian employee but they were called districts and my next move, after ten years, was to Charleston district in Charleston, South Carolina and, after four years, then, in 1977, we came here. We graduated in 1963 so we came here in '77.

Q: And at the time you came here, were you then out of the service?

John Golden: No, I was still a civilian employee with the Corps. My service time amounted to a year in the ROTC, no combat, no going overseas or whatever. I just went to work for the army as a civil engineer.

Q: And how about your career in art, Mary? When did-- did you just, little by little, keep up with it or what happened when you married this guy and started traveling around?

Mary Ellen Golden: I painted, from the time I was ten, in oils. I took lessons in Rose Hill with Margaret Clifford and, like I said before, when I went to college, I thought I'd be an art major but it was a little bit modern for my taste at the time and the guy says, "Make a collage," and I said, "What's a collage?" "You know, just get some magazine pictures and do it." And so it's taken Melissa Manly [?] to make me love collage again. In fact, I'm currently possibly going to end up with a collage from the painting I started Tuesday because it had streaks in the paper and it didn't work. So, anyway, when we went to Charleston, I was doing acrylics because the kids had been small and they dry faster. So I was also doing crafts. I was doing macramé and making jewelry and Virginia Couchet[ph?], who was one of Charleston's finest watercolorists, asked me to help teach her high school class macramé and she said, "Is there anything I can do to thank you?" and I said, "Well, I've got an acrylic painting that I'd really like some help with." "Come to class tonight." And she was teaching an adult class at the time down in the old village in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. And so she taught that class for a little while and then she went to a master class in watercolor. She (inaudible) watercolor (inaudible) and came back and didn't really teach anything but watercolor and we'd been begging her to teach us watercolor. She said, "Oh, watercolor's hard, you don't want to do watercolor." It just turned out to be my thing and...

Q: So watercolor...

Mary Ellen Golden: ...that was in 1975...

Q: your favorite...

Mary Ellen Golden: Watercolor is my main gift and I really haven't done maybe a couple of small acrylics and pen and ink, but watercolor was what I loved.

Q: So that was in Charleston.

Mary Ellen Golden: That was in Charleston.

Q: And John, when did the folk singing start? Did it start in Florida? Did it start at Duke? At...

John Golden: It started at Duke. I had always loved music and sang in the church choir but I had never, like, been in a group or a band or any of that. If I had it to do over again, I would, but I didn't know anybody that played instruments other than band instruments, you know, tubas and...

Q: Is this the first time...

John Golden: ...trumpets and so forth.

Q: picked up a musical instrument when you were at Duke?

John Golden: Yes. And it was late at Duke. It was our last year, our senior year, and my roommate, Lou Walters, brought one of these, not much more than a toy guitar. It was an old Stella guitar that they sell from-- Sears sells them and Montgomery Ward sold Kays and it was a hard guitar to play, just, you know, it wasn't a very well made guitar but we learned some chords, my roommate Lou and I learned some chords.

Q: So you're self-taught?

John Golden: Started doing it that way. When I came to Wilmington, though, after-- well, in West Virginia, working in the mountains, I got a taste of the mountain music.

Q: And when was this?

John Golden: And this would be between '63 and about '73, 1963 and 1973, and it's the old-time music that-- since the old time but bluegrass has been based on it but it was the old English ballads and Scottish ballads and the Ballard singers, as they call them, they'd sing a capella or with instruments. A lot of folks played fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and banjo. And so it was pretty easy to find music and I liked it and so I thought, well, I had been learning Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho and, you know, Michael Row the Boat Ashore and some of those so I started working on some of those tunes and worked on that through Huntington, West Virginia and then Charleston, South Carolina, and then, when I came here, a guitar professor at UNCW, who was a student at the time of a very fine classic guitarist named Michael Lorimer, Rob Nathanson, who's a guitar professor now at UNCW, he helped me-- I took lessons from him for two or three years and that helped my guitar playing a lot. And, since then, I've played with other people and it's just kind of improved. You can get better faster if you play with other people so...

Q: How about the storytelling?

John Golden: Well, storytelling started after I got here and was here about four or five years and a fellow named Lloyd Wilson, who was a very fine black storyteller, African-American storyteller, was working for the city and he was a percussionist so he and I were playing music together and he got into storytelling. He left his job with the city and went into storytelling on his own and I was really impressed with what he could do. I started going to what they call the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesburg, Tennessee, Mary Ellen and I would go, and listen to...

Q: And you would go...

John Golden: ...that. And so I started telling stories about the songs, when I would do the songs. I started doing concerts with Rob and so I would tell some short thing, you know, to set up a song, and the short things got longer and longer. And it turns out there's great stories behind...

Q: Oh, I've heard you do some.

John Golden: ...these songs.

Q: Yeah.

John Golden: And I love history. Like the Battle of Morse Creek or ghost stories, the Light at Maco Station. That's one of the first stories I was told when I came to Wilmington...

Q: I was going to ask you how you got started. Well, the two of you now, Mary Ellen, did you ever have an interest in what he was doing? Did he help you with what you were doing?

Mary Ellen Golden: He bought me a guitar.

Q: He bought you a guitar. And then what?

Mary Ellen Golden: And I was hopeless, I would say, "Now, you know what (inaudible) that is?" Most of the time, it was the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but he couldn't ever recognize it and he also bought a dulcimer, a mountain lap dulcimer and I could actually pick a tune out on this. I had seven years of piano and I had piano so-- I had to practice so that I could have my art lessons. So, I just-- I am not musical but I enjoy his music. I enjoy his storytelling and even the history. He's always going off and learning something new and bringing it back to share.

Q: But you enjoy going with him?

Mary Ellen Golden: When I can. I'm still employed.

John Golden: She's still running this place.

Mary Ellen Golden: Self-employment is more confining, sometimes, than working for somebody.

Q: So I hear.

John Golden: And I'm retired.

Q: And you're retired. Well, you're semi-retired aren't you, John? I mean...

John Golden: Well, I've got a-- actually got a second career. I've got actually a second career because the music and the storytelling keep me busy completely. Now, our two children, Martha, the oldest of the two children, doesn't play-- we tried to make her play piano and it didn't take and she doesn't play but she knows a lot of songs and really enjoys the songs. Our son, John Walter, John W., is-- he's professionally going, busy, professionally known. He's a good guitar player. He's picked up guitar and he plays kind of a modern fusion type music but he's...

Q: Does he play in town, any of the clubs or...?

John Golden: There's a group called Jackson Hides that's run by another fellow, put together by another fellow but John plays with them and they play...

Q: So when did you say you came to Wilmington? In the '70s?

Mary Ellen Golden: '77. 1977.

Q: Tell us what that was like and how you got started to go into business for yourself.

Mary Ellen Golden: Well, John interviewed for the job a year before it actually became available. It was our employees this, that, and the other, and one of the times he came, we parked somewhere down there on Water Street, and he went into, I think it was the (inaudible) Federal Building, the Corps of Engineers at the time, and I went over...

(crew talk; audio off then on)

Q: We took a pause for a few minutes. We're back with Mary Ellen and John and they were talking about coming to Wilmington in 1973 and taking up with different careers or John extending his for a time, anyway. So go ahead.

Mary Ellen Golden: I think I was saying we were parked down on Water Street and John went in for his interview and I went over to the Hilton for a minute and looked out and saw the Cotton Exchange, and by the time he had finished his interview, I had been over and checked it out and decided what I wanted to do. And so I came here, totally unknown, and opened the Golden Gallery. We came in September, well, August, and I opened the gallery in December.

Q: Now that's when the Cotton Exchange was really just beginning, wasn't it?

Mary Ellen Golden: Right. It was the first-- no, the second year of it.

Q: The second year. It wasn't complete at that time, if I recall.

Mary Ellen Golden: No. Now, I was in the old barber shop and I was the first tenant in that space and they had-- I think I was the 21st lease that had signed.

Q: Didn't that take a lot of courage?

Mary Ellen Golden: Well...

Q: You didn't know the town that well and...

Mary Ellen Golden: I-- when they made John sign the lease, I said, "Okay, what happens if I get hit by a bus next week? He doesn't paint." That was a North Carolina thing. If you were married, you had to have your husband sign the lease, also. But I was basing it on the fact that I had enough work in Charleston, in galleries, in the Millside house, that would sell that would pay the rent if I didn't do it here for a little while. You know, it was a wild bear. There was a guy that came in and said, "You're doing what? Why don't you come across the street with me? I'm going to do a co-op." And it never happened. But he just essentially told me I was crazy.

Q: How well did he do?

Mary Ellen Golden: Ted, he is now a...

John Golden: Semple.

Mary Ellen Golden: Ted Semple, yeah. He did a lot of work with MIA and that sort of thing. He was a potter. I don't think he lives in Wilmington any more and, when you hear his name now, he's advocating for MIA.

Q: So how long did it take you to really get...

Mary Ellen Golden: Well, I think-- got the cash, came in and bought a framed painting, my first sale of a framed piece. It was down in the First Union building and I said, "You want what?" (laughter) I think it was $60. But it hung in his eye office for a long, long time. Don't know that it's there right now, but it bounced around different offices and, you know, it's just a piece of driftwood on the beach, reflecting in puddles, but it, you know, it made it. I was the only employee for some months and then I had one afternoon a week off and it has grown from that to-- I've been to four locations. This is the fourth location (inaudible).

Q: Did you paint from sketches? I mean, in those days, I know now you do a lot from photographs.

Mary Ellen Golden: I have, you know, done it outdoors. I've always taken my own photographs and then my father took a lot of photographs of tobacco barns and the day lilies and those were from photographs he took specifically for me. He really had worked really, really hard. He'd never had a hobby, never played golf because he walked all day in the woods anyway but he started taking a 35 mm camera with him and I could request, when I did one of tobacco barns with the tobacco flowers in front. I said, "Daddy, can you find me any pictures, can you get me any pictures with the flowers?" And they had just topped every piece of tobacco in Duplin County, but he managed to find me flowers and-- for at least three years, he carried a 35 mm camera with him...

Q: That's wonderful.

Mary Ellen Golden: ...and shot pictures for me.

Q: Now you told me, I think one time, that you didn't really care to do people but I see some small people and other people in some of your pieces of work.

Mary Ellen Golden: It's not that I didn't care. It's that, you know, I became an English major and never had the figure drawing classes. The classes that I teach have egged me on. Those two with people are purely, you know, in response to their request. I really-- my class-- the classes that I teach are so incredibly supportive and they have pulled from me everything that's good as far as my work. I do my best work usually in painting in front of a class and...

Q: Is that right?

Mary Ellen Golden: know, they'll say, "Are you going to do ..." (laughter) and just give me a little nudge. And really Tuesday, wet paper, put the paint on it and here came all these streaks. So...

Q: I was going to ask you...

Mary Ellen Golden: ...they learn from my mistakes.

Q: Yeah. Your favorite time of day. Everybody talks about a piece of time or whatever because of light or for a lot of reasons and favorite place.

Mary Ellen Golden: Well, late afternoon light, I don't know about a favorite place but...

Q: How about your kitchen counter?

Mary Ellen Golden: My kitchen counter is where I do it all. (laughter) I'm ________________ usually painting late in the afternoon there, but then I go out and see the light. We were coming down in the van, down through Duplin County to my mother's, and this was about a month and a half ago, the light was just incredible and didn't try to take pictures or anything but I just sat there and enjoyed the colors and the effects from the light.

Q: Do you find sometimes just as you said, you were driving someplace or you could be in town or anywhere, does something just strike you all of a sudden that this would be great?

Mary Ellen Golden: Oh, yes.

Q: Of a moment?

Mary Ellen Golden: Yeah, yeah.

Q: And what do you...

Mary Ellen Golden: Usually has something to do with light because...

Q: Do you photograph it?

Mary Ellen Golden: If I have one.

Q: Do you carry-- you have a camera?

Mary Ellen Golden: I have a camera (inaudible) does and...

Q: Do you come up with suggestions, John? Do you see things you wish that she...

John Golden: Sure. And I carry a-- I carry a video camera when I travel up and down the coast because you could be sitting and waiting for a ferry and all of a sudden, a snowy egret will light and-- in the marsh or something so-- and I carry one of these little disposable cameras, too, for just the same kind of thing you're talking about. All of a sudden, there's just the best light and shapes and geometry and that kind of thing and...

Q: So you help her that way?

John Golden: ...I show them to her.

Mary Ellen Golden: Oh, yes, that's true.

Q: Well, tell us a little bit more about-- you must be into historic preservation. I know you are and I've heard your guitar playing. I've heard your storytelling. You work with a group sometimes, don't you?

John Golden: I have a couple of music groups, actually, that I work with, the Helix Creek Boys...

Q: That's the one...

John Golden: kind of a folk, bluegrass group. We are, all of us are corps employees or folks who have worked with the corps and right after I got here, I met most of them. We've added a couple through the years, but...

Q: And there are a couple that are in that group, aren't they, that are kind of famous around Wilmington for one reason or another?

John Golden: Yeah. And...

Q: Could you name some?

John Golden: Well, Phil Norris, who's the banjo player. I mean, that's the heart of any bluegrass group, folk group. He's a Brunswick county commissioner. He's a preacher. And he owns Norris and Kuske engineering firm, so he left the corps some years ago and went into private practice and now he owns that firm. So he's the busiest one in the group. Bob Thompson owns a construction company. He's the bass player. And Shane Lippard works for Right Angle Engineering. They're all still active. And then Doug Walsh still works for the Corps of Engineers and he's the...

Q: Bunch of engineers getting together and make music.

John Golden: And make music. And we have a good time doing it.

Q: Is there a (inaudible) out there somewhere? I don't know.

John Golden: And then Rob Nathanson and I, as I said, we started doing concerts together. We wrote-- started writing songs together. The first song we wrote was one called, "The Light at Maco Station". I write the words and he would write the music. And for - well, we did three albums together, writing songs and doing those. He's gone on now to be a really advanced well-known guitar player, classical guitar player and even plays in trios and quartets. So that's kind of where he's gone.

Q: Have you ever played-- your group or you alone ever played in clubs around town? I know you've done a lot of events for fundraisers and, like, on the battleship Virtue there candlelight tours, things like this.

John Golden: Right. And all of those places were good places to play in terms of the audience was listening to you and so forth but I found, early on, I tried the clubs a couple of times. People talk, like to talk. They go there to talk and so I have found that, you know, I really preferred doing venues and doing something that benefited somebody, drew people together to benefit somebody. So I've done that almost exclusively after trying the clubs to start with and just find that is a very hard way to make a living as a musician and, fortunately, I didn't have to make a living as a musician. I was able to enjoy it as a hobby and then become more professional but the storytelling really is my professional avenue now.

Q: Where do you get your stories from?

John Golden: They're all coastal. People tell me stories. The Light at Maco Station was told to me and it's been told to me one hundred times by people who went out to see the light.

Q: Absolutely.

John Golden: And about half of them saw it and so it's been a tremendous thing. But other-- the stories about the pirates, Blackbeard, Steve Bonnet was our own Cape Fear River Pirate, and so there are a lot of books that have been published through the years that have those really good ghost stories and pirate stories and other, you know, Carolina folklore type stories.

Q: Tell me something, or tell all of us, do you find that people in Wilmington, the core Wilmingtonians, for example, are your art audience or do you find that people from-- who have moved here or perhaps tourists are your greater audience?

John Golden: I'd say it's about 50/50 now. Initially, it was the people in Wilmington because, you know, you'd ask about what it was like when we came in '77 and the Cotton Exchange, the part that we're in right now, right here, had just burned and the large beams were twisted from the heat and they had to repair all that to go on and complete it. And Mary Ellen's gallery was up there by the front entrance in the old barber shop. Well, people started telling me about the old barber shop and that, just down the street, had been this huge magnificent railroad station which had been torn down. They had built Cape Fear Community College there and so I started getting, from people here, the local folks here, what it was like out on Masonboro Sound, the shell roads, to Wrightsville, to Pembroke Jones Estate and all of those kind of things and they would add some flavor, you know, some-- like, sometimes, ghosts to those stories. And then, later, I just kept getting further up the coast and down the coast and, like, the brave men at Parley's Island and then you go on up on the outer banks and get into the lifesaving and the lighthouses and those really heroic things that happened. So there's just a wealth of history that becomes good storytelling.

Q: I know you both have been very good and very kind as far as helping out with fundraising for various events and having been very closely involved with one, which you're forever going to be saying, we're still selling those prints, do you feel that this must be something you both do because you really enjoy it? And do you pick and choose-- you must be as asked an awful lot, John, to do something. Did you ever say no? You're both such giving people.

Mary Ellen Golden: I don't say no to a gift of my work. A school that needs a door prize gets a small print. My staff is able to do that without even asking. I can't give money to...

Q: I understand.

Mary Ellen Golden: much. It's much easier for me to give...

Q: Your talent.

Mary Ellen Golden: Right. And so I don't say no very often.

Q: Well, I really know that. I wanted to hear you say it. And John...

John Golden: Well, the only time that I do is when I've got a conflict. In other words, I can't do two things at once.

Mary Ellen Golden: Sometimes he tries.

John Golden: Yes, sometimes I try to get there with ten minutes...

Q: What's your favorite audience, John?

John Golden: Well, my favorite audience is in Thalian Hall or Kenan Auditorium, the Scottish Rite...

Q: You don't take John there?

John Golden: Well, it's just the acoustics are so great and the audiences are so quiet and, you know, they really listen well. And then going to some of the historical societies like Federal Point Historical Society or the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society at the Latimer House. Being in a setting that you can kind of match with what you're telling, that's kind of special, too.

Q: How did you get involved with Lower Cape Fear Historical Society?

John Golden: Well, I was asked by Jan Bradford, who was the president at the time and was a friend of mine, that why not come on the board? And I had done some Civil War music programs at the Latimer House, which is the headquarters of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, and so I said, fine, you know, I like what you do and, yeah. So I'm now the president but I've kind of worked up the board through the officers and...

Q: Have you been-- this is your second term or third term...

John Golden: Actually, third.

Q: Third term as president, right. And Mary Ellen I know that you've done a rendering of Latimer House, one of many around town. They used that to, I'm sure, raise funds.

Mary Ellen Golden: Well, we did a painting for the Secret Garden tour...

Q: That was it, yes.

Mary Ellen Golden: I have a (inaudible). The other day, we were doing magnets of a photograph that you saw of our son. (inaudible)

Q: Since both of you have-- your backgrounds are a little bit diverse. I mean, you've kind of traveled through the mountains from Florida to Duke to engineering to here to a decrepit old building and look at it now, what do you think of Wilmington now? What do you both think of Wilmington now? Compared to when you first came here and what do you see down the road as far as either your careers, your involvement with what's going on in the city or the-- southeastern North Carolina? Or have you thought about it?

Mary Ellen Golden: Well, I've-- every time I get in the car, I realize that Wilmington is growing just almost too fast. It's-- Wilmington's been very good to us and we have loved it here. Wilmington is where we wanted to end up and, at the time we came to Wilmington, we could have gone to Jacksonville, Florida. John could have taken a job there and we never told his mother down in South Florida that we could have gone to Jacksonville. But I don't really know, I don't see the future that well. I guess I'm so busy with my day to day, I just wake up and all of a sudden here's this tremendous building down the street and new skyline. Our son went to revisit on top of the parking deck on Second Street, a shot of his that he had taken - called "Second and Princess." It's a night scene, beautiful. But there is now a major parking deck right in the middle of it and...

Q: Yes. What do you think of something...

Mary Ellen Golden: ...(inaudible)

Q: that? I mean, maybe that we need it for traffic but there's a lot of controversy over parking.

Mary Ellen Golden: Yes, there's a lot of-- it just took the middle of the photograph. Luckily, he still has the original one.

Q: John, do you feel the same way or...?

John Golden: Yeah. When we came to Wilmington and, in a few years, found out that, you know, in the '50s, the railroad left and basically left it economically barren and then local businessmen got together and had a committee of one hundred, brought in Corning and DuPont and G.E. and some of those major folks and others and we-- when we came, there was-- downtown, about every other storefront was vacant. Penny's had gone out to the mall and the last two 10 cent stores, five and ten cent stores, went out there. Belk went out, and so I've seen that Dare and those folks have really come together and made great changes and strides in Wilmington. It just seems to me that it's morphing, it's changing and then you mentioned the people from-- not from here.

Q: That's right.

John Golden: I've gotten a great appreciation for the local people and their love of Wilmington and wanting that history to be...

Q: Preserved.

John Golden: ...preserved and told, even though, as late as, well, the 1940s, you're talking about sand roads out there where UNCW is now. So it's hard to visualize that but they want that told but the people who are coming want to know that history, too, and they think it's really neat. They love seeing the photographs and so forth. So I see that it's changing and I think changing for the better in a lot of economic ways and, if we can just hang on to-- you mentioned preservation, we can preserve the buildings and if we can preserve and abdicate and collect the history, I think it'd be a really quality of life place.

Q: Do you find people who've moved here, both of you, you in your position with the art, maybe (inaudible) come down to the beach like we did in the early-- a (inaudible) for a long time but our first Mary Ellen Golden print was purchased in, I think, 1980 or '81. We lived in the Washington area and kept coming back, and finally moved here, not because of you. (laughter) And keep buying. But do you find that the people who've come here to make their home are involved in, let's say, as docents or volunteers...

John Golden: Oh, definitely.

Q: ...or who've come back and perhaps something has peaked them to find out what you've done - like the Tobacco Barn, where is that? And you're also adding to a little bit of Carolina history. (laughter)

Mary Ellen Golden: We'll get, several times, "What is that strange looking building? We saw them all beside the highway." And I guess the first time it hit me was in Charleston and I was teaching a watercolor class and this girl said, "Oh, I'm so glad you're doing that. What is it?" Having grown up in North Carolina they were so ever present, you know, the siren would go off at night and you knew there was a tobacco barn on fire. But it was hard to visualize anybody not knowing what they were but it's a very specialized type of architecture.

Q: Are you still teaching?

Mary Ellen Golden: I am teaching. I taught Tuesday mornings and I work three...

Q: Where do you teach?

Mary Ellen Golden: At the Kitchen Bar.

Q: All right.


Mary Ellen Golden: At my home.

Q: Now, just about your children, you were showing me, before we started taping, about the grandchildren and some of their art and anybody interested in music and photography, how they picked this up. So, as a group, do you get together and have a hoedown or what? An art fest? (laughter)

Mary Ellen Golden: Our grandson...

Q: And they all live here, right?

Mary Ellen Golden: ...they all love music. They all love music. They dance and, you know, the two-year-old is just in there hopping up and down and Ethan will talk about the guitar, you know, before he could even talk. He always talked about "the lala0" from the Sesame Street song they used to play, and he has not really played a lot. I think at some point in time he will pick up a guitar. He likes to pretend that he plays...

John Golden: He poses with instruments, yeah.

Mary Ellen Golden: And he is very dramatic. Loves acting and we figure he's going to be either an artist or an actor.

Q: Can he help doing anything else? (laughter) Probably going to start off as an engineer. And tell me about the little girl who, at the age of, what, eighteen months or two years, is...

Mary Ellen Golden: That's Melissa's daughter.

Q: Oh, that's your...

Mary Ellen Golden: She's my...

Q: Your grandchild.

Mary Ellen Golden: Well, when she was born, her mother said, "It's a girl, Granny 2." So I'm her other almost grandmother. But Melissa worked for me until the day before she was born and then Melissa, her mother has worked for me for almost twenty years, off and on. She's just come back from getting her master's in metals at East Carolina, and is doing some beautiful jewelry and-- but Meredith is picking up the talent. You saw some of her artwork here, also.

Q: So this is a real family kind of an enterprise that all works.

Mary Ellen Golden: But our daughter, Martha, is teaching French at the School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, and she also is lead instructor for one of Duke University's Talent Identification Programs, the one that goes to Paris. So she takes, I'd say, sixteen kids sixteen years old for sixteen days to Paris once a year in the summertime and they always stay in-- near the tunnel where the Tour de France riders come out. We have to take that and try to see her.

Q: And do you go with her ever?

Mary Ellen Golden: We went when she lived there. She got her master's-- she went with Sweet Briar junior year and then she got her master's at NYU as a Paris program and so we would go over then and travel with her. She's a wonderful, wonderful tour guide and loves...

Q: (inaudible)

Mary Ellen Golden: ...she lived there for about two and a half years the second time, got her master's and then translated, which she thought she wanted to do. And I guess she came out Duke with a degree in French and no teaching certificate and has evolved into absolutely loving teaching.

Q: That's terrific.

Mary Ellen Golden: She thought she'd want to translate...

Q: Oh, I suppose everybody has to-- at least, artistically, has to go France or Paris.

Mary Ellen Golden: Well, she tried to make sure I saw everything although once the impressionist museum was closed. It was before the new one and-- train station and we saw that, I guess, our last trip and...

Q: (inaudible) When was that?

John Golden: That's been...

Q: That was just a few years ago, right?

Mary Ellen Golden: It's been probably...

John Golden: Fifteen. Fifteen years.

Mary Ellen Golden: Was it that long? She's been back almost that long and working in Winston-Salem.

Q: So when you were there, did you also take the camera to...

John Golden: Oh, sure.

Mary Ellen Golden: Absolutely.

John Golden: Versailles and Eiffel Tower.

Q: South of France to see the...

Mary Ellen Golden: She took us to Switzerland. She took us on an expensive tour, and they had invited us to stay with her. She even stayed with them. Sweet Briar sort of eased them into the French culture by putting them in a home and tour for a month before they took them to Paris and school started. And so she made lifelong friends there and still sees them when she goes back over.

Q: I know you've won some awards. Don't be modest. Both of you probably have. I'm unaware-- I hate to say it, need to be educated but tell us about these involvements.

Mary Ellen Golden: They've been so far back.

Q: You and Virginia Wright Carson did a tape together. Did you illustrate it...

Mary Ellen Golden: No, Eloise. Eloise Bethell.

Q: Oh, really, all right.

Mary Ellen Golden: And I did the tape. And I have so seldom in the last ten years entered a show. I do still try to put something in the Wilmington Art Association Spring Show, but I picked up my resume then somebody looked at it and it's probably been ten years since I've put anything on it so I really don't know that my work is that based on four shows. I pretty much do what I like and put it in the gallery and-- every now and then I'll get something and think, well, you know, this might get in a show but I have not-- awards are not really anything that I have cultivated. (laughter)

John Golden: I've got one. And it's recent.

Q: Father of the Year. What is that?

John Golden: Well-- grander, even better, Grandfather of the Year. I've got a little pillow that tells me that. But I belong to an association of North Carolina storytellers called the North Carolina Storytelling Guild and it's a fairly recent organization. It started up in about '99 but, in 2003, they honored me by awarding me their North Carolina Storyteller of the Year.

Q: That's terrific.

John Golden: So I'm very proud of that.

Q: Yeah. That's terrific.

John Golden: But that's it for awards.

Mary Ellen Golden: He has a whole shelf of basketball trophies.

John Golden: Oh, I've got basketball awards. I've played a lot of basketball in Wilmington, out in MP [?] Park and around and I know a lot of good fellows. I played with Michael Jordan out in MP [?] Park when he was in the tenth grade and watched him develop...

Q: Well, not too many people can say that...

John Golden: And he had a brother, his older brother, Larry, would bring him out there and his older brother, Larry, could two-hand dunk...

Q: So are you a Duke follower?

John Golden: Oh, very much.

Q: A Kay fanatic?

John Golden: Yeah, very much, yeah.

Q: Or is some-- well, I won't even go there.

John Golden: Football is something we can't talk about but basketball we certainly can.

Q: You know, I think this year the ACC and football is just unforgiven. I mean, it's just...

John Golden: A lot of the North Carolina schools are having trouble.

Q: Yes, they are. But you do...

John Golden: Florida State and the Miamis and those are - Clemson - and they're all good, but North Carolina's (inaudible). But I do, yeah. I try to go to a couple of games. It's a great place to go because it's not crowded.

Q: You mean for...

John Golden: For a Duke game.

Q: For a Duke football game?

John Golden: Mmhmm.

Q: Yeah, I can...

John Golden: It's not crowded.

Q: ...understand that but basketball's...

John Golden: Oh, basketball, you can't get in.

Q: No. You don't have season tickets?

John Golden: I can't give them that much money. (laughter)

Q: Well, that's interesting. Do you find-- do you have a lot of friends in town here who are Duke fanatics or there is a...

John Golden: There's a few. There's a Duke club. There's a few.

Q: I heard recently.

John Golden: It's the Hoopers, right? The Hoopers - Hoppers, the Hoppers.

Mary Ellen Golden: Hoppers.

John Golden: Hoppers, the Hoppers.

Q: The Hoppers?

John Golden: Yeah.

Q: Okay.

John Golden: And they have, like, assistant coaches and...

Q: Once a month they meet...

John Golden: They had Mike Shershevsky come out to the Seaside Club about five, six years ago, so they had Mr. K. himself.

Q: Mr. K. himself. Okay. Well, is there anything else that you would like to share with us that would be interesting or something that we don't know? I'm not talking about secrets now, I'm just talking about something that somebody might like to hear if they're doing research on a very talented couple, artists, musicians, storytellers, parents of musical and artistic children and on and on. You've been a delight to talk to. How long have you two been married?

John Golden: Since 1963.

Q: Oh, I can't add that up. Just tell me.

Mary Ellen Golden: Forty-three years. In July.

Q: Forty-three years.

Mary Ellen Golden: He said he'd keep me around a little longer.

John Golden: Yeah. I did. (laughter)

Q: I think you should.

Mary Ellen Golden: You know, he brought me tadpoles about two weeks ago.

John Golden: We're raising frogs.

Mary Ellen Golden: ...there is this fish bowl full of tadpoles, and he did it because I was a child of the ditches. When I grew up in Rose Hill, I used to play in the ditches and I would bring home tadpoles and crawfish and minnows and watch them grow. So I have been reliving my childhood for almost two weeks. (laughter)

Q: Aren't you fortunate?

Mary Ellen Golden: I am.

Q: That's wonderful. Thanks for letting us come in and visit with you. It's been fun.

Mary Ellen Golden: Well, thank you for asking.

Q: And we've enjoyed, I think most people in town know you. We've enjoyed you, I've enjoyed both of you, will continue to and we'll look forward to talking to you again.

John Golden: Sure. That's great.

Mary Ellen Golden: Thank you.

John Golden: Thank you.

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