Finding the Ehle Family: Discovering Homegrown Artistic Legacy in NC

Who doesn’t want to receive a five-pound bounty of Swiss chard every other week during the winter from the local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Co-op? Buying local is all the rage. I confess I feel a surge of satisfaction when I make a local purchase–it feels good to invest in my community and also to avoid toxic economic systems (read: oil conglomerates, imaginary number-conjuring bankers, farmer-abusing Walmart practices). So what about Community Supported Art? I had not given much thought to local art until I stumbled across the Ehle Family, when I discovered a rich legacy of artistry and leadership from my home state of North Carolina.

I knew I would like John Ehle and his writing when I first heard of him. A talented writer from Winston-Salem (via the lovely Asheville, prominent in his writing) in the tradition of fellow native North Carolina son, Thomas Wolfe, Ehle is also an accomplished activist. In fact, Ehle served on former North Carolina Governor Terry Sandord’s staff. Long fascinated with the intersection of art and activism, I savored John Ehle’s nuanced, Appalachian-infused writing (I just finished the lovely novel, Last One Home, last night at 1 a.m.) as well as accounts of his accomplishments as an education and equal opportunity activist.

“If I were to write a guidebook for new governors, one of my main suggestions would be that he find a novelist and put him on his staff,” said former Governor Sanford of his work with John Ehle, according to Ehle’s bio. Indeed, John Ehle is a homegrown leader and artist. There is something particularly rich about art and literature that speaks to one’s home, that illumines shared history and identity rooted in a place. Further, a community is enriched and empowered to witness such visionary leadership from one of its own.

Naturally, I was delighted to hear back from a “Jennifer Ehle” on Twitter a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned how much I was enjoying Last One Home. She agreed that the book is lovely and confirmed that she is indeed a “proud daughter” of the writer. Clearly I had not done my research and was soon to discover the bevy of artistic talent within the Ehle family. Later that week, the local alternative newsweekly’s glowing review of the recently released film, The King’s Speech, happened to mention casually that “Winston-Salem’s own Jennifer Ehle” portrayed Myrtle Logue in the film.

Now, I had just seen The King’s Speech the week beforehand and had promptly decided it was the best film I’ve seen in awhile. To say the least, it is the only film I’ve seen, after which the audience sat and clapped to a dark screen. Next, I discovered that Jennifer Ehle portrayed Elizabeth Bennet in the lovely PBS Pride and Prejudice Miniseries. Every time I visited my Aunt and Uncle, they sat me down to watch it and gush about the actress from their own Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Not surprisingly, the Mother and Wife of this family, Rosemary Harris, is also an accomplished actress.

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I was delighted to share an exchange with Jennifer on Twitter about a recently published interview with her father and her role in The King’s Speech. Though there are many other instances to artistic heritage in North Carolina, (O.Henry, Eva Gardner, Charles Frazier, Romare Bearden, Doc Watson, Ben Folds, among many others), I have thoroughly enjoyed “getting to know” the Ehles. Though I am still unsure if I am pronouncing this native North Carolinian family’s name correctly, I am enriched by the discovery of their talented, generous artistry and leadership. I anticipate future discoveries of artistic and community leadership from the multifarious community that is North Carolina.

Any leads for future discovery of North Carolina roots and legacy? Similar discoveries of your roots? Share them with me below and keep in touch! Subscribe to my RSS feed and say Hi on Twitter.

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