Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel
ALICE CARTER SHERA Correspondence
Teacher, Arts & Craft; Housemother at Laurel House, 1934-1935
Teacher, Art & Weaving 1935-1936
The correspondence of Alice Shera tracks her arrival at Pine Mountain in 1934 until her untimely death from cancer in 1936. The professional correspondence of Alice Shera details her enormous creative spirit and the great regard her colleagues had for her skills and her high standards. Her personal letters capture the poignant journey of a woman who charts her own course and puts the education and success of her young son Caleb in the foreground of her life. The correspondence covers the years of 1934 to 1936.
The letters provide a deep and interesting account of the events that brought her to Pine Mountain, kept her there, and inspired the innovation she brought to the School’s arts programs. The documents eventually reveal her impact on the Pine Mountain School community who collectively mourn her loss from cancer. See Remarks at the Memorial of Alice Shera written by Glyn Morris.
- # 001 1934 May 2 Employment referral from Rose Moffett, Provincetown, MA.
- #002 1934 May 2 Employment referral from Dr. Alfred Upham, President of Miami Univ.
- #003 n.d. Bill to Mrs. George Shera (Alice) for Miscellaneous from PMSS
- #004 1934 May 2 Employment referral from Dean Elizabeth Hamilton, Miami Univ.
- #005-#007 1934 May 8 Alice Shera to Glyn Morris (3 pages) describing her interest in architecture and instruction in manual training as possible directions at PMSS. She tells of her connection with the Brown County artist colony at Nashville, Indiana. She waxes ecstatic regarding her dye-pot work and suggests that a “Pine Mountain Green” could be unique and profitable color for the school.
- #007-#009 1934 May 24 Alice Shera to Glyn Morris (3 pages) accepting the offer to be housemother at Farm House for the summer and will arrive on July 15 to begin work. She mentions a pegged table in the Metropolitan Museum American wing that was the earliest table in America and that she has made a pattern of the table to be tried at Pine Mountain. [The table was a trestle table]. She also mentions a Colonial textile she has seen in a Washington craft museum that uses vegetable dye block prints to decorate the cloth similar to 14th-century examples.
- #010-#010a (2 pages) 1934 December 23 Alice Shera to Alice L. Felton at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.C. requesting lantern slides and equipment to run the slides. She hopes to use the equipment for art history instruction and for lectures on art principles. She also tells of the remote location of the School and Chad Lewis who is the “Little Shepherd of Kingdome Come,” in the John Fox Jr. novel.
#011 – #011a-d 1935 March ? Alice Shera to Miss Alice L. Felton, Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.C. (5 pages) She describes her work teaching art history to the students at PMSS and asks for images. She frets about the next era she will teach which is Greek Art, saying “... I am approaching slowly, indeed, Greek Art — I don’t know how to show the statuary since these youngsters are so ‘body minded’. I am sure unless I can do something about it that when they go into the Metropolitan that they will see only, for instance, the middle of a Hercules — and not his fine head and [it] will cloud their receptive consciousness with never-ending giggling. So won’t you help me plan a program for them whereby they will go directly to the objects there [that] they will understand? She notes that the students liked Landseer*, [and] Bonheur* [and] Potter [?] and that seeing paintings of animals, “has made them appreciate animals more. Here in the mountains, the animals with few exceptions are cruelly treated — and one can walk for miles over the mountainside and never see a sign of life. Which is easily explained when one so frequently sees children under twelve dragging rather than carrying shotguns, while searching for something at which to shoot.” She also reflects on the student’s lack of interest in bright colors saying that “One girl gave me a most unusual color scheme yesterday — almost monochromatic. It is strange to me that they do not react to bright colors and if left alone revert to dull or shadowy hues...” She then invites Miss Felton to visit Pine Mountain and notes that the “Rockefeller Foundation people were here last summer…” (5 pages). [Miss Alice L. Felton headed the Metropolitan Museum’s lending library at the time of the correspondence.]
#012 1934 Newspaper Cartoon. “I always said I’d never do this kind of work for any man.” [Woman ironing man’s shirt. Added by Shera, other?]
# 013-#013a-b n.d. Alice Shera to Glyn Morris. Regarding a book she sent to Morris that she is using in her furniture research. She suggests that if he likes any of the designs that she will do an orthographic projection of the piece of furniture for him. She again refers to the American trestle table design and notes that the top is pine and the trestles are of oak.
#014-#014a July 9, 1935. Alice Shera to Glyn Morris from the Arlington Hotel and Baths, Arkansas. Describes travel to Indiana, Arkansas and New York City. Visited Camark [Camark Art Tile and Pottery Company of Camden in Ouachita County] potteries and the Resek Forge in Camden, Arkansas. In New York she lunched with the Mrs. Frank A. Vanderlys and other possible donors.
#015 1935 Glyn Morris to Alice Shera asking that she relieve Mrs. Lexine Baird [nurse] at Infirmary, as two patients remained in hospital and Baird is away.
#016-#016a n.d. Alice Shera to “My dear Director” [Morris]. Notes she is glad to substitute for Mrs. Baird and discusses weaving and her change in jobs on campus … and notes that “… physical labor in some way does sap our creative vitality.” She requests to have her loom moved nearby and help with threading the loom.
#017 – #017a-e (6 pages) October 6, 1935. Alice Shera to Miss Alice L. Felton, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Apologizes for misplacing Felton’s letter and address. Shera tells of a weaving class at Berea and visit to Jugtown Pottery in North Carolina. She relates that she continues to make talks for the School (Delaware and Maryland) in support of the adult extension school [?]. She describes new class in figure drawing and the use of charcoal and contour drawing. She asks for suggestions and if any plaster casts are available for models. When one of her students looked at a Rembrandt drawing she said, “Well, I don’t see why he selected the ugliest old woman in the world as a model.” Shera writes, “Old women have no standing down here and it was unfortunate that I happened upon this picture. …. anyone married is an ‘old woman’ here …” She tells Felton that it is also the fashion in the community ” … to have crayon portraits of the dead made. I have planned to get a picture of one but the diplomatic way has not opened yet. Granny Creech has pictures of her first [?] husband in his coffin hanging on a wall that is papered with pages torn from Sears and Robuck catalog. … called ‘wish-books’.
Shera then describes in detail a picture she saw of Aunt Judes’ husband. Shera says “It will lighten any dark day for you. ‘Pap’s home-made coffin seems to be standing on end. It is the old pointed shape. Pap looks crowded. His beard there [?] would put any Russian to shame, is spread out fan shape over his breast. One hand as big as ham is resting below it on his middle. The other hand small-flat and cherubic is tucked in along his side straight and stiff. He has on home-made boots with his pants tucked in.” I walked this week through the gaps at Big Laurel and in the time saw only two conveniences for light. There are no candles for there isn’t enough fat in the whole section to make a candle. I found a bottle with a rag in it upon which a tablespoon of Kerosene could be poured in an emergency and one glass lamp that had never had a chimney — burning in a sick room.
The cabins are utterly devoid of color and the average has only one door and no windows. Those are the type of houses from which my pupils have come or from mining camps that are worse. I have wondered if some gay color, telling pictures would not delight them (the parents). … The underlying idea is to teach them to use what they have intelligently and to make the everyday beautiful. I am writing to you informally believing that it will help you to help me and I am sure you find in it a satisfaction to know that you can — where it is needed so much. I did not hear from any of the people to whom you talked about material for our work. Thank you just the same.” Shera indicates that pictures are enclosed …“I hope that they will help you to understand our locality, the Pine Mt. leaflet do not return.”
#018 re: October 22nd, 1935. Memorandum by Glyn Morris [?]. “On Tuesday, October 22nd, 1935, Miss Brooks came to the office very much disturbed and said that she could not work in the weaving room any longer if Mrs. Shera were there. The matter was talked out and Miss Brooks stated that in her absence Mrs. Shera would take wools which she had prepared for other pieces and use them on her own pieces — that she would take girls whose work had been assigned them, and use them to wind bobbins, and that on many occasions Mrs. Shera tended to break down the order and system which had been incorporated into the weaving room.
In private conference, Mrs. Shera claimed that Miss Brooks handicapped her by making her wait for dyed material and was not cooperative. An attempt was made by the Director to work out a satisfactory arrangement, between Mrs. Shera and Miss Brooks, but any attempt to combine Mrs. Shera’s activities in the weaving room was opposed by Mrs. Shera, so that eventually she felt that the best thing for her to do was to get out of the weaving room.”
#019 – #019a n.d. [October 1935]. Alice Shera to “My dear Mr. Morris and Mrs. Morris too. It is past midnight and I have been doing some tall thinking. Right now it seems to have an element of poisonous sense in it.
I appreciate your effort to make an adjustment in the weaving department but may I suggest that the present plans be deferred for a while. She has gotten the idea that I want her job. I certainly do not want hers or any ones! I only want my own work and that must be happily adjusted to the work of anyone with whom I am associated. As long as she has that idea she will regard me with suspicions not pleasant. Under such a baleful influence my design and color harmonies would be soddin and gray. If my plans materialize to study in the Cranbrook School I’ll be a lot better later in the new venture than now — Oh, why can’t we be happy? Why all this fret? Why is so many trivial things compared to eternity, take the joy out of the every day? Why don’t we have faith in each other? I’ll be damed! [darned?] Sincerely, Alice C.S.
Maybe our best customers will like our products better if they are not easy to attain!
#020 -#020a-d n.d. [re: October 1935 ?] [Alice Shera learns of her cancer.] “My dear Mrs. and Mrs. Morris, August [Angel] came up after he was with you this evening and talked things over with me. In the meantime I had been doing a lot of thinking and had arrived at a conclusion — Before telling you — may I say that I do appreciate your very great kindnesses and consideration as well as your cooperation. One can never forget such. It does make the difficult thing seem easy when one knows that there are good friends — like you and August not far away. I am not afraid or scared only humiliated at the inconvenience that I am causing and I am as mad as the dickens at having anything wrong with my body machine. I have faced death pleasantly several times — I lived on and when knocked completely down on my knees I have risen to greater heights on the rebound than ever before — so I have no doubt that soon I shall greet a better and far greater year of achievement than the best of the past — bit if anything should happen — you may be sure that my mother will be responsible for any expenses — until then I don’t want her to know that I am not working — I am leaving some letters for August to mail from here at intervals — I will have Dr. B.[Bailey] make arrangements with the hospital — and will pay him eventually — as he suggested. I have all of the old debts that are hanging over my head when I came down — paid and bring almost in the clear. I can finance this new venture nicely.
My friends in New York are an insurance asset to me and I do not want them to ever see me when not up to normal — since nature has given me such an early warning I am sure that Dr. Bailey can handle the plumbing since it is to confined to my outside. I think I am lucky in many ways. I had just written a letter tonight for the substitute when A. (August) came up. The one I hope to get you will be delighted with. I am sure for the sake of my peace of mind. I am asking of you one big favor. I shall not defer long — giving over, but when I go I want to leave my work with no dangling ends. Each of my girls has an especial ability and requires a special handling. I want to wait for the substitute and leave the girls equipment and work in hand so that the work will progress without the usual results that occur when one changes horses [houses] in mid-stream. I will hear, no doubt from Mr. Hodgin Monday or Tuesday and I have faith to believe that my loss is going to be your gain. After thinking it over, I believe that Dr. B[ailey] expects me to [be] in the hospital only a week or ten days. Then I can return and at three intervals during the month go to Knoxville and return again. May I ask another thing — Would it be possible for Barbara Bicknell to come up for a day and night and let Mrs. Baird stay with me until I recover somewhat from the anesthetic. I am an awful fool or my “insides” are, on such occasions — August says Rats! to that — He says that he can be and will be nurse in charge and knowing of his versatility, I don’t doubt but his work would be good. I didn’t expect to make such a request — because I am so used to not depending upon anyone— but he and Mrs. Baird insist that one or the other are going with me. I think they want to .[?} Mr.[?] James achievement. They can now do that unless they use my one and only hat for an embasic [?.] basin! and so for a few days, may I continue my work? I really feel full of “vim and vigor” — and can carry on. How I do hate to quit!
May I thank you again for your encouragement and even consideration. I hope to show you sometime in constructive work just how much I do appreciate you both and Mr. Dodd.
Alice C. S.
#021 n.d. [January? 1936] Alice Shera to Glyn Morris — This is a wonderful day but it won’t be entirely so until I can tell you that I appreciate your thoughtfulness in coming up last night and insisting upon a two days release. When I arrived yesterday I was still a bit groggy from too much novocaine/ morphine, but this morning I feel much too fit to be a proper shut-in and could take the Geography Class at 4:15. I don’t like the idea of a bad start at the beginning of a new term. As for the slice on my side, you remember what David Harris said —“A reasonable amount of fleas is good for a dog. It keeps him from broodin’ on bein’ one.”
With this, I am sending the article about Cranbrook. It is the only copy I have so you may return it at your convenience. I had a letter from Mr. Rasman yesterday. In it he complimented the style; content, good printing of the Nonsuch Letter and of the Jan. edition of the Ballads. A.C.S.
#022 – #022a-c (3 pages) n.d.  Alice Shera to Glyn Morris. “My dear Mr. Morris, I’m none too sure of any thing again because I believed so firmly that I would see some one from Pine Mountain today — so I have kept Jack. It is now four. He has gone over to the Ford plant to see if the truck is there if not I will call a taxi. I have some money — but I may need it, so will you pay the fare — include in Jack’s other expenses — extract from work check? You will find that it is possibly Jack’s brother that you know and that Jack is still water and deep.
Dr. Bailey let me leave the Hospital this morning and brought me here where it is not so expensive. I have a pleasant room and everybody has been so nice to me. One has to make a big slump once in a while to realize the true value of things that have gone un-noticed and before undervalued. I live a charmed life and far out from the unexpected came a check for $200 yesterday. Believing in the power of the living God one only has to wait quietly to see miracles.
I’ll be in bed here a week possibly and such a comfortable bed it is and I have made “such a remarkable ” comeback — that Dr. B [Bailey] thinks that only one trip to Knoxville will be necessary and another again in six months. I just can’t help but be happy!
The lead in my pencil is broken. Every word may be my last until someone comes and when Jack returns I must hurry him off. Thank you for everything — Greetings and good-bye from Alice C. S[hera]. [Written on back of note: Mr. Morris — Zande or Laurel [House] Introducing Jack Sheehan.]
#023 January 8, 1936. Miami University President Alfred Upham to Alice Shera. “My dear Mrs. Shera: Thank you for the copies of Pine Mountain Notes. They are extremely interesting and help make the school and the mountains live in the imagination of those of us who are still outside the rim. The ballads with their reminiscences of old England and Scotland are particularly fascinating. With all good wishes, Very truly yours, …”
#024 -#024a January 10, 1936. Alice Shera to Miss Alice L. Felton Metropolitan Museum of Art My dear Miss Felton — When I came in from the Christmas vacation I found the exhibit that you sent, waiting for me and also a short time before the holidays the pictures came. How beautiful they are and what a lot of help. Several of the girls wrote such intriguing reports on the ones assigned to them that I gave them a picture. They must now to the wood-working department and made frames for them. One of the girls has the frame done and is hoping to save fifteen cents for the glass. She gave her house another [of] her pictures to keep and enjoy until she could frame it properly. Raphael and Corregio were their favorites. Luini didn’t rate and no one seemed to be interested in Da Vinci — Study.
Soon after I showed them the completed picture of the Last Supper, on the surface my pupils and the students of the school look[ed] and behaved just like young men and women of refinement anywhere — but their [aremts are saddistic — so are they. when below the surface is exposed, so I was surprised when one of the girls said when looking at the Head Study and the completed picture. ‘He looks worrit and sad like. It t’warnt no fitten’ way for that Judas man to go snoopin’ around hissen tales in their years about his self.” “Don’t seem to be much food on the table, anyhow that thar man thar (John) ought to set up and eat what thar is — instead of leaning hiself over that a-way — it plumb takes my appetite away — but oh! here is a picture I love! Look at that cute little feller a settin’ in his maws lap.” and so on.
The children, boys as well as girls love babies, And, they, as soon as they cease to be babies, assume entire care of the “little ones” of their large families. They have never had dolls or toys to play with only live babies. Last Christmas I heard weeping and wailing in one of the dreaming rooms and there I found my big fine dignified girl — eighteen — twenty-one years old crying because Santa had not brought them big baby dolls! They have one that they take turns about in dressing and sitting on their bed in state. When I want to Mrs. Morris, our director’s wife — she found in some of the missionary boxes — some small dolls. They were going to the girls and if I should look in their pockets — you would find them there. I wish I could tell you in person –more than that, I wish you could have been with me all of this week to see the re-action from the exhibit. You will never be able again to arouse as much genuine constructive interest in an art project. The girls have been literally walking on their toes. They have never seen anything like it — and since they have no experience or knowledge … of the world or know and have simply by blind faith were led along by me — that exhibit brought to them that the work that they were doing was a reality. Something worthwhile. When I have told them that their work was good — well — and there it hung in mid-air — but now they all want to send some of their work to you and are working like Trojans to do something that you all will like. At first, they wanted to do some studies similar to those you sent and when I suggested that right outside of the window on the mountain something that your friends had not seen. That would give them pleasure to see — They all ran out with bottles and jugs and put in them what they thought would make a good composition. Several of the girls have used the same study from different angles, but you will have one of White Ginger leaves (heart flower) one of moss and ferns — several of laurel and of rhododendron. I found some artificial flowers in the property room that is in a rhododendron study — so they are the only things not actual.
My classroom is about as big as an oversized closet. I have to put two girls up on a table in one class — no floor space — and they are always too close to the setup and too close together. Next year since I have gotten such good results I am promised a larger room and equipment. Several of the girls have said to me. ‘I see more than I have ever seen before. I did not know that shadows were beautiful. I did not know that there was color in darkness. I have always been afraid of the dark — (These people are all cowards — fear ever lurks at their heals. That is why they carry guns and shoot when startled. Coming in from the Big Laurel Settlement the other night I met a mountain man carrying a gun in each hand. I asked him if he were looking for bears. He laughed and went on. Two of my girls, that cannot draw well — have a remarkable ability to sense a defect in structures and in color harmony and have carried it over in the sewing department where they are using that ability to a good effect.
As I have told you before — art subjects have never been taught before in mountain school. This year, it was established here as an experiment — so far it has more than justified itself and to you I give a large share of the credit. Every time I have reached the place where what next? Looms ahead you have sent in — just the thing I needed. The portfolios have been read over and over again by the girls in the Home Mechanics class and they are going to make some course like them. We haven’t colored paper — but plenty of brown. That will be acceptable. The packages of colored papers you sent are simply precious. I use a combination of color under a still life set up and in other ways too numerous to mention — Some of it is used to liven up note books.