My Birmingham: Charles Buchanan


charles-buchanan-oneA native of Selma who has served the University of Alabama at Birmingham for years in different editorial capacities—currently as editor of UAB Magazine—Charles Buchanan is also an artist and author whose accomplishments include a 2012 book, The Fading Ads of Birmingham, featuring fading advertisements on the walls of Birmingham buildings. He is also a husband, father, and most importantly for this context, a man who knows the city well.

Here are a few of Buchanan’s Birmingham highlights.

Favorite place to read: You have a demanding editorial job, so when you have time to read for pleasure, what’s your favorite local place to look for interesting reading material—or just a favorite place to sit and read?

I love going to the library. We have a gem of a library system in Birmingham-Jefferson County (though the downtown branch needs renovation badly), and every time I walk in, I’m excited by what I might discover on the shelves. When I was researching and writing my book, Fading Ads of Birmingham, I spent a lot of time in the Linn-Henley Research Library, a beautiful, mural-lined building packed with resources on local and regional history. It was an inspiring environment.

Inspiring local artists: You’re also a highly respected artist. Can you tell us what local artist(s) have most inspired you?

Birmingham has a lot of talented artists. Among my favorites are Debra Riffe, who makes powerful block prints, and Bethanne Hill, painter of energetic Southern scenes. Doug Baulos is good at everything—drawing, book arts, ceramics, installations, you name it. And I still haven’t figured out how Chiharu Roach creates her delicate portraits of girls intricately intertwined with animals. I look up to all of these artists. Their work challenges me to expand my artistic horizons and improve my pieces. Fortunately, many Birmingham artists are generous when it comes to sharing what they’ve learned. We’re lucky to live in a creative community like that.

Best family time: You’re the father of a three-year-old. What’s your favorite place in Birmingham to take your daughter?

We all love going to the Birmingham Zoo. I’m not sure who got more excited the day we fed the giraffes. (I think it was me.) But if she had her way, I think we would spend all day driving round and round through the color tunnels connecting downtown and Southside. I’ll go out of my way to drive her through them because they make her so happy.

Best eats: What’s your favorite date-night restaurant?

All of them? Answering that question is like choosing a favorite child. This city overflows with delectable dining options. We loved Ollie Irene and continue to love Bottega and the Hot & Hot Fish Club chef’s counter. But our current favorite escape is the Pizitz Food Hall, where we can follow an Ono Poke ahi tuna bowl or Busy Corner cheese plate with the decadence of Lichita’s banana split. (Favorite ice cream choices for our splits: burnt milk and pina colada.)

Favorite outdoor space: What’s your favorite park, walking/biking trail or other outdoor space in Birmingham?

Railroad Park rockets to the top of the list because my wife and I had our first date there the day it opened. I enjoy watching how the park has changed, with the trees getting bigger, the landscaping growing more lush, the arrival of ducks, and so forth. It also provides a great vantage point on a changing city. When I’m there, I’m usually looking at the downtown buildings and the industrial architecture surrounding the park. Our daughter loves the park because she has space to run, trains to watch, and a climbing dome to conquer.

Inside knowledge: Favorite bit of Birmingham trivia?

In early decades of the 20th century, Birmingham was home to a ton of homegrown soft drink companies—producing more brands of beverages than any other city in America in 1920, according to a history I read. They had some goofy names: Nervola, Gleeola, Rye-Ola, Ozo-Olo, Nifty Cola, Cola-Nip, and Celery Cola among them. Can you imagine how Celery Cola tasted? Buffalo Rock ginger ale and Grapico (which originated in New Orleans) are the only local brands that remain from that era.

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