If Walls Could Talk …
[EDITOR’S NOTE: June 25, was National Log Cabin Day. That inspired us to share the story of a little log cabin that has made a tremendous impact on the local arts scene since the 1950s. You may not know it’s there. But, you’ve felt its legacy.]
“We’ve had musicians here. We’ve had opera, poetry readings, a dance performance in the front yard. There was a band we met in Berlin … They’re actually based in New York City, and they drove down to perform a concert in our front yard. We’ve had … painters, dancers, actors, musicians, filmmakers, storytellers. We’ve always had gatherings in our home.” – MyLoan Dinh
Once or twice in a lifetime – if you’re lucky – you might fall in love.
With a house.
It will speak to you, announce itself to you, invite you in. It will provide much more than shelter. It will be a place of comfort and solace. A place you want to invite friends and family often. Perhaps you will have children and raise them in this house.
You will invest in it, improve it, put your stamp on it.
Visual artist MyLoan Dinh and her husband, Till Schmidt-Rimpler, a German-born choreographer, theater director and cultural facilitator, fell for just such a house. It’s a place so special, they decided it must have a name: The Poets’ Cabin.
There is something lyrical about this house and its grounds. But, the home isn’t just special to them. It’s meant a great deal to Charlotte’s creative community for decades.
In 1996, Dinh and Schmidt-Rimpler founded Moving Poets, which the website calls “an international community of artists” that has “presented multimedia dance theatre productions, lead creative workshops, created teen youth programs, produced and presented music concerts, curated exhibitions and presented a wide range of art and cultural festivals in the USA and Germany.”
Moving Poets, like Dinh and Schmidt-Rimpler themselves, is based in two places – Charlotte and Berlin.
When they’re in Charlotte, the Poets’ Cabin is home base.
The couple fell for the three-bedroom, two-bath log cabin, constructed in 1935, when it belonged to another family.
A passion for the arts
David and Nancy Howe – whom Dinh described as “legendary” – became the home’s second owners when they bought it in 1955.
“This area [Oakhurst] was considered out in the country then,” Dinh said.
“They were deeply involved in the community, and they were both educators,” she added. “David was the headmaster of Charlotte Country Day for 14 years, and Nancy was a teacher.” Both were passionate supporters of the arts. David served on the boards of Friends of the Library and the late, lamented Charlotte Repertory Theatre, Charlotte’s professional theater company. Nancy was involved with the now-gone-and-much-missed Carolinas Actors Studio Theatre (CAST) and the Charlotte Symphony. She helped found Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte.
In a 1963 interview about the importance of arts in education in The Charlotte News, David said, “It takes a long time to train a child not to be interested in the arts — but, unfortunately, our society often succeeds. We teach them that the arts are a chore or a recess or recreation, instead of stressing their vitality, their importance, the way they can enrich, complete our lives.”
Nancy was much the same. In a 2011 interview in The Observer, she said, “We do have lots of good artists, actors, actresses of all sorts. We need to be willing to support them.”
Building a home for themselves … and creatives
The Howes sought out and made space for creatives in their home.
“They were pioneers,” Dinh said. “They both were very supportive of the arts, the environment and historic preservation.”
According to Nancy’s 2019 obituary, the couple lived in “a log house where they raised nine children in a home that is remembered by countless travelers, artists, friends and family for Nancy and Dave’s free-thinking, welcoming, generous and supportive spirit. Nancy’s life-long loves include music, dance, theater, gardening, travel and thoughtful human culture in the natural environment.”
Nancy loved contra dancing and was involved in the Charlotte Folk Society. She and David hosted contra dances at their home. They’d move the furniture out of the way, bring musicians in who’d set up in the loft and convert their living room into a dance floor, Dinh said.
Being artists themselves, Dinh and Schmidt-Rimpler were often at those gatherings, which usually involved a potluck supper. Thanks to the visual and performing arts, the couples’ lives kept intersecting; Nancy even served on the board of Moving Poets.
David died in 1995. “As Nancy got older and her children moved out of Charlotte, it became harder for her to live on her own,” Dinh said. “So, she moved to Chapel Hill where one of her daughters, Sarah Howe – she’s a potter – lives, and we called and said, ‘If you ever decide to sell, please let us know.”
It was just the right time. “Nancy talked to her children, who [agreed the timing was right],” Dinh said. “We wanted to be caretakers of this house and carry on that spirit – the community spirit.”
A parlor with a purpose
The gatherings continue. And so does clearing furniture out of the way.
“We call them ‘Cabin Fever,’ these gatherings,” Dinh said. “We’ve had musicians here. We’ve had opera, poetry readings, a dance performance in the front yard. There was a band we met in Berlin who worked with us there. They’re actually based in New York City, and they drove down to perform a concert in our front yard.”
“We have a very open household,” Dinh said. “We’ve had artists from different disciplines – painters, dancers, actors, musicians, filmmakers, storytellers. We’ve always had gatherings in our home.”
They have to give good directions, though. The house is set back from the road, down a nearly hidden driveway. “A little slice of paradise” is how Dinh described it. It’s a private paradise they could keep to themselves, but instead, they lovingly open it to other artists, dreamers and thinkers.
It’s both a place for lively celebrations and a place of contemplation. Dinh’s art studio is here, in an outbuilding made to look like a smaller version of the log cabin.
Living with art
The Poets’ Cabin is more than an arts venue; it’s a family’s home. Dinh and Schmidt-Rimpler have a 13-year-old daughter who’s a student in visual arts at Northwest School the Arts. Their son, who turns 25 on July 1, lives in London and is working toward a Ph.D. in art history.
In a city where history gets torn down with alarming regularity (and replaced with something usually bigger and blander), it’s nice to know that in a little corner of Charlotte, there’s a log cabin that’s stood in the same place since the Great Depression and has, for more than six decades, nurtured the creative spirit.
This is an unlikely love story – not between two people, but among two families, a creative community and a log cabin.
Learn More About the People and Organizations Mentioned in this Story
Sarah Howe: WEB
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