Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Contexts: Crooked Roads, Quilts and Meth

From considering Gabriel García Márquez's imagined Macondo to the confluences of Christo and federal land-use, we turn today in our Contexts series to one of the most valuable online spaces for discussions of rural arts and culture: the Legal Ruralism blog. We've featured the site before, but the work of Dr. Lisa Pruitt and her contributors locates itself on the contemporary edge of these issues, so it's a very important place to find a commentary not only on rural-based stories, but on the ways in which the media, the public sector, and even the legal system are constructing what it means to be "rural." 

Dr. Pruitt is a law professor at UC-Davis and a native of the Ozarks; each of these categories of experience inform her work for Legal Ruralism and grant a perspective to the site that is both intellectually rigorous and rooted in the realities of rural place and culture. It's in evidence in recent posts on Virginia's Crooked Road music trail and in her extended reportage on how issues local to the Arkansas Ozarks carry national implications. Dr. Pruitt has contributed a series of pieces considering the politics and legal issues surrounding rural Arkansas schools, as well as an extended series called Law and Order in the Ozarks that places local events within a broader discussion.

What's also unique about Legal Ruralism is the inclusion of many of Dr. Pruitt's students as contributors. As many consider how to integrate "the next generation" into these discussions, this site offers a virtual model for those conversations--as these writers come from different backgrounds and cultivate exciting interdisciplinary ideas. One piece that underlined the value of this exchange is Piecing a Life Together: Quilting, the Great (Rural) American Art. Here's how the author, Chez Marta, begins:
On my recent flight across the country, as I was gazing out the airplane’s window, I looked down on vast stretches of sparsely populated farmland. The ground looked like a big patch-work quilt of browns, greens, and yellows. The scene reminded me of the short story, A Jury of Her Peers by early feminist writer Susan Glaspell. In that story, first published in 1916, the wives of the county’s important officials tag alongside their husbands to visit a murder scene. Apparently, a rural woman has killed her husband, nobody knows how or why. The women discover the causes of this tragedy by observing the details of the first floor of the house (i.e., the kitchen and the parlor), details which only a woman would understand, while the men fail to find any evidence pointing to a possible motive of the crime. In short, the men fail to understand the intricacies of this household's dynamics.

One of the key pieces of evidence the women understand is the quilt the lady of the house worked on. They notice that her quilt had some impeccably pieced squares but, all of a sudden, the work turned shoddy, as if the maker of the quilt had suddenly lost her touch with the quilt — and with reality. The story poignantly shows why rural women, in their solitary and frugal lives, had long embraced the tradition of quilting, used it not only for providing their families with warm blankets at no extra cost, but also for telling stories about their nearly invisible lives. Continue reading here:
At the risk of merely summarizing all the valuable writing and commentary on Legal Ruralism, it's best to follow the link and spend some time perusing the archives. Folks may also be interested in Dr. Pruitt's consideration of new Appalachian drama, which has inspired us to work on an article that we will soon share in this space.