Thursday, June 28, 2012

Communities That Can Support Artists & Free Culture


New articles have been slow this week, as we are working on an exciting grant opportunity -- of which we will offer more news soon.

Until then, we recommend that folks visit The Boiled Down Juice to read a thorough discussion of the recent exchange between NPR Music intern Emily White, of the “I Never Owned Music to Begin With" editorial, and the response by musician James Lowery (of Camper Von Beethoven, Cracker).

Though these pieces may have already virally inserted themselves into your digital life, it's worth reading how BDJ editor Meredith Martin Moats presents this tension between the Free Culture Movement and the need to treat artists (and their creative property) with respect and decency. The piece concludes by posing a provocative question about how, as artists and audiences, we should act as members of a kind of digital "commons." 

In the debate over these pieces, that kind of broader perspective is missing; we can argue Spotify percentages, but the deeper, more systemic problem is how we envision ourselves as in a community with these artists.  Ms. Moats offers some initial actions that anyone could take to foster this ethic, and she is asking for her readers to add to this effort.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Introducing A New Series: Notes From The Field


Square dance caller T-Claw with the Hogslop String Band, Nashville; Jennifer Joy Jameson

Art of the Rural is excited to announce Notes From The Field, a new series that applies the lessons of ethnography and folklore studies within the contemporary frame of rural and rural-urban experience. 

In addition, we are also pleased to welcome Jennifer Joy Jameson to our staff. Currently based in Nashville, Jennifer has worked for a number of museums, festivals, and folk art programs. She is a recent graduate of the Folk Studies MA program at Western Kentucky University and previously studied folklore and ethnomusicology at Indiana University. Though she is involved with many projects, AOTR readers may be familiar with our previous coverage of her exhibition "Yours For The Carters": The Vintage Sound Collections Of Freeman Kitchens.

Jennifer's projects are emblematic of a new generation of folklorists and advocates of vernacular culture -- a movement that works both within, and beyond, the traditional boundaries of the university or the archive. This wave of writers, artists, and curators has consistently presented, across all kinds of interdisciplinary lines, the sheer necessity and vitality of rural art and culture. Jennifer's introduction to this series is included below:

••••••••••

As a folklorist, I study and advocate for the unofficial or non-institutional aspects of culture. These often materialize in the form of artistic or expressive traditions held and passed on among a community or culture, such as crafts, musics, stories, foodways, beliefs, rituals, and customs. I’ve come to engage with these everyday arts through the practice of ethnography, in which I spend time observing, inquiring about, and at times, participating in, a community’s cultural traditions in an effort to document them, and better understand their social context.

Although The Art Of The Rural is no stranger to considering the work and viewpoints of folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and anthropologists, the Notes from the Field series seeks to serve as a focal point on AOTR for engaging with rural arts and culture through a contemporary ethnographic perspective. Other AOTR writers trained in folklore/folklife studies have already contributed to this discourse, and will continue to do so.

Painter & singer Roy Harper at a wax cylinder recording at the National Folk Festival: JJJ

Daniel Frazier at Freeman Kitchens' Drake Vintage Music & Curios, Drake, KY; JJJ

Folklorists typically find themselves working within a canon of folk and traditional artists and their communities—the weavers, the fiddlers, the storytellers, or the altar-makers. With Notes from the Field, I hope to present a discourse for a more open-ended view of what constitutes these key cultural concepts of “community” and “tradition.” How can we consider D-I-Y zine culture and quilting as equal parts folk art? And with the broadening of communication through the Internet, what do these more emergent cultural traditions mean for rural America? Just how rural are rural arts these days (and what can folklore tell us about it)? As a Southern Californian living in Nashville, Tennessee, I find myself wondering how our more canonical folk and traditional arts are playing out in urban settings, and among younger, or revivalist sets. Exhibit A: A friend of mine from Nashville circulates a zine he made as an instruction manual on how to call old-time square dances.

While Notes from the Field may not be able to offer the depth of a complete ethnographic study, this series will offer dispatches from visits with featured artists, musicians, and communities—in their own contexts. When I’m not able to travel, I will point the way to projects involving some type of ethnographic practice. I also look forward to bringing other voices into the series, through interviews or guest posts—and like Kenyon Gradert’s Course on Midwest Culture series, I’ll look for your feedback and ideas in cultivating a dynamic conversation about the ebb and flow of folklife, in and of, rural America.

Vendors selling fried apple pies, Horse Cave Heritage Festival (KY); Jennifer Joy Jameson

Selling handmade canes on the side of the road in Leiper's Fork, TN; Jennifer Joy Jameson

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bringing It To The Table

Arkansas State Folklorist Mike Luster at the Roundtable; Jennifer Joy Jameson

By Rachel Reynolds Luster, Contributing Editor

Last month Art of The Rural joined a host of artists and cultural workers from around the country in Fox, Arkansas for the 2nd Annual Meadowcreek Roundtable. The gathering brought together people working in the fields of folklore, literature, film, ethnomusicology, ethnobiology as well as others with an interest in community action, bioregionalism, social justice, and local food systems.

The original concept for this retreat was born from conversations following a panel presentation at the American Folklore Society Annual Meeting in 2010 where I, my husband Mike Luster, and our friend and colleague Meredith Martin-Moats of The Boiled Down Juice presented a panel entitled, Community Based Folklife Practice.

We called for an interdisciplinary holistic approach to community renewal and sufficiency, and a lively conversation followed for nearly an hour after the panel. That discussion bore an online component, the Community-Based Folklore Practice Facebook group, which broadened the conversation to include additional artists as well various voices from around the nation and across multiple disciplines ranging from community-engaged design to peace and justice activists alongside the many folklorists working in the public sector, and the Meadowcreek Roundtable was created to serve as the physical manifestation of that open conversation.

We call it the Roundtable because we firmly believe that some of the best conversations come at the table, or in preparing and enjoying meals. For three days we gather, we talk, we cook, we eat, we play music, we walk and swim. This year we enjoyed several wonderful films including Witch Hazel Advent by Fayetteville, Arkansas, filmmaker Sarah Moore Chyrchel. There are babies and dogs there too.

Angel Band by The Meadowcreek Singers by joyamerica

More than anything, we try to identify what we see that we’d like to change in terms of cultural practice and/or its impediments, the funding structures that dictate what work is fundable, how culture (whether it be rural/urban, fine/traditional) is represented in media, where we might draw inspiration from one another and those “doing it right” across the country and how we can contribute to, in Gandhi’s phrase, being the change that we want to see. And then we go home and set out to do it, renewed and inspired. This year was no exception.

The American Folklore Society has generously supported the retreat for the past two years. This year, The Arkansas Folklife Program at Arkansas State University and that school’s Heritage Studies Department sponsored the event as well. Thus far, we’ve been able to keep the gathering free for attendees including registration, lodging, food, and childcare. We prepare the meals together from scratch and everyone chips in to do whatever else needs doing. It’s a truly beautiful thing in a lovely place. The Boiled Down Juice has also posted a story about the Meadowcreek Roundtable that offers a more in-depth discussion of the Meadowcreek property and its history and links to many of this year’s gathering’s attendees, their organizations and their work.

Here's two of this year's participants reflecting on the experience:
For me, the Meadowcreek Roundtable has been an incredibly important resource. The meetings have fostered invaluable and directive conversation with peers and senior colleagues that have stayed with me long after the weekend of the roundtable. For two years, I've come in with ideas and questions about how to carry out meaningful cultural work. Each time, I have come away with substantial mentorship, leading me to ask deeper questions about the intersections of folklife and cultural sustainability, and encouraging me to proceed boldly. - Writer and Folklorist Jennifer Joy Jameson
I came away from the Meadowcreek Roundtable retreat inspired and full of new ideas. In fact, on the drive home, a fellow attendee carpooling with me and I conceptualized a creative collaboration for our own community which we are in the initial stages of implementing. Without a designated time and place for such creative incubation to occur, I doubt we would have seen this project materialize, let alone make it to fruition. - Filmmaker Sarah Moore Chyrchel
If you and your organization would like to support or participate in next year’s gathering please contact us. We’d love to have you at the ‘Table.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Carter Family Flash Mob & The Winding Stream

photograph from The Winding Stream

Last week a flash mob convened at the Portland, Oregon Saturday Market and sang the Carter Family classic "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." 


These singers and musicians gathered to celebrate the work of the Carters, and also to raise awareness of The Winding Stream -- a documentary that charts the course of country music through its founding family and the lives of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Director Beth Harrington is currently leading a Kickstarter campaign to help with the editing and post-production work on the film. There are only eight days remaining in her campaign, so readers who taken interest in our previous coverage of the film have an opportunity now to contribute to the telling of this story. 

What's exciting about Ms. Harrington's project is how, with an arc that continues through Johnny Cash, we see the music of Clinch Mountain transcending rural/urban and traditional/contemporary boundaries -- offering the work of A.P, Sara, and Maybelle as a part of an inheritance accessible to all listeners, whether they live in Appalachia or New York City or London.

This quality is best demonstrated in The Winding Stream trailer, which is included below:



Related Articles:
Following The Winding Stream
In Brief: Carolina Chocolate Drops (filmed for The Winding Stream)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rural America Election Cycle: Backroads To Backbone

The Romney campaign at Scammam Farm in New Hampshire; Joe Readle, Getty Images

Thanks to Matthew Glassman of Double Edge Theatre for sharing news of this Ari Shapiro's NPR piece on the presidential campaigns that are moving through his region of New England. 

The Rural America Election Cycle is in full swing, that period where regions of the country traditionally given a backseat by policymakers and the news media become the staging area for patriotic and pastoral demonstrations. In this perennial moment of national yearning and uncertainty, both political parties accomplish turns of phrase like this recent articulation by Mitt Romney, reported by NPR:
"In the days ahead, we'll be traveling on what are often called the backroads of America," he said. "But I think our tour is going to take us along what I'll call the backbone of America."
Regardless of the rhetoric, rural Americans will cast the decisive votes in this fall's election, a point Mr. Shapiro conveys with clarity. Here's a selection from the transcript, which includes a framing perspective on the race by Dee Davis, President of The Center for Rural Strategies:
Romney and President Obama are both, let's be honest, city slickers. That's a big change for the American presidency, says Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies.

"If it's [Ronald] Reagan on a horse or [Bill] Clinton, the man from Hope [Ark.], there's always been this kind of visual narrative or this story that to be president you had to be able to handle the wilderness, be comfortable outside of the city. It's just part of the lore," he says.

You're not likely to see Romney or Obama in a cowboy hat very often. But both men are trying to appeal to the folks who live in small towns, traditionally Republican strongholds.

ArtPlace: Creative Placemaking In Rural America

Roadside Culture Stand, The Wormfarm Institute; Katrin Talbot, Verse Wisconsin

Over the past few years we've frequently linked to the work of ArtPlace, a collaborative organization comprised of a number of foundations, federal entities, and banks that operates with a mission to promote creative placemaking across the United States. Unlike other organizations with interest in this term, ArtPlace emphasizes the role of the rural in contemporary American art and culture.

Last week ArtPlace announced 47 new grants, eight of which were specifically allocated, as large grants, to rural projects. In their announcement, "Creative Placemaking: Not Just For Cities,"  we learn of how these eight projects promise to manifest cultural and economic sustainability for their regions:
For decades, rural communities in the U.S. have seen steep declines in population as the next generation of youth follows employment to larger metropolitan areas. For these small towns and counties, there is a deep need to attract and retain talent – and art often “punches above its weight” when it comes to making places more vibrant so that people want to stay, says Carol Coletta of ArtPlace.

“Creative placemaking isn’t just for cities,” explained Coletta.  “These rural arts projects demonstrate that smart investments in art, design and culture as part of a larger portfolio of revitalization strategies can change the trajectory of communities and increase economic opportunities for people, whether the setting is rural or urban.”
Please find the supported projects below, with links to their work, and an informational trailer for the project. Much more information on ArtPlace can be found here:
Art-Force Program – $485,000 – Public Art Collaborative – Siler City, Greenville and Sanford, NC
Artists, art, and design are at the center of manufacturing renewal in three North Carolina communities through this cross-sector program that places artists in residence at under-capacity manufacturing plants and supports the production of artist-conceived and designed works.

Artsipelago – $250,000 – Quoddy Tides Foundation d/b/a Tides Institute & Museum of Art – Eastport, ME
Betting on art as the centerpiece of an economic comeback, Artsipelago will rebrand and connect a number of established efforts as well as develop artist live/work space and studio space to drive arts participation and ultimately talent retention in this rural, multicultural, coastal archipelago.

The Higher Ground Project – $273,000 – Higher Ground Coalition/The Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College – Cumberland, KY
This participatory community arts project and the coalition behind it will transform spaces to catalyze economic development by connecting art, design and commerce in a rural Appalachian coalfield county.

Paradise Garden Revival – $445,000 – Chattooga County, Georgia – Summerville, GA
The restoration and rehabilitation of the home studio and outdoor art environment of famed American folk artist Howard Finster in Summerville, Georgia will create an exciting anchor to increase cultural tourism and entrepreneurial economic development.

Sitka Arts Campus – $350,000 – Alaska Arts Southeast, Inc. (AAS) – Sitka, AK
Alaska Arts Southeast will transform a closed National Historic Landmark college into a multidimensional arts campus, bringing new life to rural Southeast Alaska.
Magic City Lofts – portion of $1,000,000 – Artspace – Minot, ND
In Minot, North Dakota, Artspace is developing a mixed-use arts facility that will bring new vibrancy to the city╩╝s flood-ravaged historic downtown and create a new art gallery featuring Native American artists.

Wormfarm Institute’s Food Chain – $75,000 – Wormfarm Institute – Sauk County, WI
Marrying the local food movement with the arts, Wormfarm Institute will create an arts-infused caravan of mobile farm stands delivering a marketplace of food, art, and ideas throughout its eight-county region


Related Articles:
The NEA And Creative Placemaking In Rural America

Friday, June 15, 2012

Weekly Feed: Skip James at 110, Art of Regional Change, Choctaw Code Talkers, Appalachian Steel Drum, and the town of Hannibal, Missouri


Here are stories we shared this week on our Arts and Culture Feed:

Skip James would have turned 110 this week. To celebrate, the Alan Lomax Archive's Facebook page shared a series of live performances and rare photos, including this clip from the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. Listen to, and view, a wealth of material by Mr. James and thousands of other musicians at the digital archives of the Association For Cultural Equity.



The Humanities Institute at UC-Davis this week published a feature on the work of The Art of Regional Change, an interdisciplinary project that, as they describe themselves, "brings together scholars, students, artists, and community groups to collaborate on media arts projects that strengthen communities, generate engaged scholarship and inform regional decision-making." We've written before about the work of ARC -- but this feature discusses their more recent Restore/Restory project based in rural Yolo County. Here is an excerpt:
This diverse array of people is co-creating a site-based audio tour and a series of media pieces curated on an interactive public history website. Thanks to a grant from the UC Humanities Research Network (UCHRI), this work will be showcased in a series of “twenty-first century Chautauquas” hosted this fall. jesikah maria ross borrows the term from the rural popular education movement of the late 1800s that centered on discussion of art, culture, and contemporary issues. ross believes that Restore/Restory invites the public to think about “big humanities questions around culture, justice, truth, diverse perspectives, beauty. It’s allowing us to take these questions and anchor t hem physically to a piece of land, and…have people dialogue about it.”

Two of these Chautauquas will take place in late October on site at the Cache Creek Nature Preserve. These events will debut the website and audio tours and will bring the public in direct contact with the storytellers on the land. For example, nature and culture walks will lead guests through the preserve as they hear the history of specific sites from different perspectives. A tour of the gravel bars might pair a geologist and a lifelong miner to share their differing expertise on the gravel in the creek. Another group may hear a tribal member talking about the tending and gathering gardens inside the preserve alongside an ecologist talking about the ecological habitat.
•  Native American Public Telecommunications shared word this week of the broadcast of Choctaw Code Talkers:
In 1918, not yet citizens of the U.S., Choctaw members of the U.S. American Expeditionary Forces were asked to use their native language as a powerful tool against the German Forces in World War I, setting a precedent for code talking as an effective military weapon and establishing them as America's original Code Talkers.
For further information, folks can visit the Choctaw Code Talkers Association, which hosts a wealth of information; please find the trailer for the documentary below:



The Washington Post put together a glimpse into how the arts -- as practiced by local residents and formerly urban newcomers -- is transforming the town of Hannibal, Missouri. Of course, Hannibal is the hometown of Mark Twain, so there is a rich legacy of the arts in the region, but this influx of creative activity has also helped to bolster the local economy. Here's a selection from the article:
Twain still is the main attraction for the half-million tourists who visit Hannibal each year, but now they get a bonus: A growing number of artists, many of national and international repute.

“The downtown storefronts are filling up with artists,” said Gail Bryant, director of the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That’s certainly part of the draw.”

During the past decade dozens of artists ranging from painters to potters, weavers to photographers have come to Hannibal, attracted to the breathtaking river scenery, the charming — if often dilapidated — old homes, a welcoming community and a ready-made base of visitors. It also helps that Hannibal, smack-dab in the middle of the nation, is within a day’s drive of countless art shows and fairs crucial for making ends meet.
Lisa Higgins, of The Missouri Folk Arts Program, expanded on this piece through her comments in the Feed:
It's a culturally rich town. We just did a community scholars workshop with field trips there, especially within the African American community. There's more to Hannibal than Mark Twain, and then, there's Mark Twain. The Hannibal Arts Council is also a dynamic and thriving org.
 • In "Freedom Gardens, The Seeds of Survival," Michael Tortorello of The New York Times produced an excellent feature on the history of the heirloom seeds and Juneteenth gardens within the southern African-American community. Agriculture holds a rich, though complicated place in this contemporary dialogue:
The broader truth is that gardening is a lost tradition in many African-American communities. The National Gardening Association doesn’t tally the number of black gardeners — nor, it would seem, does anyone else. The government survey that tracks farming demographics, the Census of Agriculture, offers mostly discouraging data about black farmers. In the last survey, African-American operators controlled only 33,000 of the nation’s 2.25 million farms — less than 1.5 percent.
An outstanding slideshow also accompanies this piece.  

• Lastly, The Smithsonian Folklife Festival shares news today of a musical conversation between Appalachia and Trinidad:
Ellie Mannette, considered the “Father of Modern Steel Drums,” has brought West Virginia University into the steel drumming tradition. In 1991 he was offered a guest semester staff position at West Virginia University, which turned into a permanent job within the music department. Here, Mannette continues to pass along his love for pan building and playing to interested students.

Originally from Trinidad, Mannette was born in 1927 and started playing steel drums in 1937 when he was eleven years old. The first band with which he played was called New Town Cavalry Tamboo Bamboo. He went on to perform with a number of other bands until he joined TASPO, or the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra, in 1951. After migrating to the U.S., he helped the U.S. Navy Band and then started an inner city children’s music program with a focus on steel drumming in 1967.
There is much more to explore on the groundbreaking work of Ellie Mannette online. Below we'll share a recent short-from documentary on Mr. Mannette's life and music:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lost Between The Country And The City

The Giant Swing at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri 

It is significant, for example, that the common image of the country is now an image of the past, and the common image of the city an image of the future. That leaves, if we isolate them, an undefined present. 

    --Raymond Williams, The Country and the City

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Readings: The Egg And The Machine

Food Security; larger, high resolution images available at The Lexicon for Sustainability

Today we offer a Readings selection from Robert Frost: his 1923 poem "The Egg And The Machine."

This work anticipates a perspective that would gain even greater momentum after World War II, as American citizens -- many who benefitted the comforts of industrial Empire -- began to lament a lost connection with the land, and with agricultural tradition.

As Thomas Hardy would also register, the railroad at once eroded local culture while also allowing for easier commerce (economic, intellectual) with urban areas. To view rural place, or rural traditions, as a "better" or "more honest" than urban life was to engage in a distorting pastoral vision that ignored the intricate links between city and country. This compulsion, still alive and well today, damns the rural to "the past," and allows people to pick and choose which elements of rural life to celebrate.

Robert Frost, a master of ambiguity and layers of meaning, seems to allude to much of this in his poem (he would no doubt love how The Lexicon of Sustainability illuminates these levels of knowledge) -- even the perfectly-rhymed couplets suggest a harmonious pairing that the poem's narrative sets out to complicate. "I am armed for war," the speaker concludes. But, Frost leaves us to consider, at what cost?

The Egg And The Machine

He gave the solid rail a hateful kick.
From far away there came an answering tick
And then another tick. He knew the code:
His hate had roused an engine up the road.
He wished when he had had the track alone
He had attacked it with a club or stone
And bent some rail wide open like switch
So as to wreck the engine in the ditch.
Too late though, now, he had himself to thank.
Its click was rising to a nearer clank.
Here it came breasting like a horse in skirts.
(He stood well back for fear of scalding squirts.)
Then for a moment all there was was size
Confusion and a roar that drowned the cries
He raised against the gods in the machine.
Then once again the sandbank lay serene.
The traveler's eye picked up a turtle train,
between the dotted feet a streak of tail,
And followed it to where he made out vague
But certain signs of buried turtle's egg;
And probing with one finger not too rough,
He found suspicious sand, and sure enough,
The pocket of a little turtle mine.
If there was one egg in it there were nine,
Torpedo-like, with shell of gritty leather
All packed in sand to wait the trump together.
'You'd better not disturb any more,'
He told the distance, 'I am armed for war.
The next machine that has the power to pass
Will get this plasm in it goggle glass.'

Friday, June 8, 2012

Course On Midwest Culture: Ray Bradbury, RIP




By Kenyon Gradert, Course on Midwest Culture series Editor

Perhaps tied with Jules Verne and J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury may be my longest-running literary friend. His leatherbound anthology was on my nightstand for the past few months and I'd just read "The Last Night of the World," oddly enough.



His works initially sucked me in as a grade schooler on the mere creativity of their fantasy premises: incessant Venusian rains that could wash the pigments from one’s skin, a murderous hi-tech house, robot clones who fell in love with their masters’ wives. For a kid who liked comic books, the stuff was as golden as Martian eyes and apples of the sun. This initial luster was all LA and Hollywood--wizbang scifi ideas.



I kept returning to Bradbury, however, because the psychological depth of the stories grew with me. He was in that deeply-introspective American literary tradition of Hawthorne which I would grow to love.



And I return today to Bradbury to claim but a small piece of his Hollywood legacy for the Midwest. One obituary briefly deemed Bradbury’s work colored with “Midwest populism”--not taking the time to explain what exactly that could mean--and many others refer to him as a “Midwest surrealist,” mostly based upon his trilogy of bildungsromans based in his hometown of Waukegon, Illinois: Dandelion Wine (‘57), Something Wicked This Way Comes (‘62), and Farewell Summer (‘06).



Bradbury’s status as a Midwesterner--more accurately a dual-citizenship with LA--seems safe to me based on these three novels alone. Even more, though, this Midwestern-ness spills into his other works.




Growing older, I discovered in Bradbury’s short stories echoes of that Midwestern opus, Winesburg, Ohio. They weren’t just deeply, Protestantly introspective--Faulkner too grew out of Hawthorne in that respect. They were laconic, more restrained (or repressed) than violent. The extraordinary sci-fi premises of Bradbury’s stories--the Hollywood--were always captured in the plainest of prose and set in motion with rather ordinary characters and their rather ordinary, quiet struggles. Bradbury’s Anns, Toms, and Susans were bourgeois, heartland vanilla. Moderate. Normal. Nice. But amazing stories lay just beyond their heartland propriety.



The Illustrated Man and his interlocutor are representative. 

It was a warm afternoon in early September when I first met the Illustrated Man. Walking along an asphalt road, I was on the final leg of a two weeks’ walking tour of Wisconsin. Late in the afternoon I stopped, ate some pork, beans, and a doughnut, and was preparing to stretch out and read when the Illustrated man walked over the hill and stood for a moment against the sky...

    ...He seemed only to sense my presence, for he didn’t look directly at me when he spoke his first words:


    “Do you know where I can find a job?”


    “I’m afraid not,” I said.


    “I haven’t had a job that’s lasted in forty years,” he said.


    Though it was a hot late afternoon, he wore his wool shirt buttoned tight about his neck. His sleeves were rolled and buttoned down over his thick wrists. Perspiration was streaming from his face, yet he made no move to open his shirt.


    “Well,” he said at least, “this is as good a place as any to spend the night. Do you mind company?” 


    “I have some extra food you’d be welcome to,” I said


    He sat down heavily, grunting. “You’ll be sorry you asked me to stay,” he said. “Everyone always is. That’s why I’m walking. Here it is, early September, the cream of the Labor Day carnival season. I should be making money hand over fist at any small town side show celebration, but here I am with no prospects.”


    He took off an immense shoe and peered at it closely. “I usually keep a job about ten days. Then something happens and they fire me. By now every carnival in America won’t touch me with a ten-foot pole.”


    “What seems to be the trouble?” I asked.


    For answer, he unbuttoned his tight collar, slowly. With his eyes shut, he put a slow hand to the task of unbuttoning his shirt all the way down. He slipped his fingers in to feel his chest. “funny,” he said, eyes still shut. “You can’t feel them but they’re there. I always hope that someday I’ll look and they’ll be gone. I walk in the sun for hours on the hottest days, baking, and hope that my sweat’ll wash them off, the sun’ll cook them off, but at sundown they’re still there.” He turned his head slightly toward me and exposed his chest. “Are they still there now?”


    After a long while I exhaled. “Yes,” I said, “They’re still there.

    The Illustrations.

..   
   ...“How long have you been Illustrated?”


    “In 1900, when I was twenty years old and working a carnival, I broke my leg. It laid me up, I had to do something to keep my hand in, so I decided to get tattooed.”


    “But who tattooed you? What happened to the artist?”


    “She went back to the future,” he said. “I mean it. She was an old woman in a little house in the middle of Wisconsin here somewhere not far from this place. A little old witch who looked a thousand years old one moment and twenty years old the next, but she said she could travel in time. I laughed. Now, I know better.”

    …“So people fire me when my pictures move. They don’t like it when violent things happen in my Illustrations. Each Illustration is a little story. If you watch them, in a few minutes they tell you a tale. In three hours of looking you could see eighteen or twenty stories acted right on my body, you could hear voices and think thoughts.”

    …I lay back a few feet from him. He didn’t seem violent, and the pictures were beautiful. Otherwise I might have been tempted to get out and away from such babbling. But the Illustrations...I let my eyes fill up on them. Any person would go a little mad with such things upon his body.


    The night was serene. I could hear the Illustrated Man’s breathing in the moonlight. Crickets were stirring gently in the distant ravines. I lay with my body sidewise so I could watch the Illustrations. Perhaps half an hour passed. Whether the Illustrated Man slept I could not tell, but suddenly I heard him whisper, “They’re moving, aren’t they?”


    I waited a minute.


    Then I said, “Yes.”
••••••••••

POST-SCRIPT + PREVIEW: With the wonderful response on AOTR’s facebook page, I’ve decided to include this “PS+Preview” at the end of every post. Here I’ll look for your response to the current post and input on the post to come—to keep this experiment as democratic as possible.

PS: Is Bradbury more Hollywood or more Midwest?

Preview: My next post will risk boredom by looking for secondary rather than primary sources on the Midwest. Are any of you involved in some form of “Midwest Studies” (publications, conferences, societies, etc)? Does such a field formally exist? Do you have any favorite secondary publications on the culture of the region?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Readings: A New Definition Of Landscape

Grain Elevator from Measure of Happiness; Frank Gohlke

We offer this Readings selection from John Brinckerhoff Jackson's seminal text Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. The New York Times called Jackson "America’s greatest living writer on the forces that have shaped the land this nation occupies." His work has influenced generations of artists, designers, and writers.

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As far back as we can trace the word, land meant a defined space, one with boundaries, though not necessarily one with fences or walls. The word has so many derivative meanings that it rivals in ambiguity the word landscape. Three centuries ago it was still being used in everyday speech to signify an expanse of village holdings, as in grassland or woodland, and then finally to signify England itself--the largest space any Englishman of those days could imagine; in short, a remarkably versatile word, but always implying a space defined by people, and one that could be described in legal terms.

This brings us to that second syllable: scape. It is esentially the same as shape, except that it once meant a composition of similar objects, as when we speak of a fellowship or a membership. The meaning is clearer in a related word: sheaf--a bundle or collection of similar stalks or plants. Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, seems to have contained several compound words using the second syllable--scape or its equivalent--to indicate collective aspects of the environment. It is as much as if the words had been coined when people began to see the complexities of the man-made world. Thus housescape meant what we would now call a household, and a word of the same sort which we still use--township--once meant a collection of "tuns" or farmsteads.

From this piece of information we can learn...that the word scape could also indicate something like an organization or a system. And why not? If housescape meant the organization of the personnel of a house, if township eventually came to mean an administrative unit, then landscape could well have meant something like an organization, a system of rural farm spaces. At all events it is clear that a thousand years ago the word had nothing to do with scenery of the depiction of scenery.

Landscape; Albert Pinkham Ryder, 1897

We pull up the word landscape by its Indo-European roots in an attempt to gain some insight into its basic meaning, and at first glance the results seem disappointing. Aside from the fact that as originally used the word dealt only with a small fraction of the rural environment, it seems to contain not a hint of the esthetic and emotional associations which the word still has for us. Little is to be gained by searching for some etymological link between our own rich landscape and the small cluster of plowed fields of more than a thousand years ago.

Nevertheless the formula landscape as a composition of man-made spaces on the land is more significant than it first appears, for if it does not provide us with a definition it throws a revealing light on the origin of the concept. For it says that a landscape is not a natural feature of the environment but a synthetic space, a man-made system of spaces superimposed on the face of the land, functioning and evolving not according to natural laws but to serve a community--for the collective character of the landscape is one thing that all generations and all points of view have agreed upon. A landscape is thus a space deliberately created to speed up or slow down the process of nature. As Mircea Eliade expresses it, it represents man taking upon himself the role of time. 

Open Space; M12 art collective

In the contemporary world it is by recognizing this similarity of purpose [between civil engineering and landscape architecture] that we will eventually formulate a new definition of landscape: a composition of man-made or man-modified spaces to serve as infrastructure or background for our collective existence; and if background seems inappropriately modest we should remember that in our modern use of the word it means that which underscores not only our identity and presence, but also our history.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Poetry, Place, And The Problems Of Community

Back Road Chalkies to Hurricane Irene; Bob Arnold

We return this week with an update from poet, editor, and stonemason Bob Arnold. As we wrote last year, Mr. Arnold and his wife Susan --  publishers of the internationally-respected Longhouse Press -- have endured the destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Irene from their home in rural Vermont. 

Bob Arnold recently published an update on the state of his region's environmental (and cultural) recovery in his excellent blog A Longhouse Birdhouse. What's striking about his essay is what it reveals about how this disaster and its disruptions have opened up a window through which to view decades-long social transformation in Vermont. These lessons, as he eloquently writes, reveal elements of a larger cultural malaise, but also speak volumes about a kind of Vermonter that is passing from view, and the newcomers who have very different senses of entitlement in regards to history, place, and community life. 

"Community" is often a gilded word, a kind of academic-pastoral term we use to analyze, and in some cases romanticize, the real workings of people in a place. In a kind of honest and clear-eyed perspective that we find in Mr. Arnold's poetry, we learn how the elements of "community" can also be both ignorant and menacing, a far cry from our more idyllic conceptions of the word.

Below is a brief excerpt from Mr. Arnold's essay; his reflections are bolstered by the encounters and anecdotes preceding it. If folks have been following the media's coverage of the one-year anniversary of Irene, I encourage a full read of the scene on the ground from this poet's perspective:
We are now in a world that can be easily driven out of hand. There are no more wise and wily grandmothers and grandfathers pivoting in a neighborhood their sound tidings and ample advice. No matter how we turned out ourselves, we had our grandparents, or someone's, to show us the difference between good and evil.
For the forty years I've lived here, I've run into much more dicier and heated problems and disturbances on this road with neighbors and others with differing minds. The difference is they were country folk who walk with an ethic and almost a code as to manners and outcome. The majority don't wish to cause trouble. The majority know conservation and conversation; they work with tools, land, wood, stone, and principles. Animals. It stands to reason to listen to reason. So I've always been able to talk together with others and smooth things through, often compromising an idea or a plan.
No longer. The new rural country is filling fast with know-it-alls and big talkers behind your back. They take sides. They move only with their self-appointed desires.