Saturday, January 29, 2011

The 27th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

This weekend the 27th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering returns to Elko, Nevada for a long weekend of poetry, music and storytelling. Luckily for those of us who can't make it out west, the Gathering cybercast  will present all the festivities in glorious internet technicolor. 

We'll include our previous writing on the Western Folklife Center and its Gathering below; this promises to be another year of inter-generational and international connections, with Geno Delafose and his French Rockin' Boogie returning to Elko, along with members of the Hungarian puszta community, who the Western Folklife Center describe as:
the largest contiguous grasslands in Europe, comparable to the pampas of Argentina or the Great Plains of the United States. The puszta is home to the legenday Hungarian horseman, or csikos, who has tended and defended his herds of horses and grey longhorn Hungarian cattle since the Magyars first crossed into the area of the Carpathian Basin over a thousand years ago. 

Renowned for their horsemanship and animal husbandry, the csikos├│k have traditionally relied upon the vast grasslands of the puszta for grazing and livelihood. They have much in common with horsemen and cattlemen in other parts of the world, including the American cowboy. We will explore this common ground through conversations with Hungarian horsemen, performances of pastoral music and poetry, workshops, and an exhibition on Hungarian csikos and herding culture. 
For the taste of the festivities, here's Geno Delafose from last year in Elko:

Here are a few of our previous articles related to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering: there's the coverage of last year's Gathering and our piece on Geno Delafose, as well as the WFC and their Deep West Video project. We've also discussed the WFC blog and their coverage of Henry Real Bird's trek on horseback across Montana, and, finally, here's our response to the Poetry Foundation blog's take on cowboy poetry.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Memory of Charlie Louvin

 Associated Press photograph

Charlie Louvin's passing this Wednesday has inspired many wonderful remembrances and commentaries; here's a short collection of these responses. Together, they offer a rich collage of memories and interpretations of this country music legend, a man who lived a life just as inspired and remarkable as his music. 

The New York Times offers a concise review on his life and work, while this interview with Terry Gross from the NPR program Fresh Air brings Mr. Louvin's own voice to the tragedies and successes that marked his musical career.

Josh Rosenthal, of the Tompkins Square label, offers this moving remembrance of Mr. Louvin; Tompkins Square released a series of critically acclaimed records by Mr. Louvin in his final years.  

Today in The Daily Yonder, Julie Ardery adds an eloquent perspective to Mr. Louvin's life and art, and her readers offer some valuable comments and links. 

The Smoke Music Archive contains this comprehensive series of features that considers Mr. Louvin's music and his legacy. Included within is a two-part video interview conducted by Nathan Salsburg of the Alan Lomax Archive and the Twos & Fews label--as well as exclusive live performances. The first half of the interview is included below; the full interview can be accessed by following the link above.

If folks come upon other articles and remembrances in the next few days, feel free to send an email to us at artoftherural at gmail and we will add your suggestions to this post. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thanks To The Journal of American Folklore

It was a wonderful surprise to learn that Nicole Saylor had included a discussion of The Art of the Rural in her recent review of current websites in The Journal of American Folklore. We're honored to be included in the JAF's pages and set into conversation with a number of sites that were points of inspiration when we began this internet project.

Ms. Saylor's piece also introduced us to some new organizations and websites that we'll be adding to The Rural Arts Links and The Rural Arts Map: the Keepers of Tradition blog and The National Heritage Museum, The Wisconsin Folksong Collection and The Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Culture. Through her writing we also had a chance to acquaint ourselves with a collection of sites concerned with documenting and sharing the stories and songs of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music: The Celestial Monochord, Where Dead Voices Gather, Times Ain't Like They Used To Be, and The Old, Weird America.

We hope to discuss the above sites in much greater detail soon. The Journal of American Folklore can be viewed here via Project Muse.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bob Dylan's Direction Home?

City’s just a jungle; more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, tryin' to get away
I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down
     --from "Mississippi"

Last week Aaron, a reader from Ohio, passed along some very interesting news. It appears that Duluth, Minnesota, Bob Dylan's birthplace, is actively working to bring back their estranged native son for a concert on his 70th birthday. The news of these plans has been documented in forums on the encyclopedic Dylan resource Expecting Rain, and was confirmed last month in the Duluth News Tribune, where John Ziegler reported that city officials are currently in talks with Dylan and his management to bring him back to Minnesota on or around his May 24th birthday. 

As with all things Bob Dylan, this story contains a good deal of rumor and apocrypha. For instance, I heard that the small mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota, Dylan's hometown, had originally sought to welcome the musician back on his 70th birthday (Aaron tells me that Dylan last visited for his ten-year high school reunion, where he was roundly ignored by his former classmates), yet Mr. Ziegler reports that Duluth had extended their invitation a full year ahead of schedule, contacting him on his 69th birthday. Regardless, if Dylan accepts this invitation we will see a great deal of media attention focused on his rural Minnesota roots. While there may be a nostalgic whiff to such reflections, it is significant to think of Dylan-the-70-year-old back in Minnesota, over four decades after he recorded his generation-defining howl of "no direction home".

If we put that song--and the long-view of Dylan's legacy--in perspective, then what could also come out of such a birthday in Minnesota could be a reappraisal of a whole generation's relationship to rural place. While Dylan did his best to shirk his "voice of a generation" status, it's clear that his life narrative, captured so eloquently in "Mississippi," is representative of many of his fellow baby boomers: that first wave of the "rural-brain drain," many of whom would later take part in the flight out of America's urban centers and into a suburban life where rolling stones meet their cul-de-sac. 

However, Dylan's last handful of records have embraced the traditional forms of blues and country music just as baby boomers are returning to facets of their own rural upbringing. While the local and organic food phenomenon is part and parcel of this generational trend, many are realizing (as Wendell Berry did so many years ago, in his essay "A Native Hill")  that you can go home again. In my own home region this has been occurring for a few years, as baby-boomers begin to form organizations to preserve our small Ohio Valley town--and to hopefully bring it back to some semblance of its former self. 

Beyond this, the issue becomes one of what "homecoming" means, and how the rural diaspora negotiates this return. As this teenager's video from Hibbing suggests, life never stopped in these communities, and those who stayed both welcome and resent the influence of those who left.

We'll be following the events surrounding this birthday concert; until then, here's a short video produced by the University of Minnesota in conjunction with the UM Press's release of Highway 61 Revisited: Bob Dylan's Road from Minnesota to the World, edited by Colleen J. Sheehy and Thomas Swiss:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Almanac For Moderns: The Symmetry of Snow

January Thirteenth

That about snow crystals which confounds all understanding is how so many variations--millions perhaps--can be schemed upon the unvarying fundamental plan of six. Be it etched out to elaborations as fine feathered as a whole pane covered with frost designs, still there are always six rays to each delicate star, and one can still make out in the finest, the ultimate details of attenuated ornamentation, the same fundamental symmetry. There can be no chance about this; some cause underlies it, and I am no crystallographer to explain the details of a snowflake's fine-wrought surfaces, its internal tensions and stresses, it perfect equilibria and balanced strains that distend each fairy tracery of give to these flowers of the winter air their gossamer strength. 

But one may hazard the guess that the six-sidedness of the snow crystal is in reality a doubling of three, just as the symmetry of the lily and the amaryllis is. Of all the magic numbers in old necromancy and modern science, three is the first. Three dimensions has matter; three is the least number of straight sides that will just enclose a space. Three legs is the smallest number that will just support the equilibrium and stresses of a stool. Two would not do; four are superfluous; and twice three points are required, and just required, to keep intact the frailest of all solids--a flake of snow. 

[More information on our Almanac For Moderns project and the work of Donald Culross Peattie can be found here.]

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Updates: Rural Arts Links & Rural Arts Map

photograph by Carlos A Varela

Over the last few days The Rural Arts Links and The Rural Arts Map have both undergone extensive updates, renovations that reflect the range of suggestions we've received. Thanks to everyone who has helped! These resources still have some gaps in coverage, but our readers are helping to amend the situation. Here's a few areas in particular where we could use more input:

The Northwest region (anything: artists, organizations, etc)

Our project for 2011 is to build a links/map network of local rural arts organizations, so we'd love to hear what places in your home regions we should add. Any and all suggestions are welcome and appreciated.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Behind the Curtain of the American Gothic

selection from American Gothic; Grant Wood

Shortly after last week's reconsideration of Grant Wood appeared online, I received a wonderful email from writer Beth M. Howard. With her permission, I'm going to reprint a selection below:
Hello Matthew,
I just found your blog and saw your post on the American Gothic House – and Tripp Evans’ new book and his take on Grant Wood. The reason I found your post is because I live in the American Gothic House.  The house sat vacant for several years until I discovered it, purely by accident, during a cross country road trip. After falling in love with its cuteness I also found that it was for rent. I’ve been here four months, and have since begun selling pies in the yard on weekends at my Pitchfork Pie Stand.  I was born in the neighboring small town of Ottumwa, a place I never thought I’d return to because it seemed so “backwater,” but now Ottumwa is where I do all my shopping, go to movies, and on the rare occasion, grab a burger at the classic 1930’s diner, The Canteen in the Alley.  I left Iowa to travel the world, I’ve lived in places including Nairobi, Stuttgart, New York and most recently Portland, Oregon. And now….Eldon, Iowa. It’s like Grant Wood said, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” 
Through our subsequent correspondence, I've learned a little more about Ms. Howard, her life and her writing. The story of her travels away from Iowa, and the story of the relationships and adventures she nurtured along the way, all provide both a modern counterpoint and a moving epilogue to American Gothic.

Her new life in Eldon, Iowa, and her advocacy of pie-making as a back-to-basics community-building art are eloquently documented in her blog The World Needs More Pie. After traveling the world as a journalist, she moved to Stuttgart, Germany in 2003 to live with her husband Marcus. When he unexpected died in 2009, Ms. Howard dealt with her grief by taking what she calls her "leap of faith": setting out in Marcus's RV to travel the country baking pies for people from all walks of life. With the first anniversary of her husband's death  approaching, she turned the RV towards the one place she felt could provide the support she needed. Through this quest Ms. Howard discovered her own path back to Iowa. And she's been there ever since.

Between her pie posts, her blog also considers what it means to be a returning member of the rural diaspora, and how rural-urban relationships appear from that perspective--as in this post contrasting the local food cultures of Eldon, Iowa and Portland, Oregon. Ms. Howard is also in the process of writing a memoir about her experiences dealing, through her "leap of faith," with her husband's passing, and she also is hoping to produce a television series related to her experiences baking pie across the country. Last summer she judged pies for the Iowa State Fair. 

As I write this, and as this is read on the internet, it's provocative to think about the story of the woman who is now herself writing from the other side of that famous gothic window: how this Ottumwa native has experienced a range of joys and of losses that the caustic, shifting eyes of Wood's couple do not anticipate. For the artist himself, who biographer R. Tripp Evans suggests encoded his own sexuality within his work, Ms. Howard's story and the open and generous human relationships she's found in her sojourn in Eldon, lead us to a promising conclusion: now, in 2011, this is a house where Grant Wood could live. 

To learn more about the interior of the house, here's a video by Kyle Munson of The Des Moines Register:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Introducing Our Rural Arts Links

Wind from the Sea, 1947; Andrew Wyeth

Today I'm  happy to report that our Rural Arts Links are now online. 

This project has been a long time in the making. When I began this site a year ago, it became clear very quickly that the rural arts scene needed a comprehensive list of artists, organizations and media resources. I hope that this list can help "connect the dots" both for artists and their audiences across the country. 

The lasting impression that the long, eye-bending process of compiling the Rural Arts Links leaves me with is that, though we are often working within our own artistic or geographic regions, we are also part of a much larger dialogue on rural America and the arts--a conversation that is going to be increasingly central to the larger national dialogues that occur over the next decade. If the twentieth century, to some, was the century of the modernist city, then these gathered voices lead me to believe that the twenty-first century will be a time when our culture will be moved to reconsider its interconnectedness with "the rural." 

To those ends, I would value everyone's help in developing the connections presented across these categories of links. Please help us add your favorite rural arts sites to this list. Throughout the course of 2011 we would like to also create a useful list of local arts organizations, and we could really use everyone's help. Please submit your suggestions in the "comments" section of The Rural Arts Links site or send an email to artoftherural at gmail

The categories are listed below. These links will also be included in our ever-evolving Rural Arts Map.
News and Commentary
Regional and National Arts Organizations
Museums, Galleries, Performance Spaces
Arts Education
Film Organizations
Films and Audio Documentaries: 
Music Organizations and Record Labels:
Visual Artists
Culture and Agriculture
Food Culture
Local Arts Organizations

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hamper McBee: Raw Mash

After a visit yesterday to the Folkstreams archive, I discovered that Hampber McBee: Raw Mash is now streaming online. Folks might remember that last summer the Twos & Fews  label released The Good Old-Fashioned Way, a collection of songs that became one of our favorite records of the year. After that post,  I received some wonderful notes from readers who had met Mr. McBee through the years. For those of us not lucky enough to have heard him sing or tell stories, Raw Mash will be the next-best-thing. 

This thirty minute film was produced by Sol Korine and filmed by Blaine Dunlap, with sound editing by Ron Judkins. Folkstreams tells us that Mr. Korine and Mr. Dunlap "were pioneers in their use of early portable video equipment to make independent films," and Mr. Dunlap has provided extensive notes on how they filmed and edited with this technology. Here's Mr. Korine, in a Prefix Magazine interview with Mike Burr, speaking to the sense of urgency and play that surrounded the making of Raw Mash
Was [Hamper McBee] on board with the project or did he have to be convinced?
We were living in Tennessee at the time, and had moved there in 1973. The film was shot in 1978, and by then we had established a network of contacts. The people who were living in these communities came to realize that we genuinely appreciated the culture, and they totally embraced us. They saw that it was important to get their way of life on film, because society was changing in a way that would eventually mean the end of the culture. Once cable television came in to these areas, nobody cared about what your grandfather had to say or how things had been done for the preceding generations.

What do you remember most about making the film?
It was 30 years ago, so really the film has become more real to me than the moments. I would say that what sticks with me most is just sitting and talking with Hamper. He was an alcoholic and would have to drink 24 cans of beer a day; that was his maintenance. We would sit around talking and drinking beer, and Hamper would tell stories. One that stands out particularly was when he talked about the first time he got the DTs and started hallucinating. A giant frog, “the size of a number two washtub,” jumped on him and began licking his face. That story says a lot about why Hamper was such a memorable person. He had this basic essence that drew people toward him, and he was able to be poignant, but his stories never lost a sense of humor.
Hamper McBee: Raw Mash can be streamed here; I also recommend reading this article on Root Hog or Die, the site maintained by the curator of the Twos & Fews label, Nathan Salsburg.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reconsidering Grant Wood's Revolt

This morning The Daily Yonder  published an excellent review of Grant Wood: A Life, a new study of the legendary regionalist painter by R. Tripp Evans. Within her review "The Edgy Idylls of Grant Wood," Cyndy Clark notes many of Evans's new ideas on the use of gender and sexuality in Grant Wood's work--and Ms. Clark finds a way to artfully integrate this shifting interpretive terrain into the lines of the artist's most iconic canvas, American Gothic:
One of Wood’s eccentricities seems to have been a fascination with death and funerary subjects.  According to Evans, the gothic arch was a common 19th c. American folk art form that referred to mortality. Wood and his mother lived for ten years in a small apartment above a Cedar Rapids funeral parlor with a coffin lid as its front door, so the connection seems reasonable.  The American Gothic house may also represent the place where Wood spent the first eleven years of his life, in Anamosa, Iowa, the house where his father, Maryville, died.  The artist spent those early years hiding his artistic talents from Maryville, a man’s man who considered art feminine and only for sissies, an attitude consistent with his Midwestern contemporaries. Wood said, regarding his father’s disapproval of his art, “For a farmer’s son in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to say he wanted to paint pictures for his life work was as startling as a girl to announce she wanted to live a life of shame.”

Wood’s troubled relationship with his father contributes an obvious and psychologically predictable influence on many of his paintings.  Although the model for the male figure in American Gothic was his dentist, his resemblance to Maryville, a stern Quaker, is striking and confirmed by Wood’s sister, Nan. The prongs of the pitchfork, echo the seams of the farmer’s overalls and form the letter “W,” to evoke Maryville Wood.
Ms. Clark's review continues on to make a number of important connections between the varying responses to American Gothic, suggesting that we still have much to learn from Mr. Wood's situation, his place in that time-honored American-Arts-Bermuda-Triangle between rural, urban and academic spaces, and from the ideas he so gracefully articulated on canvas. 

Her writing led me back to an essay of Wood's I hadn't read in long while: "Revolt Against the City." As modern readers, we can scan the lines below in full cognizance that rural and urban spaces are inescapably interconnected, that a "revolt" from one merely means hardship for those involved in the rebellion. With this book review in mind, we come to understand that Grant Wood may not have argued such a basic dichotomy. Instead of revolting against the city, perhaps Mr. Wood would point the contemporary rural arts towards considering how they anchor regional artistic (and economic) centers:
Because of this new emphasis upon native materials, the artist no longer finds it necessary to migrate even to New York [or to emulate French painting, which Wood discusses before this quote], or to seek any great metropolis. No longer is it necessary for him to suffer the confusing cosmopolitanism, the noise, the too intimate gregariousness of the large city. True, he may travel, the may observe, he may study in various environments, in order to develop his personality and achieve backgrounds and a perspective; but this need be little more than incidental to an educative process that centers on his own home region.
Let me try to state the basic idea of the regional movement. Each section has a personality of its own, in physiography, industry, psychology. Thinking painters and writers who have passed their formative years in these regions, will, by care-taking analysis, work out and interpret in their productions these varying personalities. When the different regions develop characteristics of their own, they will come into competition with each other; and out of this competition a rich American culture will grow. It was in some such manner that Gothic architecture grew out of competition between different French towns as to which could build the largest and finest cathedrals. 
I am willing to go so far as to say that I believe the hope of a native American art lies in the development of regional art centers and the competition between them. It seems the one way to the building up of an honestly art-conscious America.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

To The New Year

J R's House Outside Tuba City; from Jetsonorama's Yo Mama! blog

Happy New Year! Thanks to everyone who read and participated in the making of The Art of the Rural in 2010. Twelve months ago I began this site to document a personal odyssey of sorts; I am so thankful to have found, through this process, such a diverse gathering of folks creating such amazing work. You all have had a profound effect on my thinking about the arts and community--and their interconnected future. I'm looking forward to building upon all of this inspiration in the new year.

The above photo is a recent wheat-paste installation by Jetsonorama, who we wrote about in April and August of last year. On a rainy new year's in the Ohio Valley, this is a more beatific expression of my thanks and my optimism for 2011.