Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Almanac For Moderns: A Month Of Sun

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

August Thirty-First

August, the aureate month, draws to its blazing close - a month of sun, if there was one. Gold in the grain on the round-backed hill fields. Gold in the wood sunflowers, and in the summer goldenrod waving plumes all through the woodlot, trooping down the meadow to the brookside, marching in the dust of the roadways. Gold in the wing of the wild canaries, dipping and twittering as they flit from weed to bush, as if invisible waves of air tossed them up and down. The orange and yellow clover butterflies seek out the thistle, and the giant sulphur swallowtails are in their final brood. The amber, chaff-filled dust gilds all the splendid sunsets in cloudless, burning skies. Long, long after the sun has set, the sun-drenched earth gives back its heat, radiates it to the dim stars; the moon gets up in gold; before it lifts behind the black fields to the east I take it for a rick fire, till it rises like an old gold coin, that thieves have clipped on one worn edge.

Lucinda Williams on Hank Williams

Many thanks to the wonderful Southern Folklife Collection and their indispensible Facebook page for this gem: Lucinda Williams prefacing a rendition of "Cold, Cold Heart" with a story about the time Lucinda's father (the poet Miller Williams) took Hank out for drinks after one of his shows. We've also added the performance below to our YouTube channel.

Rural International: Turning A Town To Art

The Firebird at Nikola-Lenivets; photograph by Nikolay Polissky. *Full description below

We are fashioning this life from scratch. Go, find a stick, and make something. 

Over the last two weeks I've tried to offer some examples of how we can use art to expand what we talk about when we talk about the rural. Here is our first international model (next week: the Luk Thung release by Dust-to-Digital).

Too often we tend to segregate artmaking along geographic lines: urban art is cutting-edge and "contemporary" while rural art is folksy and "traditional." Of course, you can find examples that prop up this cliche--but it ignores the whole field of urban folk art and turns its back on rural artists who are combining the traditional and the contemporary to stunning effects.

Nikolai Polissky would have something to say about this. This Russian artist has spent the better part of a decade transforming his village of Nikola-Lenivets into a town brimming with art--and with citizens who consider themselves art-makers. Depressed after the collapse of the town's state-run agriculture commune, local morale had hit rock bottom. Mr. Polissky's vision, while greeted with skepticism at first, has led to the village becoming an international art destination and even opened the door for the artist and the villagers to travel beyond their home to create their massive site-specific installations (most recently at the Venice Biennale) that balance folk practices with commentary on contemporary life. Below, Sophia Kishkovsky tells the story in The New York Times:
“I lived here for 10 years,” said Mr. Polissky, a native of Moscow who arrived in Nikola-Lenivets in 1989 as a painter and a member of Mitki, a whimsical Soviet underground art collective started in Leningrad, where he studied. “Then I was pulled into the actual landscape.”
The village is in a national park called Ugra and had just a handful of surviving full-time residents before Mr. Polissky arrived, accompanied by the Moscow architect Vasily Shchetinin. Many people there and in surrounding villages were left without work after the collective farm fell apart. Vodka became a main distraction.
“Everyone drank,” the artist said of village life before 2000, when the art projects began. “People were simply dying off. It was like a strike against the authorities.”
Now, works made under Mr. Polissky’s direction of logs, branches, twigs and metals are scattered along nearby riverbanks and fields. 
I don't think I need to spell out the direct parallels between Nikola-Lenivets and the situation facing many rural communities, many rural towns that have been hurting since the farm crisis of the 1980s. My feeling is that if Mr. Polissky is accomplishing this in Russia, we can do the same here -- we can take what we see as challenges and work to transform them into assets. Folks are already doing this valuable work--please see our previous writing on The Art Farm and The Wormfarm Institute, and please send us other examples that fit this framework as well.

Here's a few examples of what's happening in Nikola-Lenivets, with many more projects available to explore here:

Hunting Trophies, 2010

The Rooks Have Returned, 2008

Snowmen, 2000

*Mr. Polissky's caption for the Firebird image above, from ArtReview: At Shrovetide 2008 Nikolay Polissky presented a project which is a continuation of the ideas in ‘Borders of Empire’: a Firebird made of metal. Of enormous size — as big as a house, — this metal two-headed eagle with a built-in stove lit up in a terrifying fashion, flared, filled the whole field with back smoke, and then started to give out tongues of flame, and itself changed colour from black to dark red. The damp air and wet earth underneath the bird started spitting with the heat. In the course of just 20 minutes, the bird consumed two large lorry-loads of wood. All in all, this was an impressive image of the Russian state.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rural Poetry Series: Bob Arnold and Longhouse Press

Bob Arnold in the Woodlot; photograph by Susan Arnold, published in Jacket

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, national attention has turned from the deserted streets of New York City to Vermont, where flooding has destroyed roads, isolated communities, and posed a massive logistical challenge to the state's citizens. While our thoughts go out to folks in the area, today I offer a poet who exemplifies the resourcefulness and good will that's so common amongst Vermonters, and which we'll see on display as they set about the tough work of cleaning up and rebuilding their communities.

Poet, publisher, editor, lumberman, and stonemason Bob Arnold is an internationally regarded literary figure, yet his presence in the field and in his place is entirely of his own creation. Mr. Arnold's story of personal and poetic growth in part fits into what we might expect out of a New England upbringing, yet his many forms of work are also indebted to forms of art and consciousness that emerged in the 1960s in America -- and internationally. Jacket magazine (an outstanding online poetry journal) has published a series of valuable conversations with Mr. Arnold about his poetry, his editorship of the widely-acclaimed Longhouse Press and the intersections of life, work, and art. These interviews are not only the best introduction to the poetry of Bob Arnold, but they are also, in themselves, exciting conversations about living and creating thoughtful and intentional work in our daily lives.

Here's Mr. Arnold talking with Kent Johnson about some of the experiences which go into the creation of his poems:
I have very little to write about until I’m out in life living it. This means with the chainsaws, the hammers, the stonework, the woods, the fields, the river, and with the girl, Susan. It’s been that way for almost 40 years and I’m doing everything within my powers to make sure it doesn’t stop. Even if a lot of the time it seems fueled on a dream, gritty determination and the greatest thing that ever hit town, team-work. I can’t say enough for love and marriage. And I know that thought is going to make some smile, and make others grimace...I think the key is staying loose, eyes open, available and even vulnerable, open for a pass. It’s downright athletic. After a life of cutting trees, roofing homes, huts and barns, cribbing up old shacks and cabins and houses, painting and painting, raking and raking, wood-splitting & wood-splitting, the body and the mind get to know one another. If you develop the mind along with the body, it could become a lantern burning bright. 

Of course I must tip my cap to my background — a flinty Irish mother from Belfast with a large family of storytellers and hard workers, lots of kids. And on my father’s side, all lumbermen, mainly businessmen when I was born, but all the forefathers were choppers, sawyers, drivers, mountain butchers. The businessmen wanted the oldest son, me, to learn the ropes, so I was dropped into the lumberyards at age ten and worked every day after school with more Irishman and Poles and all through each summer — first unloading boxcars of western and eastern lumber and loading truck deliveries, and then when I was a little older, receiving those truck deliveries on some muddy hillside with a carpentry crew and two or three spec houses going up. The plan was to teach me the business and then after college go into the business. Put on a tie. Instead, the sixties got in the way, with its music and rebellion and tribal strength, and I barely got out of high school. 
Here's "No Tool or Rope or Pail" from the collection Where Rivers Meet:
It hardly mattered what time of year
We passed their farmhouse,
They never waved,
This old farm couple
Usually bent over in the vegetable garden
Or walking by the muddy dooryard
Between house and red-weathered barn.
They would look up, see who was passing,
Then look back down, ignorant to the event.
We would always wave nonetheless,
Before you dropped me off at work
Further up on the hill,
Toolbox rattling in the backseat,
And then again on the way home
Later in the day, the pale sunlight
High up in their pasture,
Our arms out the window,
Cooling ourselves.
And it was that one midsummer evening
We drove past and caught them sitting
together on the front porch
At ease, chores done,
The tangle of cats and kittens
Cleaning themselves of fresh spilled milk
On the barn door ramp;
We drove by and they looked up—
The first time I've ever seen their
Hands free of any work,
No too or rope or pail—
And they waved.
Bob Arnold and his wife Susan oversee Longhouse Press with a mission to produce books of poetry to the highest standards of craftsmanship. For over thirty years they have stewarded the work of an extraordinary range of poets from America and beyond, as well as serving an integral role in continuing the mission of their close friend Cid Corman's journal Origin. In addition to this work, Mr. Arnold is literary executor both for Mr. Corman and (after Corman's passing) Lorine Niedecker. Thus, a tremendous amount of artistic energy is cultivated on the grounds of the Arnold's Vermont farm. 

This leads us to another element of Mr. Arnold's work that I would encourage readers to explore: the poet's most recent book, Yokel. While he has a reputation for creating some of the finest short verse, Mr. Arnold's new effort is what he calls "a long Green Mountain poem." (Folks can read enthusiastic early reviews here and here) Within these pages, the poet thinks through a number of issues that many rural citizens, policymakers, and fellow artists are also grappling with: how to preserve, and how to faithfully carry forward into modern life, the traditions and local memories of a rural place. Again, here's Mr. Arnold in conversation with Kent Johnson last year:
I’ve just completed a 105 piece long poem called Yokel that took ten years to write. It’s farm narrative and portraits and outdoor work poems covering four decades of watching this old life and tradition around me disappear from the map. It just couldn’t be done with small poems only — just as Basho’s travel notebook had to be pinpoint poems compassed around a netting of anecdotes and ruminations. My long poem Yokel has big brawny pieces wide as the barn door and a river sounding endless to the ears. It takes the architecture of a long poem to carry that span.
We will be presenting more of Bob Arnold's poetry and art later this week. Until then, folks can visit Longhouse Press, which features many of his poetry collections as well, to learn more. Necessary reading also includes Mr. Arnold's blog Longhouse Birdhouse, where he reports today that the roads around their farm have been washed away by Hurricane Irene, but he and his neighbors are safe. By his estimation, it may be weeks or months before crews can restore these local roads; "many are taking matters into their own hands," he writes, "which is always a good sign."

Related Articles:
Rural Poetry Series: Lorine Niedecker

Monday, August 29, 2011

Introducing The Art of the Rural Channel

As folks may have noticed, we've added a YouTube icon to our sidebar just to the right of this text. Clicking on this icon will take you to The Art of the Rural YouTube Channel, a site where we will feature all the videos we linked in our stories -- and many more.

In keeping with our mission of creating an open canon of the rural arts, we also hope to feature suggestions from our readers. We would like to cultivate this Channel as a place where folks can stop by and see a wide range of work emerging from (or relating to) rural America.

We will regularly post updates here containing news of recently added videos, so please feel free to send your suggestions to us by responding on our Facebook page or contacting us at artoftherural @

Here's our most recent addition: the introductory video to You Got To Move, live recordings by Reverend Charlie Jackson curated by our friends at 50 Miles of Elbow Room. (A full write-up of this record will be forthcoming). Enjoy -- and thanks again for reading and contributing to The Art of the Rural!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Portfolio: The Quilt Index

selection from a crazy quilt, unknown artist; Rutgers Special Collections

To continue with this week's discussion of Folk Art, Heritage, or Something Else? we'd like to point folks toward the excellent Quilt Index, a resource that "aims to be a central resource that incorporates a wide variety of sources and information on quilts, quiltmakers and quiltmaking." 

This is a truly comprehensive site, with essays, photograph galleries, lesson plans and a fully searchable database. The Quilt Index asks that folks not reproduce their images, so I'll refrain from a traditional "portfolio" piece here, and encourage anyone who's interested to visit their site.

Related Articles:

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Lexicon of Sustainability

Biodiversity Vs. Monoculture, with farmer Rick Knoll; The Lexicon of Sustainability

Grist recently highlighted an art project that many of our readers will be very excited about: The Lexicon of Sustainability. Douglas Gayeton's work mixes collage, handwriting, photography, technical knowledge and vernacular spirit into eloquent illustrations of sustainability's central tenets. Many thanks to Rachel Reynolds Luster for the tip.

Here's Tejal Rao writing in Grist:
Gayeton got the idea for the Lexicon project about two years ago, in the middle of a dinner party, when a guest butchered the definition of "food miles." If Gayeton could define and build out the language of sustainability, he thought, he could give people the tools they needed to bounce around real ideas. To make a change. Gayeton identified 100 key terms and began visiting the farmers, fishermen, foragers, and chefs across the country who could help him define them. "I simply spend time with them. I don't know what I'm doing in advance and I don't storyboard anything. I just listen."

The artist shoots an average of 1,000 photographs with each of his subjects. He then prints the photos out, cutting and pasting up to 100 of them together to create a massive collage (the smaller pieces are four by five feet; the larger ones can cover a wall). From here, Gayeton takes the stories of his subjects -- their thoughts, recipes, ramblings -- and writes them down on a sheet of glass, which is layered on the collage and shot again, the text floating dreamily above the image. This painstaking process, even with the assistance of a small team, takes Gayeton about three weeks.
Mr. Gayeton's work is such a surprising and direct approach that it's hard not to get excited, and not to get lost The Lexicon of Sustainability site. Beyond that, I sense that the artist has pioneered a new kind of visual art and media storytelling strategy, a technique perfect for telling the deeper history of a place or a practice. Among the folks Mr. Gayeton is planning to spend time with is Wes Jackson--and I'm excited for how this art could visualize Mr. Jackson's historically and culturally deep understanding of a single field. I also think of "A Native Hill" by Wendell Berry; I can only imagine how Mr. Gayeton could bring-to-image the story of how Mr. Berry reclaimed his farm, how, written underneath a seemingly-simple patchwork of fields, human and agricultural narratives spread across each other like a series of dizzying transparency sheets.

Beyond that, many of us working to advocate for rural place, culture, and arts could think about how some variation on this visual approach could help bring our stories to life--and to new audiences.

Here are two video clips. The first is an explanation of the project, while the second is a stunning visualization of the process Mr. Gayeton utilizes for all of his Lexicon pieces.

Introducing ... The Lexicon of Sustainability from the lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.

FORAGING: from "The Lexicon of Sustainability" from the lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Update: Yours For the Carters, Freeman Kitchens

Leo Fernandez + the Hot Tamales play at Freeman Kitchens Grocery, 1976; Jennifer Joy Jameson

Yours For the Carters: Vintage Sound Collections of Freeman Kitchens is set to open this Saturday at the Kentucky Library and Museum, on the grounds of Western Kentucky University. The exhibit's curator, Jennifer Joy Jameson, just sent us this link to a local NPR report which airs today on WKYU--journalist and fellow folklorist Rachel Hopkin joins Jennifer for a visit with Freeman, and learns more about this man, his record collection, and his friendship with The Carter Family. It's a wonderful 8 minute piece that will put a smile on your face and make you consider undertaking the drive to WKU for the opening and its subsequent field trip to Freeman's store. Enjoy.

Related Articles:
Saturday Portfolio: Freeman Kitchens, The Carter Family, and Drake Vintage Music and Curios

Diorama of Kitchens Grocery by Bruce Hargis; Jennifer Joy Jameson

The Vernacular: Bill Saves His Own Life

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
May 15, 10PM, 1908

Don't be alarmed 'tis all over now. She only stood there on the bridge + took a shot at me in place of rescuing me. But Bill has a strong right arm + hung on. A friend + I were on the river one day + took some pictures. I was suspended over the North Canadian River. Hope you are well + happy. 


Addressed to Miss Jessie G Brown; Berea, Ohio

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The NEA And Creative Placemaking In Rural America

selection from the cover to the NEA Arts Magazine

On Monday we discussed Double Edge Theatre, a visionary laboratory theatre group that can help to expand the dialogue of what's happening--and what's possible--in rural America and the rural arts. This effort continues today, and is aided by the recent issue of the NEA Arts Magazine, which is entirely devoted to how rural arts and culture organizations are enriching their local and regional places.

Rachel Reynolds Luster and I will be covering each of these organizations in greater detail, but I wanted to make sure that our readers had heard of this issue's publication so that they can peruse it and send the Magazine around to friends and colleagues. Following the link above will lead to a pdf, as well as a wealth of online features--including some well-produced videos. Here is the NEA's introduction to this publication; I'll include links to each organization:
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the United States has turned from a mostly agrarian, rural country into an urban, industrialized one. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, nowadays only about a fifth of the population live in rural areas, even though those lands comprise more than three-quarters of the country and are a major source of the nation's resources, culture, and traditions. Rural America may be more connected than ever before -- through the Internet, better phone services, and improved transportation systems -- but it still faces unique problems. As populations moved from rural to urban/suburban communities -- and metropolitan areas expanded into areas that had been rural -- serious problems have been left in their wake: aging and inefficient infrastructure, lack of employment, increased poverty.

This issue of NEA Arts looks at the creative approaches rural communities have been taking with the arts to help improve their communities socially, aesthetically, and economically. In Vermont, the Orton Family Foundation is bringing artists into the community planning process, while in the middle of Arizona's Sonoran Desert, the International Sonoran Desert Alliance has turned an abandoned school into artist housing, leading to new economic growth for the small town of Ajo. Two rural towns in Washington State take different approaches to utilizing the arts to revitalize their communities. On the Fond du Lac Reservation in Minnesota, art is used in a health clinic to promote the Native culture as well as for its healing properties. And in North Carolina, HandMade in America has shown that the traditional arts are a viable, important part of the local economy as well as the local culture.
The NEA Magazine and its web features also consider Donald Judd and his influence in Marfa, Texas (via the Chinati Foundation), the NEA Our Town program, Dave Loewenstein's mural projects, and The Wormfarm Institute in Wisconsin.  (Folks can read our previous articles on Mr. Loewenstein here and Wormfarm here)

The term "creative placemaking" is discussed at great length in an excellent paper by Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa; Creative Placemaking can be downloaded from the NEA here, and there's also a video that offers further information on the concept and its relevance to our current arts discussions: 
In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.
There will be much more soon on all these ideas and these inspiring examples from rural America. Until then, we can enjoy the Magazine and the NEA video work.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Brief: Folk Art, Heritage, Or Something Else?

Wool rug attributed to Elvira Curtis Hulett, Hancock MA (1805-1895): American Folk Art Museum

Yesterday, we posted news on our Facebook page that The American Folk Art Museum may close its doors--and a spirited discussion followed. Denise Dutton Benshoof raised a provocative point about how different audiences and different cultures perceive an object as "folk art," "heritage," or, as others suggested, something else entirely. The border-crossing between these terms seems to speak not only to the point-of-view of a single person, but also the way in which we live in a cultural moment when meanings, histories, and practices can be translated and applied in surprising ways -- raising all kinds of questions, all kinds of implications, for place-based art.

I thought of what Rachel Reynolds Luster addressed in her excellent piece "Bringing The Yarn Bomb to the Country." I'd offer to folks to consider this question further on our Facebook page, or to share their own thoughts for a future follow-up piece on the site. We're lucky to have many readers who work in the field of the folk arts and folk life--thanks, we've learned a great deal from your comments.

Quilters who will be on hand at the 47th Annual Appalachian Arts & Crafts Fair. Also see Appalshop filmmaker Elizabeth Barret's Quilting Women (video clip here). 

Knitta Please founder Magda Sayeg yarn-bombing a bus.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Odyssey Of Double Edge Theatre

Still shot from The Odyssey; more photographs available on Double Edge's Facebook page

Last week I wrote "What We Talk About When We Talk About The Rural" in response to recent NPR coverage of rural issues, and I promised to offer a series of examples for how we might use arts and culture to expand the current dialogue on rural America. Instead of a list, I'd like to present this week's articles as points from which to move the discussion forward.

Today we begin with Double Edge Theatre, located on their Farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts. I first learned of this unique gathering of actors, directors, artists, and farmers at The National Rural Assembly, when I had the opportunity to meet Double Edge's Core Actor and Co-Director Matthew Glassman. After a day of discussing the challenges (and assets) in rural America, I sat down with Matthew to learn more about Double Edge--and I was deeply inspired by what he shared, a visionary sense of what a community can accomplish together in a place. After a full day of the Assembly, hearing Matthew's story of Double Edge was a moving reminder that we choose to live in (and advocate for) rural America because of its culture, its deep history (and our relationship to that history) and because we feel a sense of possibility in this space that we can't find elsewhere.

Instead of my own string of superlatives, I'll let the folks at Double Edge offer their introduction below:
Double Edge is more than a theatre: it is a center for discovery. Its activities include year-round theatre training, indoor and outdoor performances, and community events. The theatre's highly physical performances are immersive events that are lush and dreamlike, nuanced and emotional. Each original performance is created by an ensemble of multi-talented artists who have worked together over many years and are bound together by regular, strenuous training. These works are toured nationally and internationally, creating further opportunities for reciprocal exchange between artists and audiences. Double Edge's training methodology attracts students from all over the US and the world to The Farm to learn challenging techniques that enable them to physically and visually craft an original theatrical landscape. Interns and apprentices also work in our gardens, on our buildings, and take part in the administration of the company in order to learn about the context of making art and producing and sustaining a theatre company.

What's extraordinary about the work of Double Edge is that their vision is local, national and international. They cultivate a connection with Franklin County, Massachusetts that "embodies the concept that good art makes thriving communities, and supports historic and commercial value in ways that engage local residents’ perceptions of what is possible;" in keeping with this, Double Edge maintains a presence in a number of local schools and community organizations. In addition, their Chagall Cycle will take Double Edge across the globe over the next few years for five site-specific performances inspired by episodes in the peripatetic life of painter Marc Chagall; thus, art created (or envisioned) in Western Massachusetts will meet with new cultural perspectives in Argentina, Russia, Israel, and France.

This summer featured The Odyssey, an installment directed by founder and artistic director Stacy Klein, which was offered to audiences at The Farm in Ashfield (and co-presented by the Charlestown Working Theater). For this performance, Double Edge used 82 lithographs Chagall created between 1974 and 1975 to imagine Homer's Odyssey across the space of their farm. The audience is asked to follow the actors through the farm's space, as scenes from this spectacle take place in the structures, fields, and waterways on The Farm. Actors perform in the trees, spring from the water on bungee cords, and treat their physical surroundings as an integral character in the story.

Odysseus (Carlos Urlona) with Calypso (Jeremy Louise Eaton); David Weiland

As with all of Double Edge's work, the reviews have been unabashedly enthusiastic. Here's Terry Byrne writing in the Boston Globe:
Five senses hardly seem enough for “The Odyssey,’’ Double Edge Theatre’s annual “summer spectacle,’’ a sumptuous sensory feast that resonates on so many emotional and intellectual levels. The third in a series of productions inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall (the other two were 2009’s “Arabian Nights’’ and 2010’s “The Firebird’’), “The Odyssey’’ effortlessly integrates whimsical aerial adventures and puppetry with thoughtful explorations of loyalty and loss, regret and determination, all set within a loose framework of murals and motifs from Chagall’s evocative paintings.
The evening opens with the audience gathered under a tent as John Pietso, accompanied on lute, sings us into Odysseus’ tale. As we listen, we look out on Nancy Winship Milliken’s huge woolen sails as they wave gently in the breeze, changing colors in the sunset just beyond the tent. Like a Pied Piper, Pietso leads the crowd into a pavilion where we meet Odysseus’ son, Telemachus (Matthew Glassman), who rails against his mother’s crowd of drunken suitors eager to take over in Ithaca the moment they are sure Odysseus is dead. Each step casts a more enchanting spell until it’s easy to forget we are wandering indoors and outdoors over several acres of Double Edge’s Farm, and simply believe we’re with Telemachus as he meets Sparta’s King Menelaus (Kieran Smyth) and his queen Helen (Tanya Elchuk) perched gracefully on the wooden Trojan horse Odysseus created that turned the tide in the war for her.
I'd encourage folks to listen to Monte Belmonte's radio piece broadcast Northampton's WRSI as well - the sounds of the performance and the audience's response give those of us who can't make it to Ashfield a sense of what we're missing.

There's much more to explore on The Double Edge Theatre site, as well as on their Facebook page, which offers some excellent galleries of images from these performances and from the extensive training beforehand (for instance, for The Odyssey, actors trained with the New England Center for Circus Arts). You'll also find this video of an appropriate pre-performance training for a group of artist such as Double Edge, in the weeks before bringing the travels of Homer and Chagall to life in Western Massachusetts:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Songs: Rural-Urban Medley, Part One

stills from "Over and Over Again"

After Rachel Reynolds Luster's article "Hick Hop: What What?" there was a very lively discussion on our Facebook page about other songs that cross the rural-urban line. Today we'll feature a few of these--please feel free to share more suggestions on our Facebook page. We'll be returning to this list soon.

Nelly & Tim McGraw - "Over and Over Again," with apologies for the obnoxious commercial preceding the video:

Hank Snow - "I've Been Everywhere." Thanks to Lisa Higgins from the Missouri Folk Arts Program for the suggestion:

Kenny Rogers - "The Gambler," remixed by Wyclef Jean and Pharoahe Monch:

Many thanks to Arkansas State Folklorist Mike Luster for a number of wonderful suggestions and for adding some historical context to our search (see his comments on our Facebook page). Here's the first of his: Al Green's cover of Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry:"

Friday, August 19, 2011

In Brief: Wisconsin Tavern League

Selection from a photograph of Sesslers in Meeme, Wisconsin; Carl Corey

Growing up in Chicago, we'd come to Wisconsin to visit people, and we'd always go to a tavern. I was ten or eleven years old, I'd play pinball, and my folks might have one or two drinks the whole night, but they'd sit there and talk with everybody from the area. It's something that's been embedded in my mind.     - Carl Corey

I've been thinking about Wisconsin a lot lately, after visiting David Lundahl and New Light Studios and reconnecting with a landscape that was a home-away-from-home for a many years. One of the most distinctive elements of Wisconsin culture, and one that meets and exceeds its cultural cliche, is The Wisconsin Tavern. Unlike bars across many regions of the country, they are inter-generational community meeting spots--and not just places to watch sports or flirt over the pounding bass of pop music. Having also lived in Ireland for a while, I can say that Wisconsin bar culture comes the closest to the communal feel of the Irish pub--these are places you can walk in and hear the news, a story, or a joke. Or just sit there.

Wisconsin is a unique state, in some respects like parts of New England, in that even its rural areas feel populated in ways that defy their actual population statistics--and the central role of the tavern helps to create this larger-than-demographics sense of community. 

Thus, I was excited to read news of the publication of Tavern League: Portraits of Wisconsin Bars by acclaimed photographer Carl Corey. His eye for place and detail is perfectly matched to these locales, and his personal connection to these bars allow a warmth to these photographs. In lesser hands, these images would have been clinical, psuedo-social commentary, but here we get the sense that an artist from the community has stepped forward to transmute their spaces into visual art.

Selection from Marty, Chippewa Club, Durand

I encourage folks to travel to Mr. Corey's photography site to see more of the stunning images in much larger scale, and with much higher resolution. Below I'll include a clip from the excellent In Wisconsin PBS Program about Tavern League, as well as the publisher's introduction to this book of photographs. Enjoy: 

With a view both familiar and undeniably unique, perceptibly eerie but somehow warmly inviting, photographer Carl Corey’s pictures in Tavern League: Portraits of Wisconsin Bars capture the Wisconsin public house as it is today. The 60 pictures collected here are awash with a sense of place — the lingering tang of cigarette smoke, the feel of a gritty floor as a bar stool is pushed back, the ease of sinking into a dimly lit womb of good company and cold beer. Supernaturally vivid colors intertwine with distinctly average vignettes to reveal the magical, and fleeting, quality of these singular places and the people who love them.
A stunningly evocative collection of documentary pictures, Tavern League serves as a sociological snapshot. Our bars are unique micro-communities offering patrons a sense of belonging; many are the only public gathering place in the rural communities they serve. These simple taverns provide the valuable opportunity for face to face conversation and camaraderie, particularly as people become more physically isolated through the accelerated use of social networking, mobile texting, gaming, and the rapid-fire of email. The Wisconsin tavern presented here is an important segment of the Wisconsin community — one whose evolution, and even continued existence, stands in question in a young twenty-first century.

Carl Corey has been interested in photography since he was a child growing up in Chicago. He has worked as an advertising still photographer and director and cameraman for advertising projects in Chicago and Los Angeles. He retired from the advertising business after twenty-five years and moved to Wisconsin to focus on documentary photography. He lives in Hudson.

Carl Corey’s work is exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide, as well as in numerous private and public collections. Corey has won more than 100 photography awards from such groups and publications as the New York Art Directors Club, Communication Arts, Bessies, Addys, and Gold Lions.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sacred Harp: An Introduction

By Rachel Beth Rudi

Editor's Note: Today we're happy to feature more work from our intern and contributor Rachel Beth Rudi. A seasoned Sacred Harp singer, we asked her to help introduce this art form to readers.

People I meet seem to either be pretty familiar with Sacred Harp singing or entirely baffled by it. I began singing the a capella hymns in Georgia and Alabama when I came to North Carolina four years ago. There are many informational resources on the Sacred Harp, both printed and electronic, but one of the best places to explore first is, a website that lists singings around the world, catalogues songs and recordings, and gives an excellently succinct introduction to the music. From their Welcome page:
What is Sacred Harp singing? Sacred Harp is a uniquely American tradition that brings communities together to sing four-part hymns and anthems. It is a proudly inclusive and democratic part of our shared cultural heritage.

Participants are not concerned with re-creating or re-enacting historical events. Our tradition is a living, breathing, ongoing practice passed directly to us by generations of singers, many gone on before and many still living.All events welcome beginners and newcomers, with no musical experience or religious affiliation required — in fact, the tradition was born from colonial “singing schools” whose purpose was to teach beginners to sing and our methods continue to reflect this goal. Though Sacred Harp is not affiliated with any denomination, it is a deeply spiritual experience for all involved, and functions as a religious observance for many singers.Sacred Harp “singings” are not performances. There are no rehearsals and no separate seats for an audience. Every singing is a unique and self-sufficient event with a different group of assembled participants. The singers sit in a hollow square formation with one voice part on each side, all facing inwards so we can see and hear each other. However, visitors are always welcome to sit anywhere in the room and participate as listeners.

The term “shape note” is often applied to this style, but is technically a misnomer if used to specify Sacred Harp singing; it is rather an aspect of various genres, not a genre itself. Shape note is an umbrella term for any musical system where standard Western “round notes” – circles on a lined staff, visual representations of pitch – are replaced with common shapes. Each shape has a coordinating syllable – “fa,” triangle; “sol,” circle; “la,” square; “mi,” diamond – and, through repetition, the “singing of the shapes” quickly teaches a layperson how to read potentially complex music. Shape note tunebooks have been published for centuries. Some use seven-shape systems, where each pitch on a scale has its own shape, and others, like the Sacred Harp, use only four, with several shapes repeated:

Again, from
Why is it called “Sacred Harp”? Technically, our style of singing is “shape note singing” because the musical notation uses note heads in 4 distinct shapes to aid in sight-reading, but it is often called “Sacred Harp” singing because the books that most singers use today are called “The Sacred Harp,” with the most prominent of these being the 1991 Denson edition. The term “sacred harp” refers to the human voice — that is, the musical instrument you were given at birth.In 1844, The Sacred Harp was just one of more than 100 oblong hymn books published in the U.S. It has been continuously updated ever since. Along with other hymn books from the era, a handful of which are also still published and used, its repertoire of over 500 4-part a cappella hymns, odes, and anthems is part of the foundation of our vibrant oral tradition. There are dozens of living composers still actively writing new tunes within the traditional styles and shape note format. Other shape note books still in use today include Christian Harmony (using a 7-shape notation), New Harp of Columbia, plus several others, including some entirely new collections such as Northern Harmony.
Sacred Harp is much more than a music; it is a lifestyle. Not only do singers understand a complex system of musical notation, but they form a community, becoming part of its culture, history and fellowship. It is not uncommon for devoted singers to schedule their lives so that, come the weekend, they can be found singing in a church, or come the evening, making music on the porch.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Our Patchwork Culture: An Update

Mohawk Children dancing at a Pow Wow, cultural marker #155; Native Skins and Dear-Lover

By Rachel Reynolds Luster, Contributing Editor

On August 5, we ran “Our Patchwork Culture: Mapping Rural America.” The story ran in shorter form on The Daily Yonder as “Mapping Culture.” Both pieces invited readers to suggest cultural markers that could be mapped on the local and/or national level in addition to my original list of 96. I’m appreciative for the many thoughtful suggestions that readers from both sites offered. They follow below, as with the original list, in no particular order:

97) Small farms/family farms with specialty or market crops, Along with farm markets maybe farm stands (quite different)
98) CSA (community supported agriculture) members
99) Community gardens
100) Comedy clubs
101) Sports venues/stadiums
102) Nursing homes
103) Midwives or birth centers
104) Off-grid power
105) Use of the word “river” in local phone listings
106) Use of the word “lake” in local phone listings
107) Rural Water Board organizations.
108) Chicken Plants
109) Cancer treatment centers and support centers.
110) Plant nurseries.
111) ESL classes.
112) Assisted Living Facilities
113) Animal Rescue organizations/facilities
114) Soccer Leagues
115) 4-Way stops (suggests the social contract of law abiding citizens and use of electronic traffic control and population concentration)
116) Phone booths
117) AGDO (automatic garage door opener installs...a device that closed homes to the street and reduced social cohesion/connections)
118) Bicycle shops and Harley dealerships
119) Tiki Bars
120) Freestanding drive-in oil change shops
121) Independently owned auto repair shops
122) U-pick farms
123) Goat and other minor breed operations
124) Youth retention / young family percentage
125) Divorce rate
126) Marriage rate
127) Regular church attendance
128) Use of renewable energy
129) Percentage of people who grow their own garden
130) Lobster Shacks
131) Restaurants that serve Acadian Food
132) Local Feed/Grain Growers and Distributors
133) Percentage of trucks vs. cars (further broken down to 150/1500s vs. 250/2500+ and by registration category (i.e. farm vs. commercial vs. private)
134) Goat production (esp. those raised/slaughtered according to Islamic law)
135) Number of lottery tickets sold per week
136) Access to natural springs
137) Public wells
138) Percentage of people using private water supply
139) Number of pork producers with access to a USDA inspected packaging plant within 50 miles
140) Number of beef producers with access to a USDA inspected packaging plant within 50 miles
141) Percentage of homeschoolers
142) Number of midwives
143) Number of farriers
144) Consolidated school districts
145) Unconsolidated school districts
146) Number of bilingual households
147) Number of local parades
148) Woodworkers
149) Carvers
150) Pier and beam house levelers
151) Saddle and tack repair shops
152) Upholsterers
153) Sign painters
154) Marine outboard motor shops
155) Pow Wows
156) Feeds
157) Health and human services offices
158) Number of businesses offering horseback riding lessons
159) Number of available Suzuki classes
160) Square dances
161) Horse owners
162) Number of local/ community festivals
163) CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations)
164) Roadside Americana
165) Street art
166) Vernacular memorials to local heroes/roadside memorials
167) Yard art/ recycled or repurposed art / “folk” art environments
168) Fiber guilds
169) Alternative and/or ethnic medical providers
170) Clogging groups
171) Sacred Harp/Shape Note Singers
172) Artisan or Regional Specialty Foods
173) Halloween Activities/ Haunted Houses
174) Baking (etc.) contests
175) 4-H animal husbandry contests
176) Church Homecomings
177) Thrift Stores
178) Railway Crossings Without Signals
179) Amish Communities
180) Grain Elevators
181) Driving Distance to the Nearest Retail Store Selling Underwear

Many of these suggestions speak in particular to aspects of rural life and culture. The most interesting possibility in mapping these and other aspects of life and practice in America are the intersections of our national culture which would be illuminated through the process. The original list of 96 was created, at least in part, with the idea that there were cultural markers that would represent various socio-economic groups, ethnic backgrounds, belief systems, and genders.

In addition, I tried to represent populations and cultural markers associated with rural, urban, and suburban areas with the thought that, if these markers were digitally mapped, search fields could be combined or layered, and that, especially over time, cultural patterns would emerge, illuminating the commonalities between communities and populations. This would serve as a visual tool for counteracting stereotypes of any one place or people, and their culture--whether it be on the county, state, regional, or national level.

This possibility is especially enticing in light of some of the recent posts on our site by Editor Matthew Fluharty (see his comments in The Daily Yonder and his "What We Talk About When We Talk About The Rural"). We often speak to one another about the important symbiotic relationship between rural and urban culture--and how to encourage discussions of these connections in our work. Over the next few months we will be taking to heart the many wonderful resources that have been brought to our attention and revising our Rural Arts Map. We encourage all of our readers to contribute with these thoughts in mind. Thank you for your overwhelming response.