Thursday, September 29, 2011

On The Road Again, On The Internet Again

Willie Nelson and his biodiesel tour bus; Denis Poroy, Associated Press

Folks, your humble editor will be traveling in the upper midwest for the next few days, so posted material to this site may be sporadic. However, there are many recent news items and arts stories that I have come across my desk this week--and I will be posting links to this material throughout the coming days on our Facebook page. 

Those readers who don't use Facebook, never fear: the Art of the Rural Facebook page is 100% public, with no Facebook account required to view our news feed. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rural Arts Links: Indiana?

photograph by Carlos A Varela

In our continuing efforts to work together to create an open canon of the rural arts, we would like to post a new round of entries on our Rural Arts Links site. What artists, musicians, writers, what organizations, radio shows, movies (the list goes on from here...) have caught your attention recently? Please drop us a line on our Facebook page or at artoftherural at

Also, over the next few months we will appeal to our readers for help in generating the local arts listings on the links page -- so, folks with some Indiana-centric experience, what organizations and artists should we include?

Thanks again for your support of The Art of the Rural, and for your help in guiding the direction of our resources and our articles!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jetsonorama And The Moving Planet

We are back today, after a few days away from the site to take care of arts and site-related tasks, with some exciting new work by Jetsonorama, an artist based in the Navajo Nation in Arizona (see our related articles below). Jetsonorama, working in collaboration with's global Moving Planet gathering last week, has just released a new series of wheat paste murals that express the cultural and environmental costs of the coal industry in the Navajo Nation. Here's the artist writing about the project, from his site:
i started getting ready for this project about 6 weeks ago. thanks goes to friend and co-worker rena yazzie and her brother who provided a big, beautiful lump of coal from the kayenta mine. thanks to josey and jameson for letting me photograph their adorable 5 month old daughter, j. c.

it's been an insightful period for me. if the navajo people and coal were to declare their relationship status on facebook, they'd have to chose the "it's complicated" option. i informally interviewed 16 co-workers and asked them to share with me the first thing that comes to mind when i say "coal." everyone i talked with was raised on the reservation. they all identified coal as a cheap source of fuel, especially for the elders. it's readily available to all tribal members. by way of comparison, a pick up truck full of wood costs $200.00. that same pick up truck loaded with coal would cost only $60.00 and the coal would burn longer.

Jetsonorama continues, reporting that his community recognizes the clear effects of their use of coal in her homes (he cites many instances of respiratory illness) and also remains cognizant of the brute economic facts of the coal extraction industry--that the majority of the power (literal, figurative) and the profits are sent out from Navajo lands towards the metropolises of the West. This movement stands in the face of a series of undeniable statistics about the region, its size and its potential wealth, that suggests that the orb of coal floating over J.C.'s head is a remnant of many older structures of oppression:
the reservation is home to 170,000 people who live in an area that is 27,500 square miles. it's larger than 10 individual states within the u.s. over half of the population lives below the usa defined poverty line despite having land that is rich in coal, natural gas, uranium and water. the unemployment rate is 40%. mining operations on the reservation provide work for a small segment of the population who are able to realize a middle class lifestyle for their families. however, the cost to the families who burn coal in their homes and to the environment is great.
Jetsonorama's site features many more images from this project-- in a larger, high-resolution format. Folks can read more about his work on Brooklyn Street Art as well as The Huffington Post, both of which have reported on Jetsonorama's project with Folks may also want to pay a visit to this organization, which was founded by writer Bill McKibben five years ago; has orchestrated a number of global actions and discussions that have engaged a range of people on the issues of climate change.

Related Articles:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Almanac For Moderns: The Autumn Dance

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

September Seventeenth

Now the autumn dance of the midges has begun, and I distinguish by the motion of their little eddies and spiral nebulae the different sorts--the tiny fellows that spin in some invisible maelstrom, the larger dark ones that tremble up and down in one vertical plane as if against a sheet of glass, and the clover midges drifting thick as storms of diatoms in the plankton of the sea. But though I swing my hat at them, they are too swift for me. It is the bats, in their goblin flight, seemingly so drunken, in reality so accurate, who catch the midges in the twilight when my eyes just begin to fail of seeing anything but the great outlines of the trees, the humped shadows of shrubbery.

Zoologists will classify the bats upon the basis of their incredibly convoluted ears, their sometimes preposterous noses, and their always exaggerated toes that appear like the ribs of their wings. No marksman, I seldom get a good look at a bat, save when I have picked up a wounded creature from the ground, jittering angrily and glaring at me from its uncannily knowledgeable black eyes.

I could never see why any one should fear or dislike any bat of the temperate zone. How often I have lain wakeful, in a great old house by the sea, under the ghostly cascade of the mosquito curtain, and delighted in the companionship of the little bats who swept in through the open window, mysterious, soundless, flirting with their own reflections in the dusky pool of the great mirror.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Topix, Rural Communities, and Local Language

Topix CEO Chris Tolles

This morning I would like to point our readers towards a number of pieces reporting on, and responding to, yesterday's piece in The New York Times on how the online forum Topix is changing the tone of civil discourse in rural America. 

There is much more to say about A.G. Sulzberger's article, and I imagine that many of the sites we are linking to below will continue to follow the conversations that emerge around both Mr. Sulzberger's reporting and the presence of Topix in these communities. We have been in contact with our friends at The Boiled Down Juice, and we're planning a series of pieces that consider this complicated issue from a number of different angles.

We would value the opportunity to hear our readers' takes on this subject, and the manner in which it was reported. Please feel free to comment on our Facebook page or send us an email at artoftherural at We would like to include your perspective within this discussion.

Until then, here's some reading:

The Rural Blog has been covering this story for months. Here's their first piece (by Jon Hale) on Topix, and yesterday's response (by Al Cross), calling to accountability both the internet forum and local newspapers.

Lisa Pruitt, in her blog Legal Ruralism, expands upon both the legal issues and the rural-urban question beneath yesterday's NYT article.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

Archival photograph of Hank Williams driving one of his Cadillacs

Bob Dylan's imprint Egyptian Records is set to release a twelve-song record next month inspired by the songs and lyrical fragments contained within Hank Williams's final notebook. Musicians all the way from Alan Jackson to Jack White have contributed interpretations of this material; here's a portion of the press release:
When Hank Williams died, at the age of 29, in the back of his Cadillac sometime early morning on New Year's Day 1953, he left behind a scuffed, embroidered brown leather briefcase, which he used to carry bound notebooks, among other items, darkening their pages with lyrics and song ideas. Some were fully finished, some just started.

The odyssey of Hank Williams' notebooks is recounted in the album's liner notes, penned by Michael McCall from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, who observes, "The history of Hank's notebooks is as complex as the legend himself. Yet, in the end, what matters most are the songs, and these new works rise from the ether with ghostly relevance. As with his many standards, these new recordings tap straight into the soul of man. This is songwriting at its most artful and most powerful."

Carter Family Comics: Don't Forget This Song

selection from Don't Forget This Song

Last week we posted information on our Facebook page about Don't Forget This Song, a graphic novel currently in production that considers the life and music of The Carter Family. Today I want to make sure folks who don't use that social media outlet are also brought up to speed on this exciting project. 

Don't Forget This Song is a collaboration between comic book artist David Lasky and writer and music scholar Frank M. Young; they've established a Kickstarter campaign to spread the word and help with the costs in producing this book. I encourage folks to visit their project page, as they are offering ways for their audience to help support their work while also receiving one-of-a-kind pieces of art from the project. Here's their introduction:
We're at work on Don't Forget This Song, a 192-page full color graphic novel biography of the first family of country music-- The Carter Family. The story of their career is every bit as remarkable as their music. We have wanted to create a graphic novel about the Carters for almost a decade.
We found a great publisher for the project—Abrams Books. In 2008, we were given an advance of about $5,000 each to start work on the project. Those funds saw us through the first year of the work.
Our goal is to complete this project by the end of 2011. We’re asking for your help so that we can work full-time on the finalization of this graphic novel. Don't Forget This Song is our dream project, and with your help, we can realize this dream.

Mr. Lasky and Young also host a project blog that documents the various stages of the process, from finished pages to storyboards -- an extraordinary look into the various stages that an idea travels through before the images and ink stand fully composed on the page. 

Many thanks to Beth Harrington for leading me to Don't Forget This Song. She is working on her own exciting forthcoming Carter Family-related project, the documentary The Winding Stream,  and folks can read an interview Ms. Harrington conducted with David Lasky by following the link. 

Related Articles:
Misrepresenting The Bravery Of Frank McGee

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Song: Wade Mainer

Wade Mainer with his wife Julia in 2006

As folks may have heard, Wade Mainer, "the grandfather of bluegrass," passed away on Monday at the age of 104. Below I'd like to offer a few links and videos that help bring into perspective this musician's life and accomplishments. Here's William Grimes of The New York Times:
Mr. Mainer began recording in the early 1930s with J. E. Mainer and the Mountaineers, led by his older brother, a fiddle player. He introduced a distinctive two-finger style, with the thumb moving downward and the forefinger moving upward, that contrasted with the traditional downward-moving clawhammer stroke. This style gave a modern flavor to traditional tunes and inspired younger players like Don Reno and Earl Scruggs. 

In the late 1930s Mr. Mainer formed his own group, the Sons of the Mountaineers, which recorded dozens of songs on RCA Victor’s Bluebird label. 

“Wade brought the music forward,” said Dick Spottswood, the author of “Banjo on the Mountain: Wade Mainer’s First Hundred Years” (2010). “In the 1920s, the banjo stayed in the background, providing counterpoint and rhythm. He made it prominent, and laid the groundwork for bluegrass in the 1940s.”
This week Nathan Salsburg's Root Hog Or Die vernacular radio program broadcast a wonderful program of Mr. Mainer's pre-war music which can be heard by following this link:

To hear Mr. Mainer in his own words, here's the first of a three-part interview with David Holt of the North Carolina Folkways public radio program:

Frank Stasio's State of Things program on North Carolina Public Radio featured this conversation on the work on Wade Mainer in April. He speaks to musicologist Dick Spottswood, author of Banjo on the Mountain: Wade Mainer's First Hundred Years, Sarah Bryan of the North Carolina Folk Institute, and David Holt.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rural Poetry Series: Josh Wallaert

Film still from Arid Lands; Grant Aaker and Josh Wallaert

Today we would like to add the poetry of Josh Wallaert to the company of our Rural Poetry Series. Our readers will be familiar with Mr. Wallaert's work with Places, where he serves as the assistant editor, and will also be interested to learn of some of his other projects which help to add context to the many pieces of fiction, poetry and found poetry that are available on his site.  Included below is  "How To Lead A Horse," previously published in Shenandoah

How To Lead A Horse

Elizabeth, I loved the way you broke
that horse, how you put your careful
hand against his shoulder, you
showed him where to turn. I've worked
all my life not knowing where to put
my hands, how a poem responds
to pressure, knows where it wants to go.
I ride past the new houses to the church
where the coyotes ran your horse
into the fence so many years ago.
He was nine months old. I watched
the pastor help you lift him from
the ground. You were so calm,
holding his bent leg in your hand
while the pastor removed the barbs.
The horse was quiet, his young hip
jerked out of place. I followed you
walking that horse two miles back
to the house. I tried to remember
where you put your hands, in case
I would ever have to do this myself.
How much more I had to learn.

Mr. Wallaert grew up in Chesire, Oregon, along the the Long Tom watershed in the the southern Willamette Valley. Much of Mr. Wallaert's poetry sets that question of "where to put / my hands" within larger contexts of the arts and commerce, considering how local (and personal) spaces are interlinked to distant and even divergent points on the map.

This experience in rural Oregon, coupled with this artistic sensibility,  no doubt informs Arid Lands, a documentary co-directed with Grant Aaker. Much like the interdisciplinary work he helps to bring to readers in Places, we see here a poet and writer turn from the page to the lens to craft a "creatively ecological" film (in the words of The Chronicle for Higher Education). This project's description and trailer are included below; folks can visit Josh Wallaert's site for more information on these projects.

Related Articles:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In Brief: Native American Raggae, Life In Exurbia, and Goat Cheese In Marfa

Native Roots

Revolutions Per Minute: Indigenous Music Culture is an site that covers an extraordinary range of contemporary Native American music--everything from traditional forms to the electronic "art trash" rap of Glad as Knives. I highly recommend a visit to RPM--I'm excited to have discovered this site, and I look forward to writing in greater depth about it soon. 

Here's RPM writing about Native Roots, a band that bridges cultures and brings people together: 
Native Roots has been making their unique “NDN-Jamaican” music since 1997. Their sound has a solid foundation in reggae but is blended with the band’s Indigenous culture.

The songs incorporate traditional drums, flute and chants, but you can hear the cultural influence in Emmett “Shkeme” Garcia’s vocals as well – his voice reflecting his experience singing traditional pueblo and powwow music

The Texas Mountain Trail Region recently shared this video on their Facebook page, the story behind Marfa Maid Goat Cheese. Surviving in West Texas isn't easy, Malinda Beeman tells us, but she finds that the process of running a successful agricultural business is a lot like the process of making art. 

This gorgeous 12 minute documentary was created by Barefoot Workshops, a non-profit "that teaches individuals and organizations how to use digital video, new media, and the arts to transform their communities and themselves." This organization has created a great deal of work that would interest our readers, so I encourage folks to head to their site and learn more; I'll also be writing at greater length about their films soon. Until then, here's Simple As That, which was filmed, written, and edited by Kari Branch, Russell Walker and Ashley McCue:

Simple As That from Barefoot Workshops on Vimeo.

It's encouraging to hear the story of Marfa Maid Goat Cheese. Their project, and the point in their lives when they commenced this work, suggests there could be a model here for how an older generation of rural citizens can affect local economic change. As a generation of baby-boomers considers "moving home," we may have an example of how (especially in the challenging economy) these returning neighbors do more than just settle down to retire in rural America. 

This suggests "The Road to Exurbia," a recent piece published in Places (see our article on their fiction series from last week): James Barilla offers an extraordinarily insightful essay on rural exurbias--those communities close enough to major cities that they can accommodate folks who really want to live (and raise children) in a rural environment. Mr. Barilla tells his own story, and the story of his father, but also discusses the larger trend of exurbias across the country. Here's the opening paragraphs to this essay:
Each year, by his own calculation, my dad drives as many miles as the circumference of the earth. He gets up while the dawn mist is still clinging to the hemlocks and the horses are still crunching grain in their pails, settles into the car with a travel mug of coffee and a book on tape, and makes his way from a tiny hill town in Western Massachusetts to his job in a city near Boston. He’s been doing it for over 24 years, which means he’s been rotating the earth longer than many satellites.

He lives on a dirt road, not far from the boundary of the state forest. It’s the kind of place where mountain laurel grows in gnarled thickets under the canopy of oak and maple and you can’t see your neighbors. Moose wander up to the barn to make eyes at the horses, coyotes yip to each other at dawn and snakes seize wood frogs under the porch. It’s a place where you can swim in a clear pond in summer and amble across its frozen surface in winter.

“Days like these,” my dad will say on a summer Saturday evening, sitting contemplatively on the deck after an afternoon swim in a nearby lake, “this place feels like a little bit of paradise.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The 2011 BIG FEED

Photograph from a previous BIG FEED; Richard Saxton

Next month (October 15-16) the M12 art collective will host their annual BIG FEED celebration at the Yuma, Colorado Fairgrounds. Readers of our site may already be familiar with the M12 artists and Richard Saxton's work with his students in Yuma (please see the links below), so we can be certain that this event will be in keeping with the ethos of these artists' work: creative, playful, and forward-thinking.

It's an honor for me to share with everyone that I will be presenting on The Art of the Rural at this year's BIG FEED. I've been asked to offer a kind of "best of" contemporary rural arts and culture, and the invitation will present the opportunity to reflect on what we've covered here on the first two years of the site (two years!). As our coverage of the M12-related work has hopefully demonstrated, I have great respect for these artists and scholars' vision of how aesthetically-adventurous art and architecture can interact in a meaningful and sustainable way with communities. I look forward to sharing more of their artwork, ideas, and connections on this site when I return from Yuma.

I'll include below a list of this year's participants. The full BIG FEED program can be viewed here, and it contains much more information on each artist and presenter. As the schedule demonstrates, there's going to be an extraordinary range of perspectives shared during this two days, so, if folks live in the area, this will be an event not to be missed. That Saturday evening will come to an exciting close with a performance by the legendary group Blue Mountain.
The BIG FEED: Saturday, Oct. 15-16 at the Yuma County Fairgrounds, Yuma, Colorado.The entry to this event is FREE with a $5 donation and one food item to share!
  The BIG FEED is an annual event and action held by M12. It is a celebration of the regional landscape, experimental art and architecture, food, music, culture and community. It is a forum to connect community members and artists in a casual atmosphere, as well as an opportunity for the larger public to learn more about the groundbreaking work presented by the attending community members, artists, musicians, critics, and curators. Landing somewhere between a family reunion, potluck dinner, symposium, and festival, The BIG FEED is held every second weekend in October. The event is open to the public and free with a $5 donation and one food item to share. For more information on the event and the organization please visit the M12 website.
Saturday, October 15:
2:30PM—DJ Rockcrusher, Maiden Rock, WI (DJ, Country & Western 78’s)
3PM—Vic Anderson, Estes Park, CO (Country & Western, Yodeling musician)
4PM—CU Art Students, Boulder, CO (Visual Art Presentation)
4:30PM—Yuma County Rodeo Queens, Yuma, CO (Presentation)
5PM—Gregory Hill, Joes, CO, native (author of East of Denver)
5:30PM—The Art of the Rural Presentation
6:15—Eric Steen (artist) & Ro Guenzel (Head Brewmaster, Left Hand Brewery)
6:45PM—The BIG FEED (with spit-roasted bison) with music by 4H Royalty
7:30PM—Mimi Ziegler, Los Angeles, CA (editor of loud paper; author of Tiny Houses, New Museums, )
8:15PM—4H Royalty, Denver, CO (full set)  
9:00PM—Blue Mountain, Oxford, MS (full set)
Sunday, October 16:

10AM—Jami Lunde, Lyons, CO (full set) 
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rural International: Luk Thung & Thai Country Music

The album cover for Luk Thung; Dust-to-Digital

A few weeks back, I began an unofficial series of pieces that look to expand what we talk about when we talk about the rural, and today I'd like to discuss a recording that can challenge us to rethink our own categories and boundaries when it comes to rural arts and culture. 

Luk Thung: Classic & Obscure 78s from the Thai Countryside is one of the latest releases from Dust-to-Digital, a record label that has, for over a decade, consistently produced some of the most thorough and thought-provoking reissues of vernacular music and visual art--everything from the southern gospel of their landmark Goodbye, Babylon set to the forthcoming Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM, a multi-disc package featuring diverse pan-African music that has never been released on CD. Luk Thung is one of the productions of the "phonographic arm" of Dust-to-Digital, Parlortone, though this music is also available for download. Luk Thung was compiled by record collector David Murray (see his Haji Maji music blog) and the notes were written by Peter Doolan of the Monrakplengthai Thai vernacular music site.

Many of our readers are no doubt familiar with the work of Dust-to-Digital; as both a record label and a kind of cultural sensibility, Lance Ledbetter's project has not only served as a catalyst for the thriving reissue movement, but has pushed an audience to reconsider the deeper dynamics of a place and its people. 

Luk Thung continues in this direction, and provides an opportunity for many of us to expand our own deeper narrative of the rural arts. While many discussions of rural culture fail to consider the role of the rural diaspora, I cannot think of a single instance where we've thought of this geographical movement--from the Great Migration to the farm crisis of the 1980s--in an international context. Luk Thung provides such an opportunity. 

Here's Peter Doolan, editor of the Monrakplengthai music site, writing in the introduction to his liner notes:
Luk Thung is known to many as Thailand's "Country Music"; it's a vibrant and syncretic genre of pop song which aims to give voice to a disenfranchised rural population. Its history is intextricably linked to that of the nation at large, and it continues to provide a soundtrack to the political turmoil that abounds in today's Thailand. Despite its commercial nature and its roots in imported music, Luk Thung's use of local Thai melody, instrumentation, rhythm and vocal styling leads many casual listeners to mistake it for a sort of folk music. In any case, Luk Thung may indeed be filling the social gap left by a slowly vanishing traditional culture. 
The term Luk Thung itself, meaning "Children of the Fields," refers to people of rural background, as opposed to Luk Krung, those born and bred in the city. Bangkok, the capitol of the Kingdom of Thailand, is a massive metropolis disproportionate to the rest of the country, and is, without rival, its political, economic and cultural center. The majority of Thailand's population, however, lives in the provinces outside of Bangkok, as has been the case for millenia. But in the 20th century, spurred by the nation's increasing status as a global commercial power, the capitol began to attract significant movement in from the provinces. By mid-century, a steady stream of migrants were making their way into Bangkok, with most joining an urban underclass of menial laborers, pedicab drivers, market vendors or slum dwellers. Some settled permanently in the city, some came and went with the seasons, but all had to cope with enormous changes in their lives. Music became a vital means of maintaining a feeling of connectedness to the world they were leaving.
As Mr. Doolan tells us in his extensive notes, this rural diaspora first met a state-controlled mass media that privileged western culture (everything from dress to dining utensils) and denigrated traditional Thai practices. After World War II, these forms of expression were re-integrated, as pop music blossomed into a complex and kinetic exchange of idioms, instruments, and experiences; in balancing these various sources and influences, these artists created what I've called before a kind of "rural modernism." Consider the breadth of expression Luk Thung incorporated: "Liké street theatre, antiphonal Lamtat field songs, and Klong Yao long-drum troupes," Mr. Doolan writes. "A particular interest was kindled in songs from Isan, the impoverished and drought-stricken Northeast...singers integrated both Isan's Thet Lae preaching style and Lam Klon poetic form into their performances, and many even began including words from Isan's distinct dialect in their lyrics."

From Peter Doolan's extraordinarily helpful notes we see that these musicians were working in a vein not at all that stylistically different than James Joyce or T.S. Eliot, or any of the modernist painters who incorporated a wildly divergent range of materials and images. Further, the span of Luk Thung runs the American timeline from the Great Migration to today, and from the explosion of folk, blues, country and rock music--all fueled in large part by what a rural diaspora brought with them to the city and its airwaves and recording studios. 

Here's Phloen Phromdaen singing "Ruedu Haeng Khwam Rak (Season of Love)." Mr. Phromdaen, who grew up on his family's farm along the border with Cambodia, first encountered Luk Thung on the radio and saved his money to make his own recordings. A rise to stardom followed and was punctuated, Mr. Doolan tells, by his 1966 hit "Chom Thung (In Praise of the Fields)." Phloen Phromdaen is still singing today.

Mr. Phromdaen went on in his career to create a variant of Luk Thung called Pleng Phut, or "talking music," a development which seems to suggest, if we are thinking in terms of a rural diaspora, a comparison with Johnny Cash, or Elvis, or Muddy Waters or any number of other musicians. As Mr. Doolan writes, these musicians attained a level of stardom in their home country commiserate with the likes of their American counterparts. Given the cultural and political backdrop to Luk Thung, we find many similarities to the social commentary within the language of American folk, blues and country--even to the rebellious use of identity and dialect in "hard country," as discussed by Barbara Ching in her essential book-length study Wrong's What I Do Best.

Lastly, what such a vibrant release as Luk Thung can stir in us is the thought that, even within our own home borders, we may live near folks who most likely identify on one level or another as members of a more distant "rural diaspora," be it from Thailand, Mexico, Somalia or elsewhere. We do a disservice to these members of our community--and to ourselves--when we leave them out of a discussion on rural America.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weekend Song: Larry Jon Wilson

selection from the album cover to Larry Jon Wilson; Drag City Records, 2009

On the fringe of the 1970's outlaw country movement, and the progenitor of country-funk, Larry Jon Wilson's crafted one of the most unique catalogs of work over his four decades of recording. Below we'll include a song / documentary clip from Heartworn Highways that captures Mr. Wilson in his element. Much more information on Larry Jon Wilson can be found at this fan page; Stephen Deusner spoke to the artist in 2009, just before his death, and this interview can found here. At the center of this interview is a discussion about the excellent self-titled album Drag City Records released that year; along with Larry Jon Wilson's legendary Document recordings, this later collection of songs and covers is essential listening. Many, many thanks to Mike Luster for introducing me to Larry Jon Wilson's music earlier this year.

Here's "Ohoopee River Bottomland," from the Heartworn Highways film:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Jason Vaughn's Photography: Rural - Urban Amalgam

a selection of a photograph from the Places project; Jason Vaughn

Carl Corey, the photographer behind the Wisconsin Tavern League project we recently discussed, suggested the work of Jason Vaughn, a photographer whose work meditates almost exclusively on the range of experience to be found in rural place. We're thankful for Mr. Corey's tip, and we'd like to share a few of Mr. Vaughn's images and projects below.

Particularly in light of yesterday's coverage of the fiction series featured on the Places journal, folks will notice that we are in the presence of a photographer who is not interested in playing to the extremes of rural representation--either camp pastoral imagery or overdetermined social commentary. In company with the mission at Places, Mr. Vaughn's work can often suggest ways that the rural is in conversation with urban America and its mass-marketed culture. 

The example that best fits this perspective is the photographer's current Hibernation series:
Hibernation is a new series of photographs inspired by Wisconsin Dells, the "waterpark capital of the world" which goes through extreme cycles of desolate winters and thriving summers. Moving through the seasons, the images show how people perform their own rituals of hibernation. The visual motifs echo the themes of each season: activity in summer, preparation in autumn, isolation in winter, and emergence in spring.
What interests me about this project is that Wisconsin Dells (as readers from that great state will attest) markets itself as an amalgam of extreme watersports, all-American summer destination, and rural retreat. I'm fascinated by how, in this kind of ecological boom-and-bust cycle Mr. Vaughn describes, we see a mirroring of economies (and farm economies); I don't have the population numbers at hand, but I sense that, after Labor Day, the population density of the Dells might veer upon the status of "non-metropolitan," or rural. 

Selections from the project can be found below; please visit the Hibernation section of Jason Vaughn's site for larger, high-resolution representations of these images. 

I highly recommend a visit to Jason Vaughn's site; he's also at work on a Portraits and a Places series. Mr. Vaughn is also in the early stage of Wrestlers, a project that tells the story of "amateur WWF-style wrestlers in West Virginia." The image below seems to also ask for a consideration of how professional wrestling culture is composed of a stew of ideas and emotions, like the Dells, that play on a nexus of patriotism, sports culture, and a sense of rural self-reliance. I hope to share more of Mr. Vaughn's work as this project develops.

Related Articles:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fiction That Crosses The Rural - Urban Line

selection from a photograph of Barry Lopez by Robert Miller

Fiction writing is one of the art forms that we do not discuss enough on The Art of the Rural, primarily because (at least at this point) none of our staff work in that field. We are very thankful, then, to have recently received word from Josh Wallaert, a poet, writer, and Assistant Editor of Places, about the journal's August fiction series. (Folks may remember our coverage of their slideshow for the extraordinary The Edge of Light: Wendover, by Brian Rosa and Adam Ryder.)

Simply put: Places is outstanding. Since 2009, it has been an open-acesss online publication; their mission to think in interdisciplinary terms about landscape, architecture and place stands as a shining example of how artists, academics and everyday readers can create meaningful dialogue and challenge our safe definitions of "rural" or "urban" space. To boot, the site is gorgeously designed and complete with a deep archive of materials and online features.

Given this, we are excited to pass along word of the fiction series at Places, with its impressive gathering of writers. Below I'll reprint the journal's introduction to two of the pieces Mr. Walleart suggested our readers would be most interested in, though there is a fascinating range of fiction to explore within the series. Enjoy:

"Dixon Marsh" by Barry Lopez:
In thirteen books of fiction and nonfiction, and the marvelous dictionary Home Ground, Barry Lopez has mapped new territory for environmental writers and located “a language for the American landscape.” Here, as we continue our August fiction series, Lopez follows field biologist Terrin Macdonald, with her dog and her semi-automatic pistol, into the Petersen Mountains on the Nevada-California border, where she has a strange encounter while collecting water samples at Dixon Marsh.
In the spirit of August and the tradition of summer reading, Places will feature short stories throughout the month in which landscapes are central to mood and meaning. Urban Waite kicks off the series with a childhood adventure set on a family farm inside the urban boundary of Long Beach, California. When a golf course replaces the neighbors’ orange field, strange things come out of the grove and ominous signs appear in the sky.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Poetry Bombing In The Back Roads of Vermont

Photographs of Back Road Chalkies by Susan Arnold

Last week we shared the work of Bob Arnold, a poet, editor, publisher, stonemason (among other skills) who lives and works in Vermont. The clean-up from Irene is going to take folks in the area a long time--far longer, unfortunately, than the national media will keep their satellite trucks in the state. True to the aesthetic and work ethic of Mr. Arnold, his excellent Longhouse Birdhouse blog is documenting the convergence of the community clean-up effort with an eye for how the arts can aid in understanding and consolation. 

Amazingly, Mr. Arnold and his wife Susan have continued to fill orders for their Longhouse Press; as power and phone service have been cut out from Irene, they have had to travel between three states to find resources and internet service. When Amazon asked retailers to "take a vacation" post-Irene, many booksellers in the area may have heeded the call, but not the Arnolds. 

It's that kind of resourcefulness and improvisation that's also on view in Mr. Arnold's Back Road Chalkies project, which, long before the term came into use, is a model for a kind of "rural poetry bombing." This, however, is an exemplary model -- as Mr. Arnold possess a deep and multicultural grasp of poetry, and has cultivated an engaged relationship with his place. "Poetry Bombing," with its references to military campaigns, and its hipster provenance, may be the wrong descriptor entirely for the Back Road Chalkies; those working on that kind of public art, though, could take some inspiration from Bob Arnold's work. 

Here's the poet offering an introduction to the project:
With chalk in hand, Back Road Chalkies is a landscape anthology I selected and gathered up over one year from 2007-2008. The chalkboard stanchion took a day to build and move on a wheelbarrow to its perch. Built from old lumber I took apart from an outdoor bookstall I had designed years earlier. The chalkboard was bought from a family of home schoolers for $5 ... For awhile I was chalking up poems or sayings once a day, once a week, every few weeks, and over the long winter maybe just Thoreau would hold the fort. Jack London soon with him. A friend might write and tuck in a poem of their own and I’d share it immediately, or something in the world called for a line or two on the chalkboard, or the season asked for a poem, or the slant of light.
Below I'll offer a few selections from the Back Road Chalkies. Folks can find the full pdf (with the images in full, high-resolution detail) by visiting the Longhouse Press site and scrolling down to find the link along the right hand column. No one will be disappointed with the range of reference and image contained in this series -- hopefully it will inspire more Chalkies in more places.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Rural Urban: From Alan Lomax to Jay-Z

Folks, I'm still on the farm in the Ohio Valley, ostensibly on vacation...but this article is too good to pass up: Ethan Hein's Blog on "music, technology and evolution" has a fascinating bit of hip hop sample-archeology that traces one segment of Jay-Z's "Takeover" all the way back to a chain gang song Alan Lomax recorded at Parchman Farm Penitentiary--especially provocative given the current work being done with music at Angola Prison (another site immortalized by Lomax family recordings).

I highly recommend Mr. Heins' piece--it comes complete with a sample-history flow-chart for the song which can also function as a kind of metaphor for  how music-making has changed since The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax, and how music copyrights have (or have not) changed with the times. The juxtaposition of these two songs could elicit a commentary all to itself, so I'll leave folks to listen and contemplate. Many thanks to Rachel Reynolds Luster for the tip!

Here are the two songs. Be warned that the Jay-Z song contains strong language.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Pulling Art Out Of Iowa's Rivers

David Williamson with one of his sculptures; Iowa Arts News

Some artists focus on the process of public art. I focus on making the process of art public.

Folks, I am spending a long weekend on our family farm in the Ohio Valley, so postings over the next few days may occur at odd intervals -- though I will be featuring some of Bob Arnold's backwoods chalkboard poetry-installations, so look out for that as well this weekend.

Many thanks to Deborah Woodell for passing news of this along: artist David Williamson has created an opportunity for everyday Iowans to not only witness but also participate in the process of creating large scale sculptures--with some surprising materials.

This Wednesday's episode of NPR's Talk of Iowa featured a conversation with Mr. Williamson about his project of working with Iowans, as well as a DNR watershed project (AWARE), to salvage metal and other materials from Iowa rivers and then transmute these objects into sculptures. Here's Iowa Arts News writing about his work:
This summer, Williamson will create his third sculpture as part of Riverse series, his effort to demonstrate the continued usefulness of objects that in some cases have spent years on the muddy bottoms of Iowa’s waterways.
Of the estimated 24 tons of material volunteers retrieved this year, Williamson has about eight tons of metal from which to create this year’s work.
“These objects are compelling enough to say there’s some serious metal in the water,” Williamson said.
Brian Soenen, coordinator of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ IOWATER program, a volunteer effort to monitor Iowa’s water quality, said the material in the river generally comes from one of three sources.
First, in the 1960s and 1970s, he said, people would position large objects—including cars—along the river banks in an attempt to prevent erosion. In other cases, floodwater would carry nearby objects into the riverbed.
Some of the material, though, arrives via unscrupulous dumping along Iowa’s rivers.
Folks can click here and here for pdfs with more information on these sculptures.