The “Experience of Farmers” was a series of mixed-media and clayboard works, exhibited in various locations (Kansas, Virginia, Canada) between 2000 and 2002.
ARTIST STATEMENT FROM “THE EXPERIENCE OF FARMERS”
The “Experience of Farmers” is an art project that uses pictures and words to explore the experiences of farmers at a difficult time (1999-2000). The project developed out of concerns about the farm crisis and how this crisis is affecting farm families, rural communities, and the broader society. Low commodity prices are squeezing many independent farmers out of farming, and this project explores the joys and struggles of farmers, and what society loses when independent farmers lose their livelihood.
Since July of 1999, I have interviewed and tape-recorded the voices of forty-two farmers, farm family members, and farmer advocates for this project. Quotes transcribed from the interviews are included directly in the artwork, or on text panels beside the artwork. Themes in the project include: experiences of the countryside, the joys of farming, the farm family, the experience of drought, the beauty of rural Kansas, the perseverance of farmers, discrimination against black farmers, the erasure of independent business and agriculture, and the effects of corporate mergers and multinational corporations on rural communities.
In my artwork I enjoy creating rich surface textures, careful compositions, and fanciful images to capture moments in the stories — from mundane to whimsical to socially urgent. To make the black and white drawings I use an art material called clay board. This material includes a thin layer of white clay covered with black ink, affixed to a Masonite surface. I scratch off the ink with a sharp tool to create white lines, cross-hatching, and textures. The collages I make include a combination of materials such as photos, magazine pictures, embroidery thread, cloth, and paint.
Collaboration with farmers and organizations was a fundamental part of “The Experience of Farmers.” I collaborated with eight Lutheran churches from Kansas – from Belleville, Beloit, Concordia, Courtland, Glasco, Mankato, Norway, and Scandia. The churches, through the City of Glasco, provided matching funds for a Grassroots Grant from the Kansas Arts Commission to fund interviews with farmers from each church. I believe the churches were interested in this project as an outreach project offering farmers a chance to talk about their concerns in a way that would reach an audience beyond their local communities. I was also granted a month-long residency at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in Minnesota to work on the project. Assistance in locating other farmers for interviews was provided through Jerry Jost of the Kansas Rural Center, friends and family. Farmers from the Newton, Kansas, area and Lawrence, Kansas, area were also interviewed for this project, as well as farmers from Nebraska and Minnesota.
“The Experience of Farmers” has been exhibited in libraries, coffee shops, peace centers, galleries, conferences, the state capitol, and other spaces in the Kansas communities of Topeka, Lawrence, Newton, Concordia, Kansas City, and Winnipeg, Manitoba.