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Back to the land

Post #1421 • November 20, 2009, 12:50 PM • 33 Comments

In the comment thread on the watercolor of my cat, I quoted a Gene Logsdon line about preferring cows to people, and it prompted me to go look up what he's up to these days. Towards the end of graduate school and for a few years thereafter, I read a lot of literature associated with the back-to-the-land movement - Thoreau, the Nearings, Wendell Berry, and Logsdon. It's a little hard to explain why a person who had spent his entire existence in cities felt any draw to rural living, or believed that he could have made a reasonable attempt at doing so with a non-existent set of germane skills. Neverthless that reading made a lasting mark on me. I continue to adore Thoreau - we've only been awaiting the right circumstances for a trip to Walden, not even an hour from here. We had my mother read from a Wendell Berry poem at our wedding. And I remember ideas from Logsdon's The Contrary Farmer a decade after I read it.

Logsdon, it turns out, is blogging. This surprised me a bit to discover, as Berry, for one, loathes technology, and has expressed a desire to not see his work reproduced in electronic mediums. Logsdon has a more pragmatic approach - he would like to see more people discover the joy of rural living, and understands that certain technologies may help make that happen, as long as they don't become financial burdens, or worse, ways of thinking in their own right. He touched upon art in a recent post:

It is no surprise that gardening and farming inspire art. The partnership between nature and humans in the act of producing food can't help but produce beauty too. A shelf full of home-canned vegetables means food security, but the real reason we delight in them is that the food just looks so pretty sitting there in rows in the cellar. The act of laying by food is its own reward even before we eat the stuff.

The whole post is worth your time. I've written about Logsdon before in regard to his book Wyeth People, and I see that I've alluded to my flirtations with rural life there as well. I did build that computer, and I'm typing on it as we speak. (When the power supply died, a friend of mine and I were able to diagnose the problem and fix it for $40. Doing things yourself has lasting benefits.) Supergirl has expressed an interest in raising some chickens one day. Art has been a consistently urban phenomenon for six centuries, but it has never before had the Web. We may find ourselves out in the country yet. Rural land in New England continues to be as cheap as, well, dirt, and I've figured out that one of the secrets to a long-term career in art is keeping a low overhead. Now that John has put the Bavinger House in my head, a nacreous surface has begun to form around a similar project.

But then, we just took the dog for a walk in the Boston Common, dodging the rain showers, admiring the leaves on the grass, paying our respects to Robert McCloskey, and I wondered how we could live anywhere else. So it isn't time. Not yet.



Chris Rywalt

November 20, 2009, 2:34 PM

If you're going to go Thoreau, remember to get your aunt to do your laundry.



November 20, 2009, 8:39 PM

city v. country -- long time issue with me. Love the solitude & natural beauty of the country, find it very relaxing when I go. But the city has excitement, pace can be electric(in NYC anyway) & a lot of people, many of whom I couldn't do without. In art I prefer natural colors to synthetic (looking) ones, Frankenthaler over Elizabeth Murray any day, but then Analytic Cubism employs the grays & browns of Montmartre streets & facades, so even the city can be mined for beauty. In '86, Greenberg wrote that much of the best art was produced in the hinterland but that it still had to be "validated" in NYC (for better or worse, mostly worse one gathers from the context).


Chris Rywalt

November 20, 2009, 9:47 PM

As I mention from time to time, I was a Boy Scout and now I'm a Scout leader in my son's troop. We go camping about once a month or so. At some point last year we all went to bed Saturday night and overnight it started raining. I emerged from my tent Sunday morning to see that we'd left out all kinds of stuff -- napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, plates, and so on -- as if it never rains on a camping trip. It always rains. But we always forget. As I surveyed the site -- rain, trees, mud, rocks -- it occurred to me that I'd been seeing this exact scene for almost thirty years. And I'd now seen it enough.

The last trip we went on, a couple of weeks ago, was not at a regular camp but at the Ross Dock picnic area just north of the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River. Beautiful views of the moon rising over Fort Tryon park, of the Bridge in full regalia, in the daytime of the hawks swooping from their nests on the Palisades.

But it was cold all day and we weren't allowed to light fires and I looked out over the river to the lights of Manhattan and found it hard to believe that there was perfectly good civilization over there while I was standing, freezing, unshowered, looking forward to sleeping on the ground. I could almost feel Times Square, pulsating, warm, noisy, with plentiful food and drink and soft places to sit, right next door.

The country sucks.



November 20, 2009, 10:52 PM

Chris, What do you mean by 'the country'? You didn't even get out of the city! You might as well have pitched your tent in your back yard. When I think 'the country,' I think a hundred miles from nowhere.


Chris Rywalt

November 20, 2009, 11:56 PM

We never get a hundred miles from nowhere, but we do get out in the woods on some trips. That trip near the Bridge was not normal -- like I said, not even at a real campground.

Usually we're, say, 20 minutes from the nearest hospital. It's the middle of nowhere for New York City.



November 21, 2009, 10:06 AM

I love Wendel Berry. What's the story on the Bavinger house? It reminds me a little of Wharton Esherick's house in Paoli, Pa.



November 21, 2009, 11:19 AM

Bavinger House was designed by Bruce Goff for Gene and Nancy Bavinger who were opposed to "little boxes". When I was there, he had orchids growing in all the lower walls, which he watered with a garden hose. It was spectacular to view but hard to imagine as a "family" dwelling - no separation between adults and kids to speak of - but a great place for a single or couple, and for giving parties.

The twisty gnarly stunted Oklahoma blackjack oaks were everywhere outside and a nice setting. His studio was a salvaged dome up the walk away from the house with a heated part for working on basically one picture at a time, with the surrounding part for other activities. Quite a place but also hard to imagine selling to someone else. Seemed like you would be stepping into someone else's used underwear. It was not well waterproofed and the wood that forms the structure of its spiral roof has suffered greatly, I am told.

Goff, like most good artists, was not consistent. Another house he built in town was almost the polar opposite - for an eye doctor who looked at eyeballs all day so he wanted no curves when he came home. The only other house that Goff built that seemed similar was a "cave" house. Used the same native Oklahoma red stone.



November 21, 2009, 3:32 PM

This seems apt to a rural theme:

Chicken Kogo 1
Chicken Kogo 2
Chicken Kogo 3
Chicken Kogo 4

It's a small incense holder.



November 21, 2009, 3:34 PM

Actually, it might be a fat rooster.



November 21, 2009, 3:35 PM


"Every chicken that looks at you sideways - which is how they all look at you - is really saying what Thoreau said less succinctly: you are endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself." - Verlyn Klinkenborg



November 21, 2009, 6:14 PM

Given the position of the bird in photo #4 I assume "Chicken Kogo" is Japanese for "Chicken ready for the roasting pan".



November 21, 2009, 8:05 PM

Kogo means incense holder, OP. It's quite small, less than 3 inches in greatest dimension.


Chris Rywalt

November 21, 2009, 10:37 PM

Here I was sure "kogo" translated as "cheesy little garage sale salt shaker".



November 22, 2009, 1:19 AM

No Chris, that's Chicken Koons.


Chris Rywalt

November 22, 2009, 2:39 AM

I have an inspiration for an art piece: I'll cook, for a select group of gallery visitors, dishes named and designed for various art world luminaries. There'll be Chicken Koons, Currin Pork, Duck a la Damien, Joannou Gyro.



November 22, 2009, 9:24 AM

How about ham on rywalt


Chris Rywalt

November 22, 2009, 11:57 AM




November 22, 2009, 2:16 PM

Well, Chris, if you really want to impres your guests, serve them tea in cups like this:

Hagi 1
Hagi 2
Hagi 3
Hagi 4

You can casually mention the potter is the 12th generation of the same family, which has been making pottery since the latter XVI century.

The foot of the cup, by the way, is not damaged. It was made that way; the notching is typical of Hagi ware.



November 22, 2009, 3:14 PM

Jack that glaze is wild, with the pale blue and pink. I've never seen one like it. Was it a reduction firing? Did they have any info on it?



November 22, 2009, 3:38 PM

It's a modern piece, OP, but I don't have technical details. It may be a matter of alternating temperatures during firing. I've seen similar effects before, but more sudued, with less striking color contrast than here.



November 22, 2009, 3:47 PM

Something like this:

Water Jar 1
Water Jar 2



November 22, 2009, 3:53 PM

Actually, OP, the Hagi cup is somewhat reminiscent of Monet's Water Lilies, though I'm sure that was not deliberate.


Chris Rywalt

November 22, 2009, 5:05 PM

Nice to know Franklin's reading, at least.



November 22, 2009, 6:51 PM

Same feeling. Tha paintings are usually much darker.



November 22, 2009, 6:55 PM

I really like the shape of that water jar.



November 22, 2009, 7:08 PM

You might like this lithograph, Franklin:

Man with a Saw

It's a 1920s work by Frank Brangwyn.



November 22, 2009, 7:13 PM

Really fine, Jack. Where'd you find that?



November 22, 2009, 8:17 PM

Well, Tim, one can find practically anything online. Brangwyn was quite well known in his time, though now, like so many others who had talent and success, he's much more obscure.



November 22, 2009, 8:36 PM

What I meant, Jack, is how did you come to know about Brangwyn?

And, from back down the road, do you know of anyone who went beyond or added anything to what Callas did with the mad scene in Lucia?



November 22, 2009, 9:31 PM

I'm into prints, and that's how I came across Brangwyn's work, though he was also a painter. There are a great many superb graphic artists who are now virtually unknown outside serious print circles, as I expect you're aware, whose work is far more impressive (certainly to me) than that of many a star poseur du jour. Of course, it helps to love drawing.

My problem with Lucia is that I won't accept any fudging, negotiating or substitution. In other words, I expect dazzling technical virtuosity without a hint of insecurity or trade-off. It was written as a vocal showpiece, though obviously it was meant to be dramatically involving as well. Callas is a special case, but I think that, generally speaking, she's been put on too high a pedestal and not judged rigorously or objectively enough. I cannot deal with the whole cult of personality business and the abject swooning over "La Divina" regardless of what actually came out of her mouth at any given time.



November 22, 2009, 10:06 PM

Re Brangwyn, I hadn't heard of him.

Re Callas, you can imagine what a nose full of her cult status I've had, Dallas having been the only place she performed in (because of Rescigno) in the USA other than New York. Still, I give her her due; she owns Lucia, at least the mad scene, as far as I can tell.



November 23, 2009, 7:21 AM

That's a fine print. One bio I found says, "When asked about his place in the art world, Brangwyn described himself simply as 'a designer'."



November 23, 2009, 8:47 AM

I looked Brangwyn up and remembered his illustration work. I've seen collectors' volumes of classic old adventure stories illustrated by Brangwyn, ala N. C. Wyeth or Dean Cornwell, except, I think better than theirs, because Brangwyn's work was more exotic and extravagant.



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