For the Weekend: From the Range to the Bayou

The Western Folklife Center offers a website well-worth visiting and revisting. Next weekend they host their 26th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering; while I’m looking forward to writing more about this event next week, I’d like to share something from one of the Center’s other programs, Deep West Video–whose mission is “to tell first-hand stories from the rural West that are rooted in the values of life on the land:”

Since 2000, the Western Folklife Center has been working with people from throughout the rural west to produce short videos and slide shows about their lives on the land. Using the tools of digital communication, these home-made productions are simple yet elegant; they are not glossy and commercial, but from the heart.

Deep West’s video site offers dozens of pieces that, when viewed together, weave a rich and varied narrative about life in the rural west. Here’s one of my favorites: Susan Church’s Kitchen on the Range. It’s a interesting look into life on a cattle ranch, phrased as a submission to a Martha Stewart Magazine kitchen-remodeling contest. Scroll down this page to view Kitchen on the Range. 

After spending some time with Deep West Videos, try Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana, a documentary produced by Nicholas R. Spitzer during his tenure as Louisiana State Folklorist. Also, as with every weekend, check out American Routes, his weekly public radio show that celebrates American music in all its diversity. The show cultivates the idea of “american music” in its widest sense, featuring “jazz, gospel and soul, old-time country and rockabilly, Cajun and zydeco, Tejano and Latin, roots rock and pop, avant-garde and classical.”

Coming of Age in Rural America, Without Health Care

I don’t think any position I’m going to get out of college will come with health insurance. I don’t know a single friend from college who has a job like that. A sick workforce only intensifies an already sick economy. It’s hard to work when you can’t afford eyeglasses for your astigmatism, dental work for your rotting teeth, or medicine for pneumonia. We’re constantly being told we are the future of the country, but we’re starting out a step behind.

As Congress continues to craft health care legislation, and the ideological arguments and talking points persist everywhere from the cable networks down to the local coffee shop, I think that we would be well-advised to hear this essay by Brittany Hunsaker recently broadcast on NPR.
The piece was produced by Ms. Hunsaker (in conjunction with Youth Radio) while she was interning at The Appalacian Media Institute, an organization in partnership with Appalshop that gives young people the opportunity “to use video cameras and audio equipment to document the unique traditions and complex issues of their mountain communities.” The AMI site offers visitors a number of videos and audio pieces on a diverse range of subjects.

A Minnesota Minute and Carl Gawboy

image by Carl Gawboy

The Blandin Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting rural Minnesota, created a series of one-minute television spots last year to commemorate the state’s 150th birthday and to celebrate its natural history. These pieces were produced in conjunction with The Bell Museum of Natural History and ran on local television stations during the prime-time viewing hours. The Minnesota Minute series was recently recognized with a regional Emmy Award.

These two organizations sponsor this site for the series, from which all 13 Minutes can be viewed and enjoyed. Below, Minnesota Minute features Carl Gawboy, a painter and a member of the Bois Fort Band of the Minnesota Ojibwe.
The excellent Minnesota Artists site offers both a slideshow and an interview with Mr. Gawboy. Here’s interviewer Suzanne Szucs introducing the artist:

And then there’s Carl Gawboy. Son of a Finnish mother and Ojibwe father (his parents fell in love over books), Gawboy grew up the youngest of 8 children in Ely where his mother inherited a farm. Trilingual in his youth (English, Finnish, Ojibwe) Gawboy began to draw before he could walk and knew he wanted to be a professional artist when he was four. His upbringing was “rural and woodsy” although he went to a “modern” school where he studied “interesting” things. An epiphany came when harvesting rice – “it was as interesting as it gets and my most Indian of experiences.” He decided his work needed to use his own experiences to tell the stories of his heritage. His images would emphasize the everyday experiences of Indians, not dwell upon romantic notions of an idealized people.

“Everything that I paint I actually did or saw… sometimes what I’ll do is move it back in time. It’s something that I have a part in or would try to do it so that I would know what it was like. These things [like getting together a group of students to make a birch bark canoe] gave me insights that I don’t think other people got. My work shows the culture and landscape of the region.”

Minnesota Public Radio also offers in its Voices of Minnesota series a visit with Carl Gawboy and Helen Blue-Redner, the former chairwoman of the Upper Sioux Community.