Adams in the 1840s. Residence of Alexander D. Stanley
Today, George Payne takes us to rural New York. An abandoned farm in the Town of Adams in the North Country.
The abandoned farm is iconic in the American imagination — simultaneously making visible both an ideal and its vanishing.
In his 1964 classic,The Machine in the Garden, Leo Marx identifies a major theme in literature of the nineteenth century: the dialectical tension between the pastoral ideal in America and the rapid and sweeping transformations wrought by machine technology.
In the 1930s, the pastoral ideal of the farm is not so much threatened by the machine, but by the darker side of capitalism: Dust Bowls, Oakies, bankruptcy and foreclosures.
In George’s 21st century version, we feel the haunting tones of those Depression artists, Burchfield and Sheets. We may also feel agribusiness lurking in the background, rendering the family farm unprofitable.
But George’s montage is about both loss and renewal. In the last frame, in the upper left, we see a still painted red barn.
“Abandoned Farmhouse” — Charles Ephraim Burchfield – Drawing (1932) Charles Burchfield painted the American scene, particularly in the 1930s when the drab streets and weatherbeaten buildings of the small towns and surrounding country near his home in upstate New York were a dominant theme. As an artist, Burchfield evolved alone and independently, isolated from the mainstream of European and American art. He preferred to be called a romantic-realist, and wa-tercolor was his preferred medium . His technique of heavy, overlap- ping strokes on large surfaces gave his work a power and solidity more commonly associated with oil. Abandoned Farmhouse exemplifies Burchfield’s ability to combine “the spirit of landscape with the soul of the house.”
Abandoned by Milliard Sheets (1933). Sheets’ oil-on-canvas has come to symbolize the Great Depression. At first glance, the focus of the work seems to be the wild and uncontrollable forces of nature, there is a spiritual quality to the painting, however, a second glance unveils an ominous, darker narrative. Under a forebodingly turbulent sky, horses move through a tangle of overgrown brush and fallen trees. The eye finally rests on a dilapidated windmill, and only then do the deserted farm buildings come into focus, as does the real meaning of the painting. It is a representation of American society brought to its knees by economic collapse, where even the family farm – iconic national symbol of self-reliance – has come to ruin. The mystical sense of the canvas dissolves into the brutal material reality that people were driven from the land and their properties repossessed by banks, a story that has once again become sadly familiar to millions of Americans.
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College.
I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism.
Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones. So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are are invited to join.
I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.”
Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.