Monday, December 1, 2008

In Praise of the Common Folk

"The essence of America lies not in the headlined heroes, but in the everyday folks who live and die unknown, yet leave their dreams as legacies."

***Alan Lomax

Let's take a break from food. I think, we can afford to do this after a weekend of feasting. Can't we?

Last week I confessed my love for chuck wagon cooking, and in that entry I snapped some photos from a book of photographs featuring the work of Erwin E. Smith. Here's a photo of Mr. Smith with his trusty horse.

Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947) was a native Texan who studied painting and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago and the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He turned to photography in his early twenties when he realized that the cowboy culture of his native state was slowly vanishing. During this period in his life when he wasn't in school, he worked as a cowhand throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and he used photography to document the work and lifestyle of his fellow cowboys.

You can find many of his photographs displayed right alongside the works of Russell and Remington at the outstanding Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Each time I view Mr. Smith's photographs, I give thanks. I'm grateful for all who document and sing the praises of the common folk. Woody Guthrie. Dorothea Lange. Studs Terkel. My fellow bloggers.

I guess this is one reason I blog. I want to document what most people refer to as flyover country. Erwin Smith wrote, "From the first time I laid eyes on the sun burnt plains of the West, with its grand scenery, have been in love with its still, enchanted solitude. Its change of colors no artist can portray." Like Smith, I possess the same love for the landscape and people of the Great Plains, and I strive to share my passion with others. In the future, I plan on displaying a little more local color here at the Greasy Skillet.


Sarah said...

And good reasons they are. Being able to stand in a place where you can see the land meet the sky miles and miles away is an experience everyone should have. That's the kind of thing that will put you in your place in existence, that's for sure. The Erwin Smith collection at the Amon Carter is really something special; I waited tables just up the street in college and would swing by the Amon Carton and the Kimball just to see the kinds of art that Texas and the Great Plains have inspired.

nella said...

Thank you! Every time we drive through the Flint Hills we always pay tribute to those who went before us in the covered wagons. Can you even imagine? I cannot. Those explorers and settlers were made of hearty stock.
I too love the Great Plains.

Rebel said...

What a good post. I too love the old pictures and stories. I read a lot of history and the best is reading about the 'common folk'. Thanks.

muddywaters said...

Sarah: I agree. The Great Plains always humble me, and it is a spiritual experience. Some claim that this is the reason Texas inspires and produces so many great singer songwriters. I might have to agree that the landscape has something to do with it.

I always feel a bit overwhelmed when I travel through the Texas panhandle, and it takes awhile to find my place in the world.

The Amon Carter is a treasure. I sometimes feel like Ft. Worth is underappreciated as a city. There really is a lot to do and see in the area.

Nella: I hope to do a post on the Flint Hills in the near future. It would be an opportunity to take some great photographs, and track down some good food. I really enjoy William Least Heat Moon's book PrairyErth, which is about Chase County in the Flint Hills.

Rebel: I agree. If you really want a good view of history, view it from the people at the bottom of the social ladder.

muddywaters said...

I just read an interview with Kent Haruf and Peter Brown who have a new book of photography out called West of Last Chance. In the interview, Haruf states the following about the Great Plains: "You have to know how to look at this country. You have to slow down. It isn't pretty, but it's beautiful."

This is so true.

In the interview, Peter Brown talks about a project he's been working on for six years with five other photographers. They've been photographing the Llano Estacodo in Texas. What a great project!

Anonymous said...

Muddy wrote:
"I guess this is one reason I blog. I want to document what most people refer to as flyover country."

And you do it so well.

I'm East Coast born and bred, and have only recently realized what I have been missing all of my life. After one year in the high plains, now the claustrophobic enclosures of Appalachia feels like a foreign country.