A Visual Chronicle of Farm Life in the Midwest, Past and Present
As one of the major agricultural centers of the United States, Iowa has, in many ways, become synonymous with farm life, holding a place in the national imagination as the land of Grant Wood, endless fields, and both the joy and heartbreak associated with working the land. This fall, the works of Roberta Condon and Lorraine Ortner-Blake together evoke the stories, memories, shapes, and colors of Midwestern farm life, both past and present, in the joint exhibition Long Time Passing. The title, drawn from the song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” by Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger, similarly evokes a sense of inexorable change and lamentation for what has been lost.
The two artists, who are both based in Wisconsin, use different visual languages in their respective twenty-six works to communicate the subtle and readily apparent shifts in farm life over several generations. Condon was a bus driver who was laid off during the pandemic; she spent her days walking the nearby trails carved by glaciers moving during the Ice Age. The trails were dotted with farms and barns that became the catalysts for her abstractions. In vibrant and large pastels, Condon takes the basis of a representational scene and encourages it to swell into memories, moods, and affects. The starkness of her unpeopled landscapes is animated by pulsing colors and compositional rhythms, creating a mood of dynamism reflective of the constantly changing nature of life on the land.
Ortner-Blake’s paintings are rooted in her mother’s and her own reminiscences of life on their family farm. Spurred in part by her mother’s memory loss and inspired by the dream-like works of Marc Chagall, her domestic and farming scenes have an ethereal, floating quality in which nature and memory swirl together. Working in gouache, Ortner-Blake distorts traditionally fixed viewpoints and perspective with the result that scenes collide, objects and people are wildly out of scale, and the architecture of memory—elusive, fragmented, fluid—is magically evoked. In her work, vignettes, people, and the land all appear both tethered together and hovering apart in a perpetual cycle of intimacy and distance.
DuMA is the final stop of Long Time Passing, which has toured throughout the Midwest over the past three years. In Dubuque, the exhibition will be complemented by video profiles of local farmers representing a cross section of those who work the land around Dubuque: conventional and organic farmers, those new to farming and those whose families have farmed for generations. These videos bring the sentiments of Long Time Passing close to home, allowing visitors to better understand the lived contemporary experience of those around them.
Long Time Passing is both a celebration of regional talent and an elegy for rural communities, encompassing nostalgia, challenges, and ultimately the sense of self for those who work on and live off the land, itself a source of constant change.
Farmers hold a special place in our hearts. Stewards of the land, they work ceaselessly to put food on our tables, navigating climate change, price fluctuations, and production costs. Enjoy these interviews with area farmers, who describe the joys and challenges of farm life, echoing the sentiments of the exhibition, "Long Time Passing."
Produced by My Four Creative.
Christopher and Emily Appelman