{ Courage & Purpose }

July 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Katie asked me to join her on a quest. I looked at a calendar. After three weeks of action (teaching and working), I’d get four days of rest, then another week and a half on the road. I consulted the calendar again, back to 1999 when my family moved to Lebanon and this calm, curious, dark-haired girl became my best friend. It’s been nearly five years since we’ve had so many days together. And after being surrounded by teenagers coming of age and finding their passions at the Missouri Scholars Academy, here was a chance to observe a woman I love and respect act that out in real life. Of course I said yes.

For most of the trip I played sidekick, at turns described as a “friend from highschool” or “travel buddy,” though personally I regard our friendship with holy reverence. Not that I desire such a lofty introduction. This was Katie’s trip. She wanted to imagine a possible future as a typographer or possibly even a punchcutter. As we traveled east to realize her dreams, I happily acted as cook, driver, navigator and historian. Every good expedition needs a crew, and this? This was a good expedition.

2015-07-09 19.21.58

Sancho Panza and Don Quixote at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

Katie’s goals were simple: 1.) Meet two of the only printers left in the country who still cut their own type and 2.) See some of said country while we’re at it. In a practical sense, the typographers will hopefully inform her grant application to study typographic punch-cutting. In a mystic sense, the characters are helping guide her toward a mysterious, anachronistic niche tradition and toward fully actualized personhood. Seriously!

Katie has loved letters as long as I’ve known her. In 5th grade, we were members of the Boswell Book Club. Throughout middle and high school, we modpodged magazine clips, ransom-note style, to anything that wouldn’t move. We co-edited the highschool newspaper and also created a literary magazine. I remember when our journalism teacher showed us DaFont, a website for downloading fonts. We clicked through pages after page of type, searching for the right font for the right application. It was my first time witnessing my friend fall in love.

Years later, after slamming through French and English degrees at MU and carrying a headstrong babychild into the world, Katie was sitting in a workshop in Lyon, France, where she lived for a year. As I understand it, she often went to art classes at a museum, and the work was crafty and pleasant. On this day though, typographers presented their craft, and that old fascination with the printed letter shuddered awake.

Courage & Purpose, at Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press in Asuelot, New Hampshire.

Courage & Purpose, at Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press in Ashuelot, New Hampshire.

“To be there and see them taking it so seriously, it was very inspiring,” Katie told Julia Ferrari, of Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press, one of the printers we visited. Julia smiled and nodded knowingly. She had run Golgonooza side by side with her partner, Dan Carr, since they were 24-year-old poets forging an occupation with meaning — printing art books, down to the elemental level of cutting, casting and setting type — in an antique building hundreds of miles from home. Even then it was a daring, potentially irrational thing to do. And because of their courage, countless devastatingly beautiful books exist that would otherwise not be in this world. Dan died recently, but his spirit lives on as Julia openly grieves his absence and learns his half of the craft. She told us stories, read his poetry, and showed us their equipment. Seeing how seriously they took their roles was very inspiring, to me. So was this little block, pictured above. Funny how a few letters, carefully arranged, can awaken so many feelings.

I wish my dear friend all the best fortune as she goes forward and can’t yet express what good this trip did for pursuing my own dreams. Hopefully Katie will get her grant. And just as we had collaborated so often as teenagers, maybe we can work together again, say, on a magazine. After all, isn’t this what that’s all about?

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{ “Cool Pastoral Splendor” kicks off a new series of rural field guides }

April 23, 2015 § 1 Comment

M12, an international rural arts collective, just published two cool little books. From a publications standpoint, they’re really interesting: small “field guides” of ephemera, published as a series. Like erudite zines. Here’s what M12 said about the project in an email, sent yesterday:

The Center Pivot Series is produced by Last Chance Press (M12) in collaboration with Jap Sam Books. Each of the volumes is produced in a limited edition of 250 copies and formatted as a small field guide. Through interdisciplinary approaches, this series explores and connects the changing realities of rural landscapes and communities around the world. The books present an array of curated notes, documents, and research ephemera combined with images, poetry, and more formal visual and written works. Each volume is assembled and edited by M12 Studio. M12 is pleased to be working closely with publisher Jap Sam Books and designer Peter de Kan on these editions. The “spinning horse” logo for the Last Chance Press books and records has been designed by American artist Star Wallowing Bull (Ojibwe-Arapaho, b. 1973).

Cool Pastoral Splendor (No. 01)
“Cool Pastoral Splendor includes a selection of pictures from Richard Saxton’s Rural Research Archive and accompanying writings by Kurt Wagner. Saxton and Wagner are among a rare breed of artists focusing on the non-heroic, psychic and lyrical unfolding of daily events. Both Saxton and Wagner infuse the work with their own rural experiences, but no single genre or culture captures the whole of these intentions. Cool Pastoral Splendor leaves us in search of beauty hidden in plain sight.”  -Kirsten Stoltz

An Equine Anthology (No. 02)
“An Equine Anthology stitches together non-linear histories, testimonies, and interpretations of equine culture from the American Southwest and beyond. Far from representing binaries of the romantic and mundane, of personality and commodity, An Equine Anthology presents the reader with a broad topographical view of the horse, an image that reaches well beyond that of American mythology. M12’s anthology combines poetics with research methodologies that delve into the unseen, hidden, and overlooked to create a work that is greater than the sum of its parts.”  – Sanjit Sethi, Executive Director of the Santa Fe Art Institute

M12 is primarily concerned with art, research, education and outreach, so it makes sense for them to culminate their work into publications. They started with a book chronicling their ten years of work, so now I’m interested to see where the Center Pivot Series goes.

{ Making Impossible Things Possible }

December 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

In Harper’s “Readings” last month, there’s a clever excerpt from Ways of Curating, a new book by Hans Ulrich Obrist. He is the codirector of exhibitions and programs and of international projects at the Serpentine Galleries in London. I love what he said at face value, but it also struck me in regard to my own future projects:

“Boetti told me that if I wanted to curate, I should under no circumstances do what everybody else was doing—just giving artists a certain room and suggesting that they fill it. More important would be to talk to the artists and ask them which projects they could not realize under existing conditions. Ever since, this has been a central theme of my exhibitions. I don’t believe in the creativity of the curator. I don’t think that the exhibition-maker has brilliant ideas around which the ideas of the artists must fit. Instead, the process always starts with a conversation, in which I ask the artists what their unrealized projects are and then find the means to realize them. At our first meeting, Boetti said curating could be about making impossible things possible.”

As I meditate on running a platform for writers and artists, especially in a region where they aren’t very well cultivated, this kind of thought has come to mind: By providing a space for expression, it becomes your joy and responsibility to help artists realize their vision. (Obrist again: “I think of my work as that of a catalyst – and sparring partner.” And, “It’s worth thinking about the etymology of curating. It comes from the Latin word curare, meaning to take care.” And, “I think a good curator is like a good chef. They understand the city’s needs – and fulfil and challenge them.”)

I also think about this kind of think as a writer and an artist. I have so many ideas. Creative projects, collaborations, cultural dissections and juxtapositions, ecological solutions proposed in new and interesting ways. Now, I don’t usually pitch these ideas to established publications. What’s the point, right? I know the drill: front-of-book, feature well, back-of-book. There are prescribed formulas, and especially as a fairly unestablished writer, anything other than the standard format seems unattainable.

Of course, as I write this, I think, “Geezus, Casagrand, way to be defeatist.” The one time I did suggest something out of the ordinary, it was accepted and made into something. So . . . maybe writers should act bolder, too.

Either way, it feels right to establish something fresh on the foundation of “making impossible things possible.” I think that’s an alright start. « Read the rest of this entry »

{ Danny Wilcox Frazier: “it takes everyone focusing attention” }

November 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hi, today I found a photographer from Iowa City, Iowa, who I’m pretty excited about. He did a Q&A titled “Danny Wilcox Frazier’s Ode to the American Heartland” with National Geographic, for which he also shoots.

The opening day of deer season. Kalona, Iowa. 2005, by Danny Wilcox Frazier.

There’s talk about his start, how he travels, access, poverty, and rural societies’ “deep connection to the land.” His pictures are often shaky and a little stark, but told (at least, it seems to me) with a deep affection for the people and communities he photographs.

Describing a forthcoming book that “will bring together all the places [he has] been photographing over the past decade,” Frazier says this:

I’m a small piece in this huge puzzle. It takes me, it takes other artists, it takes academics, it takes historians, it takes everyone focusing attention, and then the public will react and put pressure on, and we’ll see some kind of change. There are pockets of it all over the country, and food is a big part of that. If you look at communities where they are paying close attention to sustainability in agriculture, if they’re paying close attention to the quality of their food, if they’re paying close attention to the quality of their groundwater, those are communities where we are seeing local economies grow, we’re seeing the health of the population improve, and that’s the hope. That’s what we need, and we need other photographers and writers to highlight. We need publications to highlight that.

Go read the interview. And check out his portfolio with photos from Iowa, Detroit, the Badlands, and more. And while you’re at it, check out his Instagram. And then you might as well check out my Instagram, where I hand-deliver backroad Missouri scenes like a fully disrespected Baptist Bible Church bus. Happy December! « Read the rest of this entry »

{ Magazine + Art Gallery. Two Forms, Same Mission? }

October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Joey Los is a sculptor from Gasconade County, Missouri, who works with hot molten metal, electricity and fire. Her work will be on display and on auction at the McKittrick Farmer's Mercantile. What if there were more spaces for regional artists to show their work?

Joey Los is a sculptor from Gasconade County, Missouri, who works with hot molten metal, electricity and fire. Her work will be on display and on auction at the McKittrick Farmer’s Mercantile. What if there were more spaces for regional artists to show their work?

I’ve been thinking about how, if I want to create a magazine that elevates culture and sense of place, the book’s leverage could support other vehicles achieving the same goal. The Texas Tribune’s 60+ events/year is one example of this concept (see, “8 Lessons Learned from New Journalism Business Models”), and The Intentional hosts book swaps and writing workshops. Orion, too, runs workshops and monthly web events, posts jobs/internships, and promotes reader meet-ups. Those are just some from the top of my head.

This, coupled with thoughts from last week, has me thinking: At the Dream Magazine, if we’d employ artists and photographers anyway, why not also feature their work in galleries? Keep a small one going in the lobby of our Dream Office, and work with businesses in the distribution area to host pop-up galleries on their walls. We’d cultivate culture and support regional artists beyond the pages of the mag, and at the same time, promote our brand and raise a few extra funds (from places like, say, The Missouri Arts Council, which just announced its 2015 grants). This seems totally possible, but I’m wondering if other magazines and nonprofits are doing this. Please share links in the comments if you know of any. « Read the rest of this entry »

{ Art about staying put }

October 6, 2014 § 2 Comments

I have this friend Paige, who totally gets inside my head sometimes. She sends me articles about place and community, and it infiltrates my brain-parts and strikes me when I’m, say, walking to work through alleys in Missouri’s capital city. Like today, as I passed a half dozen beautiful German buildings with boarded-up windows.

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What can we do with that? I bet Paige would know. Most recently, she sent the following items for consideration. (She’ll send stuff to you, too, if you follow her on Twitter.)

{ Rick Lowe: communities and social context as art }

From the L.A. Times:
“You have to spend years developing relationships to be able to do something like this,” he told me at the time. “It’d be an arrogant disregard of a community to come in and think you can grasp all the complexities of a place in a short time.”

This offers a welcome antidote to the art world’s relentlessly globe-trotting ways, one in which art is made on the run from Miami to Berlin to Hong Kong. Work like Lowe’s is the opposite. It is about observing, learning, considering, and, with the help of others, working to build something new. It is about staying put. The art world could certainly use more of that.”

{ Theaster Gates: restoring homes for public art }

From Paige: “I love that this guy [^] won a grant and am excited to see what he does with it. Also, it reminds me of Theaster Gates, a wonderful Chicago artist who, according to Wikipedia, is a “Social Practice Installation Artist.” I guess Lowe could be considered that as well? Anyway, one of Gates’s most famous installations is the Dorchester Projects in south side Chicago. Check it out!”

“After making his home in a former storefront on South Dorchester Avenue, Gates purchased the neighboring two-story vacant house and initiated a design project to restore and reactivate the home as a site of community interaction and uplift. The success of this project led to the acquisition of a third building across the street, which with the support of grants will be redesigned as a space for film programming and artist residencies.” (Read more on the Preservation Nation blog.)

To keep this line of thought alive, I started a Pinterest board of “Revitalized Spaces.” Follow along, if you’re into that.

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{ Plato, Missouri: Center of the U.S. (a new photozine project by Ben Hoste) }

September 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

Have you ever seen Plato, Missouri, looking so good? I hadn’t. But I do really really appreciate when people pay attention to tiny rural places. So I’m really really excited that photographer (and University of Missouri J-School alum!) Ben Hoste is coming back all the way from New York to document a place just 30 miles from where I grew up. If that makes you excited too, you can back the project on Kickstarter!

For the 2010-2020 decade, Plato will be known as the exact population center of the United States, one point on an persistently westward path, which Ben elegantly says, “can be seen as the echo of manifest destiny.” He’s making photozines out of the pictures he’s taking there.

You know what I appreciate? Commitment. This will be the second time he visits and makes a zine. I also appreciate universalizing experiences:

I choose to focus my camera on seemingly momentless situations in an effort to make photographs absent of time. My goal is to explore both a local and universal understanding of America through the people and landscape of Plato, Missouri.

I think Ben makes a good enough case for his project, but just so you know, all my most talented photojournalism friends confirm he’s awesome, too. I’m admittedly a little late to the game (he was already 122% funded when I finally pledged some money), but dangit I want those photozines! If you want one to, go back it yourself, because he’ll only print as many as get backed.

(P.S. – Ben recently finished another local project, “Good Earth: Missouri’s Old Lead Belt.” It’s appropriately beautiful and eerie.)

(P.P.S. – Good Earth reminds me of Stacy Kranitz’s Appalachian photos.)

(P.P.P.S. – Speaking of documenting tiny places, remember that time I did a Q&A with the directors of Rich Hill?)

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