Wisconsin is perhaps best known for its lush dairy farmland, but did you know our state loses more than two family farms per day? The Rahr-West’s upcoming art exhibit restates the legacy of Midwest agriculture amid a state of continual shifts to large-scale factory farms.
“Long Time Passing” emphasizes the struggles, joys and challenges of small-farm life through the works of guest artists Roberta Condon and Lorraine Ortner-Blake.
“The messages that they have overlap with one another in their focus on history and, to some degree, lamenting the loss of the small farm in Wisconsin,” says Rahr-West Executive Director Greg Vadney. “But it’s also firmly planted, I believe, in memory.”
Ortner-Blake’s work plays with and subverts the naturalist image of the pitchfork-grasping farmer and his daughter in “American Gothic,” but also distorts the shape and proportions of the farmers and landscapes they work in, emphasizing the way we remember the more nostalgic aspects of farmlife. Condon’s soft pastels take inspiration from folk art with half realistic, half sketched farming landscapes with animals and farmers, often blending into the background. Her choice of striking, mismatched colors invokes the anachronism of farming’s past, whatever that may be, and our present received memories of it.
“They purposely eschew the romance of that farm from realism,” Vadney says, “but through our memories of the farm, we lament what has now gone.”
While the working world of agriculture is often something seen as unrelated to the fine arts, both Condon and Ortner-Blake grew up in a farm background, which was the muse for their current work.
“We take any opportunity we get to showcase artists that come from a background we’re not expecting,” Vadney says. “It gives, hopefully, members of our community the chance to see where art and agricultural history can dovetail together.”
Vadney says their art is something all Wisconsinites and art lovers will appreciate, whether they enter the exhibit with a farm background or not.
“I imagine it will trigger this collective memory of Wisconsin being an agricultural state, to help people reflect on the loss of agriculture on a small scale and help people continue with how to proceed and support small farmers at work,” Vadney says.
“Long Time Passing” opens April 18 and will run through August 1.