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Landscapes & Livestock

My friend Reed coined a name for my decorating style: he calls it “Early Neglectic” and I can’t disagree. My inclinations are Victorian; my eye is eclectic; my threshold of clutter remarkably higher than your average hoarder. So organizing the show-within-the-show for the upcoming Agincourt exhibit has been an opportunity to reflect. The question du jour is this: Why do we collect what we collect? I’ve written about this some time ago and probably will again.

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Agincourt’s “Community Collection” began in 1912 and has grown slowly, the way clouds change their shape, their position; the way years have appeared on my face and hands without notice (or permission!). It’s been challenging to create a collection that pretends a century of organic evolution, gradual incremental change absent a single guiding hand. When you see the show, don’t dust for prints.

The people of Agincourt and Fennimore county acquired art in a number of ways and for a similar breadth of reasons. They bought it or found it or received it as gifts. Some of it only comes out at Thanksgiving when Aunt Harriet arrives for dinner. As far as I know, none of it was stolen. I’m also guessing that most of it was acquired outside the community, during travel for business or pleasure, which raises the question “What was the earliest local “gallery” selling art for decorative purposes?” [I’ll have to get back to you on that.] But travel to larger centers of culture like Omaha and Des Moines must have been frequent; Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Kansas City were a bit farther but their cultural lamps burned more brightly. Living in Fargo, I’ve seen us accused of lock-step adoration of the Twin Cities; we echo them here regardless of the appropriateness or applicability of what they’ve sung or built or crafted or read or said. And we’ve seen any number of Twin Citians arrive here in the boondocks with “Thank God I’ve arrived to show you what culture is all about” written on their faces. Haute culture does trickle down, I’m told.

There is another way to view the generation of culture, however: the belief that bubble-up populism doesn’t have to produce the simpering shlock of another Thomas Kinkade. [Excuse my elitism.] I know and value those people among us who say “Let’s hang out together and figure what the hell art is all about”. And I have enough faith in that process to imagine it happening in Agincourt.

It’s gratifying to tell you that “Landscapes & Livestock” consists of fifty-five pieces so far, including this delightful 1936 aquatint by Czech-American artist Jan C. Vondrous [1884-1956].


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