Everybody has a story to tell, and Lawrence artist Lora Jost is listening.
"The Experience of Farmers," on display through Aug. 31 at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, is her most recent effort to collect stories of a common theme and to convey emotions and points of view through her art.
Jost doesn't consider herself a journalist or a farm activist, but the work she's produced could be viewed as both journalism and activism.
Financed by a Grassroots Grant from the Kansas Arts Commission and matching funds from Lutheran churches in eight Kansas communities, Jost set about collecting stories.
Equipped with a tape recorder and an inquisitive mind, the Newton native interviewed 42 farmers, farm family members and farm advocates for the work. In each of the 12 pieces included in the exhibit, she included her subjects' words on adjacent text panels or, in most cases, directly in the work itself.
In the collection Jost has communicated, on behalf of her subjects, such themes as the joys of farm life, the economic erosion of farm communities, perseverance in the face of nature, discrimination and a changing agricultural marketplace. The images and messages in the show run from the whimsical to the heartbreaking.
Jost, an illustrator, utilized two primary media in the creation of the pieces. The black-and-white images make use of a material called clay board, a white clay background covered in black ink, which is carefully removed with a sharp tool to reveal the white beneath.
In the intricate and beautiful piece "The Locust," Jost depicts the human ear listening to the sound of cicadas. The accompanying text tells the story of people who have never left the city and who have never heard the sounds of nature because they have been unobscured by urban noise.
Other works are collages, incorporating photographs, magazine clippings and cloth. "In Jamestown" uses photographs to juxtapose fading symbols of small-town farm economies with the rising fortunes of corporate agri-business.
In some of the work, the text is a major visual component of the piece. In "During the Hard Times," the canvas is almost entirely covered by the words of Jost's subject. In others, a few powerful words say so much that elaboration might only dilute the sentiment. The text incorporated in "I do not intend to voluntarily leave my land" is the title itself.
Though Jost's grandfather was a farmer, her memories of the farm are dim. The project was less an outgrowth of her own family history than as an outgrowth of a previous project, "Weathering the Storm: Stories of Perseverance," which also was based on a series of interviews but did not incorporate text as a visual element to the same extent.
Jost prefers her work be seen in what she refers to as alternative spaces. "The Experience of Farmers" has been seen at the Lutheran Synod meeting in Kansas City, Mo., at Peace Connections in Newton and as a rare exhibit by a non-Latino artist at the Mattie Rhodes Counseling and Art Center in Kansas City, Mo. Next year, the show will be seen at the Heritage Museum in Winnipeg, Canada.
The work has been shown in the communities where Jost conducted her interviews, and has been well-received. "Show it to people in the cities," one farmer said to her.
That desire would suggest that Jost was successful in her goal for the project.
"I want them to know something about the culture of farming today and that farmers have concerns that impact all of us," she said. "I want them to see in the work the big range of emotions and the sense of loss of a way of life."
Jost's next project is a collaboration with muralist Dave Loewenstein. The two are working on several book projects, documenting murals across Kansas. They plan a travel guide and a technical manual for artists.