Everybody has a story to tell, and Lawrence artist Lora Jost is listening. “The Experience of Farmers,” on display at the National Agriculture Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs through August 31, is her most recent effort to collect stories of a common theme and convey a diversity of 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.
Working with a Grassroots grant from the Kansas Arts Commission and matching funds from Lutheran churches in eight Kansas communities organized through the city of Glasco, 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 has included her subjects words either on adjacent text panels, or in most cases, directly in the work itself.
In the collection Jost has communicated, on behalf of her subjects, themes ranging from the joys of farm life, the economic erosion of farm communities, perseverance in face of nature, discrimination and a changing agricultural marketplace. The images and messages in the show run from the whimsical to the heartbreaking.
The artist an illustrator utilized two primary media in the creation of the pieces included in the collection. 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, revealing 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 that have never left the city and who have never heard the sounds of nature, 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 almost overwhelming and 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 other’s, a few powerful words say so much that elaboration might only dilute the sentiment. The text incorporated in “I do not intent 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 was also 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, at Peace Connections in Newton and as a rare exhibit by a non-Latino artist at the Mattie Rhodes Center in Kansas City on it’s way to Bonner Springs. Next year the show will be seen at the Heritage Museum in Winnipeg, Canada.
Where the work has been shown in the communities where Jost’s interviews were conducted it 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 continues, “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 Lowenstein. The two are working on several book projects, documenting murals all across the state of Kansas. They plan a travel guide and well as technical manual for artists.