Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kudos to John Margolies and ROADSIDE AMERICA

Art book publishing house, Taschen has produced a great new volume: John Margolies: Roadside America. Available now, everywhere, and doing well on, Roadside America has 400 of John’s iconic photographs and a very readable text by Phil Patton, C. Ford Peatross, edited by Jim Heimann. You can read Leland Payton's review on amazon.

We’ve been fans of John’s work since discovering one of his earliest books (The End of the Road: Vanishing Highway Architecture in America) and we’ve been friends since we waylaid him as he carried a truly great pig sign through a NYC Pier antique show in 1985. Our common lust for that sign turned into conversation and discovery of many more shared interests. We’ve acknowledged his work in our own books.

John Margolies, Crystal Payton and some clown named Ronald McDonald!

In the days of two-lane highways with unrestricted access to individual entrepreneurs, there was an explosion of roadside expressionism. John recognized the remarkable landscape created by the individualistic structures in the brief flowering of Mom-and-Pop commercial design before roadsides and downtown business districts were gobbled up by corporations.

John has a consistent, disciplined approach to his Kodachrome-only photography that expresses his understanding of the subject without becoming sentimental or nostalgic. He gives enough context – but not too much. Patience was key – waiting for the sun to shed the right light. This big city photog didn’t mind asking Wyoming cowboys to move their pick-up trucks so he could get the right straight-on shot of a neon-encrusted bar. His memory for these icons is phenomenal – considering they are scattered across the country and across decades of photo safaris. Driving through Arkansas, we spotted an out of the way taxidermy business with bas relief rabbit in concrete over its door. We thought sure we’d discovered it. But – alas for us - when we called him with the news not only had he already photographed it, but he described the road it was on, the angle it faced and other points essential to taking a Margolies shot of the place. See Brown’s Taxidermy Studio of Camden Arkansas on page 73 of Roadside America.

Go to John's Web site to explore his remarkable vision and bibliography. Lucky for all of us, the Library of Congress has begun to acquire John's photographs with the intention of preserving them and making them available to future generations – priceless!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Osage River and a chance encounter

Recently, I was settled in a dark corner of the State Historical Society of Missouri (Columbia, Missouri) focused intently on the screen of a microfilm reader, trying to decipher badly focused text of a yellowed 1933 newspaper, when a voice penetrated my fog – “Crystal Payton?” The voice belonged to Sean McLachlan, pelagic and prolific, self-designated “Midlist Writer” who actually resides in Madrid Spain. My mental jump from 1933 to 2010 took a couple of minutes, but the brain finally locked in. Pretty remarkable crossing of paths … Sean is in Columbia for a couple of weeks to research a new Missouri book – this one on Gen. Joe Shelby’s 1863 raid into Missouri from Arkansas; his other work in progress is on Ethiopia. His interests are global (travel) and local (he's got a new series on Missouri's own Jesse James) – and we meet on the playing field of Missouri regional history!
My date with microfilm was to advance our research into the background and politics of the building of Harry S. Truman Dam and Reservoir on the Osage River. Between the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 and the closing of Bagnell Dam on the Osage in 1931, the Corps of Engineers overcame their resistance to the concept of dam/reservoir projects for flood control. They were looking for dam sites in the early ‘30s and haven’t changed that mindset since. So the reels of “The Clinton Eye” a weekly paper in the county seat of Henry County we felt might hold early gems. Worth a look-see, anyway ….
FYI – the new book is The Osage River: paddlefish, prairies, farms & villages, dams & reservoirs, imperial Indians, explorers, slickers, sportsmen, tourists & various violent, litigious & noteworthy events in the history of the Osage River Valley

Right now we're looking at 300+ well laid out, color illustrated pages.

 (above) Leland looks over the Osage River valley from a bluff off Highway 17, east of Tuscumbia. The view is toward the abandoned Henley railroad bridge.

Catching up included sending Sean a copy of On the Mission in Missouri and Fifty Years Ago: A Memoir, which we published after Mystery of the Irish Wilderness. Father Hogan’s account of life on the rapidly settling Missouri frontier and through the Civil War in northern Missouri is a lively read by itself. His recollection of growing up in County Limerick, Ireland in the 1830s and ‘40s is a real snapshot of the times leading up to and the beginning of the Potato Famine. We couldn’t just leave them on the shelf … so this volume contains both memoirs and the biographical information I gleaned from diocesan archives.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Saturday, January 2, 2010

HOGAN THE HORSEMAN: Equestrian adventures in his Irish childhood

As in childhood the world over, play can teach useful skills for later, grown-up lives. In John Hogan’s case, his roustabout schoolboy days found him learning to ride quadrupeds (in this account, donkeys in the field) in a rough field in County Limerick – a skill that proved invaluable later in life as he traversed often rough terrain in sparsely settled Missouri, north and south, on horseback. True to the Irish love of horses, Hogan remembers many of his mounts, their sturdy service and his care of them, feeding and rubbing them down after a long day’s journey.

From Fifty Years Ago: A Memoir -
Riding was one of our favorite sports in those days. We usually indulged in it on school holidays, or when the master was sick, which meant we were scott-free until he had got over the measles. Our riding-course comprised two large adjoining fields, called Barnhill and Feahmoor, which were traversed by lines of hillocks with sharp ascents and declivities and by steep earthen dikes or ramparts curtained by water. This was the topography of Feahmoor, where the riding exploits took place. The Barnhill was rather more rocky, and therefore more suggestive of cracked skulls and broken bones of inexpert young jockies. These fields, to the great delight of us youngsters, had a never-failing supply of lively, well-fed donkeys, young and old. Old donkeys were not boys' first choice, on account of their vicious habits, of biting their riders legs and rushing their riders against thorny hedges and stone walls. Young donkeys were more choice, as more inexperienced in warfare with bad boys, who usually wished to enjoy a ride without being put hors de combat.

To ride a fast young donkey and to hold on his back trotting and galloping and in spite of hoisting, kicking, and rearing, constituted a boy an undergraduate in assmanship. But the honor of a diploma was reserved for the final test, to be made with the rider's face towards the donkey's tail. At this tournament, it was against the rules, and was inconvenient besides, to use a bridle; but the rider might hold on to the wool as best he could. Success achieved under these circumstances was proclaimed by the whole field with vociferous rejoicing. Discomfiture, on the other hand, never failed to be followed by roars of side-splitting laughter, especially if the young knight-errant should happen to land heels up in a mud-puddle or in a ditch of water. Not every boy, after a defeat or two of that kind, would be willing to try it again; and boys with soiled jackets and pants and muddied shirt-tuckers were usually not gallant enough to face their mammas at home, for full well they knew what strong faith these mammas had in the virtue of the tough birch twig that was kept ready for use and that was well seasoned.