Where the road Y's

Where the road Y's
is where I like to be

Sunday, January 11, 2009

West Plains Road Trip

On the second day of 2009, I attempted my first road trip for the new year. It was not as successful as I hoped it would be, but overall I had a great day.

I headed to West Plains in search of the Harlin Museum and Lennis Broadfoot's artwork... Unfortunately, Harlin Museum is only open from April - October and I had to make due with seeing Mr. Broadfoot's work in a book published by the museum.

This fall was the first time that I gave serious thought to the artwork that comes out of the Ozarks. While Todd Lowery's work is not the first artwork that I became aware of, his is the first that I held my ancestry up against. Lowery, using his art, set out to confront the hillbilly image. Using his personal experience, and comments made by his peers, Lowery produced art that illustrates the backward, uneducated, and unkempt. When I view Lowery's art, I come away with the feeling that he is attempting to take ownership of all that is presumed negative of the Ozarks and therefore negate any power that it holds over Ozarkian citizens.

I must admit that Lowery's work makes me uncomfortable because he is putting out a negative image in a serious manner. We have all seen the moonshine jugs, or the reclining barefooted hillbilly used for tourism purposes, but Lowery's work is not meant to be sold in some truck stop along the highway.

Another Ozarkian artist, whose creations I admire, is Monta Black Philpot. You can find her work in Mena Arkansas or view her Ouachita Gallery on the web. I find a lot of the images to be a little bit romantic, but I can relate to the folks she portrays. They remind me of relatives from my past even though Mena AR is about as far away from Pulaski County Missouri as you can get and still claim to be somewhere near the Ozarks.

The third artist that I became aware of when I was trying to do research on Philpot is Lennis Leonard Broadfoot, hence my ill-planned road trip to West Plains. He not only sketched pioneer Ozarkians, but also documented their stories. His mission was to present a character study of the folks who lived around him. He falls somewhere between Lowery and Philpot. Broadfoot's characters are neither unkempt caricatures nor are they dressed in their Sunday best, smiling for the artist.

I won't make the same mistake I made on this trip of coming into West Plains on a single mission. After I found the closed museum, with no note on the door explaining their seasonal hours, I decided to just head back home. As I got to the edge of town I discovered the Tourist Center. I figured, since I had driven all the way there, it would not hurt to stop in for a few minutes. After a short conversation with the folks running the tourist center, I discovered that West Plains' downtown is filled with second-hand stores, locally owned restaurants, and theatres. There is more than a small volunteer-ran museum to appreciate in this town that is working to revitalize its Ozark heritage. I am looking forward to a late spring road trip back across 60 E......