Topeka author to speak on agriculture in Kansas literature

As an author and teacher, Thomas Fox Averill always has been fascinated with the Kansas landscape.

So when he was invited to give a talk at the Salina Public Library on Kansas literature dealing with agriculture and farm life, he was quick to accept.

“I teach Kansas literature, so it’s right up my alley,” said Averill, author of three novels and a professor of English at Washburn University in Topeka.

Averill’s talk will coincide with an exhibit at the library, “100 Years of Agriculture: Past, Present and Future,” that runs through Saturday. He will speak at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Prescott Room at the library, 301 W. Elm.

Averill will talk about literature that celebrates the Kansas landscape and farming communities, ranging from seed to harvest, settlement to auction, plowing to planting.

“It will be an overview of the perils, problems and passions of being agricultural people in the state of Kansas,” Averill said.

Through the discussion of books such as “Sod and Stubble,” a memoir by John Ise, writings by Kansas journalist William Allen White, poems written by those who lived through the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and other select novels and short stories, Averill hopes to illustrate the changes in environment, landscape, weather and technology that have affected agriculture in Kansas during the last 100 years.”I’ll talk about the cycles of boom and bust,” he said. “How farms grew bigger and towns are now farther apart. How the power of horses was replaced by mechanical horsepower. How weather has changed in the last 100 years.”

Averill said he wants to celebrate the values of the hardworking rural people of Kansas.

“The kinds of values that are celebrated among rural and farm writing are community, religious values and work ethic, which must always be there if you’re going to be a farmer,” he said. “Those kind of things have helped us survive the past 100 years and will help us survive the next 100 years.”

The exhibit, “100 Years of Agriculture: Past, Present and Future,” was created to celebrate the 100th anniversary this year of the Kansas State Fair. It will be displayed at the fair Sept. 7-16.

The exhibit consists of about 70 (so far) fiber and textile-based quilts and tapestries of a 2-foot by 2-foot size created by individuals from Kansas and 11 other states. Artists also included personal stories about their creations and relationships to the Kansas landscape and farmland.

About 60 works are on display at the Salina Public Library, including a collection of farm and agriculture-inspired paintings by elementary school students in Augusta and Topeka.

The exhibit was curated through the International Fiber Collaborative, founded in 2008 in Topeka and Huntsville, Ala. Its mission is to develop community programs that create collaborative opportunities in the arts and humanities, said Jennifer Marsh, founding project director of IFC in Topeka and a visiting professor of art at Washburn University.

“It’s a way to use arts and crafts as a method of learning about all kinds of subjects,” she said.

The IFC has partnered with the Kansas Humanities Council to organize five exhibitions, along with a series of public lectures and discussions. The objective for “100 Years of Agriculture” is to collect 100 interpretive pieces of textile art, Marsh said, along with personal stories from the artists about their relationship with the Kansas landscape.

Doug Waters, of Hugoton, submitted an acrylic, oil and watercolor painted vintage land ownership map on canvas he called “At the 100 Meridian.” He said it was “about the duality of farming on the high plains, specifically in the northwest corner of Kansas. The duality that has been created over the past century between family-owned farms and huge corporate farms.”

Kathleen Ronnebaum, of Baileyville, created a machine-pieced “crazy quilt” with muslin foundation for her submission, “It’s About the Land.” Her description: “To show the diversity of the Kansas landscape and the crops that are grown here. Below the state ‘map,’ there is a subterranean section revealing layers of soil, rock, petroleum and water. Above the map is the wide open sky with a bright sun. I wanted to show the diversity of our state, which is far more interesting and beautiful than most people realize.”

At some point after the Kansas State Fair, “100 Years of Agriculture” will become part of an ambitious art project: to wrap a large-scale artwork around a moon rocket.

The Dream Rocket project, created by Marsh, will collect 5,000 to 8,000 art submissions, including the Kansas agricultural exhibit, and put them together to be wrapped around a replica of a 365-foot Saturn V moon rocket at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. A 60-day exhibition is scheduled for May and June 2015.

It’s the third project for IFC, which already has art-wrapped an entire gas station in Syracuse, N.Y. in 2008 and did a Tree Project in Huntsville in 2009 where artists submitted 14,000 handmade leaves for a canopy in the shape of a live oak tree.

Marsh said so far IFC has collected more than 18,500 submissions from more than 13,000 people for its three major projects.

The Dream Rocket project, which has been in the works since 2009, fulfills the IFC’s goal of linking learning and creativity in the arts to science, math, engineering and the humanities, Marsh said.

“We’ll eventually create a 32,000-square-foot quilt,” she said. “That’s a big quilt.”

— Reporter Gary Demuth- See more at: