“Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man.” - George Washington
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” - Dwight Eisenhower
“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.” - Thomas Jefferson
“The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” - Will Rogers
Given the nature of the new traveling exhibition American Farmer that will be starting in early April at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, it seems entirely fitting to preface this piece with a cross-section of verbal sentiments from three foundational United States presidents and a spot-on humorist that encompass the broad & profound significance of how the artisanship of farming has nourished, shaped, and defined the heart, stomach, and soul of America.
When photographer Paul Mobley set out to capture the soul of our country’s farm communities, he encountered an enduring rural culture that remains rooted in the principles of tradition, family, integrity, and hard work.
Crisscrossing the country from Alaska to Florida to capture a true cross-section displaying the diversity and range of American farming, Mobley quickly discovered that he and his camera were welcomed time and time again into the homes of hundreds of farm families. Visit after visit, he came to know the independent farmer’s spirit from both behind the lens and across the dinner table.
“I was seeking the elusive spirit of agriculture, looking for subjects that mirrored the project’s sense of risk and independence,” he explains. “The resulting images are ones that I feel show farmers with a strong sense of where they belong in the universe, a close connection to the land and their day-to-day work as it affects the rest of the world.”
Out of a collection of more than 200 of these portraits, ExhibitsUSA has distilled a selection of forty-five iconic portraits showing the geographic and cultural diversity of the American Farmer, which will beyond display at the Castle Museum until the end of May.
“When Mobley crossed the country taking photos and interviewing farmers to capture as many different types of farms as possible, it’s amazing at the range of farming he discovered,” explains Jennifer Vannette, the Saginaw Castle Museums Outreach Coordinator. “He included everything from bee keepers to pig farmers to vegetable farmers and everything you can imagine in order to capture as much of the farming experience in the United States as possible. The 45 photographs we’ll have on display are stunning and really draw you into that particular farmer’s experience.”
This vivid portfolio is accompanied by anecdotes and memories in the farmers’ own words that are both a testament to their enduring hospitality and a moving glimpse into the hardships and joys of a quickly disappearing way of life—one that once defined our national identity and now struggles to remain vital.
Mobley himself is an American photographer who has traveled from remote Alaskan villages to the majestic palaces of Croatia to find the face of a thousand words. His first book, which expands upon this exhibition: American Farmer: Portraits from the Heartland, was first published in the fall of 2008 by Welcome Books and received the 2009 Western Heritage Award for Best Photography Book from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
From Jim Taber, a young single father raising cattle in Montana, to Shirley Schollenberg, the daughter of Alaskan homesteaders, Mobley’s heroic photographs reveal the true face of American farming and remind us what it means to live with simplicity, contentment, and decency in a world that is often forgotten, especially when many people think of simply getting their food from a grocery store.
While American Farmer is a more contemporary exhibition spanning the American farming experience over the past decade with its focus more on the smaller farmer, Jennifer says the Castle Museum is using this exhibition as a spring-board to kick-off a much larger and expansive exhibition that will begin in May called Growing Saginaw County.
“This will focus on the merger between agriculture and enterprise,” she explains, “and will focus on major crops that had an economic impact upon our region such as sugar beets, beans, and wheat. We’ll look at different aspects of the historical evolution of those crops in Saginaw county along with the economic impacts and things impacting farmers personally. We’re really hoping to bring in people who can speak about their own experiences that are involved in both larger scale and smaller scale agricultural endeavors.”
As Growing Saginaw County moves through the summer months, Jennifer says they hope to also stage different programming and discussion groups with people such as those at Houghton-Jones, where they have an urban youth group farm.
“Additionally, at this same time we’ll be featuring an exhibit in the West Gallery focusing on Centennial Farms that have been existence for 100 years or more,” notes Jennifer. “ We intend to do our best to hit upon all directions of farming in Saginaw County and the importance of farming upon our whole county history and spend a whole year thinking about growing in Saginaw County.”
American Farmer will run and be on display at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History from April 4 - May 25th. The museum is located at 500 Federal Ave. in Downtown Saginaw and hours are Sunday, 1:00 - 4:30 pm; Monday - Wednesday 10 am - 4:30 pm; Thursday, 10 am - 7 pm; and Friday & Saturday 10 am - 4:30 PM. Saginaw County residents are free and admission for non-country residents is only $3.00 per person or $5.00 per family.
For more information call 989.752.2861 or visit www.castlemuseum.org
16th November, 2023