The Oregon Tilth Project of The Fields Project

Posted by lunar in art, Art Process, Art Residencies, Fields Project 4 Comments

I was in Oregon, IL (actually housed in Stillman Valley, IL) on my 8th residency with The Fields Project.  A community that celebrates their history of Loredo Taft and his artist colony here in the late 1800’s now celebrates its agriculture and culture connection.

I can thank Anne Lueck Feldhaus for lending her application to me 8 yrs ago for my attempt at the visiting artist experience that has influenced my work in so many ways in as many years.

Ned Bushnell and I after the last soil sample collected.

I was housed with Ned and Lyrah Bushnell at a beautiful family farm, Walnut Creek Farms, in Stillman Valley, IL.  Walnut Creek Farms won the Governor’s Conservation Farm Family of the Year Award in 2004.  Ned grows corn and soybeans with the no till method.  This growing method of farming the commodities has been paying off with healthier soil and life in the field including worms.  It was pure pleasure going into his field and talking soils with him.  His enthusiasm for the process of soil conservation that decreases erosion, keeps unused plant matter in the fields replenishing what the growing has taken, disturbs the top soil less, and is forward thinking in terms of soil health as he works the soil and tilth of his father’s land.

The Oregon Tilth Project, a soil and scent process that I have created,  is why I am here.  I am humbled by the local people I have come to know when they ask “WHAT are you doing this year?”  I seem to have created a sense of curiosity and anticipation for how I might spend my time here and mirror the world that is agriculture in Northern Illinois.

A bit of background:  I read about Laura Parker’s work called “Taste of Place.”  The artist collected soil from area farms, put the soil in a wine glass in a gallery setting, released the aroma with water, and the gallery goers ate produce from that farm and made the connection of soil and food through scent and flavor.  Rarely does my inspiration for art come from other artist’s work.  This is an exception.

Stoneware jars in process.

I have been working on stoneware jars for The Oregon Tilth Project since January.  I collected images relating to farming, tilth, dirt, cultivation methods, and other agricultural images.  I made samples, measurements, shot screens, made prints for the transfer onto clay, all in Tom Lucas’ class Printmaking on Clay.  I spoke with someone from Oregon Tilth at the Family Farmed event this early spring for “permission” to use the name.  A play on names that fits in quite nicely with the theme of the project.  My experiences as a visiting artist with the Fields Project have been varied and wonderful.  Each farm family has been patient, informative, and full of due pride in what they do and are thrilled to share information with the curious.  In no other community could I have pulled off such an event if I had not formed relationships with the host farmers over the years in the environs of Ogle County.

My goal was to get as many decorated jars finished as there were host families and invite them in to the Oregon Tilth Project – A Soil and Scent Gathering or “The Soil Smackdown.”

Farm and Soil collecting videos:

Thanks to Paul Bouzide for still shots and fellow Fields Project Artist Sharron Box for the videos from the competition.  I appreciate you both!

Please note:  This project is supported by a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.”

There were 7 host families along with two other participating farms.  Nine farm families in total.  I spent the week as a visiting artist going to each farm, talking with the farmer about soil, process, crops raised, animals kept, and at times their philosophy and sentiments regarding contemporary agriculture practices.  The statements made were as wonderfully varied as the farmers themselves.  I collected a 3/4 gallon soil sample from the spot of the farmer’s choice, with and/or under the supervision of each farmer.  It was a very wet week so all of the soil samples collected were heavy with rain water.  ATV rides, donuts, event mapping, conservation methods, and so much more were discussed.  I labeled each bag, documented them on each farm with the farmer’s name on an index card, and left the bags open so the soil might breath instead of mold.  By Thursday nite I had collected soil from each farm and was prepared to transfer the soil into the corresponding jars with the help of my husband Paul (while I made myself scarce).

Husband Paul making the samples as consistent as possible.

Potluck Saturday, the traditional day of the gathering of host farmers, artists and sometimes spouses, and other interested and connected individuals who make the Fields Project happen, have a tremendous pot luck dinner.  I asked the farmers to arrive a bit early to join me for the Oregon Tilth Project – aka “The Soil Smackdown. ” The event went much better than I ever dreamed!  Several farmers arrived early (shocking I know) and we ended up having 100% participation.

Some side stories as the competition unfolded:

One farmer took a cup of her soil to her grandson’s little league game to study during the hour or two before the Smackdown.

10 Top Reasons to smell the Dirt was shared by host farmer Joan Pfeiffer.  Her neighbor, Beth Hahn, is a comedienne and offered to create a reprise of “10 top reasons….”  Hilarious!  Here they are on video and in writing:

Wrapped Pfeiffer Centennial Bin - a collaboration with Danny Mansmith 2008

#10  Less expensive than drugs

#9  Good way to block out the manure smell in the air.

#8  Eating the dirt didn’t taste very good.

#7  Once you recognize the smell, you can always find your way home when lost.

#6  All the cool kids are doing it.

#5  The nutrients in the soil are just so additcting.

#4  Sniffing soil is easier than sniffing corn stalks wich tend to get lodged in your nose and draws negative attention to yourself.

#3  After you blow your nose, you can make your own booger-dirt mud-pie

#2 The black residue under your nose is slimming and goes with anything you wear.

And the number one reason to sniff dirt….

Because wrapping a bin takes too long!!!!!

9 farmers waiting for the Soil Smackdown to begin

Other stories….

Gary and Judy Bocker perusing the soils.

During the contest, A farming couple absolutely certain that they guessed their soil… in two different jars, and both were wrong!

Each farmer asked to gently place their hand on the jar that they felt was theirs… with some good natured slapping going on as the competition progressed.

Farmers taking long sniffs, nose first, into the jars as pictured.

A farmer’s wife so incredibly excited that she found her soil that she could not contain herself and then promptly called her husband who was working in the hay field, after she was correct in her soil choice.

And the moment you have all been waiting for….

4 of 9 farmer participants could recognize the scent and texture of their soil. The rest were not pleased.

A big thanks to the following participants:

Gary and Judy Bocker, Polo

Ned and Lyrah Bushnell,  Stillman Valley

Larry and Aneda Ebert,  Ashton

We provided oats as an olfactory cleanser between soils.

Sue Jacobson,  Byron

Joanne Juriga,  Mt. Morris

Ron and Karen Larson,  Mt. Morris

Mike and Joan Pfeiffer,  Ashton

Bob and Sherrie Piros,   Chana

The contest continues....

Barb Samsel,  Oregon

Here are some images and short videos from before and during the event.  I also showed the jars at the Fields Project Art Festival the following day with many people appreciating the project and smelling and feeling the soil themselves to compare.

Successful soil smellers are announced. Congratulations to Joan Pfeiffer (far L) and Lyrah Bushnell (far R) 1 of 4 farmers able to recognize their soil.

All participating farms got a mini for participating.


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