Friday, September 14, 2012

Feldstein, Oxford & Nixon's Grandma

The alternate Frank invited Marilyn plus this Frank to tag along late Thursday to the Farnham Galleries at Simpson College for the opening of an exhibit plus gallery talk by artist/photographer Peter Feldstein, propelled into the public spotlight by the fall 2008 publication of The Oxford Project.

For those unfamiliar, the Oxford Project began during 1984 when Feldstein (left; CBS photo), a native New Yorker who graduated from and then taught until retirement while practicing his art at the University of Iowa, decided to photograph everyone who lived in the small (population 676) town of Oxford, where he has lived on Main Street for more than 30 years. He fell about six short, meaning that there were more than 600 photographs in the original archive.

The motive, Feldstein said, was not so much art as neighbor-making or ice-breaking instinct in his new home, a tight-knit community where he had been told it took at least 25 years for a newcomer to "belong." It worked; he still lives and works as an artist there --- and 20 years later set out to rephotograph as many of his original subjects as he could.

The result was a series of side-by-side comparison studies accompanied by first-person narratives from the subjects recorded and condensed by writer Stephen G. Bloom.

Several of those comparison studies plus several triptychs featuring narrative are included in the two-gallery display, which will remain through Sept. 20 on the third floor of Mary Berry Hall on the Simpson campus in Indianola.

Feldstein is an engaging speaker, who discussed his evolving art with an audience composed mostly of art students before moving on to speak with obvious love about the people of his hometown and his amazement at the stories they shared when the second round of photographs was taken. I easily could have listened for at least another hour, but time constraints capped the presentation shortly after 6 p.m.

The book remains available, and if you'd like to learn more about The Oxford Project, this short video does a good job of illuminating it.

Yes, someone asked; and yes Feldstein talked about his relationship with now-estranged collaborator Stephen G. Bloom, the University of Iowa journalism professor who soured his relationship with the people of  his adopted home state with a variety of snarky comments published in The Atlantic during December of 2011, comments he insisted were parody.

The men have not spoken since, said Feldstein --- whose published rebuttals were published widely in Iowa newspapers --- and he continues to work to dissolve the business partnership necessary in order to jointly publish The Oxford Project.


If you've not visited the charming Simpson campus lately, the new multi-million-dollar student union is nearing completion and the grounds were looking good desipte a summer of drought.

Driving home, it occurred to me that I probably should have taken a photo of the new building as well as Mary Berry Hall, where the Farnham Galleries are located (third floor) --- but I got so preoccupied with this sculptural arrangement of planters --- trying to figure out if I could fit them into the trunk of the Mitchell Buick and bring them home --- that didn't even occur to me.

While it is painful to mention Peter Feldstein and Richard Nixon in the same paragraph, I have to admit to dragging my companions into the extreme southwest corner of Indianola's I.O.O.F. Cemetery to visit the grave of that disgraced president's great-great-grandmother, Jane Brown Moore (1807-1886). There's no accounting for where an obsession with Iowa trivia will take a guy.

But now, if the question "which great-great-grandmother of our 37th president is buried in southern Iowa?" ever arises --- you'll know the answer.

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