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Archive for the ‘venacular architecture’ Category

The Floor of the Sky. Pamela Carter Joern. University of Nebraska Press, One of the Flyover Series. 2006. 238 pp.

This is another of Joern’s books in the University of Nebraska’s Flyover Fiction Series. (For a review of the later title, The Plain Sense of Things (2008) see: https://wanderwest.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/book-review-the-plain-sense-of-things-by-pamela-joern/)

51kIKMnrLPL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_The Floor of the Sky,  like its companion, is set in the Sand Hills area of Northwest Nebraska, near Elymrya, Joern’s fictional “big” town that centers the novels. This is a tough place to ranch or farm, and Toby, a central character, is just eeking out an existence on her deeply mortgaged spread. Her husband has died; the hired hand has stayed on; a pregnant granddaughter arrives for the summer and the impending birth. It is a bittersweet summer as Toby prepares to lose the farm, reminiscencing about her shattered past brought back to mind by her granddaughter and her situation, and her ever-present harpie of a sister, Gertie.

Again, Joern employs the same technique of a series of short self-contained stories cum chapters to lead us through the brutal memories of the past placed against the placid action of the present. The present, is of course, overshadowed by looming foreclosure, overseen by the standard evil banker, who is selling other local properties to a huge corporation who wants to use it as a toxic waste site, even while claiming they will be managed in the downhome style the area has always had. Kindness triumphs in the end, though not without a large amount of tragedy present and remembered.

A fascinating sidelight of the story is the main farmhouse, known as “the Alhambra”, named after the Sears kit home that Toby and Gertie’s father Luther had purchased in the early 1920s. Kit houses have always appealed to me. I think we may have been in an Alhambra model once. It featured beautiful mission-style detail and lots of woodwork. Pocket doors. Plenty of windows. And all this came in flatbed boxes on a railcar, ready for assembly. Why could we fashion such beautiful pre-made stick-built homes in the ‘20s but not now?

Alhambra in Webster Groves, MO.

Alhambra in Webster Groves, MO.

Alhambra

Sears Catalogue description The Alhambra

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The following selection of photographs has at least in the photographer’s mind a kind logic. Situated somewhere in the interstices between architectural, abstract and urban landscape photography, there pictures represent a kind of personal record of  everyday objects or structures  (most without artistic pretentions) whose geometry “says something”—arcs, angles, lines and circles all mixed together whose random juxtaposition creates everyday scenes that have an abstract intrinsic order, sometimes even subliminal overtones that hint at a sort of beauty in the mundane world of the mass produced built environment. SRE

PLAIN GEOMETRY

(all photos copyright SR Euston)

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It’s about a four hour drive from our place on the southern Oregon coast to Eureka, California, where our daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren (Boys 14, 11 and 8) live with a dog, a cat, five chickens and a duck, all on a kind of urban farm. We are spending Thanksgiving in Eureka this year, a “To Grandmother’s house we go” in reverse. As we leave on Wednesday, the weather in Oregon has just opened up after a storm. By the time we reach our daughter’s place in Eureka the skies have cleared. This holiday weekend has materialized the kind of weather residents of the wet and green northwest coast  take solace in.  Afternoons in the 60s, the evenings a bit chilly but the air full of remembrances of harbor and sea and winds and douglas fir and redwood forest. This wonderful weather imparts a holidayish patina, a warm autumnal mood  as we sit down to fresh turkey, fresh cranberries from our own Curry County,  and about ninety accoutrements of a good Thanksgiving feast.

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This slide show is a sort of travel log of this Thanksgiving weekend,  beginning with shots of the rugged Curry County coast, then down Highway 101, the Redwood Highway, to Eureka. It includes a few family pictures, but features lots of photos of a picture packed place called the “North Jetty”.

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The Humboldt South and North jetties, massive linear rock filled projections into the ocean,  protect vessels entering Humboldt Bay from notoriously dangerous Pacific storms. But more to the point for our son-in-law Tim, the North Jetty is a favorite surfing destination, and rolling long period waves are out the afternoon of our visit, as were wet-suited surfers out for a sporting chance at some pretty decent waves, peaking at 15′ or more. Tim has brought us here to find what we will.

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The North Jetty is an a photographic puzzle.  Several other photographers were out, kneeling, craning necks, searching for a certain angle. But many who were carrying cameras seemed uninspired. For me, it  was my first real opportunity to shoot large waves from a side angle, as opposed from straight on from shore, opening up possibilities especially for B/W, emphasizing  the sinuous, emergent power of the long period swells. But equally interesting is the jetty itself. To exploit this subject, one must like geometry.

Contrasted with the oceanic rolls and swells and wave crashes, the jetty is one solid piece of Corps of Engineers construction, including seemingly randomly placed hulking concrete structures looking a bit like giant jacks—like the kind kids once and maybe still do play with. The camera sees shapes and forms and lines and mass in all this. And that is just the beginning, because all this solidity frames a churning kinetic sea.

On our return trip, we stopped in Arcata, and while Ann and Dawn shopped, I came across a couple of urban shots that ratcheted down the drama of waves into in a quiet mood of a dwindling late November day.   SR Euston  All Photos Copyrighted

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Call it found art.

Walking along the Coos Bay, Oregon waterfront recently, under an unusually bright coastal sun, I walked past a run-down industrial building just off the main drag. A rather dingy white wall was glaring at me. What caught my eye was an exhaust pipe of some kind, jutting from the wall, a few feet from the sidewalk. It had an enticing feel of volume. The afternoon light gave a glow to the edges of this plain old pipe. I admit to thinking of pictures by pioneer photographer Paul Strand. The stucco wall itself held some visual interest. Though stained by the ages of Coos Bay history, the north coast light slanted off the rough surface, providing some subtle shadowing.

I took the picture, feeling pretty certain it would reveal about what I saw in this old pipe and wall. I’m finding design secrets all the time in some very plain utilitarian stuff. Stuff not designed by big name architects, mostly just the unassuming vernacular buildings, some of recent design. In New Mexico, an indigenous old adobe, or a lonely malt shop; in Utah, ancient ruins with a noble simplicity; at home, a plain sink; in Arizona a lamp-post; in California a fountain; in Oregon, delighfully imitative 1920’s design, refurbished.  Plain design is found pretty much anywhere one looks.

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All Photos and Text Copyright  S.R. Euston

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