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​Visions of the prairie at the Spirit Room

by John Showalter | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Arts | March 1st, 2017

The Midwestern states have often been cynically called “the flyover states” by tourists, only existing there as a forgettable, boring expanse to traverse between the coasts, where all the fun and excitement is really going on.

That may be an unfair assessment though. Us Midwesterners are in the interesting position of being in close proximity to both the rural and the urban lifestyles, able to pass back and forth between the two with only a short road trip. It’s the best of both worlds, the wide open expanses of nature and the intellectual and cultural pursuits of the city. Perhaps there is no better example of that in the near future than the “Prairie Visions: Then and Now” project at The Spirit Room.

The Spirit Room, located on Broadway, is a nonprofit organization that seeks “to enrich people’s lives through development and practice of creative, contemplative, and healing arts,” according to their mission statement. To accomplish this, the Spirit Room’s executive director Dawn Morgan arranges a wide variety of programs running the gamut from yoga classes to art exhibits, all free to the public.

The newest program to come to the Spirit Room is funded by the North Dakota Humanities Council Grant and is titled “Prairie Visions: Then and Now.”

“This is a humanities program, and of course, humanities is everything to do with humans,” said Morgan. What could have more to do with humans than highlighting our relationship with nature? “Prairie Visions,” which takes its name from the title of a book published in the last year, is themed around the works of turn-of-the-20th century Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hamlin Garland.

Said book contained excerpts of Garland’s work, which often dealt with his boyhood memories of growing up on a farm in Iowa. Common themes found throughout his prolific output were nature and man’s relation to it (especially in isolation), the rotation of the seasons and how it related to farming, and going to school.

“His prose writing is absolutely beautiful,” said Morgan. To accompany the excerpts, “Prairie Visions” also included photography by modern day Minneapolis-based photographer Jon Morris, taken throughout the state of Iowa.

Morris’ stunning photography, which expertly captures the wide open expanses of the Iowa countryside, will be exhibited at the Spirit Room from March 6th until April 15th, at which point the display will be moved to the main branch of the Fargo Public Library until May 15th. Morgan points out that it is common for their exhibits to eventually transfer to the library when they are tied with a literary theme.

Besides just the physical exhibit at the Spirit Room, there will also be several programs that any patrons are free to attend. On the evening of Friday, March 10th at Zandbroz Variety, there will be a live text reading from “Prairie Visions” by Carrie and David Winterstein of Theatre B, followed by a reception. Those previously unfamiliar with Garland’s work could hardly find a better chance to be introduced to it.

The very next day, Saturday, March 11th at the Spirit Room, is a reception with text readings and a talk by scholar Kurt Meyer. Not only that, but the “Prairie Visions” photographer himself, Jon Morris, will conduct an artist’s talk.

The aspiring writers of the community may wish to show up on the 3rd day of the program, Sunday March 12th, also being held at the Spirit Room. In the early afternoon, Dr. Karla Smart-Morstad will hold a writing workshop that explores the centrality of place and descriptive writing styles, instrumental aspects of Hamlin Garland’s own writing, which continues to be published almost a century later.

Bringing an end to the three day series of events, later that afternoon Dr. Keith Newlin, Garland scholar, will present a lecture titled, “Hamlin Garland: The Making of a Prairie Realist”.

Even if you’re unable to attend these talks and workshops, as mentioned before, you will still have the opportunity for the next few months to admire Jon Morris’ photography. But if you are able to make it to even one of the accompanying programs, it can lead you on an intellectual journey to a deeper appreciation not only of the photography in the exhibit, but of a great Midwestern writer and an even better appreciation of what it means to live in the Midwest.

IF YOU GO:

Prairie Visions Reception

Saturday, March 11 3pm

Spirit Room, 111 N Broadway, Fargo

exhibit on view March 6-April 15

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