“A Sense of Place,” Photos by David Plowden, at MCHS Museum

The Mitchell County Historical Society announces the opening of its latest exhibit, “A Sense of Place… Small Towns, Community, and the Land,” photographs by David Plowden.  The exhibit is currently on display in the Hamlin Garland Gallery on the second floor of the Cedar River Complex in Osage, where it is available to the public at no charge through the end of the year.

“A Sense of Place” consists of 43 mounted 16 x 20-inch black and white photos of rural and small town Iowa by photographer David Plowden.  Dating from the mid-1980s, this series documents the disappearing face of the rural Iowa landscape.  The photographs were jointly contracted and are held by the State Historical Society of Iowa and Humanities Iowa.  The exhibit is on loan from Humanities Iowa.

Proclaimed “an American treasure” by historian David McCullough, David Plowden has produced 20 books of photos and won many prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967.   Since 1952, when he began to photograph steam locomotives, Plowden, who lives in Winnetka, Illinois, has studied, documented, and commented upon the transformation of America, capturing our country's vanishing landscapes and artifacts.  

Plowden, now 81 years old, describes himself as "an archeologist with a camera" who has spent his life "one step ahead of the wrecking ball."  According to the photographer, "I have… a sense of urgency to record those parts of our heritage which seem to be receding as quickly as the view from the rear of a speeding train.  I fear that we are eradicating the evidence of our past accomplishments so quickly that in time we may well lost the sense of who we are."

Much of Plowden’s time has been spent photographing Iowa, and his artistry provides a view of our state that is nostalgic yet timeless.  His iconic black and white photographs of landscapes, buildings, and individuals define life in 20th-century rural America.  Hanging over David Plowden’s desk is the following quote, from Walt Whitman’s “Specimen Days”, 1892:  

“While I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara Falls, the upper Yellowstone and the like, afford the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure but the Prairies and Plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the esthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest, and make North America’s characteristic landscape.”

Kurt Meyer, President of the Historical Society, notes that this is the Museum’s fourth photography exhibit within the past year. “It’s been a rare photographic ‘feast’ for area residents.  Jon Morris’s photographs of local Hamlin Garland sites have been on display throughout the year.  Last winter, we enjoyed an exceptional exhibit of area churches by Osage photographer Jon Sparrow.  Earlier this fall, we exhibited Michael Harker’s photographs of Iowa barns….and now, Plowden.”

Meyer continued, “These exhibits serve to reinforce Whitman’s contention.  They remind us of the beauty of the Iowa landscape and the simple timelessness of structures Iowans have built throughout our history.  It’s gratifying for the Historical Society to bring these exhibits to our community and to make this artistry available to area residents. “       

The Hamlin Garland Art Gallery is part of the Mitchell County Historical Museum and is located in the CRC, 809 Sawyer Drive, Osage.  The Museum is open daily, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment.  The Garland Gallery is available for viewing during regular CRC hours, Monday-Thursday, 5 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Friday, 5 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and Sunday, 1 – 5:30 p.m.