Prairie Mosaic 602
Articles,  Blog

Prairie Mosaic 602


(woman) “Prairie Mosaic”
is funded by– the Minnesota Arts
and Cultural Heritage Fund, with money from the vote
of the people of Minnesota on Nov. 4th, 2008; the North Dakota Council
on the Arts, and by the members
of Prairie Public. [bass, drums, and acoustic
guitar play in bright rhythm] Welcome to “Prairie Mosaic,” a patchwork of stories
about the people and the places that contribute
to the arts, culture, and history
in our region. Hi, I’m Barb Gravel. And I’m Bob Dambach. On this edition
of “Prairie Mosaic,” we’ll listen
to a musical story about
a woman’s uncertain identity, watch the artistic process
of glassblowing, and enjoy the smooth sounds
of a local jazz quintet. At the turn of the 20th century, Minnesota’s entrenched
Republican Party was challenged by the most
successful, radical third party in American history. From 1918 to 1944,
the Farmer Labor-Party was strong enough to wrest control
of the state’s government, away from the established
political parties, forever transforming
Minnesota’s political climate. [banjo plays in bright rhythm] The Midwest had a one-party
system because so many of the states were brought into the Union
as Republican states and that initial development
of their parties meant that it was hard for any kind of other
competition to grow up. And the Democratic Party
basically had its stronghold in New York City and in Northeastern cities
and in the South, and the rest of the country was
a Republican stronghold. In a one-party system,
voters curiously are not very loyal
to the one party. There’s something about
competition that makes for partisan
identification. And the lack of competition,
of party competition, and the fact that
the Republican Party didn’t have to fight
to build an electorate, meant that
a large number of voters really were ready therefore,
being picked up by people who wanted to start
protest organizations, ’cause these people weren’t particularly loyal
to the Republican Party. States are laboratories
of democracy. That is to say, that one of the great things
about American Federalism is that you can have
experiments, policy experiments, and political experiments
and organizational experiments, so there’s a kind of dynamism
and innovation that’s built in
to American politics. And for me, that was really
what so so fascinating about the Farmer-
Labor Party was, it showed the possibility
for dynamism and innovation that American Federalism
makes possible. Farming is
a very insecure business, so that insecurity was something that farmers
in the 19th century and in the 20th century,
until the 1930s were hoping
to politically fix somehow. Workers didn’t have protections. They didn’t have protections
for hours, and more important,
they couldn’t organize. They would get stomped on
if they organized. So farmers were insecure,
workers were insecure in terms of their
organizational rights, or so it seemed to people, because they were distant
from banks and from cities
and from what seemed to be the centers of financial
and economic power, so they seemed to be essentially
at the mercy of other people making big decisions
about their lives. That created a context that was
very favorable in Minnesota. Between the strength of
the socialist trade unions and suddenly the emergence and the setting up of shop
in St. Paul of the Nonpartisan League,
and then their organization out in the rural areas
of Minnesota, the two basic kinds
of economic insecurity, created the potential
for a coalition. In the 1920s and the 1930s, if you were
an aspiring politician, there were only two places
you wanted to go. You wanted to become
a Republican or you wanted to become
a Farmer-Laborite. There was a very talented
socialist trade unionist, who’s completely obscure today,
who’s actually very important in the development
of the Farmer-Labor Party, a guy named William Mahoney. He was a person who threw
himself into this idea that we ought to have
an organization that would function
between elections, to keep the discussion going
about what they’re all about, and to focus on how we’re going
to get good candidates to run for
the different positions. Then in the ’30s it really
takes off as a third party,
and it’s really the most successful state level
third party we’ve ever had, and it’s in that sense, a unique
political organization. And that’s a going concern
until 1938, when Harold Stassen takes over
all the reasonable sections of the platform and just says,
if you get me, you’ll get a reasonable
Republican who just has to believe everything the Farmer-
Laborites have stood for. But the party limped along, and then in 1944,
decided that yup, we’re gonna go, and we’ll move
into the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party said,
come on over, we want you because we’re trying
to build ourselves. The Democratic Party
is now the new party, it’s the strong party, and we
want to bootstrap ourselves into getting the kind of
strength in the electorate that Democratic Parties
are getting everywhere else. The reason that we don’t have
state level third parties like the Farmer-Labor Party is that the New Deal
was a big success, and it permanently strengthened
the Democratic Party. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
I recognize that the many
proclamations from state capitals
and from Washington, the legislation, the treasury
regulations and so forth, couched for the most part
in banking and legal terms, ought to be explained for the
benefit of the average citizen. (Richard Vallely)
All the prestige of doing good things
in American politics moved over to the Democratic
Party and so it’s just very hard to start a plausible
third party organization. [piano plays softly] The Minnesota Farmer-Labor
Party’s success/failure, it fails because it’s not
around, right? So we don’t have farmer-labor
politicians. Success, it’s a success in the
sense that it created a political tradition and it’s
encoded in the name of the Democratic
Farmer-Labor Party, and to that extent, voters
every election get reminded that they have a political
tradition here in Minnesota that is right there on the
ballot in front of them. It created politicians who were
more open-minded I think about social policy and
certainly much more open to organized labor than
Democratic Party politicians elsewhere in the country. Politicians who were heirs to the kind of progressivism that the Farmer-Labor Party
tried to institutionalize and make
permanent. Susan Brown was
a mixed-blood Dakota Indian, and although she was
surrounded by people who had an impact on politics
in the mid and late 1800s, her own identity and story has been somewhat lost
to history. Enjoy Elisa Korenne’s musical
adaptation of Brown’s life in the song, “Who Was I?” [guitar, banjo, drums, saxophone
& bass play in bright rhythm] ♪
♪ [singing] [electric guitar solo] Jon Offutt has worked for years developing his glassblowing
skills to capture the shapes, the colors,
and the light of the plains. His inspiration comes from
gazing across the prairie, his interpretation is
stunning works of art in the form of blown glass. [acoustic guitar plays
in bright rhythm] (Jon) I get up
fairly early in the morning and come out to the shop,
and light the studio on fire. It takes about an hour and
a half for things to warm up. During that time
I empty the ovens of the work I made the day
before, pick out the colors. This is one of my favorite
sounds, [clinking of glass] the glass rods have their own. And kind of previsualize what
I’m going to make for the day. Do all the makeready so that
when my assistant shows up, we’re ready to go,
and then we’ll start whatever the project is
for the day. Go ahead Dave, if it’s ready. I started out in Fargo Public
Schools, down at the Creative Arts Studio;
did a lot of clay down there. That little blob of glass is
close to 2000 degrees right now. That’s where I found my love
for the vessel form. The hotter the glass gets,
the softer it becomes. When I transferred
to Moorhead State, they had glass as an elective. When I tried it, the process
is so much more immediate, the feedback loop is
so fast, that it was just much more suited
to my personality. I use the friction of the table,
the torque on that pipe, to twist that color up
a little bit. So I’ve worked up
the primary color. The learning curve on blowing
glass is very, very frustrating. Dave’s heating up
one of the accent colors. There’s a lot of smashing
that happens at the beginning. A lot of things fall
off the stick and get stuck to the door, and there’s very little success for the first couple of years
of doing this. Most of the work that I do
is decorative, and I’ll call it art with a small “a” versus art
with a big “A.” It’s not about content and message and emotion. It’s about being well-crafted
and functional. We use
a lot of strange tools– leather punches
and cordless drills. It depends on
what you want to see. It’s relating
to the material. I have a lot of visual interest
going on in that little button. But some of it can be
engineering. Usually it’s more
reverse engineered. I want to see this piece,
how, what are the steps that it’s going to take me
to get to here? We’re going to start up now;
Dave’ll take the pipe and pick up
some white powder and heat. When we start something new,
there’s a lot more communication as to what to do
and when to do it. (Jon) Dave and I are
the only skilled hands for a couple hundred miles. So there’s the two of us. If there there five of us, the
work would probably be larger and more complex. I’m really enamored
with the landscapes, um, they continue to get more
complex and bigger in scale. They’re so representational and they have
some interest in the land and there’s some depth
to the sky. That orange color is
because it is so hot, start to pick up that blue. Technically they’re
very challenging, so they’re fun for me to do
for that reason. So that created the sky. And they do have
an emotive quality. People can look at them
and recognize them and say oh yes,
this is a July day, or this is a spring morning. So there is some art
in the more recent work. The bread and butter
of the craftwork that allows me to keep my skills
up and keep my studio running, so that when I do want to turn
my attention to sculpture or something more emotive,
I have those skills, I have the facility to do that. So on that scale, I’ve created
all of the visual elements that are going to be
in this piece. Being able to think creatively. So now I’ll put another layer
of clear glass over that. Being able to make
an aesthetic judgment. Drip a little bit of that
off of there. Is that beautiful or is it not? Is that good or is it not?
Is that quality? Do you want to fill your life
with quality things? So it’s like
a little landscape already. Each step, um,
over the last two months, I’ve really been working
on the land. Start by moving it around
with the table. I think I have it down
where I want it now, and I can accomplish
what I want to see. I’ll finish shaping with just a small section
of folded newspaper. So I’m going to turn
my attention to variations in the sky,
variations in the clouds. I’ll go ahead,
add a little pressure here, and the sky’s gonna get bigger. Four times a year I’ll make
something that I like so much that I’ll sign
my last name to it. Most of my work is
just signed “Jon,” and there’s a few
of my pieces that go out that are signed “Jon Offutt”
on the bottom. Point it down and let it
stretch a little bit, a little bit
of centrifugal force, pull that out
a little bit longer. Would I like to be doing it
in ten years? I hope to be doing it
in ten years. I’m good. I hope to take on
another apprentice. Little puff. Have more help so that I can
accomplish what I want to see. Stop. This is what makes life
worth living. Don’t try to make a living at
it; it’s a crazy, crazy way to– it’s– it shouldn’t be
a profession. It should be
something you love to do. The Mary Marshall Quintet has
a smooth, fresh jazz sound that is sure to please. Together with Russ Peterson and several other talented
Fargo-Moorhead musicians, this group puts the spotlight on some new original music
and a few old favorites. I started my formal training
when I was about four, and that’s when I started
taking regular piano lessons. I used to play
in my brother’s jazz band. He didn’t really want me
to play, but you know, I was the, I guess the better
of the choices that he had so he had to have his little
sister [laughs] play with him. [playing a funky, syncopated
rhythm] [piano solo] [saxophone solo] [guitar solo] [piano solo] [saxophone solo] [piano, guitar, bass,
& drums play in funky rhythm] If you know of an artist, a topic, or an organization
in our region that you think would make for
an interesting segment, please contact us at… I’m Barb Gravel.
And I’m Bob Dambach. Thank you
for joining us for this edition
of “Prairie Mosaic.” ♪
♪ (woman) “Prairie Mosaic”
is funded by– the Minnesota Arts
and Cultural Heritage Fund, with money from the vote
of the people of Minnesota on Nov. 4th, 2008; the North Dakota
Council on the Arts, and by the members
of Prairie Public.

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