Time Does Not Stand Still …

Time does not stand still along the Buffalo, but anyone who has spent some of it there might beg to differ. The river gives many hints of a chronological nature – watch beers-in-cozies canoeists lined up at the Ponca low water bridge, then walk a hundred meters into the woods in any direction and trip over the remains of pre-civil war cabins, or the chert flakes along the paths that take us back even further. Most of we visitors require assistance in deciphering the clues, and the mandatory textbooks were both written by Kenneth L. (Ken) Smith: The Buffalo River Country (1967) and The Buffalo River Handbook (2004).

Ken eloquently tells us exactly who these chert-knappers and cabin builders were, what life was like on the banks and benches of the river valley, and he does us a favor by not allowing us to fall into that trap of believing that time of any consequence began with the arrival of white Europeans, or even of the arrival some 12,000 years before them, of the first humans to inhabit the continent. Ken reminds us of geologic time and how it has shaped the nation’s National River. Is it any surprise that when Sabine Schmidt and I heard that documentary filmmaker Chris Engholm (see links below) was working on a project to highlight Ken’s river trail building legacy as well, that we begged to attend, cameras in hand?

So we threw a couple of sleeping bags, extra sweaters, apples, almonds, olives and a few canteens of water into the truck and headed toward Tyler Bend and the base camp of a few of the crew of volunteers that have dedicated years to helping Ken. It didn’t take long to realize that while they came from many parts of the country, and represented a host of professions and careers, what they and we had in common was a love and respect for Ken Smith, and a gratitude for what he is doing and has done.

I felt like a fraud as we walked the benches – I was the only one who wasn’t actually digging or raking or cutting or moving debris. I just hiked and kept my eyes on Ken, watched his movements as he led the party, kicking sticks and rocks to the side, flipping dead branches off the trail with a walking stick, giving orders, telling stories. And I was doing my own time-travel, thinking about walking behind him thirty years ago, noting his rhythm for the first time, and about sitting then on a gravel bar with my young children, reading aloud the Buffalo River Country, and just last year sitting on the same bar with the children of my children and reading the Handbook.

I also watched Chris Engholm working, moving in and out with his video equipment, recording sounds, conversations, asking leading questions, trying to be in the right place at the right time with the right light. I didn’t envy his task. How in the hell could Ken Smith be summarized?

chris engholm in action mod 2016Documentary filmmaker Chris Engholm somewhere on the Buffalo National River

This morning, as the crew prepared to go out again, Chris asked Sabine for some assistance in translating a letter he had found in relation to another of his projects – an exhibition of photographs and historical texts relating to Hugo and Gayne Preller – photographers working along the White River near Augusta, Arkansas, at the turn of the last century. Hugo was a German immigrant and had received a letter from his sister in 1938, from Berlin. Chris hoped that it might contain information about the Preller family and Hugo’s decision to cross the Atlantic and wind up in Arkansas.

Sabine carefully unfolded the thin paper to reveal an exquisite older style cursive handwriting and began to slowly translate the lines, one by one, her voice a direct channel to the past. I reached for my camera to record that moment: A recent German

chris & sabine 2016 mod for webPhotographer Sabine Schmidt and filmmaker Chris Engholm.

immigrant photographer is sitting on the banks of the Buffalo National River in 2016. In her hands is a letter from 1938 written to another German photographer who had immigrated to Arkansas in the late 1800s. And only a few meters away, Ken Smith, who has been instrumental in the battle to save the Buffalo River, a tributary of the White, and who has dedicated much of his working life to protecting it, studying it, recording the stories of the people who lived along it, and making it more accessible and meaningful to even more people, is gathering his tools for another day’s work. Time stood still.

© Don House

March 30, 2016

For more information on the work of Chris Engholm:

www.facebook.com/HugoArthurPreller

www.facebook.com/WhiteRiverMemoirs

www.facebook.com/StillStandingOzarks

www.facebook.com/TheTrailblazerFilm

To purchase copies of Ken Smith’s books:

www.ozarksociety.net/store/

 

On the Horizon

Our exhibition at Fayetteville Underground in November was well-received. We loved the chance to interact with visitors at our two artist talks. While we prefer to stay behind the camera and out of the spotlight, it was great fun to talk about our work in the Wichitas and share stories with our audiences.

The exhibition is crated and ready to travel to other venues (we’ll announce future shows here and on social media).

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Saddle Mountain School, Wichita Mountains

The new year began with a most enjoyable e-mail interview conducted by Payton Christenberry of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (one of my favorite places in Arkansas). We got to talk about what we do and why but also about our thoughts and ideas regarding the arts in Arkansas. As the first installment of a new monthly series highlighting Arkansas artists, our interview went up in February.

And we just found out that we have been nominated as a team in the “Favorite Photographer” category of the Idle Class Magazine‘s 2016 Black Apple Awards, a series of awards honoring artists and artisans in Arkansas. If you like what we do, please vote for us on the Idle Class’ website before April 10. Thank you!

 

A Short Breather

The opening reception for We’re Not Telling You Everything was a great success. Many old and new friends braved an Oklahoma-strength thunderstorm that seemed to roll in out of nowhere just as the reception was about to begin. Maybe it added some extra energy–there were lots of spirited conversations, laughter, and hugs in the galleries. We gave an artists’ talk discussing the Wichita Mountains project, and our friend, the photographer and curator Chris Engholm, filmed it. He was kind enough to post an edited version:

We will do another, more extensive gallery talk on November 22, but before we prepare for that and other projects, we are taking a short break to go hiking in the Ozarks, catch up on correspondence, weeks of New Yorkers, and some TV shows, and pet the dog.

It’s All Coming Together

We’re getting pretty excited over here in Hazel Valley. Our exhibition at the Fayetteville Underground opens next week, and we’ll start hanging the show on Monday. We have postcards, we have catalogues, we have text panels providing some background information–and we hope to have many friends at the opening reception.

Here’s Sabine checking proofs for some of her color images. The final prints are 20×30 inches!

sabine working #2

We’re Not Telling You Everything

… but Don House and I will be showing you our new work at Fayetteville Underground in November. It’s a showcase of the three years we spent visiting the Wichita Mountains region in southwest Oklahoma. We’re Not Telling You Everything is the title of our exhibition, and it was inspired by a place we visited there.

A catalog with images from the exhibition will be available at the Underground. The exhibition opening is part of the First Thursday reception on November 5, 2015, between 5 and 9 pm and will include an artists talk in the gallery. Later in the month, we’ll be offering a more extensive walk and talk about the exhibition. Here’s a preview:

“For three years, photographers Don House and Sabine Schmidt traveled to southwest Oklahoma to photograph the land and the people of the Wichita Mountains. The mountains—among the oldest but least known in North America—rise up from the plains like a beacon for shelter, water, and nourishment. 

A small range, the Wichitas stretch only about 40 miles from east to west, but they hold a central position in the history and lives of Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas, and other plains tribes. The Fort Sill military installation shares a winding fence through the mountains with one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the country. Ranchers and wheat farmers, amusement park owners, retirees, soldiers, waitresses, preachers, rangers, locals and strangers all make their homes in the shadows of the ancient granite mountains.

Don House created classic black-and-white portraits with his Hasselblad. Sabine Schmidt is showing color images of human interactions with the landscape.”

exhibition prints drying

Some of Don’s prints drying.

Join us on First Thursday at the Underground and ask us anything–we may tell, after all.

The Semi-Planned Trip: Snakes, Angel Wings, and an Angry Mutti

Schmidt & House recently returned from another excursion to the Wichita Mountains. Don took portraits–some arranged beforehand, others spur of the moment–, and I photographed mostly buildings and landscapes.

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Geronimo High School

One of the most obvious but also difficult things I have learned about photography is acceptance of the unexpected. My paper houses project involved careful planning; yet, many of my favorite photos from the series came about because I happened to have a miniature house with me in the right place at the right time. Work on the Schmidt & House Wichita Mountains project has been following a similar approach of knowing what we want to do, but only to a certain extent. We map out some definite stops, put our equipment in the truck, and start driving, ready for whatever and whomever we will encounter on the road.

Still, we weren’t quite prepared for the aggressive pygmy rattlesnake we met on a hike at the end of the first day. It challenged us on a hill in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and refused to budge. That’s unusual behavior, even for a rattler. (Venomous snakes encountered in my fifteen years in the U.S. before meeting Don: one. Since meeting Don: I don’t even know. Life has become much more interesting.)

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Wichitas sunset. Somewhere, a pygmy rattlesnake is awaiting us.

We made a planned stop at the Holy City so Don could take a portrait of the director. A friendly employee asked me if I wanted to try on an angel costume, and I hesitated for only a second. He led me to one of the prop rooms, where the costumes, Roman soldier helmets, a Judas effigy, and an infant Jesus doll for the annual Holy City passion play are stored, and fitted me with giant wings. I posed in a courtyard in a white gown with two wings made from white shag carpeting spreading out from my back. Don has Hasselblad evidence.

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The Holy City: looking like Jerusalem since 1935.

Driving through an industrial section of Lawton a few days later, we noticed a nondescript building with a huge German flag and the sign “Mutti’s German Restaurant” on the front. It’s like being offered a chance to wear angel wings: you don’t turn it down. We went there for dinner the next evening. When  we arrived an hour before closing, the place was almost empty. It looked exactly as I had imagined–posters of German tourist sites, garden gnomes, blue-and-white table cloths, and a long list of beers. The food was fantastic, probably the most authentic I’ve had outside of Germany. But my happy nostalgia ended during dessert. Twenty minutes past closing time,  we had overstayed our welcome. In wonderfully, authentically German passive-aggressive manner, Mutti started vacuuming the restaurant. The American waitress apologized. We left. There is no photographic evidence.

Welcome!

This is the new home on the web for Schmidt & House. We are at work on a book of photography, essays, and poems on the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma. We will be posting images and texts as the project develops. We also plan on announcing a fundraising page soon and invite you to check back (or subscribe to updates) if you are interested in the book project.

Sabine Schmidt & Don House

Hazel Valley, Arkansas

Questions or ideas? Please get in touch.