Friday, December 10

almost utopia -vermont and the nearings

This is a 2banger. Note, listen to the 90 minute talk at the end.

Just found this book Almost Utopia: The Residents and Radicals of Pikes Falls, Vermont, 1950 (photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff, text by Greg Joly) published by the Vermont Historical Society, 2008. If you have heard of Helen and Scott Nearing or The Good Life, or read 10e a bunch this will interest.

Our friends at Misty Valley Books describe it thus; "Lepkoff captured the lives of the local Vermonters and the people "from away" at work and play during this historic time, as the Korean War made national headlines. Many of Lepkoff's photos chronicle the lives of former urbanites Scott and Helen Nearing, who had purchased land in Jamaica, Vermont, with the vision of creating a homesteading lifestyle and teaching others to live simply in a troubled world. The Nearings later published Living the Good Life in 1954, documenting their homesteading experiences..."
Rebecca Lepkoff... first took up a camera in the 1930’s, photographing the life of the working classes in New York. She became a member of the left-leaning Photo League in 1947, just when it was proscribed by the Attorney General as a Communist front. An interest in the Nearings and their work led Lepkoff and her husband Gene to acquire a nearby farmhouse.
-via BerkshireReview

Clyde Smith Logging, Jamaica, VT 1952-53 by Rebecca Lepkoff.

Oscar Smith, 1950 by Rebecca Lepkoff.

Ma Smith, Jamaica, VT 1950 by Rebecca Lepkoff.

That is all good, but the below is knockout... Quick backstory; Rebecca Kneale Gould, (associate professor of religion and environmental studies at Middlebury College) was the first caretaker of the Nearing's Forest Farm in Maine after Helen died. In conjunction with a 2009 exibition of the Almost Utopia photographs she gave a lecture at the Vermont Folklife Center titled "Sacred Natures: The Nearings, Homesteading, Localvores and the Way Ahead" that explored spiritual and socio-economic dimensions of homesteading life. The lecture is partly based on her book At Home In Nature.

It can quickly get messy once you start to discuss class, and choice, and the intentions behind homesteading. Good. Gould talks about homesteading as a ritual, and of the conversion narrative; meaning leaving behind cluttered commercialism for enlightened toil... or is that just a smokescreen for escapism by safetynetted upper middleclass types? This is not fluff. Gould approaches these topics academically, plus she has lived/worked in the bullseye while caretaking Forest Farm. Really enjoyed this. It is not Nearing-bashing but some very frank comments and she doesn't let anyone off the hook. Listen: 90mins.