When I arrived in Lewisburg, the home of Bucknell University, in rural central Pennsylvania to take up my new position as director of the Samek Art Museum, I spent time getting to know my new community. I walked down small side streets in the town’s Victorian center and drove through mid-century housing developments at its edges. I saw certain things that I had no reference for; for instance, in the evening, some houses would light one (electric) candle in every window of the house. I wondered if these houses had lost family members to recent military campaigns, but there were too many such houses like this and no base nearby. I began to notice other details like large rusted metal stars hung on Edwardian porches or sides of double-wide trailer homes. I wondered what I was seeing here and it dawned on me that I was looking at country.
I’m familiar with a different regional variation of country, having grown up in a small farming town in Oregon. McMinnville had no art museum and I spent many afternoons in the public library pouring over the sixties-era Time-Life art books (from El Greco to the Pre-Raphaelites!) absorbing the images into my skin. It was not lost on me that those books bore Barn Star few references to my small town in the American west and, conversely, that my town did not see the need to reflect the world of art contained in those books (outside the books themselves.) Long after I had moved to the city for art school and a career in museums, I held on to the idea that there was still room in the country; open spaces in the discourse between the world of contemporary fine art and rural America waiting to be explored through new research and cultural projects. So, when the opportunity arose for me to work in Lewisburg, I came to the country and found that my first puzzle was country itself.