An Interview with Larry Ogan

Visual artist Larry Ogan was born in Clearfield, Utah in 1948 at the Hill Air Force Base Hospital. His ancestors on one side were Mormon pioneers that came to Utah from Nauvoo; ancestors on the other side immigrated to Utah from Australia. More of his family is from Missouri. Says Larry, “My Baptist … ancestors chased my Mormon … ancestors out of Caldwell County, Missouri.” Larry married Ellen Chadwick, from Ogden, and they now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico with their fifteen-year-old grandson, Jeremiah, four cats and a big red dog named Malcolm. He is Elder’s Quorum President of his Santa Fe Ward. He is also the executive director of the Santa Fe Council for the Arts, Inc. Currently, he is organizing and producing PhotoArts Santa Fe, a ten-day biennial festival for the photographic arts. His artwork has appeared in numerous exhibits from 1975 to the present. You can visit Larry’s website here.

Larry, please describe yourself and your work.

I’m a chubby, 59-year-old artist with a ponytail and white beard. When people meet me they think I’m either an artist or a biker. Continue reading “An Interview with Larry Ogan”

Breathing In, Breathing Out

A few nights ago I took my kids to a local storytelling festival.  The storytellers were all Native Americans or had Native American heritage and the stories they told were trickster stories — Coyote stories, etc. — that traditionally may be told only during the winter months. Continue reading “Breathing In, Breathing Out”

Folk Culture/Criticism: The Rhetoric of Stealing God

The diagnosis that my daughter Mattea had been born with severe brain injuries arrived in tandem with a dire prognosis for the future of my family. Doctors volunteered the “fact” that 95% of families to which highly involved children were born failed under the strain of caring for them. Other interested parties fleshed out this statistic, saying that in nearly all cases where such families did collapse the child’s father was the one who usually jumped ship. In those families where the father stayed in the marriage chances remained high he would abandon the child emotionally, acting the roles of provider and primary insured party but leaving the lion’s share of the work of fighting for the child’s life to the mother. Continue reading “Folk Culture/Criticism: The Rhetoric of Stealing God”

Music: Fun CD Tunes Regional Heritage

I flunked out of first year piano. By no means, shape, or shading could I be considered an authority on music. But recently I happened upon a disc I enjoy thoroughly and I thought many AMV readers might enjoy it as well–if they can find it.

Stan Bronson’s two-volume single disc Storysinger (2000) contains songs from his recordings Down from the Mountain and Cowboys and Indians. The disc’s folksongs are set in the Four Corners area–particularly in San Juan County, Utah–and tell in engaging manner stories about the settling of the region. Stan Bronson possesses a classic cowboy singing voice–expressive, sincere and clear–the kind of sound that settles restless cows and tired children. Adults interested in folk music and pioneer heritage will find it an enjoyable listen, too.

Stan Bronson lived in the Four Corners region of the U.S. until recently when he moved to Salt Lake City. He has worked as a record producer, an actor, a songwriter and a folk musician. Among his credits as record producer is the album Proud Earth, which in 1976 received a Grammy Award Nomination in the “Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording” category. Chief Dan George narrated this recording of traditional and contemporary Native American music. Bronson also appears in The Touch, an LDS Motion Picture Studio student film grant project, which premiered during BYU’s annual student film festival Final Cut in the mid-nineties. The Touch won several awards from BYU’s film department, including Audience Choice for Best Film and Judges’ Award for Best Narrative. Bronson, who plays Christ in the film, was awarded an Outstanding Achievement Award for Best Acting. He has also served as president of an LDS branch on the White Mesa Ute Reservation south of Blanding, Utah.

In his CD Storysinger, Bronson’s lends his melodious and sympathetic voice to three groups of residents in the Four Corners area: Native Americans, cowboys, and Mormon settlers. Some songs tell stories from the perspective of a single member of one of the groups yet usually chronicle the interactions between the three. To my knowledge, most if not all the names spoken in these songs are those of authentic historical Mormon, cowboy, and Native American figures.

The songs in general have that classic cowboy flavor one associates with cowboy poetry and include the anticipated cowboy laments, ballads, and above-average cowboy humor, but Mormon references abound and one hears many LDS-themed surprises. For instance, “Aunt Jody’s Hands … [bring] the touch of Heavenly Mother’s love.” Several tracks chronicle the life, trials, faith, and visions of Blanding’s and Bluff’s founding fathers. For instance, “Bishop of Old San Juan” tells the story of Jens Nielsen who converted to the LDS church in Denmark then migrated to the U.S. and was shortly after sent to help found the Mormon San Juan Mission in Bluff, Utah. My nine-year-old daughter likes the song, “Man to Man,” a poignant ballad about Blanding founding father Albert Lyman.

Bronson’s Native American-themed tracks pay equal homage to important historical Native American figures. His sensitivity to and respect for Native American culture rings through in such songs as “Friendship Fire,” “Posey,” and “Victory Trail.”

In one of my favorite songs from the CD, “Cowboys and Indians and Mormons,” Bronson sings matter-of-factly about each of the aforementioned groups’ influence in settling the region, granting each one a verse outlining its vital historical presence and closing each verse with a chorus. For the cowboys, the chorus runs:

Well, most of those cowboys were friendly,
Most of those cowboys were fine.
But some of those cowboys were up to no good
Makin’ trouble all the time.

The same for the verse about the local Native Americans. The unexpected chorus for the verse characterizing the Mormon presence might give listeners a chuckle–or not, depending on one’s sense of humor:

Well, most of those Mormons were friendly,
Most of those Mormons were fine.
But some of those Mormons were up to no good
Makin’ trouble all the time.

Stan Bronson wrote all the songs on this CD with the exception of “Adios Amigo,” “Blue Mountain,” and “Song of White Mesa.” Unfortunately, the website address on the disc doesn’t work and I have no information for where one may go to purchase this disc. I have seen Bronson’s CDs for sale in shops around Blanding, Utah. Occasionally a record or disc comes up for sale on eBay. If anyone has any information about where Bronson’s music may be purchased, please email me, patriciagk at mindspring dot com, and I will post the information here in an update.

You can read an interview with Stan Bronson here.

Excerpt: And now for something completely different

. . . and hopefully a little fun. It’s been a rough week at Casa Karamesines, with illness ruling the household and PGK’s disabled daughter requiring much care day and night, and when PGK has a hard week she likes to put up something on AMV she enjoys doing, something that lightens her mind.

This is an excerpt from my much longer and (yet) unpublished essay, “Plato’s Alcove,” which won first place in the Utah Arts Council’s essay competition a few years ago. I enjoy writing these kinds of stories; they’re fun to play with. Adapted from the folk story form as they are, their language becomes approachable from nearly any direction. The essay from which I excerpted this story is about irony and beauty and how both may combine suddenly and unexpectedly in a dazzling flash to shift one’s world view. Warning: this is not a story about the origins of the world as per evolution or the OT creation story; this is a story about language, relation, and, as mentioned, irony, a much maligned and misunderstood trope. (Oh yes, and some readers with sensitive or out-of-joint noses may detect a faint whiff of environmental idolatry.)

In the desert one day I met Coyote, the Trickster-God. We greeted each other and sat in the shade. I opened my canteen and drank then offered Coyote a drink. When he thought I wasn’t looking he wiped the canteen’s mouth. Then he drank.

“Thank you,” he said, handing it back.

I gestured at the breathtaking view before us and asked Coyote, “Why is this place so beautiful do you think?”

He laughed and said, “I’ll tell you a story that explains everything.”

Used to be (said Coyote) Earth wasn’t like this. Earth wasn’t even earth. A great, watery business, it flowed together and apart, rising and falling. There were no plants, no coyotes, and no people–only Earth, and it couldn’t speak. Each day Sun called out to it but Earth stood silent. Moon signaled across the darkness but Earth made no sign.

Now a great Maker, Ma’i, Coyote, who goes from place to place and star to star, passing by Earth stopped to consider it. Seeing this sphere formed at the very limits of the laws he shook his head.

“What god did this?” he asked. “It’s the work of an imbecile!” To show his contempt he relieved himself on it. A seed passed through him in his scat and fell into the water. Then Ma’i went away.

Waves tossed the scat then struck one of the few drifts of land, casting scat and seed ashore. Instantly the ground doubled over on it and sank.

Moon and Sun continued to call to Earth but nothing happened. Then one day, something happened. The seed in Ma’i’s scat had sprouted! A green tendril rose up through the water and with this tendril, Earth found a tongue. The tendril became a mighty trunk. Its roots pulled together the drifting parcels of ground. Sweeping branches overhung every quarter.

The branches budded and burst into parti-colored flowers, each with a distinct odor and shape. The flowers ripened then dropped into whatever element lay below. Some fell into water, making various fishes and water-creatures. Others became land animals. Some falling through air changed into birds. Two flowers, each budding on separate branches, dropped into warm mud, plop, plop, making man and woman.

Thus Earth went from a sullen place to one of many utterances. Earth and Sun spoke in terms of life and to Moon Earth responded with silver tides. The tree died, but the creatures it produced multiplied like saplings in a willow thicket.

But of all creatures then living, First Man and First Woman (I’m skipping a bit here, said Coyote) were peculiar, because while there was no doubt they were of the tree they behaved as if they weren’t. Earth felt the relation and spoke to them in the sweetness of her fruits and the coolness of her waters. It caressed them with breezes and visited them in still places. Yet First Man and First Woman acted like they were they only thing in the world happening, which caused problems for everyone.

So Earth sent something more obvious by way of speaking to them, namely Strong Spirits. Like the blossoms that fell from the tree, each formed according to its element. There’s Desert Strong Spirit, Strong Spirit in the Sea, Star Strong Spirit, and so on. They tease Woman and Man, coaxing them beyond themselves, calling to them to join the rest.

Coyote finished his story and said, “Well, what do you think?”

“It’s just as you said. It’s a beautiful story and explains a lot.”

He nodded. Waving a paw at land and sky, he said, “This whole business is very ecological, economical, and remarkable, don’t you think?”

“Very,” I said.

“The Strong Spirit of this place has shown you this.” Then he said something that sticks in my head to this day.

“What do you suppose . . .” he began, then stopped. He coughed, “Ahem, ahem.”

“What?” I said. “Say it.”

“What do you think we’d do with our big brains if we weren’t all the time using them to get ourselves out of the trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into?”

I stared at the stones as if they had asked the question and not Coyote.

I said, “Why, I haven’t the slightest idea.”

Coyote slapped his thigh.

“Exactly!” he said.

Folk: Holding to the traditions of our mothers

One of my Christmas presents from my parents was a copy of The Man Who Ate Everything, a collection of essays by Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten. It’s a fantastic read. Steingarten mixes personal essay with food, science, travel and recipe writing in a way that’s informative, provocative, sensual and hilarious.

I had read several of the essays before, but had somehow missed that Steingarten has a Mormon connection — his wife was raised in the faith and culture.

Of course, it’s easy to for me to pinpoint why — all is revealed in the chapter titled “The Smith Family Fruitcake.”

I don’t eat fruitcake.

Steingarten loves it — a fact he attributes to not tasting it until he was 18 (his family is Jewish), and to the Smith family fruitcake. The best, he claims, was Aunt Marjorie’s (based on recipe created by Aunt Esther in Twin Falls), but Aunt Vivian’s — which she would send every year wrapped in a copy of the Deseret News — was also good. He also gives shout outs to Aunt Melva’s taffy, Aunt Frances’s jam and Aunt Evelyn’s butter mints, cookies and fudge.

I was enjoying reading someone of his talent and humor take on Mormon cuisine (such that it is).

But then Steingarten writes:

“”¦as the years pass and Christmases come and go like clockwork, fewer of my wife’s relations are able to bake as much as they would like, and most of the younger generation seems more skilled with the can opener than the canning jar. Marjorie and Aunt Vivian kept the fruitcakes coming until the end”¦” (398).

This, dear readers, should not be. I say it’s time to broaden our understanding of the spirit of Elijah. Yes, journals, written and oral histories, photos, genealogies and eternal covenants are important. But how much more would we feel connected to our ancestors if we didn’t confine them solely to text and image?

What happens when our daily practices — our material life, our life with materials — is suffused with their spirit, with the way they do/did things?

Let’s find out. I propose that all of us seek out our mothers — especially our aunts, great aunts and grandmothers — and learn from them whatever it is they do best. Not only cooking, but quilting, gardening, sewing — all the practices that arose out of gospel teachings, pioneer heritage and the conditions of life and history. I’m talking in particular here about the practices of Mormons in the Intermountain West, but certainly this is something anyone could do no matter his or her background.

And I don’t think it’s enough to call up and ask for the recipe. Often what makes a particular dish great are the little things that recipes can’t really capture. Get into the kitchen with your Great Aunt Martha and take copious notes of how she does things (especially how she measures and mixes — oftentimes the difference between packing the cup of brown sugar or not can lead to widely different results).

Some of this knowledge has already passed away. I vaguely recall hearing that a cousin of mine knew how to my Great Aunt Grace’s legendary divinity (of which I have often heard, but never remember tasting). But it’s not too late. Mormon cuisine is basically the food of the 1950s with a few traces of pioneer times. Those with this knowledge are still around.

And I don’t mean this to be some sort of ironic, post-ironic, kitsch project. It’s not hipsters learning to knit or crochet.

All I’m saying is this: let’s not forget the traditions of our mothers.