Thursday, January 8, 2009

Southern Indiana culture

When I was overseas working for our government, I spent a lot of time promoting American "culture" and answering questions about what it was and wasn't. Most of the people who thought they didn't like American culture, I discovered, were actually opposed to the idea of a global culture, much of which isn't really American. For example, Britney Spears is American and she is also a part of global culture. The Harry Potter books are globally recognized but they are not American; J.K. Rowling is British. Japanese cartoons are available to every kid in the world who has a television and a satellite dish, and some people don't even realize they are Japanese.

I found common ground with these people by explaining that I, too, and many Americans, are not that crazy about global culture. What I like, and promoted overseas, were those elements of our culture (like bluegrass music or the Gee's Bend quilts or the writings of John Steinbeck) that come from a specific place and time in our country's history. When we started the art center here in Bedford it was with the idea of promoting local artists and the continued development of our unique southern Indiana culture.

So what IS our culture? Quilts, for sure--my grandma made them and your grandma probably did, too, and so do we. Crocheted doilies, but not just doilies--collars, christening gowns, afghans--crochet seems to have been in our culture from the beginning, but it developed, and continues to develop, over time. Limestone--Bedford, also known affectionately as Bedrock, was built on it. The work of southern Indiana carvers and stoneworkers adorns buildings both stately and humble here and around the country. I felt a special connection when I took the kids to the National Cathedral in Washington knowing that my grandfather cut some of the stone used to build it.

The food of our area deserves its own paragraph. Persimmon pudding--I've never had it outside of Indiana. Brown beans and cornbread. Biscuits and gravy have a wider following and may not have originated in Indiana, but both my mother and grandmother made them, and DH, not a native Hoosier, has come up with his own wonderful version.

Music--when I was a kid and my parents told me "Stardust" was their song, I didn't get it. To my child's ears it sounded slow and meandering, without a catchy refrain. Now I'm old enough to love the song, and young enough to play it over and over on that marble contraption at Wonderlab in Bloomington. If you haven't tried it, I recommend it. You might have to elbow a couple of toddlers out of the way, but it's worth it. Nothing says Bloomington, Indiana like "Stardust." Folk songs that my dad used to play on his guitar for us all to sing at family reunions, like "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." I've never heard that song anywhere but at family reunions. To tell you the truth, I never really liked it; it's sad and I don't like sad songs, but it's ours, anyway.

Our upcoming exhibition of Janet Foster's work really celebrates what is great about the southern Indiana out-of-doors. I'm not giving you any hints, although there's a tiny example at Janet zeroes in on what is unique about our landscape and the people who make their lives here. Please join us for the opening if you can--Friday, February 20 at 5:00 p.m., and sometime during the exhibition if you can't.


  1. Rowena,
    I need to be a part of your grand adventure in Bedrock. when can we get a quilt retreat going? Or maybe a couple of days of beginning quilting followed with intermediate?? I want to come and play!!!
    My grandfather used to sing "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" to me. It is one of my fondest memories. I have never heard it anywhere else, either! I searched and searched and finally found printed music for it. It's not the same as hearing Grandpa's voice, but it is better than nothing!
    Keep up the fabulous work! Hope to be there soon!
    Kay M. Capps Cross
    p.s. Book 3 is on its way to the printer as I type!

  2. Kay, I'm so excited to get a comment from you! That you would like to come play in Bedrock is the best news! I've was waiting on the quilt retreat until your darling brother-in-law (aka DH) gets us a room finished that's big enough to accommodate all your loyal fans. But maybe we should just squish in, so we can make it sooner rather than later. Or we could wait for warm weather and take over one of the cell blocks. That would be a real adventure. What's your minimum square footage per quilter?

    Congrats on book 3--I can't wait to see it. When is it coming out? I have a couple for you to autograph already!

    You know the part of "Aunt Rhody" that always made me want to cover my ears? The part that goes, "The goslin's are cryin', the goslin's are cryyyyin..." I hate to hear about anybody's babies crying, even if they're geese.