SIDNEY, Ohio — A new coffee table book, Images from the Land, has found a way to connect two seemingly incomparable industries — art and agriculture.
The book tells the story of agriculture in Shelby County, Ohio, through photos by Patrick Elsass, said Ellen Keyes, executive director at the Gateway Arts Council.
The council worked with local agricultural organizations to prepare the book, which covers all aspects of agriculture in Shelby County, from planting season to the county fair and to winter on the farm.
Although there are a few captions and famous historical quotes, Keyes said the photos do most of the talking.
“We wanted to make sure the ag story of Shelby County was told,” she said. “Art was the perfect vehicle for telling that story.”
Through the experience, the ag and arts communities discovered something remarkable.
“We’ve found that we have a lot more in common than not,” Keyes said.
“Farmers are very passionate people and do the things they do because they love it. The same is true for artists.”
Images from the Land began as two concert events in 2008. The concerts drew more than 1,400 people, Keyes said.
People from both the farming and art communities in Shelby County began planning the concert after attending a similar event in Springfield, Ohio.
The Shelby County concert took more than two years to plan, and for the concert, photographer Patrick Elsass’ collection of 8,000 rural and agricultural photos was whittled down to 800 photos.
For the book, those 800 photos were whittled down to 200, all printed in full color.
Keyes said 300 copies of the book were printed, and more than half of those have already been sold. The Gateway Arts Council will most likely schedule a second printing of the book.
People who have purchased the book have called it “marvelous” and “breathtaking,” Keyes said.
She said that she and other collaborators of the book had no idea how successful the book was going to be until they saw it all put together.
Participating organizations were the Gateway Arts Council, Shelby Soil and Water Conservation District, the USDA Farm Service Agency, the Shelby County Ohio State University Extension and the Shelby County Farm Bureau.
As Images from the Land copies fly off the shelves, Keyes said the purchasers should view the bigger picture.
“I hope [people] take away a love of the land and a love for art, and a new appreciation for both,” she said. “That’s what was put into it.”
She believes that it’s not only the readers who are gaining something from the book. Organizing the concert and developing the book was a learning experience for contributors on both the agricultural side and the arts side.
“We’re both much richer for having learned about the others’ position,” Keyes said.
She and other artists learned a lot about agriculture, including the risks and costs of running a farm and the graciousness of farm families.
In turn, those on the agricultural side gained a new perspective on the arts.
“Everybody has art and art is for everybody,” Keyes said.
Although additional concerts are a possibility, Keyes said nothing definite has been planned.
However, she said the council plans to incorporate the idea of combining art and agriculture into its children’s programs.
One idea in particular, she said, is “Through Your Eye,” a lesson where youth will be sent out into a field with cameras and encouraged to capture what grabs their attention.
Keyes is also hopeful local schools will try to incorporate similar ideas in their science and art lessons.
“The more you can involve all aspects of a brain, the better the learning,” she said.
Images from the Land
Gateway Arts Council
Check out these links to read about other Ohioans combining art and agriculture: