Thursday, June 30, 2005


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Farmers watch the weather reports with the same interest that New York lawyers following the stock exchange. Precipitation becomes more than just a topic of conversation if your livelihood is dependent upon Mother Nature's whim.

Thankfully a thunderstorm rolled through last night in the wee hours, and drenched the fields for a short time, giving a brief respite to the drought. The thirsty soil soaked up the meager but welcome offering. This morning my large Elegans hosta was sprinkled with precious H2O.

yucatan dreaming

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The nearest palm tree is probably a thousand miles from the corn and soybean fields of Illinois. But thanks to a businessman who opened a car wash near here, we can pretend we're sitting on a beach in the Yucatan. The building is a Key West type architectural design, and he's had these fake palm trees installed out front.

I sat on a bench waiting for the young workers to finish vacuuming and spiffing up the interior. If you tune out the hum of the machinery and look skyward, you can almost believe that you're in Playa del Carmen. Almost. I'm not quite sure the imagination will take you there in the middle of January, but it would be worth a try.

This flatlander has found a second love and every time I leave Playa, it's with a kiss and a promise to return. I miss all the lovely, hard working people that inhabit the Yucatan.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

wash day

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After the wedding, student volunteers demonstrated farm life activities, including doing the laundry. Wardrobe was quite limited in those days, limited by the amount of fabric you could produce on the loom, and the time it took to launder the clothing one piece at a time.

These students are participating in an effort to keep history alive in an educational and meaningful way. I wondered if any teachers have incorporated the blogging phenonmenon into their teaching by assigning students a blog to read for a month or two. They could then produce a report on what they've learned, or a critique of style, photography or whatever the teacher deemed appropriate.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

the vows

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In the late 1800's, one of the Durant daughters was married in this small parlor of what is now the Durant-Peterson Museum house. There were 15 guests at her wedding. Weddings of the time were not grand affairs and most likely occurred during January or February when the work load at the farm was at it's slowest.

This reenactment portrayed a wedding of the period and featured old time wedding traditions. One of student volunteers was the bride, her friend served as her groom, and a retired history teacher served as the judge. Visitors to the museum house were enthusiastic wedding guests. It was unlikely that a rural couple in the 1800's would have had a wedding portrait taken, but in this instance I was glad to serve as re-enactment photographer.

Monday, June 27, 2005


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The violin holds potential in the hands of a talented musician, and performance is the marriage of talent, emotion and hard work.

If you were to follow my comments on other sites, you'd discover that I'm not knowledgable enough of a photographer to discuss the technical aspects of the work. As a student of human nature, and cultural and social issues, I'm always interested in the story the photo tells. If the story is not readily apparent, I make one up. I've posted two separate photos of this talented young man in hopes that my small but loyal readers will comment on the merits of each. I love the darker nature of the previous photo, but in this one John's eyes are closed which supports my vision of music flowing from deep inside, unfettered by the sheet music which he cannot see.


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As children, we were always encouraged to create a rich artistic life. I can't remember a single day as an adult that I haven't done something creative, whether it be writing, painting, knitting, stitching or any number of endeavors. I have, however, always been wildly envious of people who have been gifted with musical talent, because I have none of it. None.

It's one thing to be moved by a beautiful piece of music, but to be able to perform and channel emotion through the instrument must be tremendously satisfying. It will remain an experience I can only dream about.

Picture here is John, a young musician who performed for guests at a reenactment of an 1800's wedding. He performed music that would have been popular at the time, and he was very talented and poised. Many thanks to John and his sister Emma, who performed prior to the ceremony.

pop corn

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Does it look hot and dry? It is. The corn is in danger of popping in the field.

I received an e-mail from Jerry at Garfield Farm in which he passed along the information that this is the driest early spring and summer since 1939. That fact that the corn plants are this tall and fairly healthy looking is a testament the development of drought resistant plants. The old saying is that the corn should be knee high by the 4th of July and this corn has surprisingly passed that mark.

I love to watch the fields. The perfectly spaced rows stretch as far as the eye can see. A windbreak of trees appears like a mirage on the gently curving horizon.
The corn loves basking in the heat, but only if it can be refreshed by a good rain. Mother Nature teased us mercifully last night, throwing a wave of lightning and thunder in from the Mississippi River, only to break the promise of rain. Not a drop fell on the parched earth.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


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It's all in the details.

Older buildings have fascinating details, such as this small, intricately carved element over the doorway of the First Congregational Church in Geneva. Above the cross shaped gingerbread is a curved window with stone quoin trim and above that columns and capitals crafted from wood.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

a man and his music

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In addition to keeping his tractor in top running condition, and giving it a beautiful paint job, Avery has installed a cassette tape player. He was very enthusiastic about sharing his choice of music......lots of Swedish and Bohemian polka tapes. I had to admit I'd never heard of Swedish polkas. The only thing missing on the tractor seemed to be a cup holder, for a nice can of beer while you're plowing.

the collector

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This is Avery Stevens, the tractor collector I met this morning. I believe he said he has at least 7 old tractors, including a Silver King, and Avery and others. Collecting is an addiction, whether it be tractors or cameras, and some are more pricey than others.

Avery is donning his gloves to tighten up the chains that hold the tractor on the flat bed trailer. Tomorrow he's driving the Minneapolis Moline in the Swedish Days Parade in nearby Geneva. That ought to give the kids a thrill - they love machinery!

minneapolis moline

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On my way out to do errands this morning I stopped for gas at the Pride Pantry. Luck had it that pumping gas across from me was a guy hauling this beautiful 1948 Minneapolis Moline tractor to a show out in Sandwich, IL.

I struck up a conversation and asked him if I could take some pictures. People are always happy to talk about their passions, and collecting old tractors is his. He told me that after World War II, when farmers were choosing to upgrade to the bigger machines, these were languishing in barns all over the countryside. You could pick them up for $50 to $75, and he in fact had originally paid $75 for this machine. He assured me that he could now get at least $1,075, although in truth it's worth much more than that.

When I shared the pics on the LCD screen he became a critic of composition. He was unhappy about the broad banded canopy over the gas pumps, and offered to pull his truck and trailer out and in front of some nice trees to provide a suitable backdrop! And, being ever the collector he was concerned about the paint not being in pristine condition. No worries Avery - this is a working machine!

Friday, June 24, 2005

a little piece of heaven

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"Nine miles from here", is a term you will hear me using often. It refers to the approach of development which is burning like a runaway prairie fire just nine miles from here.

The residents of an older community set aside what appears to be about 2 or 3 acres of land. Years ago it was plowed and tilled and sectioned off into small individual gardening plots, and each year the stewards of those plots raise corn, lettuce, cabbage, pumpkins, tomatoes....whatever their hearts desire.

This gentleman waters his small crop as progress looms in the background. Things look grim for these suburban farmers. The land their crops inhabit is too valuable as development fodder. At least three $500,000 homes, or one good sized strip mall could occupy this space. I wonder if they can smell imminent domain creeping down upon their little piece of heaven?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

the work glove

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There's an eerie element to working in old barns and farms. It's an unsettling feeling created by the images themselves. As you look around you, questions arise. When's the last time a barn cat at out of the food bowl that is now filled with dirt and leaf litter? When did the huge vine take hold in the corn crib, spillling it's green harvest out the door and onto the floor? When the raccoons move in, making this space their own?

Chairs sit empty next to the grain lifting machinery. Work shirts hang rotting on nails, and gloves have fallen to the ground, dropping from the farmers back pocket. The air of abandonment hangs heavy on the space.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

use it up

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Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Do without.

This maxim certainly would have applied to the early settlers.

One of my recent finds at a barn sale was a book entitled, "This Cruel War". It's an almost complete set of letters written by a husband and wife during his service in the Civil War. Much energy and concern was spent upon the rigors of daily life. The wife would spend a large amount of time spinning and weaving. The resulting length of homespun cloth would be quite precious. They discussed at length how the fabric would be used. At first it was to become a shirt for the husband, as a Confederate soldier he complained of being poorly provisioned. But he thought to use the cloth for his children back home. After a length of fabric has served it's purpose as an article of clothing, it would have been cut into strips of cloth to construct a rag rug. Linda Saxer and one of her volunteers demonstrate the weaving of a rag rug on a small wood frame. Many thanks to Linda and other area preservationists who work hard to keep history alive.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

mystery shopper

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Marge and "the furniture guy" discuss business at the barn sale. Many of the rural barns have outlived their original purposes and now house antiques and tons of interesting things. Up the road from here Val has a barn full of stuff and two giant stuffed toy monkeys that reside in the rafters, serving as unofficial barn sale mascots.

I wasn't aware, until I downloaded this image, that I'd caught a mystery shopped in the old mirror hanging on the wall.

margie's free coffee & cookies

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This is Margie. She is perhaps the most interesting person I've met in the 11 years I've lived in the country. Her and her husband built their place in 1948 on 5 acres just down the road from me. In the beginning there was no running water, indoor plumbing or central heat. In the wintertime, water turned to ice as she scrubbed her kitchen floor. She's just one of those wonderful, honest and hard working people who are the strong foundation of our community. Her and her husband continue to work - she runs antique and estate sales, and he's a farrier, shoeing horses for local farmers and equestrian centers.

Unfortunately, the new people moving in, attracted by the developers promises of "Large Homes - Less Money", will never take the time to get to know Marge. After all, she doesn't shop at the Coach Handbag store over on Randall Road.

This is probably not a very good portraits, as portraits go. The details on her sweater are blown out, and the lighting on her face a little strange. But perhaps, just perhaps, I've captured some of the "stuff" that this woman is made of. I caught her at the barn sale, and it seems fitting that she's surrounded by her stuff. I found some great little treasures, spent $11 and helped myself to her free coffee and cookies!

Monday, June 20, 2005

corn husk dolls

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In addition to the adult volunteers, the Durant Peterson Museum House is lucky enough to have a group of school age kids who interpret the lives of the children who called this house their home. They volunteer their services for the various special presentations, including the annual Summer Frolic.

Last Sunday, three of the young volunteers were busy in the kitchen, which was added to the original house in 1880. It's always time travel for me. The girls were sitting quietly at the table, attending to their work and in the background a beautiful cast iron cookstove. If you visit in the wintertime, the stove would hold a belly of burning wood and a tasty stew would be bubbling in a pot.

A young girl who lived in the house described in her journal the advent of an exciting new pasttime - stringing buttons on thread! Times were simpler, choices were fewer, life was hard and lots of work. But those who have spent some time in the past (participants in the PBS "House" series), especially the children will tell you that it was actually less stressful and more fun!

If you're interested, you can scroll down to the next entry to see how I transformed a color photograph to a fake tintype. If you live the Chicago area, the Summer Frolic is Sunday, July 17 from 1-5 p.m.

2005 to 1880

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This is the color photo I started with.

Usually I convert an image to monotone using the Channel Mixer mode in Photoshop, but for this purpose I needed to follow these steps:
Image > Mode > Grayscale > Discard all color information? > Click OK

This produced the following black and white image:

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I then converted the image to a duotone:
Image > Mode > Duotone > (Drop down menu) Type > Duotone
Color #1 is black > Click on color #2 > I chose Pantone 134C

Here's the duotone:

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In order to produce a tin type effect I then created a vignette:

Grab the Elliptical Marquee Tool and draw an oval selection where you'd like the light to fall on your subject.

Add a new layer in the layers palette. Hold the Alt. key and click once on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
Next, in the Layers palette, click on the large thumbnail of the layer you just added. The thumbnail appears all black. Press "d" to set the foreground color to black, then hit Alt-backspace to fill the layer with black.
Click on the opacity slider and set it to anywhere between 40-50% and your photo should now should have a dark border with a transparent oval in the center.
In the layers palette click once on the Layer Mask thumbnail (the thumbnail with the black oval).
Go to the Filter menu - Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Pull the slider all the way to the left and start moving it to the right until your find a pleasing blend.
Click OK.
You're done.

Image hosted by out and get some vintage clothing, or find some of those Civil War reenactors and you can create yourself some fake tintypes.

barn loom

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Our community is fortunate to have a dedicated group of historical preservationists and volunteers who maintain a number of living farms, museum houses and even a restored one room schoolhouse. Yesterday the Durant-Peterson House and the Prairie Shoals schoolhouse were open for tours. Linda Saxer and her well-trained docents demonstrate living skills from the mid 1800's. This is the barn loom that stands in the back corner of a room that was added on to the original home sometime after 1843. The loom is position between two windows, one facing east and one facing north. This provides the necessary daytime light with which to work. The loom is beautifully constructed, and make for a lovely image of wood, warp and weft.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


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The silos all have some type of ladder system to enable the farmer to climb to the top. The Harvestore at the old Anderson farm has a ladder that is built onto the outside. This is an older type silo, one made of a concrete substance, and the ladder is encased in its own space attached to the side. Silo climbing is certainly not for the faint of heart, or those afraid of heights or tight spaces.


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This is the inviting entrance to the First Congregational Church in Geneva. This town was settled by a large Swedish population and that heritage is celebrated each year during "Swedish Days". The festival, which begins on Tuesday, has lost much of it's original purpose since the area has changed dramatically over the past few years.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

a coat of many colors

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Unlike the flighty dragonfly, who flitted nervously from plant to plant, this iridescent fly sunned himself on a broad leaf. He was quite content and although I'm sure his compound eye notice the camera moving in for a close up, he held his ground. This fly was quite small in relationship to a common housefly, and miniscule compared to a horsefly. He was a beauty though, with interesting wings that were partially transparent. He wore a coat of many colors, an iridescent cloak which glowed against the leafy background.

the secret life of weeds

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Two barns had come down in one week, and my mood was definitely gray if not black. It occurred to me that it has been awhile since we checked in on the progress of the corn crop. With all good intentions of grabbing some corn shots, I started tramping around at the edge of the field. Every photo seemed to be boring and uninspired. In frustration I headed toward a large stand of sticky, bristly weeds near the treeline.

At this point I realized that I was walking, walking, walking aimlessly, snapping and hoping for a photograph to appear. I decided to stand still at the edge of the weed patch and take the time to slow down and observe. Motionless, I listened to the sounds - the ever present prairie wind and an unfamiliar bird call. My eyes turned towards the weeds where if you looked closely you could discern strange forms and wonderful color.

The weedy landscape changed over the following 15 minutes. A dragonfly flitted between the plant, making it impossible to catch him with the camera. Flies sunned themselves on broad leaves and butterflies danced playfully over the dangerous barbs. The thistle leaves created a canopy shading the prehistoric looking stem.

A wonderful way to spend a quarter of an hour.....slowing down and taking notice of the secret life of weeds.

Friday, June 17, 2005

just plain gone

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The last entry was entitled, "Gone Fishing". This one - "Just Plain Gone". It's been a hard week for photographers and barns in central Kane County.

My computer crashed and the hard drive burned in a blaze of glory, taking with it a large number of photographs I hadn't yet backed up. On this score I'm fine, knowing that there are many, many other pictures out there waiting to be discovered, and in every little disaster there's a lesson to be learned.

Many times part of the process of handling disappoint involves a quiet early monring drive down one of my favorite country roads. For me it serves as a form of meditation. As you drive past all the familiar landmarks your mind becomes more peaceful and the chaos of loss is quieted. The peaceful, familiary scenes are food to the creative side.

Head north on Corron Road, past the Lenkaitis farm where dairy cows graze in the south pasture, which a noisy goose chases after the sheep in the north pasture. Further along the Corron fields stand fallow, unplanted after the township purchased them in an effort to preserve some open space in the face of development, which is tearing through the county like a runaway wildfire. The beautiful horse farm is next, on the left hand side of the road. The road turns sharply down and to the right passing the old barn at the top of the rise. I've photographed this barn many times, but my favorite time to visit is in the winter when everything is blanketed with snow. The sounds are muffled and the light is tinged with blue and pink, that special winter light that softens even the harshest edge.

I often reminise about when the baskeball hoop was used last. How many years have passed since a teenager and his farmer dad shot hoops in the barnyard?

Jim the computer guy informed me that my old hard drive was a thing of the past. I got in the car early one morning and headed out along Corron Road, past all the familiar and comforting landmarks. Down the hill and up the other side, turning right. The old barn is gone. Dismantled within the day or so that I last traveled the road. Thousands of board feet of old barnwood, gone. Huge beams, 12 inches square, carved from a single tree, gone. The mysterious basketball hoop, gone. In it's place a sign. Coming soon......a gated community for the over 55 crowd.

Coming soon? Gone.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

gone fishing

Well, not really, but The Farmers Wife must take a temporary hiatus due to a computer crash. I'm checking in on my daughters computer, which seems to be having issues also. I'm just old enough to have a love/hate relationship with technology. During this crash I will be taking photos, catching up on some reading and knitting! I'll be back as soon as Jim the Computer Geek can figure out the problem. By the way, out here in the country he makes house calls!!!


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This is some detail from the English Congregational Church of Christ in Big Rock, Illinois. The architecture is dramatically different from most of the country churches in the area, which were built by early German or Swedish immigrants.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


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This farmer as retired, and long since moved away from the area. He cannot, however, part with the land. That is often the case in this area. The house has been rented to a family that works in the nearby town. The farmland is also rented out, to a farmer that plants the fields. The barn is slowly deteriorating, being picked apart by elements. Wind and weather combine to serve as Mother Natures vulture, reclaiming the wood and stone long ago harvested for it's creation. It's not uncommon to find hay still in the hayloft, which never cease to amaze me. Like an earlier photography I posted here (The Work Shirt, April 19), it seems as if all work was suspended in the middle of a season. It's an almost eerie feeling. Archaeologists have discovered ancient settlements that likewise seem to have been inexplicably abandoned.

green and grey

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The green roofing on this barn was installed a couple of years ago, using new materials. It looks oddly out of place next to the aging grey barnboard. At least the farmer has invested time and money in an attempt to stall the complete deterioration of the building. It's hard because it is quite an investment to maintain a building that no longer serves the purpose for which it was built. Money is more commonly spent on upgrades or machinery that will improve the bottom line of the farm. After all, this is a business, and livelihood for those who choose this life.

Friday, June 03, 2005

far and away

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In answer to yesterdays question = the farms around here are large, but nothing in comparison to the wheat operations in Kansas or Saskatchewan. This picture was taken just before the fields were planted. The tight cadre of buildings is surrounded by open fields, and the farmhouses are separated by what I judge to be at least 1 or 2 miles on average. Farther west of here (about 40 miles) those distances increase by about double. The farmhouses seem very far removed from each other.

The building in this photo appear to be insignificant in size, but they are not. The silo is between 2 1/2 to 3 stories tall. This farmer plants 2,500 acres of his own property and another 17,500 acres of rented land for a total of 20,000 acres! That alot of land to plow and harvest!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

the yoke

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A single yoke rests against the fence. It has a beautiful form, carved from maple. The wood has taken on a patina that comes with age and wear, and creates an interesting image of a tool. Unlike like most modern industrial designs, this is an organic form.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

rural symbol

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Not many people have even seen the small town of Holcomb. Made up of only perhaps 25 homes, the town nestles in the middle of cornfields. Corn and soybeans stretch as far as the eye can see. A railroad spur borders the town on the east, but it is rarely if ever used. Grain elevators are the dominant feature on the landscape, rising up from the flat expanses like shining minarets. They are the symbol of a lifestyle in middle America. Hard work, honesty, family, faith and country.