During our first week in Bethel, Hillary’s grandfather, Richard W. Lail, agreed to show us around Clermont and Brown Counties and share some of his deep knowledge of local history. We were expecting a leisurely afternoon tour of a few sites of interest, but were touched to find that Grandpa had stayed up the previous night planning a comprehensive experience for us. Over the course of five hours, he recounted a series of richly nuanced historical, cultural, and personal stories, supplementing them with relevant articles he had compiled for us and stops at local restaurants, businesses, and historic sites.

[This video is currently down for editing and will be back up soon.]

As we reviewed the footage we had taken from the backseat of the car, one moment stood out in particular: When Grandpa mentioned we could find all of the information he was sharing with us on Google, Hillary replied, “I like the way you tell it.”

For us, this statement captures the significance of encountering history as a shared narrative. As Wendell Berry stated in his 2012 Jefferson Lecture, “It All Turns on Affection,” “[I]n the stewardship of humans, there must be a cultural cycle … continuously turning in place. The cultural cycle is an unending conversation between old people and young people, assuring the survival of local memory, which has, as long as it remains local, the greatest practical urgency and value. This is what is meant, and is all that can be meant, by ‘sustainability.’ The fertility [of land] cycle turns by the law of nature. The cultural cycle turns on affection.”

The drawing we made with Grandpa through Clermont and Brown Counties.

Watch the video here [down temporarily], and click on the images below to read Grandpa’s accompanying literature.

Special thanks to Richard and Ruth Lail for supporting our work and providing us with this generous tour and wealth of historical knowledge. We love you both!

Posted by:SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing

SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing was a process of serial socially engaged research facilitated by artists Francesca Fiore and Hillary Wagner in collaboration with the rural community of Bethel in Appalachian Ohio. From 2017 to 2019 SOIL SERIES took many forms including conversations, public programs, projects, and collective imagining. A drawing in the most expansive sense, SOIL SERIES was an exercise in relational mark-making. By creating the conditions for new conversations and possibilities around artmaking, the public, and social imagination, SOIL SERIES proposed social drawing as the generative engine for community-initiated action.

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