Tennessee's Intentional Communities: Examining the Farm, Nashoba,
Rugby, and Ruskin opens at State Museum on October 3
The museum will present an exhibition this fall which looks at four unique social living experiments that took place in the state over the past 180 years. The exhibit, entitled Tennessee’s Intentional Communities: Examining The Farm, Nashoba, Rugby, and Ruskin, opens October 3 and is free to the public. The communities were founded out of the spirit of reform during important moments in the nation’s history.
The exhibition focuses on these four exceptional, privately conceived, reform-minded intentional communities created during eras of major democratic impulses occurring in American history. All were founded by non-Tennesseans of middle or upper class backgrounds who perceived the state as the best fit for their experiments. Despite the fact that few native Tennesseans actually lived in them, each community made its mark on the Volunteer State’s rich history.
The Farm was founded in Summertown by a group of young non-conformist people from San Francisco drawn together spiritually by the philosophical teachings of Stephen Gaskin. In 1971, Gaskin and his followers began looking for a place to form a community based on his teachings. The caravan of 60 vehicles crossed America and finally settled in Tennessee, after following Gaskin on a coast-to-coast speaking tour designed to share his teachings nationwide. His philosophy, that of putting universal love into action to create a better world, was a belief upon which The Farm was founded, according to Graham Perry, the exhibit’s curator. Its population peaked in the late 1970s, with more than 1,500 people living in tents, buses, and small houses and as many as 60 residents sharing close quarters.
Several artifacts illustrating daily life on The Farm will be on view. “The Law Suit,” the single formal suit owned jointly by the community’s male population, was worn to court to settle legal matters. Members of The Farm produced several inventions included in the exhibit – a “Kaputi” stove made from truck wheel hubs and homemade solar generators made from cookie sheets and other household items.
The exhibit also includes several audio-visual presentations which help illustrate the member’s commitment to “changing the world.” Farmies, as they called themselves, built 1,200 houses for the victims of a 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, started a school lunch program in Belize, and an agricultural training program in Liberia. They were also among the earliest volunteers to arrive in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Gaskin’s wife, Ina May, developed a free midwifery service center for women and published several widely acclaimed books on the subject. People now travel from all over the world to receive the home birth services provided by The Farm Midwifery Center’s outreach programs. The importance of this service is highlighted in both the exhibition and a film.
The exhibit also includes a newly commissioned communal art project, “Always Room For One More.” Former Farm resident Bernice Davidson has been associate professor of Art at Martin Methodist College, in Pulaski, TN, for the past 13 years. She recently organized a group of artists to illustrate what life on a Farm bus was like.
Nashoba was an anti-slavery community whose heyday was between 1825 and 1828. Located in the present day Memphis, suburb of Germantown on the Wolf River, Nashoba was founded by a Scottish woman, Frances Wright. She sought to create a community where the races could live and work side by side in an egalitarian manner to demonstrate the equality of human beings.
Wright was strongly influenced by Robert Owen and his alternative community, New Harmony, Indiana. At its largest, Nashoba had only 20 members and despite its failure, it provided an example of working egalitarian theory, Perry said. Highlights of the exhibit include a “New Harmony” costume and a lock of Wright’s hair.
Rugby, located on Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Plateau in Morgan County, was an egalitarian community founded in 1880 by renowned British writer Thomas Hughes. He saw the new community as a cooperative agricultural enterprise with a cultured Christian lifestyle where young people, otherwise disenfranchised from traditional occupations, could thrive. Rugby became, for a short time, a popular stop for dignitaries and notables who admired its natural surroundings, according to Perry.
During its prime in the 1880s, Rugby both flourished and floundered, attracting widespread attention on two continents along with hundreds of hopeful settlers from both Britain and other parts of America. By 1884, Hughes’ vision seemed close to becoming a thriving reality. Around 70 graceful Victorian buildings had been constructed on the town site, with more than 300 residents enjoying the rustic yet culturally refined atmosphere of this “New Jerusalem.” Literary societies and drama clubs were established while the new lawn tennis grounds were used with regular frequency. Colonists and visitors enjoyed rugby football, horseback riding, croquet and swimming in the clear flowing rivers surrounding the town site. Today, Historic Rugby has been immaculately preserved with its history interpreted daily for visitors from around the world. Many of its buildings have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Rugby Colony Historic District.
Several important period objects from Rugby, including Mrs. Hughes’ Tea Caddy and a 1880s writing desk from the grand Tabard Inn, named for the hostelry in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, are showcased in the exhibition.
The Ruskin community was begun in 1893 by J. A. Wayland, a Midwestern newspaper publisher, who used the profits from his successful newspaper, The Coming Nation, to purchase the site in Dickson County. Wayland named the colony after John Ruskin, the noted English art critic and socialist writer. A cave on the colony's property in Dickson County still carries his name. The exhibit includes images of the cave along with a photo scrapbook that depicts daily life in the commune.
Ruskin was a cooperative that blended capitalist elements with common ownership for the purpose of communal survival in a rural setting, according to Perry.
Ruskin attracted many settlers, disillusioned with the effects of the Panic of 1893, who came to the community looking to start anew in the wake of economic adversity. Although the premise behind Ruskin was egalitarian in spirit, the results were less so, with the schism of leadership playing a significant role in its quick demise at the end of the 19th century.
A Washington printing press, used during that period, will be on exhibit along with an original copy of The Coming Nation, a communalist paper published by Wayland.
Tennessee’s Intentional Communities: Examining The Farm, Nashoba, Rugby, and Ruskin will be on view through November 30, 2014.
Eyes on LaFollette: UT Student Photojournalism Project Marks 20 Years
An exhibition of photographs taken by University of Tennessee photojournalism students over the past 21 years opens at the State Museum on October 3. The exhibit entitled, Eyes on LaFollette: UT Student Photojournalism Project Marks 20 Years, has been organized by Robert Heller, professor, University of Tennessee School of Journalism and Electronic Media, in partnership with the museum.
The exhibit contains 202 photographs taken by 102 photographers. For 21 years Heller has brought his advanced photojournalism students from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville to photograph life in the East Tennessee town of LaFollette (population around 7,300). Through the lenses of student cameras, they capture a glimpse of this community’s endearing character. Each year, the local weekly newspaper, LaFollette Press, publishes a special edition of these photographs entitled “Eyes on LaFollette.” Edited down from tens of thousands of photos, both film and digital, the exhibit serves as a visual history of this community during that time period.
“From 1993 to now, my advanced photojournalism students and I have traveled the interstate north from Knoxville about an hour and spent a day and a half documenting life in the small town of LaFollette,” stated Heller. “The local weekly newspaper very generously offers up room to publish a special edition of these photographs. There are no big stories, no important events — just life as it is lived everyday.”
“Preparation for this project begins earlier in the spring semester as we take a brief ‘research’ trip to LaFollette and speak with staff members of the newspaper for a few hours,” Heller goes on to explain.“That discussion leads to story ideas, people to contact, and a quick drive around town before returning home. Several weeks later, sometime during early April, students head out and spend two days searching for great photos.”
Heller and his students then choose from among several thousand photos for the strongest images to use in the newspaper. They work on editing, layout, design and writing captions and short stories. Thursday morning, after one last review, pages are finalized and e-mailed to the newspaper, and students await the printed special sections to appear in class the next week.
“Twenty years plus, 250 students, 17 editions and tens of thousands of photos add up to quite an achievement. We'll keep doing it as long as the people of LaFollette will have us,” Heller went on to say.
In 2013, student
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