Episode 6, In which Tammy enjoys flour sacks and family history


Exhibit flyer from Curator Edward Irvine and the Cameron Art Museum

Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina

After Hurricane Matthew moved the opening of Art from Flour: Barrel to Bag back a week,  I was dismayed to realize the new opening date coincided with a show for which I’d bought tickets and for which I’ve been waiting twenty years to see: Rent. (Yes, life is full. This is not a complaint.) This meant another week of not getting to the exhibit and missing its opening festivities, but it all turned out all right. When I did get to see it, my mom was with me, which made it even better.

Art from Flour: Barrel to Bag explores the connections between design, commercial culture, and those amazing moments when people find themselves with little and decide to make art out of it. My friend Ned Irvine curated this fantastic show, and part of the joy of seeing it with him was recalling all the conversations over coffee and lunch on design and the American consumer economy, for his work on design and flour coincided with mine on bicentennial consumerism and the beginnings of my interest in tourist photography.

The other joy came from my mom, who is a lifelong, practiced purveyor of joy. A true master in the art.

My mom grew up in rural Michigan in the late 40s and 50s. Her family was made up of, in the phrase of a new documentary, “Chicken People.” In addition to their day jobs, they raised chickens, sold eggs, and genuinely loved the birds, both when it came time to care for them and when it came time to eat them. (Plucking them was another story. My mom said she’d never teach me how to pluck a chicken so I’d never have to do it. Thanks Mom! That was a solid!). My grandpa, when he took his roosters to auction, would bid on them and buy them from himself if no one present had the intelligence to appreciate the rarity and beauty of those magnificent examples of pure cockitude.

Here’s where I circle back around to the flour sacks in the exhibit. Ned gave us a personal curator’s tour, which was a huge treat because no one knows more about the engaging designs of flour sacks than him. My mom had questions and insights because she had the lived experience relating to feed sacks, which have a history similar to that of flour sacks. Coming from a long line of creative and eccentric women who dealt often with scarcity, she is of the folk who found themselves with little and decided to make art with it. As they talked grist and fabric, I knew this was one of those moments when my absolute best and luckiest option consisted of listening and listening well.

Some time I’ll tell you about how my spouse thinks its funny when I get together with my mom’s side of the family because he thinks all we talk about are birds, sticks, and roots. I’ll start with that time my mom most awesomely referred to white pines as “opportunistic little bastards.” She rocks. For now, I’ll get back to appreciating what she and a good friend have to offer about flour sacks.


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