"After the Harvest: Indiana’s Historic Grain Elevators and Feed Mills
Indiana State Museum
Through Sept. 23
Indiana, like many farming states, suffers from the ever-present tension between economic development and its agrarian roots. An icon of this tension is the grain silo, a relic of the family-owned farm — a tradition and way of life that is all but replaced by the corporate farm. There are functioning grain elevators, but they are fewer, and they serve larger swaths of farmland rather than the smaller communities that once were built around them.
Indiana photographer John Bower explored this symbol of our Hoosier past, visiting all 92 Indiana counties in search of the structures — from the imposing to the humble. Those no longer put to use, which is to say, most all of them, are even more salient for their dilapidation: sloughed off and cracking paint, the empty stare of broken windows, weeds and brush crawling over rusted metal.
Bower’s photographs, on view at the Indiana State Museum through Sept. 23, are intended to celebrate “the simple dignity of these utilitarian structures that have been so vital to our state’s culture, economy and history.” The State Museum is certainly the appropriate venue for Bower’s images: It’s the place where all things Indiana are explored, from the archaeological to the aesthetic.
Most of Indiana’s silos were built somewhere between 1890 and 1950. They were made primarily of wood and concrete while some were made of clay tile or metal. Bower looks at them from afar and then takes us inside, from a cobwebbed sewing machine used to make feedbags to a broom propped up against a piece of unidentified machinery. From the outside, Bower’s camera takes in the totality of these towering marvels of architecture: one resembling a deformed wedding cake, another a prison. A closed feed mill in Vigo County in the town of Lewis, Ind., is almost an afterthought: a diagonal shadow cuts across a loading dock, a nearby window sealed shut with plywood.
Displayed on the museum’s third floor bridge, the photographs were almost too easy to miss. Museums often engender a cool disreality, despite opposite intentions. But somehow, viewing these small photographs in this sterile setting made them all the more poignant, lined up as they were in two straight lines along either side of the broad hallway … like rows of crops guiding the eye to a distant silo. Certainly, Bower’s photographs are as much about loss as they are about identity.
After the Harvest: Indiana’s Historic Grain Elevators and Feed Mills is on view at the Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St., through Sept. 23. Call 317-232-1637 or visit www.in.gov/ism for more information.