On Tour: Shelley Rogers in Norfolk, VA

23 Sep

As I write on the train to Wilmington, DE, I’m puzzled by the odd state that only several days of nearly non-stop, purposeful and meaningful travel can produce—I’m between exhaustion and exhilaration, gratitude and wonderment, coming and going… And while I’m fighting off road weariness, yet unable to sleep, tired of schlepping around bags and wishing I’d somehow packed lighter (even though I’m still pretty sure that everything I brought was necessary and sadly realized the other day that I don’t have enough socks)… I’m filled with appreciation.

I’m on this amazing tour. I get to meet audiences and connect with them. What a gift.

My introduction to the kind folks at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA happened a few weeks before my arrival there when the Websmith, Gary Marshall, emailed me to request some photos that weren’t downloading properly from my website.  He sent a list of file names that intrigued him, one of which was called “Shelley.poultice.”

I figured that photo file required a bit of an explanation, so I sent him this story to elucidate the scene where it was taken:

“The poultice picture has a ‘nice weed’ story to it.  As we were shooting the apple harvest upstate, there were lots of insects buzzing around with all the sweetness in the air. Unfortunately, as I was shooting a hornet stung me on my hand! Luckily, though, John Gorzynski (farmer featured in film) quickly climbed down the tree, picked some plantain (a wide leafed weed that grows nearly everywhere there’s grass) and directed me to start chewing on it—the saliva of the stung person combines with the plant bring out a special, individualized remedy.  We placed the chewed up leaves on the sting and within a matter of minutes the throbbing stopped and I was able to continue shooting! As another farmer in the film said to me once, “Who says weeds are just weeds?”!!”

To my delight, his reply said:

“Thank you very much, and I’m looking forward to meeting you in person.  I’d add that I’d bring you something organic from my front yard for you to snack on during your visit, but Hurricane Irene pretty much blasted everything but my carrots, and my fall crops are still seed wannabes at this time.

Wonderful story about the poultice. Many, many years ago my grandmother from the hills of Kentucky did the exact same thing for a howling little kid. Me.”

I knew that if there was a fellow person there with a poultice connection, I was in for a treat.

When I arrived in Norfolk, I threw my bags down, quickly changed my clothes and headed right over to the Chrysler Museum to check out the scene.  After meeting the Education Director, Jennifer, and the Projectionist, Donna, we tested the DVD and I could relax. I went to make the make the acquaintance of Gary and found a warm, amiable friend who was willing to take me around on a brief tour of his favorite galleries in the museum.

As an art history major in college and a lover of nearly all things art, I was elated to see such a stunning collection. They have the Gaston Lachaise sculpture. Man, who is the counterpart to MoMA’s Woman, who is the subject of my mentor/professor George Stoney’s film Gaston Lachaise: Flesh in Ecstasy!

After hearing stories about Gary’s horticultural heritage (his grandmother tilled her own garden until she was 85 years old!) and his front yard vegetable garden that has inspired his neighbors to start composting and growing, too, it was time for the screening.

A nice crowd filed in (our youngest audience member at 4 months old!) and the lights dimmed. After the credits rolled and I opened the floor to questions/comments, the first audience member to speak stood to say, “My heart is beating out of my chest and I am speechless.  Thank you for such a wonderful film.” Floored by such a heartfelt compliment, I did my best to graciously thank her for her expression and more comments and questions came forth: “Where can we buy local organic?” “How do I find a coop to buy from?” “I liked that you didn’t shy away from talking about ‘big organic.’”

We had a nice discussion about “big organic” and I admitted how easy it is to get on the “down with corporations bandwagon,” but I also cautioned folks not to dismiss the potential good that can come when big players get involved in organic production. The environmental impact of widespread organic methods is significant.  Of course, we should still support local, organic first—indeed, in order to build healthy, robust regional food systems we must prioritize direct relationships between farmers and citizens—but in order to change the status quo, we have to change the whole system, not just part of it.

The best moment in Norfolk came at the end of the night when Education Director, Jennifer, her husband, Greg, and I sat on the porch of The Page House Inn drinking port.  Jennifer told me that that the museum guards who had to keep watch in the theater lobby fought to be able to take turns sitting in the chair outside that still had a view of the screen! And that the people at the front desk asked if they could leave their post to come to the theater!

Holy moly. I had no idea this film meant so much to people, but I will forever treasure that. When I think about all the years of struggle and grind it took to make the film, to know that urban museum employees are fighting for the chance to hear the stories of organic farmers makes it all worthwhile…

Jennifer told me as she was leaving that she has plans to have a staff screening so that all the museum guards and people at the front desk will finally get to see it, too, uninterrupted.

Post by Shelley Rogers, OSIP Touring Filmmaker.

Photos provided by Jennifer Schero of the Chrysler Museum.

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