“Homestead Elegy,” will depict the fate of a late 19th century North Dakota homestead. The house was built by the artist’s husband’s great grandfather, a German immigrant, and was home to three generations. The nine grandchildren of the homesteader, raised by their formidable widowed mother in the depths of the Depression, were the last generation to inhabit the house.
Following World War II, three of the brothers, all unmarried, remained on and managed the farm. Their mother also stayed on the farm and lived until 1970. Over time, the house was enlarged somewhat and gained electricity and a telephone, but a wood stove was still used for cooking, water was obtained from a pump, and there was no indoor bathroom. The house remained occupied until about 1990 when the three remaining brothers died or were no longer healthy enough to run the farm.
But the house and its contents remain. Visits in 2017 and 2018, documented in dozens of photos, found the house still standing though somewhat decrepit and partially boarded up. It was still fully – if idiosyncratically—furnished. And there was a vast array of stuff – dozens of white trash bags full of unknown contents; pots, pans, and dishes; cardboard boxes; magazines; overalls; lumber; food and medicine containers; shoes; papers; playing cards; and enormous quantities of firewood – piled everywhere throughout the house. The farmland is rented out and cultivated but remnants of long dead farm equipment remain. Whether the accumulations of belongings were a reaction to Depression era privation, physical frailty as the brothers aged, or other causes, they provide a touching glimpse of a rugged way of life and a a striking contrast with the spare beauty of the surrounding North Dakota landscape.