Going Back Home
It’s always odd recalling the first time you returned to your family home and realized that things were no longer the same.
For me it was spring of freshman year of college. I was returning to Wichita to see my newborn niece, and suddenly understood how her arrival had shifted everyone’s family position. I was no longer “the baby”. There was a real baby. I was now an uncle, and my parents were now grand. A new life showed me just how much we were all changing, and how this process would only continue.
Sitting with artist David Wayne Reed and his cat Neely in his North KC home, talking over donuts, he paints his revelatory moment as one that was more sobering than my own.
On Father’s Day of 2016, he returned to his family home in Louisburg, Kansas to the death of his aunt. Starting that day he began to see things differently.
“My family was starting to change and disappear, and who knows what could happen with the land?” Reed says. “I remember it was such a beautiful day. I’d never seen the farm so beautiful. And maybe I was just looking at it through the eyes of grief, and everything just seemed brighter somehow – but it really inspired me to capture that [beauty]”
It was that 2016 Father’s Day trip back to Louisburg, as well as another trip with his nephew “going to Colorado, getting stoned and talking about his drone”, that led to the concepts behind David Wayne Reed’s Rocket Grants project titled Eternal Harvest.
Eternal Harvest is Reed’s seasonal performance installation series and film about the cycle of life, shown through the landscape of his family farm. In the clips released so far on his personal blog you can see the results of Reed arranging different markers of his hometown and family identity into living patterns.
Reed freed dozens of quilts sewed by his grandmother from a closet in her home, and used their designs to form interwoven, kaleidoscopic visions. Other choreographed sequences, viewed from above, depict community members moving in formation around carefully placed tractors and pumpkins, forming larger-scale patterns as they unfold and display the quilts.
Legacy & Impermanence
“I started to see the quilts as their own landscapes.” Reed says. The pieced fabrics are a crafted representation of his family history on the land where he grew up – like viewing it all from a plane flying over the farmland. And as the 7th generation of Reeds in Louisburg there’s a sense of legacy that he feels the pressure to fulfill.
“As a single, gay man with no children, I feel like I’m kind of an end of the family tree… and so to leave something lasting is very important to me.” Reed says “I don’t foresee myself doing that with children, but if I can honor those who came before me and also leave some mark of permanence on my community then that means a lot to me.”
I listen to David Wayne Reed talk about his project and see just how much he’s thought about both the conceptual and visual sides of his process. And the more we talk, the more Eternal Harvest breaks down. The project becomes a conversation between Reed and his roots about the larger existential questions that have no answers – like reincarnation and life after death.
“It’s hard to craft an effective narrative to that because those ideas are so vast! I felt like the only way to bring them into any kind of beautiful form would be through movement and music and landscape, and let that tell the story” Reed says. Using his personal life story and interests as inspiration, he creates a meditation on existence. By rearranging the imagery of his rural Kansas community with Buddhist-inspired philosophy and artwork, Reed expands his tools as a writer by developing a visual language – which has been a learning experience for him.
But what’s been most remarkable throughout the filming and preparation of Eternal Harvest is the significance that this installation and film have come to represent for the community of Louisburg. The project has gathered a spirit much larger than just the Reed family.
In addition to participation from the local High School band, Eternal Harvest has gained the support of the Louisburg Historical Society. It will be part of a regional quilters’ conference, and the film will be projected onto the side of the town’s community building and broadcast over a local radio station for people to tune in and watch drive-in style.
The performances and filming have brought together the past and future in this small town. It’s the 150-year anniversary of Louisburg’s founding and the local Library plans to incorporate Eternal Harvest into their celebrations. It is also Reed’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, the High School band marched in the Rose Bowl parade this year, and his family farm will be a stop on the Miami County Farm Tour (where the project will premiere May 12). The time in Louisburg is ripe for the coming of Eternal Harvest.
“I didn’t realize what an impact [an art project like this] can have in a community and it’s been really special for me to see how that’s evolved.” Reed says
“All these things coming into my lap… and engaging with my nephew who’s the drone operator and my dad who’s moving hay bales around for these installations, it’s such an all-hands-on-deck experience.” Reed says. “It never started out this big”
“Being able to really engage with members of my own community that I left and returned to – of which my family has been a part of for generations – it’s really meaningful… I will submit [Eternal Harvest] to film festivals, but right now it’s so micro-local…and I’m more proud of that!”
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