Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Amos Russell's Juke House

This delightful piece is one of a series of dioramic "Jukes" by the African-American self-taught artist Amos Russell, whose work is sold through Cathead Delta Blues and Folk Art in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I love the way the work draws the viewer into the sparse interior, with its unadorned white-washed plank walls, the simple door, and the tiny pile of firewood beside the wood burning stove. Most of the dancing and music-playing small figures have their feet lifted off the floor or an arms upraised, conveying a sense of the foot-stomping music and uncontainable vibrant energy of a Saturday night. (No one's sitting at the tables or at the bar; the music has evidently drawn everyone onto the dance floor.) Although the interior is relatively spacious, the fact that only four couples are dancing evokes the tight quarters of the classic cramped juke joint, which often could only accomodate a few dancers at a time. Russell deftly evokes, as well, the adorment of the rural work force that frequented the jukes, including the women's head ties and the men's caps and work hats.

See my reflections on co-teaching a travel course in the Mississippi Delta with my colleague David Cunningham, when our class was hosted by Dr. Luther Brown and his Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University:

And see our class preliminary website on oral history from Clarksdale and Greenwood, a partnership we did with the Delta Blues Museum:

1 comment:

Ellen Schattschneider said...

In her now classic work, "On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection", Susan Stewart writes “The miniature world becomes a stage on which we project….a deliberately framed series of events." Into Amos Russell's microcosmic tableau, we we indeed find ourselves projecting a narrative sequence: of the energetic exuberance between musicians and dancers, of the libidinal and romantic rapport between the dancers, of a momentary oasis from the brutal daytime world of cotton cultivation under Jim Crow. The miniature spatial scale allows for an imaginative extended temporal sequence.