Inner Lives of AMS Faculty

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My name is Tessa Lowinske Desmond. I begin teaching classes in American Studies this spring. While you’ll see my course listing this term is for a course in multi-ethnic literature, my more recent academic projects have focused on food and farming, with special attention to food insecurity and migrant farmwork. What you may not know about me is that I’ve recently started a farm of my own. Farming is different than the kind of work I’ve done previously, to be sure, but I experience it as a somewhat natural extension of my intellectual interests. Writer-farmers like Wendell Berry, Will Allen, Barbara Kingsolver, and Mark Shepard, have shaped my thinking about food and have called to me from the pages of their books to join them in the fields. (I’ve always been a fan of engaged learning!)

I currently have eight alpaca, a donkey, a goose, and twenty laying hens. This spring, I’ll be adding pigs and chickens to raise for meat. I will also break ground on a quarter-acre vegetable garden and begin the patient work of planting fruit trees. My farm practice is informed by permaculture principles. Permaculture = Permanent + Agriculture and speaks to a farming practice that prioritizes perennial, food-bearing plants that do not need tilled soil and annual replanting. The practice is part of a movement in sustainable agriculture that seeks to prevent soil erosion and promote carbon sequestration. My six-acre plot is just a drop in the bucket when compared to the enormity of most farming operations but it feels good to be getting my hands dirty in search of answers to some of the pressing problems facing our food system.

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During her sabbatical, Anne Cheng finished her new book and took up much needed art therapy....

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Brian Herrera explains his Acadoodles — “Drawing the line: Anatomy of an ‘acadoodle’”

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My partner, Alfred Bendixen (American Studies, English, Gender and Sexuality Studies), and I collect Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni art with a focus on the intersection of traditional craft and political or pop culture subjects. Some examples below:

  • Manfred Susunkewa’s (Hope, Second Mesa) juxtaposition of a Hopi kachina dancer and a coal minor:a reflection of the intertwining of Hopi traditional life and the predations of Peabody Coal near their land.
  • Clarence Lee’s (Navajo) silver pin entitled “The Neighbor’s Dog.” Lee’s neighbor had a vicious, aggressive dog that constantly harassed anyone who came near, so Lee immortalized him in silver.
  • Farlan and Alesia Quetawki’s (Zuni) beaded Chewbacca unites the intricacies of Zuni beadwork with the Star Wars mythology.
  • Lindaphine Warren’s (Navajo) sandstone carving of the “Long Walk” of 1864, commemorating the forced removal of Navajos from their traditional lands.Lindafina is the daughter of the late Homer Warren, renowned sandstone carver, and Irene Warren, a weaver. The sandstone figures were carved using a wood screw.

I attempted to theorize the pleasures and politics of collecting these objects using performance studies in “Disruption, Continuity, and the Social Lives of Things: Navajo Folk Art and/as Performance,” TDR: The Drama Review 50.4 (2006)  – Judith Hamera