Two perspectives on rural Missouri absurdities

Aug 7, 2013

Credit Harum Helmy / KBIA News

Walk into Columbia’s Museum of Art and Archaeology between now and Aug. 11, and you’ll find some pretty intense, large-scale woodcut prints depicting rural Missouri life staring back at you.

In one print, naked women straddle a monster truck. Another depicts a brother and sister getting married to each other. One print has an entire town going berserk with excitement over the opening of a fast-food chain restaurant, and in another, customers at a shop try on a used denture... and put it back on the shelf. 

2 Weeks in August: 14 Rural Absurdities” is the satirical work of the Missouri artist Tom Huck, which he says is inspired by growing up in rural Potosi.

Huck's designs are dense and intricate. He fills every inch of his woodcut with a narrative detail. Every print is so rich, it can be overwhelming at first sight. 

Museum of Art and Archaeology Director Alex Barker says making such detailed design on woodcut is “enormously hard” to achieve.

“Normally woodcuts have a very simple structure,” Barker said. “It's a very difficult medium work in, so there's a tendency to use fairly broad lines and fairly simple design. Huck does exactly the opposite.”

Credit Courtesy of the Museum of Art and Archaeology

Barker says there's almost a brutal frankness in how Huck's prints depicts rural life in Missouri. 

“But at the same time, there's an element of absurdity that allows us to identify with them, without necessarily finding them foreign,” Barker said. 

I spoke to two women from the Missouri Ozarks to see what they thought of Huck's depiction of rural life. 

Folklorist and rural Missourian Rachel Reynolds Luster says she's a fan. She works and lives in Oregon County, just north of the Arkansas border. 

Also a woodcut enthusiast, Luster said she found Huck's techniques fascinating when juxtaposed with the subject matter. 

“It's a very delicate art form,” Luster said. “Very fine, very detailed. Very time consuming and in that sense very precious. To take the subject matter that he had, and the approach that he had of being comical and satirical, which people can see as flippant, and then pairing that with all of this care and detail, it's also an interesting statement.”

Marideth Sisco of West Plains and Winter's Bone fame said Huck's series made her sad.

“I looked hard for kindness in his art, but I didn’t see it,” Sisco said. 

Sisco said Huck depicted rural people as always being in the throes of “giddy wickedness.”

“Well, my grandmother had a saying about that,” Sisco said. “There was a fella in town who was doing bad things, and I was making disapproving noises about that, and she said, ‘You know, you gotta leave ‘em alone. If he knew better, he’d do better.’”

But Luster says she appreciates how Huck’s work challenges idyllic perceptions of rural life.

“That series draws attention to that darker side that lives maybe underground for the people in the community,” Luster said. “But it nonetheless exists and is a part of our story. He brings it to the forefront and challenges it by making it comical, and acknowledges it in ways that other works don't.”

To view the prints, click here