Of the Soil
photographs of vernacular architecture and stories of changing
times in Arkansas
Dog trot houses, octagonal barns, and one-of-a-kind
hog houses: local buildings remembered by local people
In 1980, photographer Geoff Winningham and architect Cyrus Sutherland
traveled extensively throughout Arkansas to locate and photograph
examples of southern American vernacular architecture. They were
working on a commission from the First Federal Savings and Loan
of Arkansas, and after a year they had finished their project.
But, with their interest piqued and enjoying their collaboration,
they continued on their own in hopes of amassing a collection
of photography of vernacular architecture from every region of
For two more years, Sutherland continued helping Winningham find
the finest examples of vernacular architecture in the state.
By 1983, Winningham had photographed over 3,000 structures, but
he eventually put the collection aside and moved on to other
Three decades later, Winningham reopened his archive of Arkansas
photographs, found his interest rekindled, and decided to return
to the sites of the structures he had photographed. Most of the
buildings, he discovered, had disappeared due to fires, storms,
or neglect. But, while Winningham was unable to find many of
the structures he had photographed, what he did find were local
people who remembered them. The stories of these local people
join the original photographs in Of the Soil in a remarkable
fusion that shows us much about the culture of the American South.
Geoff Winningham holds the Lynette S. Autrey Chair in the Humanities
at Rice University, where he has taught since 1969. He has published
ten books, including, most recently, Going Back to Galveston:
Nature, Funk and Fantasy in a Favorite Place. His photographs
are in many collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Boston Museum of
Fine Arts; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Wittliff
Collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, Tx.
"The true basis for any serious study of the
art of Architecture still lies in those indigenous, more humble
buildings everywhere that are to architecture what folklore is
to literature or folk song to music and with which academic architects
were seldom concerned.
These many folk structures are of the soil, natural. Though often
slight, their virtue is intimately related to the environment
and to the heartlife of the people. Functions are usually truthfully
conceived and rendered invariably with natural feeling. Results
are often beautiful and always instructive."
Frank Lloyd Wright
from The Sovereignty of the Individual