American Vernacular

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As a nation we spend a disproportionate amount of time destroying the remnants of our immediate past. There are voices enough to protest against the razing of marble and brownstone monuments, but nobody speaks out for the far more vulnerable and transient victims of rezoning and renewal: cafés, small grocery stores, rural banks, shops, warehouses. Dark, lopsided, and shabby, they hang on for a while in the run-down districts on the edge of town and then disintegrate under the bulldozers to make way for the bowling alleys and condominiums. They are rarely lovely, but they can be strangely eloquent about the pattern of life in their era and the vision of the men who built them. There is something touching about the vernacular architects who strove to make these works attractive and sometimes impressive with too little money and knowledge. Their random decorations and clumsy borrowings from the classical style have invested their buildings with a sad, most American charm. All of us have, at one time or another, noticed an abandoned factory, a warehouse, or a stretch of decrepit main street and been at once depressed and reassured by its seedy and temporary persistence. Nobody has a better eye for this backwater Americana than David Plowden, whose photographs make up this portfolio. Most are taken from his forthcoming book Common-place , to be published by Chatham Press in October. The pictures form more than a catalogue of decrepitude; sooner or later the structures on these pages, blighted by telephone wires and forlorn with scabbing paint, will disappear. Their passing may not be a great tragedy, but it is nonetheless a good thing for us to have some record of the small aspirations and the homely vision of the unknown men who built them.