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Small Town America

November 2023
1min read

by David Plowden, introduction by David McCullough, Abrams, 159 pages, $49.50 . CODE: ABS-4

David Plowden, who is a historian as well as a photographer as good as any we have, has spent much of his career recording the passing from our scene of the heroic age of the Industrial Revolution: steam locomotives, steamships, steel as it was made when Andrew Carnegie was making it. In Small Town America , however, he has found his subject in the modest back rooms and side streets that make up so much of the texture of our lives—and which are also going the way of the 4-4-0 and the lake steamer. The 111 photographs in this handsome and melancholy volume document with cool poetry a vernacular world of small post office lobbies, Spartan hotel rooms, the stage of a Wisconsin opera house with the curtain crowded with painted advertisements for local businesses (“Paquette’s Barber Shop: Hair Bobbing Our Specialty”), a handsome stained-glass passenger engine set in a Minnesota church window, “The gift of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers of the W. & St. P. R.R.” In aggregate, these intimate, well-worn vistas have a considerable emotional power, reflecting as they do a wholly familiar world that will have ceased to exist by the time our children are grown. The British poet Alfred Noyes said in his poem about a barrel organ, “the music’s not immortal, but the world has made it sweet.” There is nothing grand or gorgeous to be found in this book, but the workaday world it memorializes is sweet indeed.

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