Monday, April 6, 2009

Photographer Cheryl Walsh Bellville

My friend Cheryl Walsh Bellville, who took the photos of my family that I posted yesterday, is someone I've known since I was 18 years old, living on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota, in the Cedar Riverside community there. I was just a kid working at the New Riverside Café, an "anarchist collective" offering vegetarian food and music.

Cheryl was a bit older, a college graduate living in her own little rough-and-tumble rental house, with an immaculate 8-foot square fenced garden next to the front curb. Her kitchen had homemade shelves (which she probably built), lined with jars of beans and grains. Simplicity and beauty, an incredible eye. Before I had ever heard of someone like Martha Stewart, I knew Cheryl: naturalist, gardener, horsewoman, photographer, independent thinker, and endlessly energetic archivist of the anarchist world we inhabited. I was always reassured – and a bit mystified – by the fact that our quasi-chaotic little village-within-the big-city (where everyone knew everyone else, from the drug addicts to the musicians to the political activists who brought Jane Fonda to speak at Augsburg college) could also be home to someone so practical, down to earth, aesthetically sophisticated, and self-disciplined.

Later we spent some time together on a collectively-owned farm in western Wisconsin, where Cheryl planted gardens and orchards, canned pickles, cared for animals, and developed her vision of a rural-urban life. She raised two wonderful kids, Luke and Katey, and I had the honor of designing Luke's birth announcement. For many years they lived across from Riverside Park in Minneapolis, in a little white bungalow, while also spending time in the country in Wisconsin. Cheryl took photos throughout all those years: of peace protesters, local musicians, hippie farmers, real farmers (not to be confused with the former in those days), and other people who made up the dynamic, emerging world of food co-ops and arts organizations in the Twin Cities.

Cheryl does a better job than almost anyone I know of cultivating a personal-meets-professional life that allows her to have the things that matter most: time, access to the natural world, lifelong learning, and the luxury (necessity) of interesting work. When she creates children's books, for Carolrhoda Publications, they are on topics she knows something about: airplanes (I believe she has a pilot's license), farmers' markets, hot air balloons, bison, Native Americans, maple sugaring, farming with horses. I think it's unfortunate that so many of these books – still relevant today – have gone out of print. (You can find them for ridiculously low prices on the web.)

Here are a few more wonderful images from Cheryl. She has docmented some of Garrison Keillor's work over the years; that's Studs Terkel reading for A Prairie Home Companion. I love the hand-tinted photos of the fishing shacks, too. That's Katey with the crab apples. If you look closely at these images, you'll see the subtle colors throughout: a beautiful quality of light.

1 comment:

Nor said...

nice!! It takes a friend to know one... i've got to get that maple sugaring book pronto. I missed taking the kids this year but next year I'm going to do it.