Homesteaders in Hot Glasses

It’s official: We've left the age of irony behind us. How else can you explain the packed room at Southern Exposure gallery last night in San Francisco, where boys sang about calendula flowers, a girl played an Autoharp, and everybody watched a film about a woman making her own linen underwear out of flax plants?

The event in question, officially called How-To Homestead Hootenanny, was a combo mini film festival, potluck homemade food tasting, and barn dance. (You could get into the event for free if you brought something you made to share—I brought beer.) Its creator, Melinda Stone, is an associate professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco who also has a farm on which she engages in old-timey activities like making hard cider. Founder of the site Howtohomestead.org, she chronicles her projects in short films and collects other similar homesteading-type films.

For the most part, the films were simple documentation set to music (somebody making vegetable stock; somebody making hard cider). A lot of the musical accompaniment was live, including some Autoharp and singing. In the case of making linen underwear, the process was not very simple at all: Flax had to be grown from seed, harvested, rotted, dried, broken up a couple different ways using arcane wooden tools, and then fed through a spinner to make linen thread. (This last part was done live by Stone in front of the room.) Watching this lost art come to life was made more fascinating by occasional factoids that flashed across the screen in titles (such as until the late 1700s, most American households had a flax plot, tended to by children.) Unfortunately, the film felt a bit anticlimactic when it became clear that Stone had not actually finished making her linen underwear.

The hit film of the evening, entitled Sk8 Sisters On the Farm, featured two young girlfriends in big sunglasses and flashy headscarves farming, tending some mysterious-looking poppies, hanging out on the front porch, baking corn bread in their solar oven, then jamming on an electric keyboard in a groovy cabin. (Hey, use the power where it counts!) Their hipster Utopian vision perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere in the room. After the film ended, a chaotic “barn dance” with live music ensued. Nearly everybody eagerly participated.

Image source: CHOW.com