In the introduction to his new self-published book of vernacular photography and tourist postcards, “In Situ: American Folk Art in Place,” archivist and collector Jim Linderman, who’s known for his Dull Tool Dim Bulb blog, warns that these images he’s gathered “don’t belong together at all. My arbitrary curating criteria is a falsehood.”
“You know, he is kind of eccentric, and his yard is full of all sorts of things.”
Yet his oddball collection makes perfect sense: When wandering North America’s highways and backroads in the 20th century, you could have stumbled upon any one of these landmarks. They’re the sort of things that make you stop and exclaim, “What IS that!?” Sometimes it’s an obvious advertisement, a come-on for gawkers or tourist dollars—“Come see The World’s Largest Chair!” Other times, it’s an object-filled front yard of the town eccentric, whether he or she is obsessed with windmills, birdhouses, or the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. There are Uncle Sam mailboxes, straw-stuffed scarecrows, truck-stop dinosaurs, sand sculptures, hand-painted signs, parade floats, toothpick sculptures, and even early art cars—anything made by self-taught artists, or what we now call folk art, in its original, intended context.
While most of the images are old postcards and vintage found photos, some were taken by Linderman himself. In the introduction, he explains his method: “One trick during my folk-art picking days was to stop at the local post office and say I was a working photographer sent to document a place I could not find. ‘You know, he is kind of eccentric, and his yard is full of all sorts of things.’ As often as not, the clerks would come up with an answer. ‘Oh, yeah, the one on Jackson Street with the carvings!’ Many towns had a fellow who qualified and many still do.”