Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Let Us Now Praise Famous Logs

"Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" is James Agee and Walker Evans's renowned poetic ethnography about Alabama sharecroppers. The work took the humblest of subjects and elevated it into something enduring, moving, and sublime. The book is perhaps the most famous of WPA projects funded by the New Deal. Margaret Bourke-White's photographic work is another example of a WPA-funded national cultural treasure.

On a smaller scale, so is "Michigan Log Marks," a WPA-funded 1942 study of the identifying log marks used in Northern Michigan logging that, with poetic text, photos, and stunning art, informs and reflects on the logging industry. Introduction:

"Log marks were to Michigan what cattle brands are to the grazing states: symbols of order in a romantic industry that would have been chaotic without them.

"On the open ranges of the West, cattle graze in multitudes in intermingled herds, and each owner claims his stock at round-up time by the registered brand identifying his property.

"In Michigan, billions of board feet of pine logs were cut from fabulous reaches of forests by thousands of operators. They were transported to hundreds of mills on the bosoms of a few great streams, and sorting at destination was made possible by the mark stamped on them before they were entrusted to the confusion of spring-swollen waterways..."

The book reprints the authentic log marks used in the logging regions of the Saginaw, the Northeast, the Muskegon, the Manistee, the Northwest Shore, and the U.P. It describes log camp life and the type of men that were the shanty boys. It summarizes the logging terms that still are a part of the Michigan lexicon. The book almost didn't get made at all: it was funded in 1942, the twilight of the WPA, a program that was phased out just a year later when war work jobs made it seem less necessary.

Dusty D found this treasure at the recent local history conference in Dearborn at the exhibitor's table of Ann Arbor's wonderful West Side Bookshop. I am grateful for such shops that preserve and hand down gems to those who love and cherish them.
Gallery (Click for larger image)

1 comment :

Lisele said...

I've seen the site of that last photo -- it's where we camp along the AuSable, just east of where 65 crosses the river! There's a number of neat places to visit along there == this one is now part of the Lumberman's Monument. Another great one is Iargo Springs -- a torrent of a spring that feeds the AuSable.