Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 3, Summer 2009, pp. 259-260
In Yard Art and Handmade Places, Jill Nokes collaborates with architect/photographer Krista Whitson and advisor/folklorist Pat Jasper to celebrate unique and resourceful Texans who enhance nature, honor personal and regional histories, and improvise in the midst of constant, sometimes cataclysmic, change. Nokes is a professional conservationist and landscape designer (she authored How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest with Kathryn Miller Brown in 2001) and, since most of the book's practitioners are avid gardeners as well as builders, her expertise makes for a rare and palpable synergy between author and subject. Early on, she lets the reader know that she believes "the objects on display are less interesting than the connection we feel to others when we are inside the yard itself." Horticulture and the built environment are treated interactively as "use of space" in precise and lively detail.
Much of the book's originality emerges in subtle ways through its structure. It abandons categories based on ethnicity, race, religion, educational status, and aesthetics to concentrate on the relationship of owners to homeland-" their strong identification with the particular spot where they live, and their determination to use their property to express publically a very personal vision of what it means to live and belong there." Each site is created by owners and their families, not copied from magazines or maintained by landscaping companies, and each is active-in progressas opposed to dormant or abandoned. Some makers are economically comfortable and others more fragile; at least one has a master's degree in painting; another is a cactus collector and rock hound.