Date of this Version
Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.
sack- noun a large bag made of a strong material such as burlap, thick paper, or plastic, used for storing and carrying goods.[English Oxford Living Dictionaries.com,]
A popular object among collectors of agricultural ephemera, the printed agricultural sack—both textile and paper—used for the distribution of agricultural goods, is an object with a rich history. Previous research published on these ephemeral objects has typically examined their use and reuse in American households as clothing, quilts, and other domestic goods, or their significance in the World War I Belgian War Relief under the Herbert Hoover administration. This paper poses approaches to the the feedbag as an object capable of providing various insights and provocations into the history of the print, manufacturing, textile, and paper industries. By examining the object’s process of production and means of distribution, we can begin to excavate a lost narrative of rural American culture that highlights nuances in the shift from smaller localized systems of production and distribution to larger regional, and eventually national and international systems that have impacted both product packaging and goods being packaged. Within these shifts lies the potentiality of better understanding the relationship between rural America and the industries that have contributed to its vitality, and perhaps models that may have lead to a contemporary decline. As a body of research in-progress, we will walk through a summary of existing research on the object, provide an overview of various roles the object has had in its history, and finally end by focusing primarily on its production as a design object—referencing material from the Hamilton Wood Type and Manufacturing Company, Bemis Bag Company, and S. George and Company, as well as various collections and material from but not limited to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle, WA and the GramLee Collection at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV. As an object that is tied to both manufacturing and rural culture, locating the particulars of the sack’s past has proven challenging. The history of manufacturing and rural culture are not histories we have done well to take care of. Just as swiftly as technology progresses and new narratives are created, equally as swiftly do past narratives seem to become erased. But in their erasure exists the narratives of everyday farmers, workers, laborers, artisans, and companies that played an important role in shaping rural and urban culture today.