Mansfield: We Are Creating

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From an alley, Mansfield, Ohio

I visited New York City last weekend and spent enough hours wandering through the boroughs that I began to compare it to our town. We are not New York and we know this. We are not New York and are yet happy for that. We are not New York, we are Mansfield, Ohio, and we are creating.

There are parts of New York City where each breath I drew was art. It was not merely a painted canvas, a vibrating string, or an astute analogy, but a sense of ecstatic freshness. The world as I knew it was new again, shimmering. I could feel my own creativity roiling just beneath the surface of my composure, and my mind, surprised with new agility. In the presence of others’ imaginations, mine ran giddy and wild. And the people standing around me, they were ready to experience everything I had to give, absorb my offerings and further the cycle of ideas.

In Mansfield, we artists breathe rust. We breathe poverty and establishment and someone else’s idea of what our town should be. When we experience the moment of collaborative elation, we have worked damn hard to get there. We work in factories and gas stations and chain retail stores where we lock our art in the break room and keep it to ourselves until we clock out. Art is not an employer, but not a hobby either — it is an unstoppable drive we have, the one that reminds us we’re alive, the one we must have to stay alive. Continue reading

William Trent Pancoast and his Triptych for the Working Class

 – A Review by Nick Gardner

When reading about work, and by work I mean hard manual labor, and by this I mean hacking in the coal mines, servicing cars, running a factory press, and by this I mean coming home dirty, sore, and growing older only to find that the work has left lasting damage, a permanent stoop or carpal tunnel, arthritis — when reading about this type of work, and especially the near feudal system of industrial economics, I often cringe and scowl. But I can’t give up reading.

William Trent Pancoast tells real stories of real work. They are grungy, wild, and often violent. They are something anyone can relate to, with love and hate and characters who live and breath… but these stories can also be relentless. They sucker-punch you, knock you to the ground, and kick you till you can’t feel the kicks anymore, till the pain is finally replaced by outrage.

I decided to read William Trent Pancoast’s oeuvre in a week. I had read Wildcat before and much of his short fiction so I knew they would be quick reads, all but Crashing taking only a 4-5 hour stint. I moved through the books in the order that Pancoast presented them to me over the last couple years: Wildcat, Crashing, and most recently, The Road To Matewan. I wanted to see if there was something deeper that tied these varied stories together. What emerged was a new understanding of this subject of work.wildcat

First, I reread Wildcat, a story featuring a General Motors stamping plant as its protagonist. It is set in fictional Cranston, Ohio and proceeds as a series of short biographies and vignettes about the characters that work at the plant. As the reader learns the history of the factory through the lives of the workers, through PTSD, amputations, alcoholism, and the general alienation and disassociation of industrialization, there is also a sense of the factory as a whole, the people being only members of the factory body. If the machines are muscle, the laborers are the vital organs, performing specific functions to urge the factory on. The union serves as ligaments holding the workers together with the management, and the building houses them all. Through this series of symbiotic beings, the factory struggles, overworked by its general managers, CEOs, and the capitalistic structure in general to always produce more, to win a race with no definite finish line. Finally the workers give up and the factory topples. In GM’s death throes, the owners survive, jeering at an empty cement slab. Continue reading

Welcome to the End of History: a review of Neil Yoder’s paintings at Relax, It’s Just Coffee

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Ghosts of the Demolition Zone, October 2016

I first became aware of Neil Yoder’s work a few years ago, when he submitted a painting into the May Show at the Mansfield Art Center. The outer edge of the canvas had been carefully plastered with pornographic images and it caused quite a stir within that conservative venue. I took him to be a provocateur, out to shock us. I don’t disagree with this approach. In fact, in our saturated media landscape where even the most heartbreaking images of drowned Syrian refugee children are reduced to memes, flattened out into pure spectacle, hijacked and turned into shorthand used by clowns for political theater, an artist must sometimes become a visual terrorist in order to break through the digital hypnoglare of our lives. I’ve been sizing Yoder up, gauging his sincerity, and trying to get a grip on just what the fuck he is up to.

The work that Neil is displaying at Relax, It’s Just Coffee covers a broad range. There are paintings of Mansfield’s old industrial buildings, hallucinatory surrealist landscapes, dayglo gardenscapes, and brutal Baconesque figures. My review will be limited to the paintings of local industrial buildings, though the reader may find that the observations that follow are applicable to Yoder’s work in general.

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Detail of the frottage-like technique from Pulse/Release

The paintings of Mansfield’s industrial buildings are aglow with radioactive light, sickly and oversaturated, but beautiful in their own way. At times Yoder has even embedded glitter in the paint, which pushes the work to the edge of kitsch, but I think appropriately so considering the themes, which I will attempt to tease out in due time. The buildings are rendered convincingly and it’s against the realism of the buildings that the sky, landscape and figures take on an otherworldly quality. There is something realer-than-real about the figures in all of Yoder’s paintings. Not because they’re rendered realistically, but because they possess an irresistible palpability due to the Max Ernst-like frottage technique that Yoder has used to render them. Their reality is not the reality of our world, but of some post-nuclear world of molecular confusion.

Warehouse @ 200 Block E. 5th ST (facing Southeast)

Warehouse @ 200 Block E. 5th ST (facing Southeast)

In “Warehouse @ 200 Block E. 5th ST (facing Southeast)” there is a concentric shock wave emanating from the middle of the image. While the other industrial building paintings seem to capture what remains, quietly and peacefully, after the apocalypse, this painting captures the precise moment the bomb erupts. The precise moment of imbalance, when the atom splits and all of that potential energy, once bound by strong or weak forces (I’m no physicist), is released. In that initial flaring up, a chasm is opened and we glimpse a kind of Gnostic realm beyond the material world. Within this rift a wolf gnashes its teeth and a cloven hoofed beast seems to challenge us with its battering-ram horns. It’s the moment the cosmic egg cracks and all of our terrors and delights flicker in the white-hot magnesium light. 

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Warehouse Building “A” (Facing North)

So what is Yoder up to? What does it mean to paint the now demolished Westinghouse building in a post nuclear setting? What does it mean to hang these paintings in a coffee shop just blocks from where these buildings stand or once stood? The correlation is simple enough to any Mansfielder who has stood on 4th and Bleckner and surveyed the wasteland of our old industrial district. We are living our own economic post-apocalypse. The nation was just waking from its Cold War fatigue when NAFTA was signed, signaling the wholesale capture of our Republic by Neo-Liberalism. And our shift from an industrial giant to a crippled service economy has a direct relation to those trade policies.

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Ghosts of the Demolition Zone, August 2016

It’s for these reasons that, for me, Yoder’s work is entangled with the nuclear threat and deindustrialization. Our apocalypse hasn’t come in a white-hot instant, but has been slowly unfurling for forty years. The buildings he portrays, these husks of our once thriving industry, illustrate the genealogy of our present historical moment. This Trumpian moment, where truth has been supplanted by reality television and the kitsch simulation of truth. Yoder seems to be saying, “welcome to the post-truth, post-American moment. Welcome to the end of History. Welcome to Mansfield. She’s beautiful in her own way.”


Jason Kaufman is a proud member of Mansfield, Ohio’s artistic community. He has owned and/or been the curator of various local art galleries and is an active participant in writing groups, art critique groups, poetry readings, and many other collaborative projects.

Jason is a co-editor of Voices from the Borderland and the assistant editor of Semaphore Literary Magazine. He is the set designer for the Renaissance Theater.

To read and view more of his work, visit Jason’s personal blog, follow him on Facebook, and Instagram @jasonkaufman_artist.

Jerry Lang reading at Borderlands: Poetry on the Edge

Voices from the Borderland is kicking off our Featured Artist Friday series with Jerry Lang reading at the Borderlands: Poetry on the Edge. This reading took place a few years ago, but has never been made public. We hope you enjoy it. Stay tuned for more featured artists.

Cosmic Egg for President: a review of John Lucas Hargis’ exhibition by Jason Kaufman

The gift that keeps giving this holiday season is Cosmic Egg for President, John Lucas Hargis’ exhibition in Main Street Books’ Book Loft. The show closes at the end of December, so make sure to stop by and see the work. If you’d like to meet the artist, there is a closing reception on Wednesday, December 28th, 5pm-6pm.


airbrush_20161226133705.jpgThe Book Loft is small, the wall space spare, which usually limits the number of pieces exhibited, but Hargis has packed every inch with art. As I ascend the stairs– bypassing a number of supermarket-cellophane collages, which offend my senses in much the same pleasant way that the hedonism of the supermarket offends my senses– I am greeted by a sign giving me permission to touch everything. So I touch everything. I pore over the pages of writings that are scattered about the room, flip through sketchbooks, dig through the ephemera contained within makeshift attaché cases, drag my fingers over the paintings, and rock a tiny horse.

picsart_12-26-01.45.52.jpgUnfolding the instruction card for a piece titled Convertible Diaries Mini Series, I read the words “Kitchen Sink” and think, “that about sums it up.” Hargis has thrown the kitchen sink at us. There is so much information presented in Cosmic Egg that you could spend hours digging through it all. At one point, looking around to ensure nobody is watching, thinking I might be pushing the invitation to freely explore a bit too far, I take a painting off of the wall because I have a suspicion that even these regions, off-limits to all but the most handsy viewers, will contain information. And, sure enough, the back is covered with writing that was never intended to be seen by anyone. But being seen doesn’t matter, the writing is essential to the painting even if it’s hidden. It’s similar to the way in which the previous inhabitants of a house are essential to the current mood of the house. How their lives still speak to you, as if their stories, imbued into the plaster-lathe, radiate from the walls long after their names are forgotten. Continue reading

The Ghost of Ballets Past

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Renaissance Theatre Chandelier

I hear the oboe whine its A in the orchestra pit, and it dawns on me how incredible this is. I’m living in a medium-sized Rust Belt town that actually has its own orchestra and a dance troupe and a grand old theatre that has drawn well over 700 people to see a ballet. The turnout to tonight’s cultural event echoes a different Mansfield, Ohio, an earlier, livelier version. Tonight, my Mansfield is out on the town.

Bobby Wesner, the artistic director of Neos Dance Theatre, has set tonight’s Nutcracker in 1940s Mansfield, and uses projection mapping and other technology I don’t understand to turn the stage into a snowy, glowing, palpable nostalgia of wartime Mansfield. A place I have never seen, that may not have existed, but that I am still homesick for.

I am seated up front in our iconic Renaissance Theatre. Plush red seats, an extravagant crystal chandelier, generous gold trim. The woman behind me gasps when the red velvet curtains part and the set is revealed. For me it’s not the set but the dancers who inspire awe. I watch the woman playing Marie, the main character. Her body occupies the space around her with the grace that makes movement art. The grace that makes humans human. The smile on her face is both sweet and somehow industrial — a part of her machine that will never fail. Continue reading

Purposing in the Heart of the Borderland

I was shaken today when I went up to the northern Ohio town of L_____ to do some research for a history talk I have coming up next month. So often people complain about Mansfield, but today I saw a town tottering on its last legs. Imagine the worst blocks in Mansfield going on for entire neighborhoods, to the vanishing point. Street after street of abandoned, falling-down houses, mold-filled forgotten churches, a homeless shelter shutting down because the building is eroding around them.

It’s stark out there, my friends.

What we have already done down here to bring life to this little town on the hill is vibrant and nothing short of astonishing. I don’t know if it is enough to cut through the rising red-hatted dark tide, I don’t know if it can spark the dead eyes like those I saw strewn around L_____ today, but I want to try. I want to do something. Maybe I’m not much more than some joker that spews pretty words. Or maybe it is more. Maybe I do things & we all do things with words and images and sound that heal wounded people. It’s what I have to give, and this blog is another way to give it. I’m grateful for the chance to make somebody’s—anybody’s— life a little less dark.

Mark Sebastian Jordan

December 12, 2016