Amish country shown at fragile peace

November 12, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

It's hard to imagine an exhibit whose images and message are in sharper contrast than Ed Worteck's fine photo show "In the Valley of the Shadow: Photographs of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania" at Goucher.

A year and a half ago, Worteck began photographing in Lancaster County, which is famous for its Amish and Mennonite farms and has been called "the garden spot of the nation." Soon he met Randy-Michael Testa and John Hostetler, who have written books on the county and are concerned about development there. Specifically, the development in the Mill Creek Valley farming area of a 600-unit retirement community. In an essay that accompanies the show, Testa calls this step "just the first phase of a broader plan to blacktop the area's fertility and heritage."

What we get, in Worteck's black-and-white photographs, is a portrait of what may be lost: peaceful farms, picturesque barns and silos, a tiny schoolhouse with a group of children outside. The image is of a landscape -- and by implication a way of life -- that has remained unchanged for generations and looks like it might go on forever.

But the reality, revealed in the show's accompanying texts, contradicts the image. Horses graze in a meadow by a stream; here, we are told, will go the sewage treatment plant for the retirement community. Another farm scene lies just a quarter of a mile away; it will surely be affected.

An old feed mill building in the wonderfully named town of Fertility will become the site of a Wal-Mart, with a 15-acre parking lot.

Worteck does give us some shots of the disfigurement of the landscape that has already taken place: ugly motels; an advertising sign standing in a graveyard (this picture is aptly titled "The Working Dead"); a pile of soon-to-be-installed sewer pipes lying outside a small building, with a sign on it that reads "Amish House Tour."

But mostly we have to imagine how this precious rural landscape will be destroyed by development. Looking at Worteck's handsome, well-composed images is a little like visiting a loved one about to undergo an operation which he or she may not survive. You want so desperately to do something, and you can't.

In this case, we can hope this show will travel to Lancaster County, and have some effect on those who can make a difference. (Some of Worteck's work has been published in a Lancaster County Heritage Preservation Trust book called "Foundations in a Fertile Soil"). If development does go on, here's hoping Worteck follows up at a later date and shows the results in shots taken at the same locations. A before-and-after exhibit might at least be sobering to those in another area where the same sort of desecration is contemplated.

ART REVIEW

What: "In the Valley of the Shadow: Photographs of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania" by Ed Worteck

Where: Rosenberg Gallery, Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; evenings and weekends of performances, through Dec. 20

Call: (410) 337-6333

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