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But is it art? A review of Marc Walsh’s Joyeux 50e anniversaire à La petite maison dans la prairie

What distinguishes art from craft?

Generally, a craft is rooted in tradition requiring the mastery of specific materials and technical skills. Art often takes the same materials and skills but uses them to break boundaries and traditions. A craft is usually practical, whereas art is more concerned with conveying something – an idea, a concept, or an emotion – to its audience. Even so, what gets designated as art or craft depends on the culture and time you live in.

The current exhibition at Salle Culturelle Alfred-Langevin is a miniature model of the town of Walnut Grove and the homestead of the Ingalls family from the beloved television series Little House on the Prairie. The creator is Marc Walsh, who has an occupational background in agriculture and does not call himself an artist. Little House is his third and largest project. It began as a hobby, becoming something more after his retirement in 2022.

 

Artist Marc Walsh and his miniature scale model of the village of Walnut Grove from the western historical drama Little House on the Prairie western historical drama Little House on the Prairie are on display at the Alfred Langevin Cultural Hall PHOTO Alyson Champ

 

The project is a testament to Walsh’s devotion, patience, and creative problem-solving skills. His research method involved rewatching the TV series on DVD, stopping the video periodically to analyze the construction of the set’s buildings, photographing the screen, and using that visual information to make his building plans. He made almost everything himself – the wooden buildings, wagons, tiny objects, and metal hardware – all lovingly rendered at 1/24 scale. Walnut Grove’s sawmill has a working waterwheel. The blacksmith’s forge glows red. Aiming for complete accuracy, when he discovered that he had put some clapboard on a building incorrectly, he replaced it.

Walsh’s desire to make the replica stemmed partly from a simple love of old buildings, but also from his desire to pay homage to both the books and the later TV show. The books, written during the turbulent 1930s and 1940s, are a fictionalized account of author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood experiences homesteading on the American frontier at the end of the nineteenth century. The hugely popular TV show came to the screen in 1974, soon after the upheaval of the 1960s. The books and the TV show reflect the values of their time, but also look back to an earlier time when life was simpler, people were better, and the world made more sense.

 

The homage to the popular television series which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year will remain on display in Huntingdon until May 12 PHOTO Alyson Champ

 

Like its inspiration, Walsh’s elaborate model is a nostalgic project: a bittersweet reminder of a childhood discovery of the books, or the comfort of watching the show with family. It is also a social commentary. Walsh sees the TV show as being about people helping and caring for one another. “Everything we should have today was in that show,” he says. His goal with this project was to create a physical representation of those values and to share it with people.

The model is a delight: beautiful, beautifully made, and full of hidden surprises. But is it art, or is it craft? Visit the exhibition and decide for yourself.

Joyeux 50e anniversaire à La petite maison dans la prairie remains at the Salle Culturelle Alfred-Langevin in Huntingdon until May 12, open weekends between 1 and 4 p.m. and on weekdays by appointment.

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