Public Presentations

Arts and Artistry from the New Deal and Beyond

Oct. 19-21, 2017

Johnny Cash on the Back Porch of the Boyhood Home
Johnny Cash on the Back Porch of the Boyhood Home


The  Johnny Cash Heritage Festival will include a public presentation series, “Arts and Artistry from the New Deal and Beyond,”  in the Dyess Colony Circle.  Presentations will be from 1 p.m. Thursday through 11:00 a.m. Saturday.  All sessions are open to the public.   There will be no admission fee, but participants are asked to register for sessions in advance, utilizing the online registration form, to assist in ensuring adequate space. Presentations will focus on influences of Dyess on Johnny Cash and his music, federal efforts during the New Deal to get destitute people back on their feet, the music that grew out of the Eastern Arkansas Delta, and cultural programs associated with the New Deal.


Bill McDowell

Bill McDowell is professor of art and art history at the University of Vermont in Burlington. His recently published book, Ground: A Reprise of Photographs from the Farm Security Administration (FSA), includes the printed lyrics to “Sunken Land” by Rosanne Cash, a nod to the hardships of life in Dyess.

Published in 2016, the book includes “killed” negatives from photographers commissioned by the Farm Security Administration from 1934-43 to document the plight of poor farmers in America during the Great Depression. The head of the FSA photography division routinely defaced unselected negatives with a hole punch to prevent them from being printed.

McDowell received his Master of Fine Arts degree in photography at Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York, and his Bachelor of Arts degree in human ecology from College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine.

Michael Streissguth

Michael Streissguth is professor of communication and film studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., He has written several books, including Johnny Cash: The Biography, and produced two documentary films. His work has appeared in SalonMojoThe Journal of Country Music, and other publications.

Streissguth has written three books on Cash, including Johnny Cash: The Biography. He has written and produced a documentary film on Cash’s Folsom Prison concert, authored numerous articles and teaches a class titled, “American Culture and the Art of Johnny Cash.”

He is currently serving as a consultant to Florentine Films on the documentary now in production, “Country Music,” directed by Ken Burns.

Streissguth earned his Master of Arts degree in communications in 1990 from Purdue University and his Bachelor of Arts in journalism and history from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1988.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

It’s All About Politics

“Banning Rock ‘n’ Roll Festivals in Arkansas?” Dr. Michael Dougan, Emeritus Professor of History, Arkansas State University, recalls early efforts to essentially prohibit “rock festivals or other such mass musical and/or singing performances” in Arkansas — with the likes of Johnny Cash as possible exceptions.

“J. Marion Futrell Paradox: Governor vs. Dyess Colony Attorney.” Dr. Revis Edmonds, outreach coordinator, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, explores contradictions between the man who waged war on tenant farmers as governor, versus the man who later became attorney for Dyess Colony.

Moderator: Dr. Gregory Hansen, A-State Folklore and English

2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Chronicling Life and Lore Across America

Impact of the New Deal Federal Writers Project on Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and other notable authors once employed in this “back to work” program for writers and intellectuals. Arkansas State University panelists Dr. Amy Schmidt (English) and Carmen Williams (graduate student). Moderator:  Dr. Adam Long,  Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum

3:00 – 3:30 p.m.

Coming Home Through Music’s Cyclic Highway

“Johnny Cash’s American Recordings.” Dr. Daniel Long, professor of music, St. Mary’s
University, San Antonio, Texas, examines tracks in Johnny Cash’s final six-CD set, the American series, and how they relate to his earliest works and recordings. Moderator: Dr. Deborah Chappel-Traylor, A-State English

[NOTE:  This is a replacement for the presentation by Dr. Paul Hunter  originally scheduled in this time slot. ]

4:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Cinematic Ode to the Mississippi:  The River

Viewing and discussion of the award-winning 32-minute WPA film written and directed by Pare Lorentz, including clips from the 1937 flood that inspired Johnny Cash’s “Five Feet High and Rising.” Led by Dr. Robert Cochran and Dr. Suzanne McCray, authors of Lights! Cameras! Arkansas! in conjunction with Pare Lorentz Center, FDR Presidential Library. Moderator: Dr. Gabriel Tate, A-State Photojournalism/Visual Communication

Friday, October 20, 2017

9:00 – 10:00 a.m.

Arkansas in Me: Keeping It Delta

Storyteller-songwriter Joe Chipman of Manila, Arkansas, tells stories (through songs and narration) of the hard times, hard work and dedication that his ancestors and others endured after moving to Mississippi County to raise a family. Moderator: Michael Doyle, KASU Station Manager

10:00 – 11:00 a.m.

Spiritual Connections to the Delta

“Johnny Cash: Wrestling with Questions of God, Sex, and Death.” Dr. Micki Pulleyking, Religious Studies Department, Missouri State University, explores Cash’s contributions to theopoetics through his song writing.

“Chicken Train: Poems from the Arkansas Delta.” Reflections by retired pastor Terry Minchow-Proffitt, St. Louis, on the voice, themes, and landscape of his 1950s upbringing in West Helena and Dyess.

Moderator: Dr. Scott Darwin, A-State emeritus professor of German

11:00 – 11:30 a.m.

A Long Way Around to a Lonesome Sound

Vince Allen, software engineering manager for Spotify, Brooklyn, NY, analyzes how the audible qualities of Cash’s recorded material evolved, while his lyrical style, voicing and subject matter remained grounded in early life experiences. Moderator: Dr. Gregory Hansen

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

He Was Just Plain J. R.

Panel discussion with members of the Dyess High School Class of 1950, recalling their class vice president, J. R. Cash, and memories of growing up in the agricultural resettlement colony. Moderated by KASU Station Manager Mike Doyle.

2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Delta Themes in the Music of Johnny Cash

“Cultivating the Fabulous Johnny Cash: The Environment and the American Artist.” Dr. Aaron Miller, History, Ivy Tech Community College, Columbus, Indiana, discusses the river as metaphor in Cash’s songs.

 “Jesus Was Our Savior and Cotton Was Our King.” The influence of cotton in the songs of Johnny Cash is explored by area historian and Marion Evening Times newspaper reporter Mark Randall.

Moderator: Dr. Ed Salo, A-State History and Heritage Studies

3:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Art by the People and For the People

John Gill, Little Rock attorney and author of Post Masters: Arkansas Post Office Art in the New Deal, and Anthony Childress, graduate assistant and curator of the WPA poster exhibit opening in the Dyess Administration Building, discuss these two popular aspects of the Federal Art Project. Moderator: Joe Ford, A-State Digital Design

4:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Becoming Johnny Cash

“Ray and Johnny: How Johnny Cash’s Father Influenced His Life and Career,” presented by Colin Woodward, formerly at the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture and author of the manuscript in progress, Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash.  Woodward currently is editor of Lee Family Digital Archives in Stratford, Virginia.

“Fifty Years After Folsom.” Johnny Cash’s road to recovery and redemption began in October 1967.  Within an astonishingly brief period, he went from lost soul to American icon, with stops along the way at Folsom Prison and the White House. Cash’s friend and personal historian, Mark Stielper, recounts the fateful events that marked this epic transformation.

Moderator: Dr. Marcus Tribbett, A-State English

Saturday, October 21, 2017

9:00 – 11:00 a.m.

Featured Presentations: The New Deal and Johnny Cash

Moderator: A-State Chancellor Kelly Damphousse

Introduction: Rosanne Cash

Resurrecting Images from The Great Depression

Bill McDowell, author of Ground: A Reprise of Photographs from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) presents images resurrected from unselected negatives that were routinely hole-punched by government officials to prevent printing. His book is prefaced with the printed lyrics to “Sunken Land” by Rosanne Cash, a nod to the hardships of life in Dyess. McDowell is Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

American Culture and the Art of Johnny Cash

 Michael Streissguth, author of three books on Cash and writer-producer of the documentary film on his Folsom Prison concert, talks about Johnny Cash’s early life and influences of this bygone place and time on his music. Cash’s childhood in Dyess informed aspects of his art, which, in turn, became windows through which we could understand American life. Streissguth is Professor of Communication and Film Studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y


JCHF Public Presentations Committee
c/o Dr. Gregory Hansen, Chair
Arkansas State University
Dept. of English and Philosophy
P.O. Box 1890
State University, AR 72467
Phone: 870-972-3043
Fax: 870-972-3045