Harker's One-Room Schoolhouses
“Old schoolhouses are like memories etched onto the Iowa landscape, but no photographer can make these memories come to life the way Michael Harker can. There’s a stark lucidity to these photographs, an unblemished exactness that makes each image worth savoring. The craft and composition make me think of a well-tailored suit that one returns to often and eventually examines closely to appreciate the careful stitching. More than mementoes of an era when schoolhouses were the hub of the community wheel, these photographs shine with the meticulous care and the discerning eye of a gifted artist.”—Jim Heynen, author of the short story collection The One-Room Schoolhouse, attended one of Iowa’s last one-room schoolhouses: Welcome #3 in Sioux County
“Michael Harker’s crisp, clean photographs are both important and necessary as they help us remember our collective past, telling us who we are; a deep understanding that is often lost in this too rapidly changing world. Paul Theobald’s writing adds just the right touch of historical reflection as he speaks of the inevitable departure from that past.”—Bruce Jordan, documentary photographer, Texas Trilogy: Life in a Small Texas Town and Early Texas Schools, A Photographic History
"Brilliantly captured in the photographs of Michael Harker is another Iowa, one with a dense rural population consisting of farm families informally organized into rural neighborhoods focused on what typically were the only public spaces available in the countryside: the one-room schools. Real learning took place here, but it was their centrality in the social lives of people that older Iowans remember so fondly. Harker presents those few that still remain in the landscape, but countless others exist in the collective memory of Iowans.”—David R. Reynolds, professor emeritus, University of Iowa
In Harker’s Barns documentary photographer Michael Harker captured the glory and the decay of one of rural America’s most elemental icons. Now in Harker’s One-Room Schoolhouses he brings another rural American icon back to life. His stark and stunning photographs of these small, neat buildings—once the social and educational center of rural life, now either abandoned or restored to an artificial quaintness—encapsulate the dramatic transformations that have overtaken the Iowa countryside.
Michael Harker’s goal is to record Iowa’s historically significant architecture before it disappears forever. From Coon Center School no. 5 in Albert City to Pleasant Valley School in Kalona, North River School in Winterset to Douglas Center School in Sioux Rapids, and Iowa’s first school to Grant Wood’s first school, he has achieved this goal on a grand scale in Harker’s One-Room Schoolhouses.
Educational historian Paul Theobald tells the story of the rise and fall of Iowa’s one-room schools, whose numbers fell from close to 15,000 in 1918 to only 1,100 in 1960, all of which had ceased to function as schools by 1980. Moving from the state-wide story to the personal, he introduces us to George Coleman, son of a local farmer and school board director, who kept a sparse diary between December 1869 and June 1870. Young George’s words reveal the intimate way in which one-room schools interacted with the local community, including the local economic scene. Theobald ends by suggesting that these one-room relics of the past may again prove useful.