Photo exhibit captures history of SDSU Extension activities

BROOKINGS, S.D. -- Leland "Lee" Sudlow used a historic camera to record South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service activities from 1952 to 1990.

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Leland Sudlow’s images are the subject of an exhibit at the South Dakota State Agricultural Heritage Museum at South Dakota State University in Brookings. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

BROOKINGS, S.D. - Leland “Lee” Sudlow used a historic camera to record South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service activities from 1952 to 1990.
A temporary exhibit in Sudlow’s honor, “Through Leland Sudlow’s Lens - 40 years of Extension History,” is on display until Feb. 29 at the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum in Brookings.
Gwen McCausland, director of the museum, says Sudlow documented some “fantastic examples of just everyday life in South Dakota” through that period.
The exhibit is partly to honor the 100-year anniversary of the Extension Service, which occurred in 2014, she says.
“The great thing about the SDSU Extension Service is their motto, ‘People helping people,’” McCausland says. “They adapted to the needs of the people of the time. It’s a great example of how Extension evolved over time. They looked at the issues that farmers and families were facing at the time and what information (people) needed to be the best they could be as farmers or everyday citizens.”
Extension adapts
At the start of the exhibit is a photo of the journalist, holding his Crown Graphic camera.
The camera itself is a classic, with its body made of mahogany wood and stainless steel. Produced in 1947 by the Graflex company in Rochester, N.Y., the cameras were standard equipment for photographers through the 1960s. The model was famous for its 4-inch-by-5-inch film sheet holders and the screw-in flash bulbs.
Sudlow created his own handwritten instructional notes for the camera.
He captured and collected nearly 40,000 images.
McCausland says the Sudlow exhibit is different because most Extension Service historical exhibits focus on the 1910s through the 1930s
“Most histories like this went to World War II, and then they stopped,” she says.
One vignette is based on a Sudlow photograph from the Day County Extension Service in Webster, S.D. The static display includes original Extension Service office furniture, and even an ashtray still marked for Extension Service use.
There are examples of educational panels on coping with the Cold War: advice on how to build fallout shelters; and how to “prepare your own family, but also your livestock” against radiation expected from a nuclear bomb.
A home economics section of the exhibit discusses how the Extension Service worked with homemakers to better their lifestyle on the Plains, including how to make “everything out of a Jell-O mold.” In the 1980s, the topic shifted to using microwave ovens.
Some of the photos are specific to agriculture. SDSU Extension Weed Specialist Ken Frost drew cartoons and used humor to gain converts in displayed pieces such as “Modern Way to Better Hay,” and his “Herb E. Side” cartoons that promoted chemical use for farmers after World War II.

Sudlow grew up in Bison, S.D., where his parents maintained the Bison Courier newspaper. He spent some time in the U.S. Navy and started as an Extension Service journalist and photographer on July 1, 1952. His wife, Adele, served several years as an Extension music specialist.
Sudlow retired in 1990 and died six years later at age 68. Before his death, he and Adele were instrumental in getting the photo collection into the hands of the museum. It was a relief, she says, because it proved the images were valued by SDSU Extension Service.
Michelle VanderWal of Volga, S.D., a daughter of Sudlow, says she thinks the exhibit is interesting because it shows how farm operations have changed, and how Extension changed with it. Today, there are fewer people in Extension, she says, and in the past, there were more county officials to make visits to farms.
VanderWal, who is the wife of South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal, says her father took special pride in publicizing such youth showcases as the Western Junior Livestock Show in Rapid City, S.D. “He saw his work as getting the news out about how the kids did,” VanderWal says.
She says one of the things she likes about the exhibit is that it is largely black and white photography - a medium that somehow seems sharper and more real than some of the colored photographs that followed.
Flashbulb finish
In the days of cellphone cameras, it’s difficult to imagine the logistical difficulties Sudlow faced in processing and printing pictures. Often, he would convert bathrooms into photo laboratory darkrooms, using boards attached to sinks to make working surfaces.
But he also encountered trouble while on assignment.
Sudlow once was in a pen with bulls and was assured by the Extension agents they would be safe. When a bull suddenly made a move toward the men, the others jumped over or under fences. Sudlow, holding his heavy camera and unable to outrun the bull, snapped a picture. The flash managed to turn the animal away.
“I had always wondered if maybe he’d stretched some of these stories,” VanderWal says. “But when he died, one of the specialists came up and told me that one - word for word. The same story. I guess the photo actually turned out and it was published in one of the magazines.”
Benjamin Kantack, who served as SDSU Extension Entomologist from 1962 to 1990, remembers Sudlow as an “excellent photographer, a perfectionist.” He says, “He shot a hell of a lot of pictures for me.”
Kantack says Sudlow put an extra measure of effort and care into 4-H and other youth development work, and was instrumental in starting a 4-H photo project program.
Karla Trautman, associate director of SDSU Extension says the exhibit is a tribute to Sudlow, but also highlights the work that Extension did, and continues to do.
“Extension helped citizens address needs not only in their farm production or home life in raising their children, but also in their capacity to help communities be vital places to live.”
She says there are special places for Extension work on Native American reservations, as well as efforts in music and the visual arts, that have been phased out to concentrate on other core missions.
Trautman says the core mission areas of Extension were probably similar across various states. “But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find this kind of collection in other states,” Trautman says. “That was what was so unique about Lee. He was passionate and talented.”

Related Topics: SOUTH DAKOTA
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