The Twin Cities Assembly Plant and its workers are the focus of a special photo exhibition hosted by St. Paul’s Landmark Center through Nov. 27.
Curated by local author and historian Brian McMahon, the retrospective showcases the work of two local photographers, David Parker and Dan Huseby. Their work helps illustrate McMahon’s forthcoming book, “The Ford Century in Minnesota.”
“This is not intended to be a history exhibit; this is intended to be an art exhibit … of what it was like to be on the assembly line,” McMahon said at an opening reception in Landmark Center’s North Gallery last night.
After 86 years of operation, Ford Motor Company shuttered the Twin Cities Assembly Plant in December 2011. The plant produced nearly 9 million vehicles and employed thousands of people, including many who lived in the nearby Highland Park neighborhood.
Huseby was among the roughly 800 workers, most members of United Auto Workers Local 879, who lost their jobs when the plant closed permanently. Being in the plant during its final weeks afforded Huseby, who started work on the assembly line in 2006, an opportunity to jumpstart his next career – photography.
As the final Ford Ranger made its way along the plant’s assembly line, Huseby was right there documenting the journey with his camera.
“It was kind of like watching a slow death,” he said.
But Huseby’s photographs show not only the process, but the people who built that last truck in St. Paul – people who “spent more time together with each other than they did with their own families,” he said.
“People were very proud of the work they put in and the product they built,” Huseby said, adding that it’s a feeling he shares every time he sees a Ranger on the road.
“I’m really fortunate to have had that experience working as an autoworker – the backbone of American industry – even though I know now a factory is not my place. Behind a lens is my place.”
The Landmark Center exhibition pairs Huseby’s photos with scenes from the Ford plant captured in Parker’s 2002 photo book, “By These Hands: Portraits from the Factory Floor.”
Parker, who lives in Minneapolis, has pursued dual careers as an occupational physician and epidemiologist, and as a photographer specializing in industrial scenes, including child labor. His photographs have been widely exhibited in museums throughout North America.
The exhibit, “On the Line: Autoworkers at the Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant,” is free and open to the public during Landmark Center hours. For more information, go to www.landmarkcenter.org.
Additionally, Landmark Center will host an author talk with McMahon Nov. 10, prior to the release of “The Ford Century in Minnesota.” The free event, scheduled to begin at noon in Courtroom 430, will focus on the perspectives and experiences of Ford’s Twin Cities workers. To reserve space at the talk, call 651-292-1239.