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Review: A close look at Pie Town illuminates the spirit and closeness of small-town America

Russell Lee photo of Main Street on cooling rack is featured in “Pie Town Revisited.” (Courtesy of Arthur Drooker)

Russell Lee photo of Main Street on cooling rack is featured in “Pie Town Revisited.” (Courtesy of Arthur Drooker)

This is a book that welcomes the reader with a sense of contentment.

The image on the front cover delivers the first moment of contentment.

It is of a smiling woman standing inside a screen door and holding a cherry pie. She radiates pride of ownership as the baker of the pie.

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And the warmth of her face welcomes the reader to her world on the Continental Divide.

The woman is Kathy Knapp, owner of the Pie-O-Neer Café in Pie Town, N.M.

The feelings of contentment multiply when you look inside the book.

Those feelings are provided by Arthur Drooker in his essay and in his complementary photographs.

Drooker’s essay explains the history of Pie Town, its location on U.S. 60 in western New Mexico, its isolation, its sense of community, its residents and their enduring pioneer spirit.

Drooker, who lives in northern California, eventually visited Pie Town seven times to complete the book. His multiple trips represent the “revisited” in the book’s title. The initial visit occurred in 1940 by another photographer, someone whom Drooker had never met but learned about.

That was the year that Russell Lee took his now-famous black-and-white photographs of the homesteaders of Pie Town.

Lee was on assignment for the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal agency that hired photographers to bring attention to the poorest of America’s farmers during the Great Depression.

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Drooker came to Pie Town, drawn by Lee’s color images, less known than his black-and-white ones. (A dozen of Lee’s color photos are also in the book.)

Arthur Drooker visited Pie Town seven times to complete his book.

Arthur Drooker visited Pie Town seven times to complete his book.

In his essay, Drooker writes that his reason for coming to Pie Town was to do what Lee had done, “to photograph a slice of life as few Americans live it.”

That “slice” is seen in Drooker’s images of the town’s annual Pie Festival (Pie Town Fair): Crust is splattered on the face and shirt of the winner of the Kids’ Pie-Eating Contest. Pie judge Adrian Morris is smelling a slice of cherry pie. Rex Collins Norris Jr. is dancing at the festival dance. Norris is sitting in a vehicle holding a photo that Russell Lee had taken of his grandfather, Sam Norris.

Besides the portraits, there are Drooker’s photos of buildings – homes, churches, homesteads, etc.

Drooker’s book brings understanding to small-town America.

P.S. Pie Town is famous for its New Mexican apple pie – made with piñon nuts and green chile.

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