The Role of Vernacular Architecture in Small Town Identity and Economy: A Study of Mentone, Indiana
This thesis explores the role that a vernacular architectural form plays in the identity and economy of a small town. The vernacular form chosen for this paper is the kitsch-oriented roadside giant statue. The purpose of this study is to discern whether such an architectural form can become an identifier for a small town in the same way that grand structures such as buildings, bridges, and monuments serve as identity markers for large cities. Research for this paper was done in Mentone, Indiana. Mentone, with a population of roughly 900, is home to a 3,000 pound concrete egg statue that serves as a simulacrum of Mentone's egg production heritage. Interviews with Mentone residents addressed the egg's commercial value, as well as the variance among residents and tourists in regard to the statue's function as a semiotic marker. Observations and analysis of the town's annual Egg Festival, museum, and website, as well as locally produced books and articles about the town's history, provided insight into how the town understands and presents its heritage and its current identity. This thesis draws on concepts from the fields of sociology, folklore, marketing and popular culture to address the issues of community, identity, the commodification of small towns in a post-agrarian society, and the devaluation of kitsch. The reactions of Mentone's citizens to their egg statue are contrasted with the reactions of the residents of two other small towns containing roadside giants. This paper examines the functions of Winlock, Washington's giant egg statue and Collinsville, Illinois' giant catsup bottle. Unlike Mentone's egg, these giants function in both identity formation and local economy for their respective towns. This study demonstrates that Mentone's giant egg statue serves as an identity marker for the people outside of Mentone, rather than for the residents, who do not select the egg as an element of the collective community identity. The research also shows that Mentone citizens do not utilize the statue for economic gain. Although one might expect a small town that would otherwise be anonymous to rally around the element that renders it visible, this study determines that such an assumption can be erroneous.
School:Bowling Green State University
School Location:USA - Ohio
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:community identity vernacular architecture roadside giant kitsch
Date of Publication:01/01/2007