Beef Jerky Outhouse

Made of slabs and tiles of beef jerky—like the rail split, rough hewn wood they so closely resemble—these forms evoke “the necessary houses" of our pioneer past and former frontier. They represent a place and a time, a longing to recapture something we now know only in images and words.

“Extinct are the fly-ridden, stink-pot backyard biffies of yesteryear. Still, so rich is the folklore of outhouses that today privies, once routinely burned or torn down, are now sold to the highest bidders.” (The Vanishing American Outhouse, Ronald S. Barlow, c. 1992). Landscape architects are moving many of these quaint folk-art buildings to the backyards of their wealthiest clients. Even a good reproduction can run up to $2,500,before any electrical or plumbing (early ‘90s prices).

As lustrous wrecks, they have a type of tragic beauty imbued by a nostalgia for the past and the simpler life of which we know little. Would most of us be able to survive a month, a week even, with the hardships of frontier life? Not likely. Still, we pine for those moments of struggle and mortal harmony/combat with a force greater than ourselves. Imbedded in our national heritage and forged in our consciousness is a yearning to be some mythic yeoman-farmer taming the elements. 

Then there is the smell of these jerky privies. Our olfactory nerves, undoubtedly our greatest imprinter of memory, evoke our first rustic outhouse experience—the stench, or  perhaps a memory of a road trip across the country floods our consciousness when we catch the scent of beef jerky, recalling a fellow traveler opening a bag of beef jerky in the back seat of the car as we sped into the night. 

The memories we have of our cultural past as Americans, like these meat forms and the rail-split wood buildings they evoke, are structures that endure while in a constant state of decay.