Countryside of New Albany, Ohio

Two Symbols : Study Notes for a Symbolic Diorama

John Fraim


Rick Sowash / “Lullaby for Kara” from Sanctuary at 3 am

(My friend Rick is an Ohio composer)


The old and new symbols of America are represented in Central Ohio. The old symbol is the Ohio countryside of farms. The new symbol are the million plus square foot structures from Google, FaceBook and Amazon. Many on Beech Road. And now Intel just a little east of all of them. All centered in Columbus, Ohio. More specifically, in New Albany, Ohio. It’s a fast growing town in the northeastern part of Columbus. Five miles east of the fifty-mile 270 loop around town. 

I’ve bounced between living in California (born in LA) and Ohio all my life. All of my mother’s side of the family and all of my cousins are located mostly in Ohio or New York. My dad was born in Mississippi and moved with his family to Kentucky. A mother from a wealthy family and a father who had worked his way up through the military to colonel. One of the things he promised my mother – I’m pretty sure – was that he would leave his successful career in the military and go into private business. 

A conflict between private business and international conglomerates is seen in a particular images in conflict of a phrase or icon of America on the left and a symbol for tech power today on the right. Interestingly, the image manages to bypass any images of the government in this image or scene. Both come from the world of private industry.

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This conflict as well as the image for this conflict seems represented in a symbol of farms and traditional America on one side of a scene and the symbol for new tech leader on the other side of the scene. A two-lane road separates the symbol of the farm from the symbols of the leading tech firm. The two symbols are divided by a two-lane, black-top road that goes through the scene in a southeast to northwest direction.

The two sides of the road have different colors. The right side of the road green. The left side the is brown. The green on the right side of the road is simply grass. Not anything else growing but this ornamental ecology of modern homes. The brown on the left has ripples through it to      suggest plowed fields or the brown dirt of the earth planted and soon to give birth. Nature on the left side of the two-lane road. Technology and AI on the right side. 

On the left side of the scene is the image of the side of a red barn. On the side of this barn reads some iconic American words, “Chew Mail pouch Tobacco.” A powerful symbol of traditional America. Across the two-lane black country road, a corner of the million-square foot warehouse of Amazon in New Albany. Done in the colors of this warehouse from a kit. The colors of three stripes of light grey, white and light blue on the top with the logo in black with a blue underline in twenty-foot-high letters on the fifty-foot-tall warehouse. 

Two great symbols are separated by this two-lane road that passes between these two symbols. And what if the road somehow could simply merge into the image of the Ohio countryside in the background of this scene. What if this image could be obtained from shooting an image from Google against a computer screen. Or, whether the image is supplied to the viewer by the dioramist. What if the photo could be made to blend into the diorama in front of it. 

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Much of this incredible tech growth attracted to Columbus in central Ohio has gone in operations within the boundaries of New Albany. I know a little about New Albany as my wife and I have lived here for eight years since moving to this area in 2015 from California. I know even more about it since we have a black, girl greyhound Genna. When we first got her, I would walk her up to the park at the end of my street. Now, the park is gone. In its place a huge apartment complex. So now I walk Genna in the park that winds along Rose Run Creek. 

The scene is envisioned in diorama form in a scale that model railroaders call Z scale. The scene will be represented on a 12” x 24” hard basswood board. The one shown above is the preliminary paste up for the scene. This done on the much smaller scale on a 10” x 8”. The idea was to do it on a frame from an art store. The point was to be able to put the diorama on the wall.

In the mock-up model of the larger model, I consider making the diorama an interactive one by having the viewer assemble pieces of the images and meaning of the diorama. In effect, the owner of this diorama could take the rather unusual work of art off the vertical wall and place it horizontally as a type of board. The board has brown on the left and green on the right divided by the black line of the road.

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A photo of the Ohio countryside pasted on a billboard type of strip and placed at the back of the diorama to show a continuation of the scene. The road in the country scene is matched with the road in the diorama. The country road appears a greyish in the photograph but it is changed to a black-topped road with a black permanent marker. This same technique of blending in a pasted in background with the diorama. Using materials and colors of the photo and bringing these into the photo. Or, changing the photo by bringing pieces of a diorama into the diorama. I will probably take a photo myself in High Dynamic Range that comes close to the scene in the above. I need to have the hint of a black road in the photo to extend the diorama into the background photo. The background photo will be attached by powerful mini-magnets.

I used this technique a few times in the past. perhaps the first use of this was inspired by a photo I took while hiking in the Berkeley Hills with my son Christopher and Alex. The shot is taken with a telephoto lens on a Lumix camera. The photo serves as the background for a scene perspective from the flowers and vegetation in the Berkeley Hills.

Tilden Park Above Berkeley / Looking West Towards San Francisco

Perhaps my first use of the photos in the back of dioramas was with the but more recently, just a a few days ago when I completed by diorama “Trustworthy Insurance Appraisars” with their appraiser driving a pink Cadillac. Might he be a winner in the Mary Kay organization? The appraiser is definitely a male standing by the car looking at the mess in front of him. This all from a real scene I followed my insurance appraiser friend on.

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All of above elements of structures of the dioramic/symbolic scene. The Amazon warehouse section. The barn with the phrase “Chew Mailpouch Tobacco” on the side of it. I had on order all the Z scale pieces for the larger diorama and now just wanted to make a quick mock-up. For the final diorama I was using this barn with the “Chew Mailpouch Tobacco” advertisement on the barn. Since I didn’t want to build a little barn for a mock-up, I simply pulled a photo of a barn with the above saying on it. I printed the photo out and cut the photo out and put is as a type of stand-up piece onto the horizonal level of the diorama mock-up. Like they refer to in Hollywood as a false front. The façade movie structures.

Why not admit that farms are barely propped up today so a false front and being propped up OK. by propping up the image we see of the side of an Ohio red barn with “Chew Mailpouch Tobacco” on the side of it. The photo is placed in the back of the diorama and the diorama road matched up with the photo.

These various additions to the stage of the diorama, the original base of the diorama hanging on a wall. With a short saying at the end of it that the viewer could place on the board. Pieces are brought to the diorama by the one displaying the diorama.

The viewer participates in the assemblage of the diorama scenes with the recognition that it is a Hollywood type of scene, or the scene from a theatrical set. A suggestive scene rather than an explanatory one. At this point in the dynamics of the scene, it seems suggestions (or probes as MM would say) are the best forms of learning today.

3 thoughts on “Countryside of New Albany, Ohio

  1. It can be difficult for many of us to distinguish between progress and regress, perhaps because one ultimately (frequently) becomes the other.

  2. John, you always send me something when I need it the most. A new “Thought Experiment”, as Einstein would say.
    My communicated thoughts here might seem be somewhat garbled, so please bear with me.

    I don’t think “private industry’ is solely divorced from Government intervention. Did the Farmer need government assistance to obtain his land, secure funds to build a barn. What was there before the barn? The government and bank was/is always there for themselves. The land and the farmer were/are just a means to their financial profits. Did Amazon or Google receive tax breaks and/or concessions to move to, and to build on this land?
    The brown colored left side, represents life, crop land, turned land, fields. The green right side represents a modern facility building plunked down or built up from the land which is now destroyed, no crops again, not renewable again. Even when the facility’s used is over, it will remain and be a decay on the land, like Pripyat is now to Ukraine.

    The two-lane road, isn’t just a road between two land fields, but a dividing line between two time-periods. There are actually three time-periods here. Before the barn was built, the life of the barn and families, and now the new Amazon building. It’s dividing mother earth, tradition, renewal land and crops on the left with modern technologies (as the barn once was), destroying of the land and earth, and ending all renewal crops, as on the right.

    The red oxide colored barn represents human warmth, blood,sweat, family roots, tradition. It’s a common-sense organically shaped building. Now represented by a “Hollywood False Front”. It’s time is over, it’s no longer useful.
    The Amazon structure is not organic, it is physically, practical facility, representing a new order, sterile structure, with white, grey, cool white colors. No red warmth at all. Not human in appearance or inside possibly using mechanized robots.

    The Ohio background is comforting, old world, familiar, old order, and at the same time will be taken over. Nature being taken over, replaced by the modern and the new. No matter what it will be. The current background is completely symbolic. It doesn’t have to be blend into the middle or forefront, like a traditional diorama always needed to be. I feel you were moving from a traditional narrative diorama to a newer version, or even just a “statement”.

    I am interested in your choice of the Model Rail Road “Z” gauge or 1/220 scale. It’s mainly chosen for landscaping purposes. The train is almost secondary to the created landscape or environment.
    John, you ordered Z gauge items to probably build a traditional model railroad layout or diorama, like was done since the Natural History Habitat-Dioramas dictated what a diorama was/is, but instead you created a mock up diorama to be used a a tool of communication, to be constructed and destructed, creating a completely different narrative, which to your earlier point. The narrow, blinders view of the International Plastic Modelers Society (IPMS), which to your descriptive point of installing the correct amount of rivets on a World War tank. I’ve been a member of these groups since I was 14 year sold, and it both stunted my creativity for years, but later on gave me something to rebel against, which will get you ostracized out in a micro second.

    If the substrate was a metal board, such as a ‘white boards’, cut to size. All the props can have a small magnet glued behind them, so you or the owners of the piece can move and remove any items at will.
    As a framed picture on the wall; I feel it creates a distance to the piece, and also from the intended message. We become a visitor or a viewer and can leave it at any time. If you place it on a horizontal table; we can tower over it, control it like empowered giants hovering above a miniature war-game scenario. Again as a distant viewer, but in a different way. How else can a ‘communicative tool diorama’ be presented so as to do away with us being a distanced viewer?


  3. I rather agree with Darryl in regard to the farm and the hard work the farmer puts into it, the crops, from season to season, and the now big buildings taking space after space wondering if the farms will totally disappear eventually. I hope not. Thoughts of my childhood , and seeing those signs along the highway that always made you read them, and then smile or laugh the Tobacco sign you talked about reminded me of those days…Progress is fine, but also I would like to see the past co-exist with our future. Lovely work John as usual…Barbara

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