Like many Texans this summer, Morgan Page and Dustin Rice spent a recent morning packing up the car to head to a family beach vacation. But before they reached Rockport, they first planned to stop in La Grange, where they would roam and scout for photos and stories that spoke to them. Such detours are common for the couple, who spent almost three years traveling more than 10,000 miles across the state to photograph and explore the history of abandoned small communities, focusing mostly on pioneer towns. The result of this ambitious project is the hauntingly captivating “Bones of Texas,” a traveling exhibit of photos taken by the couple as well as short stories written by Rice—some of them true, some simply inspired by the images.
The exhibit, which started its run in Wichita Falls this spring, is on display through the end of August at the River Valley Pioneer Museum, in Canadian. It moves next to Vernon, where it will run from September 7 through October 23 at the Red River Valley Museum. Supporting small, local institutions was important to the couple. “When we’re driving around all these towns, we look for more regional museums,” says Page. “When we saw the River Valley Pioneer Museum—it’s such a great building in and of itself, let alone what’s inside—it inspired us even more to reach out to regional museums that serve the towns we actually go to and photograph.”
Page is an associate professor of graphic design at Midwestern State University, in Wichita Falls, while Rice, who earned a B.A. in English at Texas State, in San Marcos, and is a hobby photographer and artist, is an inventory manager at a railcar repair facility. The pair, who got engaged while working on the project, were heavily inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Farm Security Administration photographers, including Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, and Russell Lee, who moved to Austin in 1947 and remained there until his death in 1986. “I think the FSA photographers are really important to our project because they were asked to document the effects of poverty on rural communities,” says Page. “I often find that the abandoned towns that we visit and photograph were in their last days during the Great Depression. I like to think we’re picking up where they left off.” Adds Rice, “I love walking up on something that’s experiencing the end of its life cycle but is brand new to us. I dig back and find the history of it and the real stories as much as I can.” Here, the couple explain the stories behind some of their favorite shots from “Bones of Texas,” which they hope to turn into a book.