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People and the Environment

“As the watchers stared, the hum increased to a mighty throbbing. Now everyone was out of the houses and stores, looking apprehensively at the growing cloud, which was blotting out the rays of the sun. Children screamed and ran for home. Women gathered their long skirts and hurried for the shelter of stores. Horses bolted. A few people mumbled frightened words about the approach of the millennium, and several dropped on their knees and prayed.”

While this passage might sound like a scene from an epic blockbuster movie, it’s actually an account of a 90-mile flock of passenger pigeons traveling over Columbus, Ohio, for several hours in 1855.

Passenger pigeons were the most populous bird in the United States, and perhaps even the world, when John James Audubon killed a pair to depict in a drawing that Robert Havell subsequently engraved in 1829. Susan Middleton’s work suggests a cautionary lesson by recalling the sad plight of the bird, which was hunted and driven to extinction by 1914. What emotions do the works of Audubon and Middleton evoke in you?

Robert Havell, Jr., John James Audubon, Passenger Pigeon, 1829, hand-colored engraving and aquatint on Whatman wove paper, Gift of Mrs. Walter B. James, 1945.8.62

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“As the watchers stared, the hum increased to a mighty throbbing. Now everyone was out of the houses and stores, looking apprehensively at the growing cloud, which was blotting out the rays of the sun. Children screamed and ran for home. Women gathered their long skirts and hurried for the shelter of stores. Horses bolted. A few people mumbled frightened words about the approach of the millennium, and several dropped on their knees and prayed.”

While this passage might sound like a scene from an epic blockbuster movie, it’s actually an account of a 90-mile flock of passenger pigeons traveling over Columbus, Ohio, for several hours in 1855.

Passenger pigeons were the most populous bird in the United States, and perhaps even the world, when John James Audubon killed a pair to depict in a drawing that Robert Havell subsequently engraved in 1829. Susan Middleton’s work suggests a cautionary lesson by recalling the sad plight of the bird, which was hunted and driven to extinction by 1914. What emotions do the works of Audubon and Middleton evoke in you?

Susan Middleton, Crown Point Press, Asa Muir-Harmony, Emily York, Ianne Kjorlie, Requiem, 2008, color photogravure on wove Somerset paper, Gift of Kathan Brown, 2011.119.63

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George Inness, James F. Ryder, and William H. Rau were all hired by railroad companies to depict railways in the 19th century.

·      The Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad hired painter Inness in the mid-1850s to show off its railway and not-yet-finished roundhouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

·      The Atlantic & Great Western Railway hired Ryder in 1862 to document newly built rail sections in Pennsylvania and near Lake Erie.

·      The Lehigh Valley Railroad hired Rau in 1895 to create promotional photographs of new rail lines from New York to Niagara.

While scholars debate the economic and environmental impact of railroads in the 19th century, traveling by rail made it easy to transport goods and for settlers to relocate to the West.

Examine and compare these works of art by Inness, Ryder, and Rau. How is the railroad depicted in each work? What do you think each artist was trying to show or tell viewers about the railroad?

George Inness, The Lackawanna Valley, c. 1856, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Huttleston Rogers, 1945.4.1

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George Inness, James F. Ryder, and William H. Rau were all hired by railroad companies to depict railways in the 19th century.

·      The Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad hired painter Inness in the mid-1850s to show off its railway and not-yet-finished roundhouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

·      The Atlantic & Great Western Railway hired Ryder in 1862 to document newly built rail sections in Pennsylvania and near Lake Erie.

·      The Lehigh Valley Railroad hired Rau in 1895 to create promotional photographs of new rail lines from New York to Niagara.

While scholars debate the economic and environmental impact of railroads in the 19th century, traveling by rail made it easy to transport goods and for settlers to relocate to the West.

Examine and compare these works of art by Inness, Ryder, and Rau. How is the railroad depicted in each work? What do you think each artist was trying to show or tell viewers about the railroad?

James F. Ryder, Atlantic & Great Western Railway, 1862, albumen print, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006.133.117

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George Inness, James F. Ryder, and William H. Rau were all hired by railroad companies to depict railways in the 19th century.

·      The Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad hired painter Inness in the mid-1850s to show off its railway and not-yet-finished roundhouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

·      The Atlantic & Great Western Railway hired Ryder in 1862 to document newly built rail sections in Pennsylvania and near Lake Erie.

·      The Lehigh Valley Railroad hired Rau in 1895 to create promotional photographs of new rail lines from New York to Niagara.

While scholars debate the economic and environmental impact of railroads in the 19th century, traveling by rail made it easy to transport goods and for settlers to relocate to the West.

Examine and compare these works of art by Inness, Ryder, and Rau. How is the railroad depicted in each work? What do you think each artist was trying to show or tell viewers about the railroad?

William H. Rau, Susquehanna at Standing Stone, c. 1895, albumen print, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2014.29.1.17

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Niagara Falls has been a source of fascination and pride for US residents since European settlers learned about the falls in the 17th century. Interest grew in the 19th century as the site was documented in photographs and paintings, including Frederic Edwin Church’s Niagara, and tourism increased as a result of expanded accessibility.

Church’s painting astonished viewers with its grand scale and realistic details. In 1857, more than 100,000 people paid 25 cents each over the course of two weeks to get a glimpse of Niagara. Why do you think viewers were so amazed? Consider the panoramic scale and how Church depicted the water.

Eventually, industrial and commercial development began to negatively affect the Niagara River. Advocacy efforts in the late 1800s by Church, photographer George Barker, landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, and others helped persuade authorities to establish protected parks that remain today.

Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara, 1857, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.79.10

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Compare Thomas Moran’s Tower at Tower Falls, Yellowstone with Carleton Watkins’s Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove. How are they similar and different? Take note of what you see, including colors, shapes, lines, and scale.

Both of these works were used to help persuade the US Congress to set aside Yosemite and Yellowstone as protected parks. Imagine you’re a member of Congress living in the 19th century who has never seen either of these places before. What words would you use to describe the works of art and the places they depict? Would you be convinced to set aside these areas as parks after looking at the images?

Thomas Moran, Tower at Tower Falls, Yellowstone, 1872, watercolor and gouache over graphite on blue paper, Florian Carr Fund, 2012.93.1

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Compare Thomas Moran’s Tower at Tower Falls, Yellowstone with Carleton Watkins’s Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove. How are they similar and different? Take note of what you see, including colors, shapes, lines, and scale.

Both of these works were used to help persuade the US Congress to set aside Yosemite and Yellowstone as protected parks. Imagine you’re a member of Congress living in the 19th century who has never seen either of these places before. What words would you use to describe the works of art and the places they depict? Would you be convinced to set aside these areas as parks after looking at the images?

Carleton E. Watkins, Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove, 1861, albumen print from collodion negative mounted on paperboard, Gift of Mary and David Robinson, 1995.35.24

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Separated by more than a century, the photographs of Henry Peter Bosse and Victoria Sambunaris reveal the ongoing development and cultivation of the US landscape for economic purposes.

Henry Peter Bosse, a mapmaker and draftsman for the US Army Corps of Engineers, used photography to document Corps improvements and construction along the Mississippi River from 1883 to 1893. Construction of Rock and Brush Dam, L.W. 1891 shows engineers building dams by constructing willow mats weighted down with stones.

During a series of road trips she took around the country, Victoria Sambunaris photographed the US landscape as it was being dramatically changed by human involvement. The Bingham Copper Mine is an open-pit mine that, at 2.5 miles across, is one of the largest human-made excavations in the world. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

What do you notice about the people in these photographs in relation to their surroundings? What do you wonder about each of these sites?

Henry Peter Bosse, Construction of Rock and Brush Dam, L.W. 1891, 1891, cyanotype, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon, 2006.131.2

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Separated by more than a century, the photographs of Henry Peter Bosse and Victoria Sambunaris reveal the ongoing development and cultivation of the US landscape for economic purposes.

Henry Peter Bosse, a mapmaker and draftsman for the US Army Corps of Engineers, used photography to document Corps improvements and construction along the Mississippi River from 1883 to 1893. Construction of Rock and Brush Dam, L.W. 1891 shows engineers building dams by constructing willow mats weighted down with stones.

During a series of road trips she took around the country, Victoria Sambunaris photographed the US landscape as it was being dramatically changed by human involvement. The Bingham Copper Mine shown here is an open-pit mine that, at 2.5 miles across, is one of the largest human-made excavations in the world. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

What do you notice about the people in these photographs in relation to their surroundings? What do you wonder about each of these sites?

Victoria Sambunaris, Untitled, Bingham Copper Mine, Utah, 2003, chromogenic print, Gift of Dr. Michael I. Jacobs, 2007.64.1

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In Hound and Hunter, Winslow Homer depicted a hunting practice called hounding, in which dogs were used to drive deer into a lake. When it was first exhibited, many viewers found Homer’s painting disturbing. Critics mistakenly believed that the hunter was struggling to drown a live deer, when in fact, as Homer explained, the deer was already dead.

How do you feel about the scene Homer shows? Discuss the role of hunting in contemporary life today.

Winslow Homer, Hound and Hunter, 1892, oil on canvas, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, 1947.11.1

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Instead of focusing his 1909 painting on the 59th Street Bridge, a newly completed engineering feat, George Bellows directed his attention to a single tenement building left behind after the bridge’s construction.

Compare this work with Lewis Baltz’s Night Construction, RenoHow are they similar and different? What moods does each image convey? What do you think these artists might be saying about development in the United States?

George Bellows, The Lone Tenement, 1909, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.83

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Lewis Baltz took his photograph of a house under construction in Reno, Nevada, as part of a larger project documenting construction and development in the state in the late 1970s.

Compare this work with George Bellows’s The Lone Tenement. How are they similar and different? What moods does each image convey? What do you think these artists might be saying about development in the United States?

Lewis Baltz, Night Construction, Reno, 1977, gelatin silver print, printed 1978, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2001.67.38

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Classic Landscape is one of several paintings Charles Sheeler made of the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan, after the company commissioned Sheeler to take promotional photographs. Sheeler chose to show an area of the complex—at the time the largest factory in the world—where cement is made from by-products and stored in silos.

Consider the words “classic” and “landscape” and the time period during which this painting was made. Why do you think Sheeler titled this work Classic Landscape?

Charles Sheeler, Classic Landscape, 1931, oil on canvas, Collection of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2000.39.2

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Bernarda Bryson made Dust for a project she titled “The Vanishing American Frontier.” At the time, she had been hired by the federal Resettlement Administration to document poverty, unemployment, and the effects of overfarming, which contributed to the Dust Bowl.

Bryson was inspired to make the series after hearing President Franklin D. Roosevelt speak about the changing frontier. In a 1936 speech, he said, “The period of geographical pioneering is largely finished. But, my friends, the period of social pioneering is only at its beginning.”

How would you describe the mood of this print? What do you imagine Roosevelt’s statement means?

Bernarda Bryson, Dust, 1935–1936, lithograph, Reba and Dave Williams Collection, Gift of Reba and Dave Williams, 2008.115.4350

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Grant Wood was born on a farm in Iowa. After studying in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Europe, he returned to Iowa, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.

Wood’s works are often interpreted as over-the-top or wry celebrations of rural life in the United States. Haying is a nostalgic remembrance of the abundant fields more common during Wood’s childhood, before the Dust Bowl affected the region during the 1930s.

What words would you use to describe this painting? If you live in a farming community, how is this scene similar to or different from the fields you know?

Grant Wood, Haying, 1939, oil on canvas on paperboard mounted on hardboard, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Strasburger, 1982.7.1

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Gianfranco Gorgoni captured this image shortly after Robert Smithson completed his pioneering earthwork Spiral Jetty. Smithson used 6,000 tons of black basalt rock and earth to form the counterclockwise 1,500-foot-long spiral in Great Salt Lake. “Land art” emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as many became more concerned with protecting and maintaining the environment.

Imagine walking on Spiral Jetty. What might you see, hear, or smell while tracing its path?

Robert Smithson, Gianfranco Gorgoni, Untitled, 1970, gelatin silver print, Gift of Eileen and Michael Cohen, 2011.93.46

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Look closely at this image and Matthew Brandt’s Salton Sea C1 before reading more about them. What do you notice in the works? What words would you use to describe them?

The Salton Sea was accidentally created in 1905 by engineers. It is the largest lake in California, but it is shrinking and a source of environmental pollution.

Richard Misrach photographed the lake in the 1980s after it had flooded decades-old tourist areas. Matthew Brandt used water from the lake during the photographic development process to make his 2007 photograph. The unusually high salinity of the water affected the surface, color, and texture of the print.

How does learning about the Salton Sea change your interpretation of these works of art?

Richard Misrach, Flooded Marina (Gas Pumps), Salton Sea, California, 1983, chromogenic print, printed 1996, Anonymous Gift, 1998.91.7

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Look closely at this image and Richard Misrach’s Flooded Marina (Gas Pumps), Salton Sea, California before reading more about them. What do you notice in the works? What words would you use to describe them?

The Salton Sea was accidentally created in 1905 by engineers. It is the largest lake in California, but it is shrinking and a source of environmental pollution.

Richard Misrach photographed the lake in the 1980s after it had flooded decades-old tourist areas. Matthew Brandt used water from the lake during the photographic development process to make his 2007 photograph. The unusually high salinity of the water affected the surface, color, and texture of the print.

How does learning about the Salton Sea change your interpretation of these works of art?

Matthew Brandt, Salton Sea C1, 2007, salted paper print, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund, 2014.31.1

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While this may look like an innocuous photograph of a grassy mesa, Rocky Flats is the site of a former nuclear weapons plant where multiple environmental violations and contamination took place.

Richard Misrach said, “A lot of people consider me a landscape photographer, but I’m actually interested in creating metaphors about so-called civilization and the environment.” What metaphor might Misrach be creating here? Why do you think he uses the phrase “so-called civilization”?

Richard Misrach, Rocky Flats Mesa, Colorado, 1987, chromogenic print, Anonymous Gift, 1998.91.11

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Photographer Robert Adams has photographed the changing landscape and built environment of the US West since the 1960s. About his work depicting the West, he’s said, “I’d like to document what’s glorious in the West and remains glorious, despite what we’ve done to it. I’d like to be very truthful about that. But I also want to show what is disturbing and what needs correction. The best way to do that—and it’s the way every artist dreams of—is to show it at the same time in the very same rectangle.”

Since the late 1990s, Adams has turned his attention to deforestation efforts in Oregon. “If you’ve ever walked in these places,” Adams said, “you see how few birds there are. You can smell the herbicide. The devastation—the indiscriminate devastation—is beyond words.”

Where do you see evidence of a changing landscape in your community? What’s “glorious” and what “needs correction”?

Robert Adams, The decaying remains of an old-growth stump, the last evidence of the original forest. Clatsop County, Oregon, 1999–2001, gelatin silver print, printed 2003, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams, 2012.70.99

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Richard Misrach traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. He accessed the area using a press pass when it wasn’t yet open to the public.

Why do you think he focused on writing and text in his photographs?

Hear Richard Misrach discuss this series of works.

Richard Misrach, Untitled [New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 2005], 2005, inkjet print, printed 2010, Gift of the Artist, 2010.21.1.69

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Richard Misrach traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. He accessed the area using a press pass when it wasn’t yet open to the public.

Why do you think he focused on writing and text in his photographs?

Hear Richard Misrach discuss this series of works.

Richard Misrach, Untitled [New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 2005], 2005, inkjet print, printed 2010, Gift of the Artist, 2010.21.1.37

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Richard Misrach traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. He accessed the area using a press pass when it wasn’t yet open to the public.

Why do you think he focused on writing and text in his photographs?

Hear Richard Misrach discuss this series of works.

Richard Misrach, Untitled [New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 2005], 2005, inkjet print, printed 2010, Gift of the Artist, 2010.21.1.64

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