Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Docent Depot Documents

Following the Docent Meeting on November 27, 2007 and the discussion of the availability of Docent Depot posts as printable documents, I have learned a new way to post Adobe PDFs (Portable Document Files) of docent training materials on the blog. You will now find a link in the column to the right for "Docent Depot Documents." If you click on the link, you will be taken to a new web page in which a list of documents will appear. From now on, you will find printable PDF files of all docent training materials on this page, with the most recent items listed first. Clicking on any of the documents listed will produce a PDF of that particular training material. You can then save the document to your own computer or print it as you desire! Check it out! If you think of something that should be in the list and you don't see it, send me an email describing what you were hoping to find, and I'll see what I can do to make it available.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Legend of Tu-Tok-a-Nula a.k.a. El Capitan

Dear Docents-
Here’s a treasure I found in a book in the Yosemite bookshop last month. I thought it would be a perfect story to tell in front of the Struth or Kondos pieces. To me, it gives the children a little window into the culture that existed in Yosemite before everybody else arrived, and shows some of the magic that is lost when stories are forgotten and names are changed. I hope you can use it!

--Kathleen Durham

From A Day with Tupi: An Authentic Story of an Indian Boy in California’s Mountains, by Fran Hubbard, Fredericksburg, TX: Awani Press,1978.

The Legend of Tu-Tok-a-Nula

While they worked, Tupi coaxed his grandmother to tell him the story of the measuring worm, Tu-tok-a-nula, and how he saved the little Indian children. She had told him the legend more times than she could remember, but she was always glad to tell it again.

One upon a time, long ago, two little Indian boys went swimming in the river which flows through the valley called A-wa-ni. When they tired of swimming they climbed up on a warm rock on the bank and went to sleep. While they slept the rock began to grow. It grew and grew until the top was in the clouds and the little Indians touched their noses against the moon. And still they slumbered on. Finally the children awoke, and seeing how far it was down to the valley, they began to cry. Feeling sorry for them, the animals tried to get them down. First the white-footed mouse and then the wood rat tried but they could only jump a short distance up the smooth rock. Next came the coyote, who went higher, then the grizzly bear, who gave a great leap but fell back. Finally the mighty lion tried, jumping farther than any of the others, but he also failed. When all had tried and failed, the little measuring worm, Tu-tok-a-nula, began to inch his way up the cliff. For many sleeps he climbed until at last he reached the top. Taking the little Indian boys on his back he made his way carefully down. By staying with his task the measuring worm succeeded where the great animals failed. In his honor the Indians named the great rock after him.*

*Today Tu-Tok-a-Nula is known as El Capitan.

An author’s note at the back of the book:

Speaking in 1877 of the legend of Tu-tok-a-nula, Stephen Powers said: “This is not only a true Indian story, but it has a pretty meaning, being a kind of parallel to the fable of the hare and the tortoise that ran a race. What the great animals of the forest could not do the despised measuring worm accomplished simply by patience and perseverance. It also has its value as showing the Indian idea of the formation of Yosemite.” (From Heizer and Whipple’s, The California Indians: A Source Book, Berkeley: U of California P, 1951.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

A / Part :: Constructions by Jeremy Mayer

Jeremy Mayer constructs figurative forms—what he calls “reassemblies”—using defunct typewriters. A testament to his steadfast attention to detail, these sculptures involve an ongoing process of deconstruction and reconstruction. Mayer dissects the typewriters he collects, inventorying their parts and studying them in relation to human anatomy; to him, a “Q” key mimics a particular nerve or bone. Like the typewriters Mayer takes apart, the human bodies he constructs represent an elaborate interplay between part and whole.

Mayer is acutely aware of the multiple layers of meaning that exist in his works. He steadfastly resists the association of his sculptures with common robots, and instead looks to classical art, anatomy, and typewriter history for inspiration. For example, though Nude III (Olympia)—on view to the left—takes its name from a literal reference to a prominent typewriter manufacturer, its title is also a clever nod to Éduoard Manet’s seminal painting of the same name.

Mayer’s sculptures reflect the passage of time and our tendency to relate emotion with objects. As symbols of a bygone era, typewriters evoke a sense of nostalgia. While Mayer dismantles typewriters, he maintains their original mechanical nature, never welding or soldering any components of his sculptures. Mayer’s works, then, lament the loss of visible technological processes—which in today’s world have largely shifted from mechanical to digital.

Margaret Whiting :: Laws of the Land Tour Blueprint


Margaret Whiting: Laws of the Land consists of sixteen multimedia sculptures made from discarded law books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, natural history books, combined with natural objects such as shells, leaves, and bones. Whiting alters the books dramatically, tearing pages from their bindings, cutting the books into sections or strata, creating collages of legal texts, and highlighting keywords and phrases. Many of the book and paper pieces are then juxtaposed with natural objects or images from natural history texts. The works yield an interesting commentary on the relationship between American land use and laws, and bring to our attention the complex history of land use and the laws governing use of land in the U.S.

About the Artist
A native of northern Minnesota, Margaret Whiting now lives and works in Waterloo, Iowa. She graduated in Medical Technology from the University of Minnesota and received a BA with an emphasis in printmaking and papermaking from the University of Northern Iowa. Whiting worked as a medical technologist for ten years, and now dedicates most of her time to her art. In addition, she performs workshops and teaches classes in paper and bookmaking. Whiting has participated in regional, national and international shows, and her work is included in museum and private collections around the country. Recently, her work was included in two national traveling exhibitions, American River and Paper Cuts: The Art of Contemporary Paper.

Artist’s Statement
I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use our natural resources, but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.
- Theodore Roosevelt, speech, Washington, D.C., 1900

The laws humans develop must instill respect for the land. Through my art, I reference our need to recognize the laws of nature and the interconnectedness of all living things on this earth. I collect old law books, science books, encyclopedia and dictionaries that have been discarded, utilizing them as raw materials in my art. I am particularly interested in law books that reference land use and property rights, because they contain decisions that have shaped our past and continue to impact our lives and the world around us. American society was founded upon the opposition between humans and nature. As Americans, we view ourselves separately from the environment. In reality, this conflict of man versus nature is an illusion. We live in, depend on and are part of an ecosystem.

While reading these old law books, I sometimes circle words in the text and create new statements regarding land use and the fundamental need to protect it for future generations. I incorporate found objects from nature, images of animals in old science books or drawings of the land in geological surveys with the law book pages. I juxtapose the written word with seeds, leaves, fossils, shells and other materials collected from nature to create a dialogue between human behavior and the environment. Incorporating texture, I tear, crumple, pierce, fold or bale the books into landscapes. These alterations often reveal landforms within the book itself.

The layers of pages simulate the sedimentary rock deep within the earth’s crust. My manipulation of books is not meant to destroy them or to refer to the destruction of our laws. Instead, I transform them into objects that propose new relationships.

All laws are dispositions for the future… protect the land… it is one estate of inheritance.

- Margaret Whiting, altered text taken from a law book

NMA Text Panel

Margaret Whiting combines natural objects such as leaves, seeds, fossils, and shells with discarded law books, science books, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. Her artworks explore contemporary issues related to land use and encourage thoughtful consideration of the definitions and laws that regulate American society's impact on the land.

In her mixed media sculptures, Whiting does not intend to destroy legal documents and environmental laws, but instead aims to provide new contexts for the information they contain and the authority they possess. According to Whiting, law books, in particular, reveal society’s entrenched cultural priorities; the volumes with which she works often contain legal judgments that have significantly shaped history and that will continue to determine our collective future.

By interacting with and altering the language of the law, Whiting offers her perspective on the complicated relationship between humans and their environment. “American culture seems to have been formed upon opposition between humans and nature,” she has explained. “In reality, man versus nature is an illusion. We live in, depend on, and are part of an ecosystem.” Taken together, the sculptures in this exhibition remind us of the fragile balance that exists between human law and the laws of nature.

This exhibition is presented as part of the NMA’s Art + Environment exhibition series, an initiative that brings community, artists, and scholars together to explore the interaction between people and their environments.

You’ll find the exhibition installed in the Feature Gallery North on the third floor. The majority of the pieces are wall-mounted, but a few large pedestals and platforms stand in the middle of the space as well. With these, it is important to take every precaution to ensure that the pieces are neither bumped nor moved, as they are extraordinarily fragile.

Tour Framework
Explain to guests that Margaret Whiting was raised in northern Minnesota in a small, rural mining community not unlike many communities in Nevada.

Ask guests to consider why an artist from such a community might be interested in art that has to do with environmental and land use law.

Ask guests to look at any one of Whiting’s pieces. What do they notice about it? From what does it appear to have been made?

Explain that Whiting’s background is in papermaking and book arts, the mode of artistic expression that takes the traditions of bookmaking, papermaking, letterpress printing, and printmaking as central forms.

Ask guests why they think that the artist might be interested in the relationship between the natural objects she uses—the seeds, shells, leaves, and rocks—and the pages of law books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and natural history texts.

Ask guests what kinds of messages Whiting conveys by juxtaposing pages of law books and dictionaries with shells, seeds, and images from natural history texts.

Ask guests to look closely at the piece called There is Ground for Consideration but don’t convey to the group what the piece’s name is…yet.

Margaret Whiting, There is Ground for Consideration, law book pages, binder boards, objects from nature, 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

Ask guests what they think are some of the notable characteristics of There is Ground for Consideration. What do they notice about the piece right away? What, if anything, do they notice differently or additionally after looking at the piece for a few moments?

Point guests’ attention to the fact that Whiting circles key words on each page of the book from which the piece is made. What words does she circle repeatedly in the pages of the book?

Ask guests why they think Whiting chooses these particular words as opposed to the many others she could have chosen to emphasize.

Ask guests what the words ground and grounds mean as legal terms. In contrast, what do the words mean in terms of place, space, or environment?

Listen to the responses offered to these questions, and offer encouragement to anyone who offers a response to your questions—this is difficult artwork with which to grapple.

Explain that Whiting’s artistic interests lie in book arts and papermaking, but also in the plays on words and double (or more) meanings inherent in the language used in “official” texts such as laws, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. For Whiting, there is a very interesting interplay between American history, land use, land law, and language.

Ask guests to look closely at Analysis.

Margaret Whiting, Analysis, 2006, rolled law book pages in test tube racks. Courtesy of the artist.

Ask guests what kinds of meanings or messages can be derived from a piece of art in which the artist wraps pages of law books up into “tubes” and places them into a chemistry test tube rack.

Ask guests if they can think of any ways in which science connects people to the natural world. Can they also think of ways in which science seems to separate people from the natural world?

Encourage guests to think about the privileged status categories of knowledge such as “Science” and “Law” inhabit in our culture. For example, within our culture, scientists, judges, lawyers, and politicians enjoy a certain cultural “status” because of their work. How do such categories of knowledge compare to, say, “Art” or “Literature,” “Education,” “Carpentry” or “Farming?”

Explain to guests that Whiting is interested in these different “strata” or “levels” of knowledge, and the ways in which science and law often enjoy a higher status than art and humanities, and that her artwork raises questions about what are the “highest” or “best” ways to develop knowledge.

Encourage guests to look at the Law of the Land pieces in the gallery.

Explain that Whiting’s art, in addition to being examples of book arts and conceptual artwork, are also examples of abstract landscape artwork. Whiting cuts the books she uses laterally, and places the cut pieces side-by-side. The effect is a sort of silhouette or profile representation of a landscape, and harkens back to her interest in the words she highlights in the pages of the law books she uses: ground.

Ask guests to consider the piece entitled By Putting in More Cattle than the Pasture Can Sustain Both the Land and the Right of Common are Injured.

Ask what the guests make of the artist’s meaning.

Explain that the work references the ancient idea of the “tragedy of the commons.” This theory—largely based on ideas about economics—deals with conflict over resources between individual interests and the common good.

Explain that this is an idea that has roots in Aristotelian philosophy, but also in much more contemporary science writing—though it is not without controversy.

Explain that Whiting’s By Putting More Cattle […] gets at the problem of the use of common space—in this example it might be a cattle pasture, or Yosemite National Park—that suffers overuse because of unregulated use of the pasture by cattle, or unregulated use by National Park visitors.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yosemite: Art of an American Icon Tour Blueprint

The Yosemite exhibitions consists of more than one hundred photographic prints, paintings, baskets, drawings, and media installations—all depicting and representing Yosemite National Park. The works range in time from 1855 to 2005, representing a century and a half of depictions of the park. Amy Scott, Curator of Visual Arts at Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West, curated all of the works for the exhibition, which come from the Autry’s permanent collection, as well as numerous private, public, and museum collections from around the U.S. The catalogue accompanying the exhibition, published by the University of California Press and the Autry National Center, is available for purchase at the museum store, and at local and online booksellers.
In addition to the rich artistic qualities of every one of the pieces in the show, the exhibition lends itself to rich discussions of California, National Park, and environmental history; tourism and railroad history; the human impact on and alteration of landscapes; ecology, biology, anthropology, and geology. Finally, the exhibition provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss the NMA’s collections and focus areas, as well as the Center for Art + Environment initiative.
The “Yosemite: Art of an American Icon” exhibition was organized by the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West and Amy Scott. Most recently the work was exhibited at the Oakland Museum of California; before that, its premiere exhibition occurred at the Autry National Center. After the show closes at NMA, the exhibition will be shown one last time at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Curator’s Statement
…myth and history are powerful, interwoven forces in the creation of the American West […and this exhibition helps] to reveal a much more profound understanding of the West as a place both real and invented, a place of historic consequence and contemporary distinction, a place full of diversity and situated within a unique environment…no landscape is more central to our obsession in the West with mythic places and historic destinations than Yosemite National Park. What began as a relatively straightforward concept— to assemble a major exhibition on this landscape
of artistic and historic consequence—soon evolved into a far reaching effort to reveal the ways that artists have shaped Yosemite’s cultural image and attendant value….
You’ll find the exhibition installed in the Feature Gallery East and Feature Gallery South on the third floor, where you’ll see that the interior architecture of the gallery space has been altered to help facilitate the movement of people through the exhibition.
The exhibition is more or less chronological and organized into three broad categories—“Nature’s Cathedral,” “The People’s Playground,” and “Renewal,”—and it begins in the Feature Gallery East. Moving through the Feature Gallery East and then out through the new opening in the gallery wall, you’ll come to the Maurice Braun painting Yosemite Falls from the Valley (1918), where you should move to the right through the California Impressionism and Ansel Adams/Modernism sections. The remainder of the exhibition is still roughly chronological, but also organized thematically into the following areas: “Presence,” “Rocks,” “Water,” “Time,” and “Renewal”—these sections are somewhat looser, and require no commitment to a particular order or sequence.
The exhibition then concludes at the new wall near the elevator, where the kiosk and information about stereoscopic photography is located.
Relevant Vocabulary
Mammoth Plate is an oversize glass plate used to make a negative image in nineteenth-century photography
Albumen Print is a photographic print made on paper coated with albumen (egg white)
Ambrotype is a mid-nineteenth-century photographic type in which a positive image was recorded on collodion
wet plate.
Daguerreotype is an early photographic type in which an image is recorded on highly polished piece of metal coated with a light sensitive emulsion. Daguerreotypes
were one-of-a-kind images that could not be reproduced.
Wet Collodion is a nineteenth-century photographic type in which a piece of plate glass was coated with a silver halide emulsion and placed in a camera while still wet. A latent image was recorded, and then the wet plate was developed, fixed, and varnished to create a glass negative for production of stereograph and mammoth plate photographs.
Platinum Palladium Print is a kind of fine art photographic printing technique(see “Salt Dreams” blueprint for a detailed description).
Silver Gelatin Print is the most common form of twentieth-century black-and-white photographic print, in which a piece of paper is coated with a light-sensitive silver gelatin emulsion.
Stereograph is a popular nineteenth-century photograph in which two small, side-by-side images made using a special twin lens camera create the illusion of a three dimensional scene.
Sublime is a historical philosophical, literary, and art idea that contributed to Romanticism the notion of a greatness with which nothing else can be compared and which is beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. This greatness is often used when referring to nature and its vastness.
Romanticism is an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated around the middle of the 18th century in Western Europe, during the Industrial
Revolution. It was partly a revolt against aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment period and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature in art and literature.
Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement by a group of landscape painters, whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism.
Pictorialism is an early twentieth-century photography
movement that was in vogue from around 1885 following the widespread introduction of the dry-plate process. It reached its height in the early years of the 20th century, and declined rapidly after 1914 after the widespread emergence of Modernism.
Pictorialism largely subscribed to the idea that art photography needed to emulate the painting and etching of the time.
Impressionism was a 19th century art movement that began as a loose association of Paris-based artists, who began exhibiting their art publicly in the 1860s. The name of the movement is derived from the title of a Claude Monet work, Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant), which provoked the critic Louis Leroy to coin the term in a satiric review published in Le Charivari
Modernism describes a series of reforming cultural movements in art and architecture, music, literature and the applied arts that emerged in the three decades
before 1914.
Manifest Destiny was a phrase that expressed the belief that the United States was destined to expand from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean; it has also been used to advocate for or justify other territorial acquisitions.
Nationalism is a term that refers to a doctrine or political movement that holds that a nation—usually defined in terms of ethnicity or culture—has the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community based on a shared history and common destiny.
Conceptual art is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns.
Tour Framework—Introduction
Ask guests if they have ever been to Yosemite National Park, O’Shaughnessy Dam, Tuolumne Meadows, or the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees near Wawona, and about their experiences in and around the park.
Ask guests why they are interested in seeing the Yosemite exhibition—a good opportunity to explain that part of the purpose of the exhibition is to illustrate and document the many ways that Yosemite has been framed for viewing by so many different artists, many of whom have had a profound impact on the visual memory of Americans—e.g., Ansel Adams, Carleton Watkins, Thomas Hill, Albert Bierstadt, and Eadweard Muybridge.
Ask guests what images of Yosemite are prominent in their memories—is it perhaps either the Ansel Adams image of Clearing Winter Storm or Monolith: Half Dome? Or perhaps one of the great nineteenth-century paintings have created a sense of what the person expected to see the first time s/he visited Yosemite?
Thank guests for visiting, and explain that the exhibition is on loan to the NMA from the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.
Explain to guests the basic layout of the exhibition, and that you plan to show them a variety of work in the exhibition, but that there isn’t time to see everything, so that you’ll be focusing on some specific pieces in your tour. Welcome guests to spend some time afterwards looking at things they you’re unable to get to in the tour. Or—welcome them to come back, maybe even several times!
Nature’s Cathedral
This first section of the exhibition contains the major portion of the historically significant (and famed) artwork in the show, including works by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, Carleton Watkins, William Keith, and Eadweard Muybridge. The focusing ideas in this section of the exhibition have to do with nineteenth-century westward expansion, manifest destiny, romanticism, nationalism, the transcendentalist promise of spiritual renewal in nature, and the rise of the national park system idea.
Explain to guests that the first Euro-Americans to see the Yosemite region were probably part of the Walker party in 1833, but the first official entrants were part of the Mariposa Battalion, who, in 1851, were sent to forcibly remove the Indian inhabitants of Yosemite after the discovery of gold on John C. Frémont’s ranch in the Mariposa/Bear Valley area of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Shortly thereafter, in 1855, publisher James Mason Hutchings entered Yosemite with a party of men, including Thomas A. Ayres, who created the first drawing of Yosemite Falls ever made. Following this early drawing, such painters as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and William Keith created grand, romantic, often very large landscape scenes of Yosemite—often rich in artistic metaphors about the American West generally (and Yosemite in particular). Yosemite was at one and the same time a new Eden, a source of nationalist pride in the New World for a young, and Civil War-embattled United States, and visual evidence of the rightness of Manifest Destiny.
As Kate Nearpass Ogden writes, “The romantic vision of Yosemite—timeless, simultaneously wild and pastoral, relatively unpeopled, suggestive of divine endorsement of American progress—became itself a historical force, shaping the valley’s development as a park, tourist destination, artistic subject, and icon of American wilderness generally” (24).
Thomas Ayres, The Yo-Hamite Falls, 1855
Explain that this lithograph is the first published image of Yosemite ever made.
James Mason Hutchings, a publisher and early Yosemite entrepreneur, commissioned Ayres to create the drawing used as the basis of lithograph, and he eventually used the image to promote Yosemite as destination for tourists through its publication in his magazine, Hutchings’ California Magazine.
Ask guests how many “sections” are visible in the Yosemite Falls image.
Explain that the distinctive three-tiered shape of the falls became, for nineteenth-century romantics like Bierstadt, Hill, and others, a powerful visual symbol that carried with it the symbolism of Christianity and manifest destiny.
Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley, 1868
Ask guests what kind of feelings are conveyed by the Bierstadt’s representation of Yosemite Valley. Is the image tranquil or active? Warm or cold? Grand or ordinary? Frightful or happy? Peaceful or volatile? Is it a painting of a place that seems “new” or “old”? Why?
Explain that romantic paintings, such as this one by Bierstadt, were popular in the nineteenth century, particularly among the wealthy elite, for the artistic metaphors places like Yosemite could yield: the natural geology of Yosemite suggests Gothic cathedrals, making Yosemite a place of religious sanctity, and a place of far older importance than the cathedrals
of Europe. At the same time, the setting sunlight suggests a new golden era, notably to the west, with the promise of the future, and the ordained-by-God justification for American expansion—the basis of Manifest Destiny.
Enoch Wood Perry, Cathedral Rock, Yosemite Valley, 1866
Ask guests to reflect on the significance of the rock’s name, in light of ideas about manifest destiny and westward American expansion.
Ask guests to look closely at Perry’s painting.
Ask guests what “tricks,” tools, or techniques the artist uses to convey a sense of depth in the painting.
Hints: big shapes appear closer, smaller shapes appear more distant; subjects that appear closer are clearer and more detailed (the trees and water), while mountains in the distance appear hazier (such as the dome in the distant right, behind Cathedral Rock); the curving line of the waterfront leads the eye from the bottom edge of the painting back and to the right.
Can anyone see a deer running from a hunter? Where?
Virgil Williams, Along the Mariposa Trail, 1863
Explain that this artist, Virgil Williams, was a companion of both Bierstadt and Perry, the artists of the paintings on the wall to the left. All three traveled to Yosemite together, along with the writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow and geologist/metallurgist John Huston, in the summer of 1863.
Ask guests if they see any evidence in the painting that the figures represented in the lower right might be artists or writers. Any evidence that one of them is a scientist? Hints: the standing bearded figure holds an art portfolio or sketch pad, and the figure seated on the downed tree holds a chunk of rock and a hammer in his hands. Ask guests if anyone can see evidence that the men hunted for animals on their trip.
Antoine Claveau, Yosemite Falls, 1858
Explain that this painting may be the first painting ever made of Yosemite.
Ask guests to compare the feeling created by the painting to Bierstadt’s Yosemite Valley. Is this painting tranquil and serene or volatile and menacing? How can you tell?
Ask guests who they think the figures in the painting might be? Are they members of the military? Politicians? Why or why not? Are they explorers or adventurers? Why or why not? What about tourists?
Explain that this painting, in addition to being thought the first painting of Yosemite ever made, also depicts tourists in Yosemite—an important element for the rise of the park system idea, and for the support of such artists as Bierstadt, Watkins, and others.
William Keith, Yosemite Valley, 1875
Hetch Hetchy, 1907-1910
Glacier Rock, 1869
Ask guests to compare the three paintings by William Keith, and see what kinds of words they use to describe the three different paintings.
Ask guests if they see evidence in the paintings of the artist’s style changing over time.
Explain that Keith took two trips to Europe, each bracketed by visits to the eastern United States, that had particularly strong effects on his artistic development. In 1869, 3 years after he first began exhibiting and selling paintings (and the same year as Glacier Rock, Yosemite was painted), he left San Francisco for visits to New York and Paris, and art study in Dusseldorf, Germany. By the time he returned to San Francisco in 1872 his painting style had changed considerably. The abundance of foreground detail typical of early works like Glacier Rock, Yosemite (1869) had been replaced by looser, sketchier brushstrokes as in Yosemite Valley (1875). Keith subscribed to the art critic and theorist John Ruskin’s ideas that art must be a faithful rendering of nature, but he became increasingly enthusiastic about a more "suggestive" approach to capturing the natural world on canvas. His European experience had consisted more of looking at art, talking with artists and painting on his own than of a formal art education. Keith's landscapes after 1885 generally became even looser in brushwork as well as moodier in effect as in Hetch Hetchy (1907-1910).
Explain that Keith first visited Yosemite in 1866, and that the earliest of the paintings by Keith were in the mold of the Hudson River School, in ways similar to Bierstadt and Thomas Hill.
Explain that Keith was also the artist most closely associated with John Muir, the writer and Yosemite devotee, who called Keith a “poet painter.”
Explain that in 1875, a few years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, and the same year as Keith’s painting “Yosemite Valley,” Muir had complained about the “avalanche of tourists” coming to Yosemite.
Ask guests if they can see evidence of tourists in the painting.
Thomas Hill, Yosemite Valley (From Below Sentinel Dome, as Seen from Artist’s Point), 1876
Like many artists of his era, including William Keith nearby, Thomas Hill was influenced by the Hudson River School, and valued the practice of painting en plein-air. He created thousands of oil sketches in his lifetime, which are the basis of his larger, more famous works like Yosemite Valley,…
Hill moved to California in 1861, and from then on scenes of the California landscape, including Napa Valley, the Russian River, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite Valley make up the majority of his work. During his lifetime, Hill’s paintings were a huge success, and many of San Francisco’s millionaires of the period were his patrons, including business and railroad tycoons E.B. Crocker, William Ralston, William Sharon, D.O. Mills and Leland Stanford.
Explain that, unlike Bierstadt, Hill and William Keith were both based in California, where their fame grew rapidly. With improved access to Yosemite generating a larger tourist audience for his work, Hill’s reputation for painting Yosemite landscapes far outlasted his predecessors’.
Explain that Hill, along with Virgil Williams and Carleton Watkins, were consulted by the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead on aesthetic aspects of landscape management in Yosemite, when Olmstead was writing his 1865 “Preliminary Report.”
Explain that Hill is most well known for his monumental
landscapes, like Yosemite Valley,…, which was initially purchased by Leland Stanford, the former governor of California. By the 1880s, however, tourism in Yosemite was strong enough that Hill made the majority of his living selling smaller paintings to the park’s visitors.
William Hahn, Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point, 1874
Remind guests that tourists have been featured in images of Yosemite they’ve already seen, but those figures have often offered only a narrative component to the paintings’ greater attention to the overwhelming scenery of Yosemite.
Explain that William Hahn’s painting of 1874 is the first to take tourism in Yosemite and the “emerging interest in Yosemite as a leisure destination” as a primary subject.
Ask guests how the painting portrays tourism in Yosemite.
Explain to guests that in 1872, just two years before the painting was made, the first horse trail to Glacier Point was opened.
Ask guests if the figures look as if they’re more ready for a leisurely outing or an adventure. Why?
Explain that “the inclusion of not only tourists, but also their trash makes Hahn’s [painting] the first Yosemite image to comment on the environmental implications of increasing visitation” (50).
Yosemite on Glass
The photographs in the “Yosemite on Glass” section are representative of the three most significant of Yosemite’s nineteenth-century photographers—Charles Leander Weed, Carleton E. Watkins, and Eadweard J. Muybridge—all of whom created photographs of Yosemite from glass negatives, using the wet plate collodion process, and printing them on paper using the albumen process. All three men were famed for their mammoth plates, unusually large, plate glass negatives designed to capture the large sweeping vistas of Yosemite (and other western sites). However, all three men also created numerous stereographs or stereoviews. These much smaller, side-by-side images were popular for armchair travelers after their invention in the 1840s, and they were comparatively inexpensive, which made them an increasingly popular tourist souvenir commemorating a visit to a wondrous place like Yosemite.
Charles Leander Weed, First View of the Falls, 1859, stereograph
The Yosemite Fall, 2634 Feet High, 1864, mammoth plate albumen print
Publisher and entrepreneur James Mason Hutchings made another visit to Yosemite in June, 1859, this time with photographer Charles Weed, rather than a painter or drawer, as he had in 1855 with Thomas Ayres. This was in part because Ayres’ drawings and lithographs, which had been published in Hutchings’ California Magazine in 1855, were deemed by readers to be fanciful—and Hutchings needed to prove that Yosemite Falls were indeed as dramatic as they had been earlier represented.
Explain that Weed took the first photograph of Yosemite in 1859, an imperial-sized (10x14-inch) salt print of Yosemite Falls. During this first visit, he made twenty imperial prints, and forty stereograph views of Yosemite, beginning what would become a game of one-upsmanship between the Yosemite photographers. Later, in 1864, Weed returned with a camera capable of holding 17x22-inch mammoth plates. Gold-toned albumen prints, a new technology that hadn’t been available in 1859, were made of these later negatives, which were richer and clearer than the earlier imperial salt prints.
Carleton E. Watkins
The four prints by Watkins included in the exhibition are all mammoth plate albumen prints from 1861-1865. He made his first visit to Yosemite in 1861, two years after Weed’s first visit, and three years before Weed’s second visit. This enabled him to make a name for himself as a Yosemite photographer, as his 18x22-inch mammoth plate images were very well received by the public, and by scientists such as Josiah D. Whitney, William Henry Brewer, and Clarence King. In a game of one-upsmanship, Charles Weed returned to the valley in 1864, and Watkins returned in 1865 with an even bigger camera with a higher quality lens.
Explain that the wet plate collodion process was an extraordinarily labor intensive photographic process. The artist would have to work quickly. First he had to clean a sheet of plate glass perfectly, removing any dust, lint, streaks, and so forth. Second, in the darkness of a tent, he coated the plate in a viscous, light-sensitive mixture of chemicals called collodion. Third, while the plate was still wet with collodion, the photographer would place the plate in a light-proof plate holder, slip it into the enormous cabinet of the large-format view camera, and remove a lens cap or board from the front of the lens or the front of the plate holder (he would have already trained and focused his lens on his subject), and make an exposure of a few seconds. The lens cap or board would be replaced, and the still-wet plate taken back to the dark tent, and developed, fixed, and varnished using a number of different chemical solutions.
Eadweard J. Muybridge
The three prints by Muybridge included in the exhibition are, like Watkins’, all mammoth plate albumen prints. The prints were made from the glass negatives (the negative-making process is described above) and then printed on albumen-coated paper. Photographic chemicals, namely silver salts, had to be bound to paper using albumen, or egg whites. The albumen printing process included the following steps: first, a piece of paper is coated with an emulsion of egg white (albumen) and table salt (sodium chloride), then dried. The albumen seals the paper and creates a slightly glossy surface. Second, the paper is dipped in a solution of silver nitrate and water which renders the surface light-sensitive. Third, the paper is dried in total darkness. Fourth, the dried, prepared paper is placed in a frame in direct contact under a negative, often a glass negative with collodion emulsion, and exposed to light until the image achieves the desired level of darkness. Fifth, a bath of sodium thiosulfate fixes the print’s exposure, preventing further darkening. Finally, optional gold or selenium toning improves the photograph’s
tone and stabilizes it against fading (e.g. the Weed photograph from 1864).
Explain to guests that all three of Yosemite’s nineteenth- century photographers created both mammoth plate photographs and smaller stereoviews. Like their painter counterparts, the photographers sold their mammoth plate prints to discerning collectors, often wealthy patrons including the likes of Leland Stanford, and their smaller stereoviews to tourists and armchair travelers elsewhere in the country.
Explain to guests that Muybridge’s images were differentiated from Watkins’ images by their frequently more unusual viewpoints, including from the top of the dried up Yosemite Falls.
Ask guests why people today get upset about photographs that might be “doctored” or “photoshopped.”
Ask guests to look closely at the Muybridge photograph, “Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point,” to see if they notice anything unusual about its appearance.
Explain that one of Muybridge’s tactics was to paint clouds directly on his negatives, or make separate negatives of clouds and then superimpose them on the landscape images to create a more dramatic, often more “painterly” approach in his photography—a direct manipulation of images not at all dissimilar from today’s “doctoring.”
Photography’s Workshop & California Impressions
After 1890, and with the official inclusion of Yosemite in the National Park System, more and more people came to Yosemite. Better roads made access by car possible; cheaper, lighter photography equipment made photography widely available; and the tourist trade in photography boomed.
Photographs by George Fiske, Herbert Gleason, William Dassonville, Anne Brigman, and Alfred Langdon Coburn; later images by Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston; and contemporary works by Bruce Davidson, Rondall Partridge, Ted Orland, Richard Misrach, John Divola, and Mark Klett lend themselves to a discussion of the twentieth century as the “photographic century.” The development of new technologies, especially gelatin silver, platinum, and digital printing ushered in multiple new versions of fine art photography.
Explain that the turn-of-the-century, neo-romantic movement of pictorialist photography yielded an entirely different kind of photography in Yosemite: soft focus, highly tonalist images were created to offer an alternative viewpoint from documentary-style photographs and the onslaught of snapshots made by less-than-discerning tourists. Pictorialist photographers such as Gleason, Brigman, and Dassonville “sought to infuse their images with spiritual and emotional meaning” (121). These photographers created images that were less about the place Yosemite than they were about the feelings and moods that could be evoked.
Ask guests to study one of the pictorialist photos (the Dassonville “Twilight, Yosemite Valley” and Coburn “California, Yosemite Falls” photographs are good places to start) and to comment on the moods or feelings evoked by the images.
Ask guests how theses moods and feelings compare to those evoked by the more documentary-style photographs of Weed, Watkins, and Muybridge.
Maurice Braun, Yosemite Falls from the Valley, 1918
Maurice Braun, Yosemite Evening from Glacier Point, 1918
Colin Campbell Cooper, Yosemite in Winter, 1916
Henry Sugimoto, Mirror Lake, Yosemite, 1930
Gunnar Widforss, Yosemite Valley, n.d.
These five paintings will yield a fruitful discussion of the staying power of impressionist styles of painting in California long after their popularity had waned in Europe.
Ask guests to consider what kinds of impressions of Yosemite are conveyed by the several different paintings.
Explain that Sugimoto was a Japanese immigrant artist, like the nearby Chiura Obata, who painted in a style influence by Cézanne and Van Gogh. He was interned in a relocation camp in Arkansas from 1942-1945.
Explain that Cooper made just one trip to Yosemite in 1916, despite the fact that he lived in Santa Barbara. Architecture and gardens were his most common subjects.
Ask guests if they can identify elements of Cooper’s architectural or garden interests in this, his one known painting of Yosemite.
Ask guests to compare the pictorialist photographs with those of Adams and Weston. In what ways are Adams’ and Weston’s photographs different from the pictorialist photographs.
Explain that Adams was originally influenced by romantic pictorialism, but that with Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, he experienced a breakthrough in his art. In preparing to make the photograph, Adams had a moment of clarity in which he envisioned the photograph he wished to take. He later called this epiphany his first “visualization,” where he realized that he could translate his feelings and thoughts to the finished print.
Explain that Adams worked with photographer Edward Weston, and that they and others founded F/64, a group of photographers who rejected the neo-romantic precepts of pictorialist photography.
Explain that F/64 refers to the smallest aperture opening on a view camera lens, the same aperture used to create the sharpest, clearest images with the greatest depth of field.
Ask guests to compare Weston’s and Adam’s photographs. In what ways are they similar? Different?
Ask guests to look closely at Chiura Obata’s sumi ink and watercolor paintings Snow, Merced River, New Moon, Eagle Peak, and Half Dome.
Explain that Obata spent six weeks in the summer of 1927 creating sumi ink and watercolor sketches that became the basis for a series of 35 woodblock prints called the “World Landscape Series.” Like Henry Sugimoto, who was interned in one of the relocation camps in Arizona, Obata was interned in Topaz, Utah, during WWII.
Revisiting Yosemite
Contemporary artists have responded to Yosemite’s multifaceted landscape in many ways. Though their work varies in style, several prominent themes have emerged since the 1970s that explore both the natural and artificial sides of the park. These include the ubiquitous presence of visitors, especially in the valley; the passage of time; Yosemite’s signature phenomena of rocks and water; and the notion that art can renew our interest in Yosemite and the park experience.
Bruce Davidson, Campground No. 4, Yosemite National Park,”1966, gelatin silver print
Ted Orland, One and a Half Domes, Yosemite, 1975, hand colored gelatin silver print
Roger Minick, Woman at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park, 1980, dye coupler photograph
Explain that these photographers, and others such as David Mussina, John Divola, Thomas Struth, and Brian Grogan, take different viewpoints from those photographers who preceded them.
Ask guests what kinds of messages are conveyed about Yosemite as a place, or about people’s experiences in Yosemite, by a photograph such as Struth’s “El Capitan.”
Explain that Struth has become an important photographer
because of his work examining people’s experiences in public places such as parks and museums.
Ask guests what kinds of responses that they have to Roger Minick’s photograph, “Woman at Inspiration Point.”
Encourage guests to look closely at Richard Savini’s
series of drawings of Half Dome, Sunrise, Early Morning, Mid-Morning, and Late Morning.
Ask guests how the drawings are different from one another. How do the shadows change between the different times of the morning?
Ask guests to consider the messages of Richard Misrach’s photograph Burnt Forest and Half Dome, Yosemite, and compare them to those of Wanda Hammerbeck’s.
Consider the Kristina Faragher media installation entitled Gaping Mouth.
Explain that “gaping mouth” is the meaning of the word given to the valley by its original residents.
Explain that the video installation contains 6-7 minutes of images of O’Shaughnessy Dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley, as well as images of El Capitan reflected
in the water, recalling the subjects of Carleton Watkins’ photographs.
Marina Moevs’s River”depicts a cabin on the river, overflowed and destroyed by the 1997 flooding of the rivers in Yosemite.
Ask guests how the painting’s warning about the destructive potential of the natural world compares to messages conveyed by its nineteenth-century predecessors’ such as Albert Bierstadt’s and Thomas Hill’s work?
Take a few moments to study Above Lake Tenaya, Connecting Views from Edward Weston to Eadweard Muybridge, by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe.
Explain that Klett is well known for his work rephotographing
sites in the American west, and that in this image, he brackets a number of images in a panorama. On the left is the 1937 Edward Weston image Juniper, Tenaya Lake, Sierra Nevada; and on the right, a historic photograph by Eadweard Muybridge. In between is a collage of Klett’s and Wolfe’s own photographs in contemporary times. What the photograph illustrates is that Eadweard Muybridge and Edward Weston stood within 150 feet of each other to frame their own individual photographs taken 70 years apart.
What distinguishes the contemporary art of Yosemite from its nineteenth-century prcedent [is] recognition of an animated, constantly changing landscape--natural and man-made--as well as our own power to affect that change. Where nineteenth-century artists saw a place of grand, static geology, contemporary artists see flux, both good and bad, with our own presence often as the driving force. In contemporary art we do not see Yosemite from afar but are brought into diret contact with the place and asked to face our role within it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Nosotros por Nosotros: Latinos in Nevada Tell Their History

In an effort to promote cross-cultural understanding and awareness, the Latino Research Center of the University of Nevada, Reno, recently distributed five hundred disposable cameras to Nevada’s Latino communities, asking them to tell their stories using photographs. Second-grade soccer players, middle-aged casino workers, and seasoned professionals captured their daily experiences, creating a rich and diverse language of imagery. Nosotros por Nosotros features a selection of these photographs and investigates the traditions and transitions experienced by Nevada’s Latino community.

The essence of the phrase “Nosotros por Nosotros” cannot be translated, but even its literal Spanish meaning—“us by us”—implies a strong sense of personal identity and community. The project was envisioned as a way to empower Latinos to create, rather than adopt, their own cultural identities—ones untainted by stereotypical labels placed upon them by others. At the same time, the images provide non-Latino populations with an opportunity to dispel their misperceptions about Hispanic cultures.

This exhibition is presented in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, an annual celebration that runs from September 15 to October 14, 2007. As a part of the Nosotros por Nosotros project, the Latino Research Center will create a publication and accompanying CD with additional images and oral histories. These materials will be distributed to every library in the state of Nevada. In this way, the Latino Research Center hopes to sustain the message of the Nosotros por Nosotros project: to capture and reveal the interwoven voices of Nevada’s Latino population.

The Nosotros por Nosotros project is generously funded by the Hart Foundation and the University of Nevada, Reno, College of Liberal Arts.

Kate Raudenbush :: Guardian of Eden

Artist Kate Raudenbush’s large-scale, outdoor sculpture, Guardian of Eden, is an intricately designed twelve-petal lotus flower made from plasma-cut steel. It stands over nineteen feet in diameter, and nearly eighteen feet high, and is inspired by Hindu creation myths and Egyptian and Buddhist symbolism. It contains twelve white l.e.d. lights inside of glass globes on the tips of each petal, as well as a blue-green light that emanates from beneath the sculpture, casting watery, organic shadows across the ground. You’ll find more information about the sculpture at the artist’s Web site and the Guardian of Eden Web site, and information about the background of the Egyptian and Hindu myths informing its creation at these Web sites about the Flower of Life and Vishnu’s sacred lotus, Padma.

Guardian of Eden was designed to express the Burning Man theme for 2007, The Green Man. As Raudenbush explains, “Guardian of Eden frames our current ecological crisis within the petals of the sacred lotus flower—the mythological seat of creation and the symbol of enlightenment. In Hindu creation mythology, a new era of time is created after a lotus flower blooms. As a meditation on our own era of time, this steel lotus flower blooms before us as a physical reflection of the fierceness and beauty of our planet under threat. She is the guardian of the Eden that once was. At night, the ancient Egyptian Flower of Life symbol radiates from the heart of the lotus reminding us of the interconnectedness of all life. Guardian of Eden is a gathering space for us to consider our role in this turbulent age and to recognize that [Earth’s] survival is intimately connected to our own. It is up to us to define what this new era of time will be. It is we who are the Guardians of Eden.”

Raudenbush is an interactive installation sculptor, green-furniture designer, and photographer living in New York. In her eleven-year career as a photographer, she has collaborated with musicians, theaters, and a range of corporate clients. A graduate of Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Raudenbush also studied at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington D.C., The International Center of Photography in New York, and The School of Visual Arts in New York. Guardian of Eden is the artist’s fourth sculpture to receive a grant from the Burning Man organization.

Guardian of Eden was commissioned by the Burning Man organization; the NMA thanks Burning Man for their support of this exhibition.

NMActivity: Mystery Texture Box

Activity Overview
As an element of design, texture is an important component of any art object, but one of the more difficult elements to analyze because it can be either real—as in the actual feel of a surface area (e.g. encaustic, impressionist oil paint strokes, or impasto [in which paint is applied so heavily that it feels, or would feel, rough to the touch]), or implied—as in the appearance or illusion of texture on a flat surface (e.g. the appearance of texture in a watercolor painting). Real texture is the appearance and the actual feel of an object’s surface. Implied textures simulate real texture by changing values, shapes, and lines. After using only their sense of touch to explore the real textures of objects in a “mystery box,” guests will use language arts and vocabulary skills to describe the textures of the objects in the “mystery box,” and then use their newfound language to discuss the texture—real or implied— of a work of art in a gallery.

Learning Objectives
Students should be able to:

  • Define texture
  • Explain the difference between real and implied texture in a work of art
  • Explain how texture affects the meaning, mood, or expression in an artwork


  • Mystery box or bag (opaque, such that guests can’t see through it)
  • Varied materials: gourds, tufa, rocks, tulle, velvet, sandpaper, feathers, foil, metal

Activity Steps
Pass the “mystery box” around the gallery, and invite guests to reach into the box (without looking) and feel the objects inside. Ask guests to choose one of the objects in the box, making sure they know not to pull it out of the box, feel it, and then pass the box along to the next person. Ask guests to use words to describe the texture of the “mystery box” object on which they had settled. Record their responses on paper, or by noting responses in a call-and-response format, and discuss the descriptive language used to describe the objects. Ask guests to speculate about what the object in the box might be. Explain that texture in artwork can be described using similar language.

Invite guests to sit in front of a work of art and to study it for a few moments. Then ask the group to use words to describe the texture—whether real or implied—of the artwork. If guests seem unsure of their ability to give the “right answer,” assure them that any response will be helpful, and ask directed questions to help them respond, such as:

  • What words would you use to describe the texture of the rocks in this painting?
  • How does the artist create the texture of the snow in this painting?
  • Does the material in the figure’s dress look soft or stiff in the painting of the dancer?
  • Does the basket look like it would feel smooth or rough? Why?

Talk about the artist’s use of materials in a work of art, and their use of tools in the application of texture. For example, invite guests to touch “Two Bears” downstairs in the lobby, and use the opportunity to discuss how the artist created the texture of the bears’ fur. Invite guests to speculate about what tools Maynard Dixon or Lovell Birge Harrison might have used to apply paint to their paintings “Sand Hill Camp” (Sierra Nevada / Great Basin Gallery) or “The Loggers” (E.L. Wiegand Gallery), respectively.

Review the objectives of the activity with guests at the conclusion of the tour. Ask them what they have learned during their time in the museum. Review the elements and principles of design, the definition of texture, its uses, and the idea that texture can be explained using descriptive language, especially adjectives.

Monday, September 10, 2007

NMActivity: 30-Second Look

Activity Overview

Museum researchers have found that 30 seconds is the average amount of time visitors spend in front of works of art. After looking at a work of art for only 30 seconds, guests will use their visual recall skills to discuss what they noticed in order to demonstrate that really seeing and reflecting on a work of art requires time.

Learning Objectives
Students should be able to:

  • Give reasons why more than 30 seconds is required to look at a work of art in order to gain an understanding of it
  • Give reasons why discussing a work of art with others increases everyone’s understanding of it


  • Pencils and paper (if desired—these are not necessary)

Activity Steps

Ask guests to estimate the average amount of time they think museum goers spend looking at an individual work of art. Record their responses on paper, or by noting responses in a call-and-response format, and discuss the factors the group believes affect the amount of time people spend looking at an artwork. Ask student guests how long they think adults spend, on average, looking at a work of art compared to their own time spent looking. Discuss some of the responses and why there might be a difference between an adult’s and a child’s looking. After students have responded, explain that museum researchers have observed that the average amount of time that adults spend looking at one object in a museum is less than 30 seconds. Is 30 seconds an adequate amount of time to spend looking at a work of art? Why or why not? Try the following experiment to illustrate and test guests’ responses.

Invite students to sit in front of a work of art and to study it for no longer than 30 seconds. Then ask the group to turn their backs to the artwork at which they have been looking.

While guests are turned away, ask them to list what they noticed in the work of art. Ask directed questions to help them recall, such as:

  • How many people are represented in the artwork?
  • How would you describe them?
  • How was each figure dressed?
  • What kind of setting is depicted?
  • Is the scene tidy or chaotic?
  • Are there any animals in the work of art?
  • How would you describe them?
  • What is the subject of the work of art?
  • What kind of mood has the artist created?

Ask guests to describe the one aspect of the artwork that they remember most vividly. Encourage all guests to share and discuss their responses. Did everyone notice the same things, or did they notice different elements? Comment on the variety of responses.

Invite guests turn back around and face the artwork once more. Ask them what they see that they did not notice the first time they looked. Guide guests through a careful re-examination of the artwork.

Ask guests to share their ideas about what the work of art may be about. If the work of art is narrative in nature, encourage students to speculate on the story. If the work is more abstract, encourage guests to speculate about what the artist may have been trying to present.

Ask guests to consider how much longer they spent looking at the artwork the second time. Was their first glance sufficient? Ask guests if discussing and comparing their observations with other people helped them to understand the work of art differently or better. Encourage guests to explain their responses.


Review the objectives of the activity with student guests at the conclusion of a tour. Ask student guests what they have learned during their time in the museum. Review the benefits of spending more than the average of 30 seconds looking at works of art.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Salt Dreams: Reflections from the Downstream West Tour Blueprint


The Salt Dreams exhibition consists of approximately twenty-five platinum palladium photographic prints of the Salton Sea, California’s largest (man-made) lake, and its surrounding environs, made by artist Joan Myers. Six additional prints depict other greatly-altered landscapes in Hawaii and Arizona. All of the prints contained in the exhibition are recent acquisitions for the NMA’s Altered Landscape: Carol Franc Buck Collection. The book published in coordination with the exhibition, Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California, written by William deBuys, and published by the University of New Mexico Press, contains both portfolios of Myers’ photographs of the Salton Sea area, as well as fine essays by deBuys. The book won the 1999 Western States Book Award for Creative Nonfiction.

The exhibition lends itself to discussions of California history, themes of immigration and settlement, water issues in the west, human alteration of landscapes, and agriculture, as well as ecology, biology, and chemistry. Finally, the photographs present a wonderful opportunity to discuss the processes and methods of photography, particularly of the platinum palladium variety.

The exhibition of Salt Dreams was originally organized by the California Council for the Humanities in conjunction with the Museum of History and Art, Ontario, California.
This exhibition is presented here as part of the NMA Art + Environment exhibition series, an initiative that brings community, artists, and scholars together to explore the interaction between people and their environments.

Joan Myers, “Salton Sea Telephone Poles” n.d. Platinum palladium print with watercolor. Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art.

Artist’s Statement
Forty miles southeast of Palm Springs, California, lies a great saltwater lake called the Salton Sea. Heavily polluted yet home to a large population of fish and birds, the lake has attracted get-rich developers, gullible buyers, and aimless retirees for nearly a century.

The Salton Sea was an accident. In 1905 the Colorado River burst a poorly made irrigation heading and for two years flowed unimpeded into a giant prehistoric lakebed called the Salton Sink. The water formed a spectacular lake in the arid southwest desert.

For the last fifteen years, I have photographed what has happened to the Salton Sea. In the years since the landlocked sea was formed, irrigation run-off from the Imperial Valley and industrial waste from Mexico have slowly raised salinity, pesticide and toxic mineral levels of the water. Poor water quality now endangers the teeming fish as well as the fishermen and birds that eat them.

Environmental abuse has been matched by the avarice of real estate speculators. Over the years developers built subdivisions on the shores of the Salton Sea. They planted palm trees along wide curving avenues named Marina Drive, Dolphin, and Acapulco. Yet I found that few homes were built on the thousands of developed lots. I marveled at a once elegant yacht club, motel, and golf course that today lie abandoned. I photographed the weeds growing up through the cracks in the wide roads.

Today great flocks of pelicans fly over what has become a fetid sump. Desiccated fish line the sandy beaches. The lake lies fallow, a pastel shimmer in the harsh Colorado Desert, a symbol of dead dreams and the beauty of a landscape man has uncaringly exploited.

Platinum Palladium Photography
Photographs made using platinum and platinum palladium printing processes are among the most sought-after photographs because of their relative value, their increased archival longevity over silver gelatin prints, and because of their much higher tonal range. Writer and photographer William Laven explains them this way: “The qualities of a Pt/Pd [platinum/palladium] print have long been heralded by photographers, curators, critics and collectors; it has a long, rich and delicate tonal scale and unmatched archival quality. What might be a monochromatic black on a silver print, for example, will be rendered as a series of subtly differentiated tones in a Pt/Pd print. Similarly, middle and highlight tones are more delicately defined. Since the prints are hand-coated onto rag paper, the image actually sits in the fiber of the paper so the texture and weave of the paper become integral to the image compared to silver prints where the emulsion layer sits on top of, rather than in, the paper surface. Pt/Pd prints therefore, have a tactile quality unique to hand-coated non-silver materials. The long scale and tactility of a Pt/Pd print are what cause many people to describe them as ‘precious’ or ‘jewel-like.’” (From an essay in View Camera magazine, July/August 1998, Vol. 11, No. 4.)

Platinum and platinum palladium prints require ultraviolet light to be printed; therefore, they require considerably more exposure time than other silver salt-based printing processes. However, unlike gelatin silver prints, platinum and platinum palladium prints do not need to be “fixed” with chemical stops.

Joan Myers, “Salton Sea Birds” 1987. Platinum palladium print with watercolor. Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art.

Tour Framework

  • Explain that the works in the exhibition were created by an artist named Joan Myers, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • Explain that Joan Myers was born in 1944 in Des Moines, Iowa, and had an early interest in the sciences and mathematics. In the early 1970's she turned to photography. Today she utilizes various digital methods, as well as the platinum-palladium photographic process and continues her exploration of hand-applied color. She uses medium- and large-format view cameras.

  • Ask guests why they think there might be a large, increasingly salty lake in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Why might it be of interest as a subject to Myers?

  • Explain that today the Salton Sea is located in Imperial County, in the lower Colorado Desert Province of California. It is not actually a “sea,” but a human-made lake filling up the Salton Sink or Salton Trough, the dominant geologic feature in this area of California. However, in ancient times, there was a naturally occurring occasional lake in this area called “Lake Cahuilla,” named for one of the primary groups of people indigenous to this area of California.

  • People in our area will understand the similarity of the Salton Sink to the Carson and Humboldt Sinks, so making the connection for them may be helpful.

  • Explain that the photographs in this exhibition are platinum palladium prints. This means that the prints are made with an iron salt “emulsion” that contains platinum and palladium, as well as hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals, which is painted or rolled onto a piece of paper and allowed to dry. The photographer then projects an ultraviolet light through a negative onto the paper, and the light reacts with the iron salts, platinum, and palladium, causing the platinum and palladium to build up to varying degrees in the image. In this case, Myers then hand colored the prints with subtle watercolor washes.

  • Explain that artists and collectors value platinum palladium prints for their non-reflective surface; their very delicate and large tonal range; their tendency to resist curling; and their archival stability, due to their frequently being printed on 100% rag papers.

  • Stop at the photograph entitled Horse Intaglio (Altered Landscape Gallery). Ask guests what they see in the photograph. What do they see first? What do they think the artist has done to make that element stand out? Ask guests if they know what the word intaglio means. Explain that intaglios are ancient pieces of land art created by indigenous peoples—they are images incised into the surface of rocks or the ground.

  • Explain that the geographical area depicted in the photographs is the ancestral homeland of the indigenous peoples sharing the Yuma languages, including the Cahuilla, Quechan, and Cucupa bands of American Indians. These peoples were variously dependent upon desert springs, the Colorado River and its delta, and its related plant and animal communities for survival. Explain that these peoples frequently created large-scale intaglios incised into the surface of the earth.

  • Stop at the photograph called Torres-Martinez Reservation. Explain that the 1905 flood that created the Salton Sea inundated half of the lands belonging to the native peoples resident in the region. This after the lands allotted to them in treaties from the 1870s gave the Indian people small pieces of non-contiguous land.
  • Ask guests whether they think the photo of Torres-Martinez Reservation depicts an “American Dream,” or whether it offers a commentary on the notion of the “American Dream.”

  • Explain that Spanish explorers began passing through the Salton Sea area in the 1500s, and in 1540 Hernan de Alarcón, part of Coronado’s land expedition through the southwest, traveled up the Colorado River. Melchior Díaz, also part of the expedition, probably ventured as far as what is now called the Imperial Valley. The area’s extreme aridity and lack of gold meant that the region remained relatively untouched for three more centuries.

  • Ask guests what major historical event they know began in 1848-49 in California.

  • Explain that following the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, California, in 1848, tens of thousands of migrants moved west across the U.S., and north from Latin America, hoping to strike it rich. Approximately 10,000 would-be gold miners crossed the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sink depicted in these photographs.

  • Explain that U.S. Army explorers returned to the region in the 1850s under the auspices of exploring the possibility of a railroad in the Pacific Railroad Exploring Expedition of 1853. Expedition geologist William Phipps Blake noted that the Imperial Valley, though arid, could be successfully irrigated to support agriculture.

  • Stop at the photograph called Date Palm in the Altered Landscape Gallery. Explain that between 1869 and 1891, Major John Wesley Powell also saw the potential for agriculture in the Imperial Valley, calling it the “Egypt of America,” as it was “the land of the date palm.” As such, a connection was drawn between the fertile richness of the Nile River and its agricultural bounty and the arid Imperial Valley, if irrigation were realized. Ask guests if they can see texture in the photograph. Explain the difference between “real” and “implied” texture. Ask how the date palm in the photograph looks like it would feel if they could touch the plant. If guests could touch the photo, would it have the texture of the date palm?

  • Explain that, realizing the potential for agriculture, the California Development Company (CDC) and its subsidiary, the Imperial Land Company (which is how the county got its name when it was incorporated in 1907), began to develop a vast system of irrigation canals to bring the waters of the Colorado River to the desert floor.

  • Stop at the photograph called Imperial Valley Canal in the Altered Landscape Gallery. Explain that the CDC built the Imperial Canal and over 700 miles of waterways to bring the Colorado River’s water to the desert floor of the Imperial Valley. By 1902, some 100,000 acres of land were in cultivation. A good image depicting the cultivated lands is Imperial Valley Field, Spinach, immediately adjacent to Imperial Valley Canal. Ask guests if they see a pattern in the photograph. Where? How does the way the artist composed the image move your eye around the image?

  • Explain that a spring flood in 1905 burst through the CDC’s irrigation headings in the canal system, flooding the valley floor. Eventually, nearly all of the Colorado River’s water was flowing through the canals, and emptying in the valley floor, forming what is now the Salton Sea depicted in the photographs. The flow of the river’s water into the Salton Sink was not stemmed for two years.

  • Explain that after the Southern Pacific Railroad built flood control gates (1907) on the river and canal system to protect its railways, less water entered the Sea, and, combined with evaporation, the depth of the lake shrank from 80 feet to closer to 30 feet by 1930. Eventually engineers diverted more Colorado River water to maintain the depth of the lake at about 30 feet.

  • Stop at almost any of the photographs depicting evidence of development, including Salton City Golf Course (Bridge) (Altered Landscape Gallery), Salton City Golf Course (Palms) (Installation Gallery), or any of the photographs of the Salton Bay Yacht Club. Explain that in the late 1950s land speculators, real estate developers, and others believed that the Salton Sea could be transformed into an inexpensive version of the resort community of Palm Springs, located 40 miles to the north northwest. Can guests see subtle colors in the golf course photographs? Where? What effect does the coloring of the photographs have on them? Do the subtle watercolor washes convey the colors of the desert around the Salton Sea?

  • Explain that this version of the “American Dream” was never truly realized because of the lack of industry, inadequate infrastructure, the extreme heat, and the water’s foul smell due to its stagnation, increased salinity and eutrophication, and resulting die-off of fish and birds.

  • Explain that as a result of decreased flows of Colorado River and canal waters, as well as increased flows of New River and Alamo River waters, which contain a great deal more salt and nutrients from agricultural runoff, the salinity of the lake’s waters is increasing at an alarming rate. In addition, the nutrients from the agricultural runoff cause algal blooms in the water, which reduces the oxygen content of the water, and results in fish and bird die offs.
  • Ask guests if they can find evidence in the photographs of the fact that the Salton Sea is today of major ecological significance to coastal California.
  • Explain that as a result of development in southern California in the twentieth century, the varied landscapes there that once supported diverse wildlife populations no longer do. The Salton Sea thus became a human-made refuge for wildlife, particularly migratory waterfowl. Today the Salton Sea is a major stop on the Pacific Flyway for migrating water birds. However, the increasing salinity and eutrophication of the Sea’s waters is endangering the health of the birds and fish, resulting at times in the die off of large numbers of the animals. What kinds of textures do the photographs of the dead fish and birds contain?
  • Explain that today, were the water level of the Salton Sea not to be maintained, there would be toxic levels of salt and other chemicals built up in the sediments of the lake, that, were they to dry, could cause health concerns downstream and downwind of the Salton Sea. (This is similar to the problems at Owens Lake documented in David Maisel’s Lake Project photographs).
  • Explain that arguments erupt from all points of view about how best to manage the Salton Sea. Today the water level is maintained at a specific level, but even so, runoff is causing increasing salinity and eutrophication. These photographs ask, in effect: Why is the American Dream so pervasive? Why do people try to alter the landscape, first to irrigate the desert for agricultural purposes, then to turn an “accident” into a (failed) “resort community”? What can be done about the increasing salinity and eutrophication of the water? What is the best, most cost effective, or otherwise pragmatic solution?
Our guests, particularly school groups, choose to visit the museum to give students a special opportunity, to enrich their learning experiences, and to have fun. The information and the tour framework suggestions contained in this blueprint are avenues into the Salt Dreams: Reflections from the Downstream West exhibition. The blueprint is designed to provide ideas for engaging guests of all ages in exploring the artistry of Joan Myers photographs, as well as ideas for helping student visitors engage in thinking about the photographs through frameworks of history, social studies, biology, ecology, and geology.

Joan Myers, “Salton Sea Small Building” 1987. Platinum palladium print with watercolor. Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art.