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.