25 October 2007

EcoRover Goes To Washington (D.C.)

Thanks to some "spark plugs" such as Sara Pritchard (http://www.sts.cornell.edu/viewprofile.php?ProfileID=273) and Tim LeCain (http://www.montana.edu/history/faculty/lecain-tim), there is a lively "EnviroTech" group active within organizations such as the Society for the History of Technology (http://www.historyoftechnology.org/) and the American Society for Environmental History (http://www.aseh.net/). After many years of not attending SHOT meetings, Sara's leadership in putting together a roundtable discussion titled "Common Ground? Perspectives on Integration of STS [Science & Technology Studies] and Environmental History Thus Far" drew me back to the organization. Thank you, Sara!

At the three EnviroTech sessions, there were insightful papers and lively discussion on topics such as: the entangled relationship between the idealized pristine landscapes of our imagination and the real managed landscapes of our experience; the role of political and economic power in environmental justice; and practical distinctions between natural and unnatural landscapes. This was all great fun and serious stuff, and discussions were especially interesting because of the wide range of scholars involved--ranging from pragmatic environmental historians such as Fred Quivik that provide testimony on Superfund cases to the venerable MIT scholar Leo Marx (b. 1919) who wrote the landmark text, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (1964).

That was Friday. Saturday found me with the SHOT tour of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (http://www.nps.gov/hafe/), learning about the manufacture of US military rifles before 1865, John Brown's raid (and its huge symbolic importance to African-American history), and the manner in which people dealt with floods in this narrow, steep-walled river valley. Thanks to Merrit Roe Smith, author of Harpers Ferry Armory and New Technology (1980) for allowing us to press the "tour guide" lable upon him. Park employees are required to read Roe's book, and we heard that at least one ranger refers to Roe as "The God of Harpers Ferry." Wow, it's not everyday that God guides you up to "Jefferson's Rock" to look out over what TJ described as "one of the most stupendous scenes in nature" and "worth a voyage across the Atlantic." Let freedom and nature ring, Tom!

Sunday on the mall: a quick trip through the WWII Memorial (which confirmed my prejudice against it--somehow it does not capture for me either the war's historical importance or the enormous sacrifice it required of Americans, Russians, and others; a jaunt through a group of Native Americans drumming for peace; and a study of the tired faces, happy friends, and others participating in a "Race for the Cure" breast cancer event.

I then stopped in the National Gallery of Art for a visit with the work of American painter Edward Hopper. Surprise: Hopper wasn't just the landscape painter I knew through his study of Maine lighthouses. My intended one-hour tour turned into an extended (and exhausting) three-hour tour.

This self-portrait helps set up what I found to be a fascinating theme running through many of his paintings: the interplay of rounded forms (here represented by hat, face, shoulders) with sharp angles and blocky forms (floor, door casing, door):

In Automat (1927) -- named for the automated diners of the period -- a contemplative (perhaps not lonely, as most critics have described it) woman holds a cup of coffee. This is Art Deco in all its glory: hat, face, shoulders, cup, saucer, table, chairs, lights reflecting in the window... It's the curvy world of post-Euclidean geometry. As I like to tell my students, "THERE ARE NO STRAIGHT LINES IN NATURE."

I learned about the fascinating connection between Hopper's view of the world and Hollywood, and I look forward to watching Steve Martin's homage to Hopper, Pennies from Heaven. Somehow, this painting, Office at Night (1940), seems like a scene from radio entertainer Garrison Keillor's "Guy Noire" skit. Nice curves, Hopper, and they ain't all about hats and tables:

And, finally, Western Motel (1957). Nice headlights:

Wow. Hopper's lighthouse and urban rooftop scenes are great, too. Exhausted from art immersion 101, I headed over to the Capitol City Brewery, had three quick pints, picked up my luggage from the hotel, and road the Metro out to Reagan Airport for my flight. I need to visit D.C. more often.


sonia a. mascaro said...

What a great post! I can imagine the emotion seeing in person the paitings of Hopper! I would love to be there...

I also did a post about Hopper. If you have the time, click on Edward Hopper.

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