A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in 19th-Century America
“It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such.” – Henry David Thoreau,
Journal IX, 1856
Henry David Thoreau's midcentury clarion call offers a concise distillation of a prevailing, paradoxical, European American conception of the environment as other, a foil for the reason and civility of man, at times an adversary, at others an asset. From the Puritans' 17th century "errand into the wilderness" to the present, the dichotomy between man and nature has defined the European American experience in the "New World." Focusing on the 19th century, an era that witnessed both the extreme and violent exploitation of the land and its peoples and the birth of a modern conservation movement, this exhibition will unfold chronologically and move from New England to the West. Paintings, works on paper, sculptures, photographs, and decorative arts by artists both familiar and unknown from the Addison's collection will enter into dialogue with a selection of objects from the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology and compelling natural history specimens generously lent by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University to bear witness to the complex histories and persistent impacts of the 19th-century European American relationship with the natural world.
Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Morris Tyler Fund.