Herman Herzog (American, 1831-1932). Sketching on Beaver’s Creek, 1880-1885. Oil on canvas. Museum Purchase, Wege Foundation, 2001

From Wilderness to Resource: A Story in Pictures

February 24, 2018 – May 6, 2018

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This selection from GRAM’s permanent collection has been organized to complement the exhibition Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle. Like Rockman’s impressive paintings and works on paper, the works on view address the relationship between humankind and the natural environment. Focused primarily on the United States, the exhibition tells a story in pictures of the changes in the natural landscape over the last two-hundred years.

Nineteenth century white Americans viewed the continent as either settled or frontier – even though much of the “wilderness” was already the home and range of Native Americans. As the century progressed and the American population grew, more settlers moved west, firm in the belief that this territorial expansion was God’s will. At the same time, the United States was transforming from an agrarian to an industrialized society. Work horses and hand tools gave way to mechanization, allowing for larger and faster interventions into the landscape.

Over time, our relationship with nature has shifted from one of utter dependence to one of increasing domination. Major technological and scientific breakthroughs have enabled us to build massive dams, highway systems, and sprawling cities. Modern agricultural practices make use of advanced equipment, irrigation systems, and pesticides allowing for production at a massive and more cost-effective scale. Successful businesses grew into corporations with enough wealth to influence governmental policies that impacted the natural environment. Today, humankind’s complicated relationship with the environment requires a balancing act between the pursuit of profit, energy needs, and the protection and care of our vital natural resources.