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Sit in on Art History C189: The American Forest

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Most art history classes do not also teach students how to identify trees. Likewise, forestry and landscape ecology professor Joe McBride is the only professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management who teaches students to appreciate works of visual art.

McBride and Margaretta Lovell, professor of American art and architecture, demonstrate how U.S. forests have been depicted in artwork throughout history. Students then examine forest-themed works within the context of politics, history, and social values with the aim of understanding how those artists were thinking about forests.

This painting by Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (1872, Courtesy of National Park Service), was placed in the rotunda in Congress and ultimately contributed to the protection of Yellowstone as a national park. Professors Lovell and McBride use this and other works to show students how artists are not simply influenced by cultural values, but can also exert powerful influence over public opinion and even public policy. To understand how a forest looks today, McBride explains, "You need not only to understand the physical and biological aspects of forests, but you also have to understand this history."


Blue Boat (1892, Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) is one of several Winslow Homer paintings of fishing in the Adirondacks that celebrate recreation in forest settings and contributed to the multiple use doctrine later adopted by the U.S. Forest Service.




Ansel Adams' Redwoods, Bull Creek Flat, California (c.1960, Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) contributed to the campaign to save the remaining old growth redwood stands in California and the establishment of Redwood National Park.

-Erica Spotswood


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