ORIENTAL BITTERSWEET AND OTHER INVASIVE SPECIES: AMERICANS IN NORTH AMERICA
Oriental Bittersweet and Other Invasive Species: Americans in North America
New London, Connecticut
2008-2009 Senior Honors Thesis Art Department, Connecticut College Exhibited in Joanne Toor Cummings Gallery, Connecticut College May 1 - May 17, 2009
Advisers: Denise Pelletier, Assistant Professor, Art Department Andrea Wollensak, Professor, Art Department Jason Mancini, Senior Researcher, Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center Manuel Lizarralde, Associate Professor, Ethnobotany Department
Edition of 40. No ______ Copyright Myles Green 2009
Table of Contents
THOMAS MINER AND OTHER COLONISTS
In New London and Stonington
SETTLING AMERICA Thomas as An(pro)tagonist
III. CENTRAL METAPHOR 27
The Land Thomas Miner Owns, 2009
Bittersweet New England / Thomas Miner Descendents, 1850
...And Connecticut came to be known as the Nutmeg State
PROCESS: PERSONAL REFLECTION
August - December 2008
January - May 2009
Installation Week: The Land Thomas Miner Owns, 2009
VI. NON-EXHIBITED WORKS 75
Games of the North American Indian
VII. CONTEMPORARY CRITICISM, THEORY AND HISTORICAL PRECEDENTS 87
Calle, Goldsworthy, Scholder, Luna and others
We grow on fruit, fruit grows on trees, trees grow on us. Mathew Mark Braunstein
Memory, history and identity
Late in December 2007, I returned home to Westwood, Massachusetts after studying and working abroad for a year. I had spent the previous twelve months learning as much as I could about the language, traditions and culture of Italy. But back home, I soon found myself with as many experiences to share as my own questions to answer. The directness in communication, affectionate behavior and Mediterranean pace of life in Italy had become part of me. Back home, I found myself in difficoltà reconciling these pervasive characteristics of my friends in Italy with the blue-collared, business-like ways of New Englanders, i.e. the people of my “home.” In the weeks following my return, I perceived an emotional distance greater than the physical separation between myself and the familiar sights, sounds, people and places of home. I looked out my living room window and took a walk outside. Cars drove down the street. The woods felt vast and empty. The buildings appeared as if they were unoccupied and already becoming part of the land. I was Marcovaldo in Westwood. I questioned to what degree I was truly home when I did not identify myself with the place that I had always thought was home. Does sleeping in the brick, wooden and cement structure that I call home constitute my being home? If so, would the multiplicity of my “homes” (Westwood, New London, Florence) diminish the degree that I am home in any of these places? Or is Westwood home because I grew up there? Or perhaps Boston, my birthplace?
I knew that home meant more than a physical building or geographical location; the word carries a sense of belonging and understanding. It is a place that not only physically shelters but provides nourishment beyond measure. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2009), following “a place where one lives,” other meanings include, (2) “One’s native land; the place or country in which one dwells; the place where one’s ancestors dwell or dwelt,” and, (3) “The locality where a thing is usually found, or was first found, or where it is naturally abundant; habitat.” But my family and ancestors were not “first found” or “usually found” in Westwood or Massachusetts or New England. My maternal side came from England and Ireland, and my paternal side from Poland. The names of the land and water around my home (Natick, Noanet Pond, Neponset Reservoir) remind me of my family’s and other Europeans’ brief residence in the area. But in summer 2008, when I left my white 1950s Ranch of suburban Boston and returned to New London, Connecticut, I felt a greater connection, albeit an obscure one, to the New London area than I had before. I remembered that my grandmother’s grandparents lived in one of the first houses of Norwich, Connecticut. I remembered my mother, Nancy Chapman Miner, telling me that our family “comes from a long line of lobster men” in Connecticut. And perhaps most significant, I was reminded that my mother is buried in Colonel Ledyard Cemetery in Groton, Connecticut - just across the Thames River from New London - along with many other generations of Miners. And so, my ancestors’ residence in the area, albeit inherently brief as immigrants, invoked in me a greater connection and personal sense of belonging to the land.
From my initial questioning of home arose an investigation of place, specifically of the southeastern Connecticut area, for my senior art thesis. The place that I examine in this body of work is real and imaginary, material and conceptual. Memory, history, and identity provoked this study. The physical act of ma(thin)king aided through research and my own genealogy were my tools. The expository writing behind and visual work of Oriental Bittersweet and Other Invasive Species: Americans in North America (OBOIS:ANA) is the result.
Recollection written by my maternal grandmother, Esther Miner, circa 1994. Page 5 reads, â€œMy grandparents lived in a house they owned in Norwich (one of the first built in town) A New England Salt Box Type. This was purchased from a Colonel Roath who received the property as a land grant from the King of England prior to the Revolutionary War.â€?
“Invasive or intrusive species,” Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, 2000.
In this thesis, I contemplate place - specifically southeastern Connecticut - and my identity as a descendant of Thomas Miner, who was one of the first European settlers of Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century. Through a critical postcolonial viewpoint, I investigate the irreversible effects of the Euramerican colonization of New England, including the (visible) land dispossession, the (currently invisible) mass genocide and the changes to the understanding of the land. The central metaphor for this incursion is invasive species of plants, specifically Oriental bittersweet. This plant, a deciduous woody vine originally from eastern Asia, is one of the most destructive invasive species in New England. In its search for light this vine strangles the trees and plants it climbs. I construct my familial connection to one of the first English colonizers - or invaders - of New England and the changes that he directly instigated through a rammed-earth sculptural installation, a double sided drawing on deer hide, and an unfired clay triptych. Through research and the use of metaphor in the visual work of OBOIS:ANA, I hope to provoke a critical examination and reflection of the means through which modern Americans stand on the ground under their feet.
Thomas Miner and Other Colonists:
A Brief Background
Thomas Miner (Minor), son of Clement Miner, was born on April 23, 1608, in Chew Magna, England and died in 1690 (Miner, Peter). His remains are buried in Wequetequock Cemetery, Stonington, Connecticut. His arrival in America resulted in many “Miners” in the southeastern Connecticut area, including myself. Thomas Miner is my 10th great-grandfather on my maternal side. Little of Thomas’ life before his departure for America is known. However, the circumstances prompting his departure from England can be speculated. In Vexed and Troubled Englishmen - 1590-1642, author Carl Bridenbaugh acutely summarizes the motives of English transAtlantic migration between 1590 – 1640: In this period, so notable for change as well as stability, the English often found themselves frustrated and desperate: to most of them, ‘Merrie England’ was but an empty phrase. In the countryside, large numbers of people had been deprived of their ancient rural security; they had no land to cultivate; unemployment threatened the agricultural laborer and village artisan most of the time; at best their housing was inadequate. ... in the cold or wet weather, fuel was scarce, costly and often unobtainable.
Opposite: Advertisement to Englishmen from the 17th century, An Ancestral Narrative: Descendants of William Myner c. 1450 - c. 1700, 2001.
Undernourishment and unbalanced diets sapped the strength of thousands of the lower orders, and many fell victims to disease, notably tuberculosis … In the hearts and minds of respectable, if impoverished men, similar demands by government during the years of the personal rule aroused bitterness and alienated not a few from the Stuart King. For human and often trivial offenses, the ecclesiastical courts meted out harsh punishment… And so, Thomas departed for America on April 25, 1629 aboard the Lyon’s Whelpe, one of six ships of the New England Company for a Plantation in Massachusetts Bay (Miner, Thomas A. 15, 35). He arrived in Naumkeag (Salem), Massachusetts, on June 29, 1629 and resided thereafter in a number of Massachusetts townships including Watertown, Charlestown, Newton and Hingham. In Charlestown, he founded the First Church in 1632 (54). A few years later, Thomas married Grace Palmer - daughter of Walter. Later in summer 1645, Thomas joined Governor John Winthrop, Jr. and other Puritans in the early English establishment of New London, Connecticut. In New London and Stonington Thomas Miner traveled with a “small band of independent planters” and soon became “one of the first settlers of Pequot (New London),” “laying out and fencing lots, erecting huts, and providing food for their cattle” (Caulkins 44, 102). He worked as a farmer by trade, but was also highly involved in town affairs. In New London he served as town commissioner (Miner, Thomas A. 54). In that capacity, he was appointed to “act in all towne affaires as well in the disposing of lands in other prudentiall occasions for the towne:” He questioned Pequots about the “’Indian depositories relative to Pequot and narragansett Bounds,’” and gathered intelligence about local tribal wars (qtd. in Caulkins 58; qtd. in Miner, Thomas A. 56). In 1649, “Thomas was appointed ‘Military Sargeant in the Towne of Pequett’ with the power to call forth and train the male inhabitants” (Miner, Thomas A. 54). In 1650, Thomas and Jonathan Brewster were made the “first deputies” to the General Court (the Legislature
THOMAS MINER AND OTHER COLONISTS
at Hartford) from New London. Thomas is also credited as “one of the colonists who changed the name of Nameeug [sic] to New London” (Caulkins 76). Thomas’ son, Manassah, “was the first white male to be born in New London” and Thomas’ daughter, Ann, was the first death in the township (J. Miner 54, Caulkins 83). A few years after settling in New London, Thomas, along with William Cheesebrough, Thomas Stanton, and his father-in-law, Walter Palmer, founded Stonington, Connecticut (Caulkins 80, Miner, John A. 54). In Stonington, he was given “‘[l]iberty to dig up and make use of any Iron-stone or other stone or earth in any place within the land of [Pawkatuck],’” present-day Stonington (qtd. in Caulkins 102). Thomas’ homestead in Stonington, “at the head of Close Cove,” was “one of the best tenements in the place” (102). There, he farmed corn, peas, and wheat and raised livestock (Miner, Thomas 74-5). By 1667, he had received over 200 acres of land, much from colonial grants given only “to those who had performed distinguished public service” (Miner, Thomas A. 15, 55). Thomas also served as lieutenant in King Philips War (55). This armed conflict, also called Metacom’s Rebellion, was a battle led by Wampanoag leader Metacom in alliance with neighboring Indian tribes against colonizing Europeans. The yearlong battle remains today one of the “bloodiest battles” of American history (Jacobs 8).
picture of advertisement to planters
Thomas as An(pro)tagonist
What guerdon can we bring To the pioneers who made this valley ring With psalm and sword three centuries ago? The broad-axe in the river towns proclaimed Saint George adventuring forth once more to slay The dragons that were challenging his way To Liberty and Justice, setting free Man’s urge in separate moulds to shape his plea That Heaven’s will be tabernacled here. Connecticut was Jordan, and the clear Streams flowing to it marked the Promised Land. Here Hooker, Stone, and Ludlow took their stand And reared Western tower that withstood The dragons of rebellion, fire and flood. “Connecticut Tercentenary Ode,” Wilbert Snow (1936)
My 10th great-grandfather, Thomas Miner, was one of the early protagonists in what is ordinarily called the “colonial period of United States history” (Jennings vii). He boarded a ship, arrived in what we today call America, and soon became one of the first planters of land previously unsettled by Europeans. In New London and Stonington, Thomas farmed the land, distributed property to other colonists, acted as diplomat with the Pequot, held various town appointments, trained soldiers and fought in the military.
However, the land that Thomas and other Englishmen “settled” was not uninhabited. It is estimated that roughly 125,000 Native Americans lived in New England on the eve of Contact (Mancini). In 1629 Governor of Connecticut John Winthrop, father of one of the three associates with whom Thomas founded Stonington, expressed the opinion of most English colonists of the time regarding the land: He proclaimed that the majority of America falls “under the legal rubric of vacuum domicilium because the Indians had not subdued’ it and therefore had only a ‘natural’ and not a ‘civil’ right to it” (Jennings 82). Thus, the so-called Colonial period of United States history was not a “settling” of an uninhabited or empty land and the “establishment of civilization” as was believed at the time and in many cases still today. Rather, it was “the period of invasion of Indian society,” of which Thomas Miner was a principal an(pro)tagonist (Jennings vii). Viewpoint: To Capitalize And To Christianize Through his role as founder of the First Church of Stonington and member of the New England Company for a Plantation in Massachusetts Bay, I take the view that Thomas Miner believed that he was “performing a noble mission by bringing government and civilization” to the Indians and that he “might rightfully seize Indian lands because God had intended his land to be cultivated” (Jennings 127, qtd. in Jennings 90). Through his position as a preeminent land-owner in colonial Connecticut, I take the view that Thomas Miner, like many other English colonists of the time, felt a “morally ambiguous drive” for space solely satiated through the acquisition of land, and that by doing so, he caused the “retreat [of Indians] into the interior” (Zinn 16-7, Jennings 145). Through his profession as a farmer, I take the view that Thomas Miner helped construct the agricultural bridge “over which English civilization crept, trembling and uncertainly, at first, then boldly and surely to foothold a permanent occupation of America” (Jennings 66). Through his military service in colonial Connecticut, especially
that of lieutenant in King Philips War, I take the view that Thomas Miner directly contributed to and initiated the long history of Native American genocide in United States history, and that he, like his peers, believed in â€œconquest and murder in the name of progressâ€? (Schultz 5, Zinn 9). In short, I believe that Thomas Miner was a predominant figure in the implicit exploitation and dissolution of Native American sovereignty, culture and power in colonial New England as demonstrated by his religiously/ideologically-motivated participation in the multi-faceted dispossession of Indian land from which the agragian American dream was born. Through this post-colonial perspective of Thomas Miner, I investigate both the continued Euramerican presence in southeastern Connecticut and my identity as a descendent of one of the regionâ€™s first invaders in this thesis.
Oriental bittersweet is the central metaphor for this incursion. Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is a “deciduous woody perennial plant which grows as a climbing vine and a trailing shrub” (Swearingen). The plant was brought to America from Eastern Asia for ornamental decoration 1870 (Knuttel). Now it feverishly grows in wooded areas throughout Connecticut and all of New England. The plant -- “the kudzu of the north” -- is classified as an invasive or exotic species because it “has been displaced from its native or original geographic range to another area, generally by human activity [for] some intended purpose, often disrupt[ing] the environment into which the species has been displaced or introduced” (Rickett 417). Invasive species of plants, like colonizing Europeans, (1) arrived “in a new region by a variety of means, including both intentional and accidental introductions,” often “by ship” (Parker 383, Rickett 417); (2) demonstrated a “list of traits that seem to confer invasiveness such as rapid growth, high reproductive rate, and tolerance to a broad range of conditions” (Parker 384); (3) changed “the abundance of a native population or changed its genetic composition” (Parker 385); (4) decreased “the overall biodiversity of the invaded site,” impacting
“not only other species but the physical characteristics of an ecosystem as well” (385); (5) initiated “disease-caused mortality of the native species” (Rickett 417); (6) “reduced or even drove [native species] extinct by competition or predation” (Parker 385); and (7) is a “species growing outside its natural habitat” and has established “free-living populations in the wild”* (383).
*I do not believe in or promote any theories that endorse any form of racial, social, ethnic inequality or superiority in OBOIS:ANA. I reference Francois Bernier’s theories found in A New Division of the Earth, According to the Different Species or Races of Men Who Inhabit It (1684) - which Carl Linnaeus used in developing his categorization of humans into four species - as widespread racial beliefs of many English during the 17th-century (“Science: 1680s-1800s: Early Classification of Nature,” American Anthropological Association).
Opposite: The remains of a deer hide (March 2009).
C E N T R A L M E TA P H O R
My historical and theoretical research of place is the groundwork of the visual work in this thesis. Inherently plural, the place which I explore in the following work is real and imaginary, material and conceptual and entwined with personal memory and known and unknown histories (Golden 21-22). Through the following work, I seek to provoke a critical examination of the hi(story) of southeastern Connecticut and New England.
The Land Thomas Miner Owns, 2009, 6.5’, 3.5’, 26’ Topsoil from the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, clay and sand from Massachusetts (home), weeds from Stonington, grass and Oriental bittersweet from New London Once a great land owner in Connecticut, Thomas Miner now “owns” only a small tract of land -- that around his bodily remains. This rammed earth sculpture/installation is a visible manifestation of this land. Various strata of earth are visible on the sides of what appears to be a cross-section of earth emerging from the ground, with sides crumbling down. Above the viewer’s eye level, Oriental bittersweet vines emerge out of the compacted soil into the open air. The vines reach upwards to the light in the same untamed manner as these vines grow outside.
Bittersweet New England (Invasive Plant Atlas of New England) (exterior) Thomas Minor descendants, Federal census, 1850 (interior) Deer hide, Sassafras, Oriental bittersweet, artificial sinew, mushroom ink This double-sided installation/drawing is first seen on the main floor of the Joanne Toor Cummings gallery space. Following the towering vines of Oriental bittersweet from The Land that Thomas Miner Owns, 2009, the viewer sees an animal hide suspended on the edge of the third floor mezzanine. The hide is that of a deer, a typical ruminant mammal of southeastern New England. Stretched on a wooden frame, the hide is not intact: It has been cut and sewn together in the outline of southeastern New England state boundaries. With patches of hide missing, the animal appears to have been diseased or sick, although the viewer is left to wonder whether this occurred before or after its death. On the interior, towns are delineated in varying saturations of ink.
... and Connecticut came to be known as “The Nutmeg State” Clay, minerals The viewer is presented with a triptych resembling cracked headstones. The central panel is a mirror image, like that of a filleted animal, of the outline of Massachusetts. The adjacent panels are shaped as the Connecticut state boundary. A narrative is found on the two side panels: “Down in Dixie they claimed that Yanks sold ten-dollar clocks for thirty-five dollars, and he did. / But there was bigger profit from selling wooden nutmegs to daydreaming Virginians.” The narrative recounts unverifiable local history that in time has become New England folklore (and currently one of Connecticut’s state nicknames). The initials “T.M.” begin the small family tree on the central panel. Below, the viewer finds eleven pairs of initials. The last pair of initials are my own.
Moving through language, I create visual work. Reading, writing, and making form a triangle that define my process as a visual artist. By looking at the steps that I took in the first part of the year, viewers understand how I arrived at OBOIS:ANA.
At the beginning of the academic year, I started my investigation of place by researching the events and people of New Londonâ€™s history. I read Voices from Colonial America: Connecticut 1614-1776 by Michael Burgan and The Whaling City by Robert Owen Decker, among other books. But the founding of the various towns and churches, the shipbuilding and whaling industries, the various waves of immigrants from Europe, the fight for independence from the British and Benedict Arnold did not interest me. However, I sensed an air of deception in my research of place. The people and events of New Londonâ€™s history were presented as a beginning. But place does not having new beginnings.
Place is a continuum of everything there was and everything there is. What about the tribal histories of the Pequot, Mohegan and Naragansett? These stories were largely absent from the books claiming to recount the history of a place. When present, however, these histories were often inadequate and heavily-biased. For example, in New London, A History of Its People, published by the city of New London in “Commemoration of [its] Three Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary,” the Pequot and Mohegan are defined as, ”[a] race of people that until a dozen years ago had faded into the backdrop of local events. ...[But today] the tribes are again forces in the region, enjoying an economic renaissance based on casino gambling and entertainment enterprises” (Hileman 1).
And so, the seemingly omnipresent monopoly of Euramerican narratives and diminished and often racist modica of tribal histories claiming to recount the history of place prompted me to focus my research on the local indigenous tribes. My research took me to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. There, in August, I was lucky enough to learn from an exhibition Race: Are we do different? The exhibition examined the cultural, social and scientific perspectives of racism in the world from which I developed my post-colonial viewpoint. Soon thereafter, the Smithsonian Handbook of North American Indians became my companion for research and by moving through reading and writing, I started to produce the first studies and early works of the thesis. Fall Semester Looking back, I had all the right pieces but did not know how to put them together between August and November 2008. The first visual works manifested many of the same characteristics of those exhibited (self-examination, criticism of Christianity, natural and local materials, and later the use of invasive species as a metaphor -- all presented through a post-colonial perspective). However, they lacked two integral parts: a personal connection and natural materials specifically pertaining to place.
Study 1 (Dream catcher), detail Autumn leaves, sand, grass, reeds, monofilament, mollusk shells, paper (September 2008).
In this multi-media piece, a dream catcher - similar to those originally produced by the Ojibwa tribe - hangs suspended. It is of local, natural materials gathered near the coast. Inside the central circle are torn pieces of paper. They lie suspended in a chaotic snarl of monofilament. According to Ojibwa folklore and popular culture, bad dreams are caught in the dream catcher and vanish with the morning light. However, in this rendition of the dream catcher, typewritten phrases (The Noble Savage, In The Name of God, Social Darwinism ) remain caught inside the form.
Above: “Untitled (Cross).” Plywood, stain. 3’ x 4’ (October 2008). Below: Relativity Today (November 2008). See Non-Exhibited Work, page 79.
Left: Games of the North American Indian. See Non-Exhibited Work, pp. 76. Right: Modification Relativity Today in final critique of fall semester.
In a modification of the Untitled (Patriot / Traitor) of Relativity Today, I replaced one set of photographs with a 1’ x 1’ x 1’ cube of rammed earth. A small photograph of Andrew Jackson rested in the center of the cube as if it were a headstone. This piece, produced at the end of the first semester, was the catalyst for second semester work and the final form of my thesis.
Spring Semester Frozen ground in New England, which prevented material studies of rammed earth, and an interest in seeing the National Museum of the American Indian, brought me to Washington, DC and Richmond, Virginia in late February. This trip was pivotal for this thesis: I was able to work with clay and earth in New Englandâ€™s winter and the retrospective of Fritz Scholder Indian / Not Indian prompted to look at my position in my post-colonial examination of the Contact period. The thesis then came full circle: My original intention to investigate home, my ancestors and the history of place resurfaced. I began to look back at my familyâ€™s history more closely. Upon returning to Connecticut, I met Frederick Burdick -- fellow descendent of Thomas, President of the Thomas Minor Society and Stonington Town Historian. Soon thereafter, my visual work progressed to the final works of OBOIS:ANA.
Above: Newspaper clipping from The Day (January 18, 2009) with photo showing participation in deer hide brain tanning workshop at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. Opposite: Early versions of rammed earth structures at the New London Public Works yard, Hodges Square.
Above: Page from notebook. Below: Unfired clay material studies (early March).
Above: Mineral wash tests for ...And Connecticut became known as the Nutmeg State. Below: Deer hide as found in Manuel Lizarraldeâ€™s backyard (March 2009).
Above: Preparation of hide with another deerâ€™s femur bone (photo by Manuel Lizarralde). Below: Business card of New London cobbler from whom I received the leather sewing needle used for Bittersweet New England. The lower left corner of the card denotes that this cobbler is certified to repair P.W. Minor Shoes (March 2009).
Above: Transporting vines from the Connecticut College Arboreteum to Cummings Arts Center. Below: Results of soil and clay shake tests (March 2009).
Drawings and calculations for interior and exterior wooden frame (March 2009).
Page from sketchbook: Concern arose about the weight of the installation on the gallery floor but after reducing the thickness of the rammed earth walls to five inches, the calculated weight of the sculpture became 5,500 and 7,000 lbs., or roughly 280 lbs./ftÂ˛ (early April).
Opposite, top: Old Taugwank Cemetery, Stonington, where Ephraim Miner (Thomasâ€™ son from whom I descend) is buried; Opposite, below: Retrieving clay and sand mix from Canton, Massachusetts. Above: Retrieving topsoil from the Mashantucket Pequot reservation, Ledyard, CT. Permission was officially granted by vote of the governing Tribal Council. Below: Extracting roadside weeds in Stonington (April 2009).
Installation Week: The Land Thomas Miner Owns, 2009 The Land Thomas Miner Owns, 2009 was a four-month long process from first skeches to final realization. In the latter part of the semester, retrieving and mixing materials, constructing and re-constructing the wooden exterior frame and many unforseen factors became a critical part of installing the sculpture in Cummings Arts Center. Installation week brought many other unplanned, yet conceptually and materially enriching, results.
Opposite: Mixing cob outside of Cummings (mid-April; photos by Adam Campos). Above: Model of installation, 24” x 8.5” x 15” (early April).
Thursday, April 23: Carpenter Mike Wardlaw of Physical Plant hanging the vines.
I N S TA L L AT I O N W E E K
Monday, April 27, day: Interior and exterior frame assembled. Panels of exterior frame were solely screwed to adjacent frames at this stage.
Monday, April 27, night: While ramming the first section of earth, the exterior frame breaks apart due to excessive forces (not pictured). The frame is disassembled and I decide to build the walls of the installation by hand. After meeting with Professor Pelletier and Mike Wardlaw the following morning, I decide to move forward with the original idea after reinforcing the frame.
I N S TA L L AT I O N W E E K
Thursday, April 30, 10:07 am: After filling and ramming the space between the internal and exterior frame with various mixtures of clay, sand and soil, disassembly of the wooden frame begins.
Thursday, April 30, 10:28 am: Three of the four rammed earth walls nearly entirely collapse, most likely from the topsoil used in the upper two feet.
I N S TA L L AT I O N W E E K
Thursday, April 30, 12 noon: With the help of many peers, The Land Thomas Miner Owns, 2009, becomes a combination of rammed earth, hand-built cob walls and â€œbricksâ€? of rammed earth mortared with wet cob mix (photos by Mark Braunstein).
Indian Leap, Norwich, Connecticut.
Two fully completed series of works (Games of the North American Indian and Relativity Today) were not exhibited in the Senior Thesis Exhibition. These pieces -- a multi-media installation and a digital photo-text series, respectively -- encompass the total visual work of this thesis. Like the other exhibits of OBOIS:ANA, these works seek to engage viewers in a critical examination of and reflection about the effects of European colonization in America.
Games of the North American Indian Games of the North American Indian is a series of objects in a large vitrine case. The viewer encounters an information card on the nearby wall:
The viewer learns that the three “exhibits” inside the display case are not artworks typical of those seen in an art museum. Rather, the viewer learns that these exhibits are more like artifacts in a natural history museum from the information card and the overall aesthetic.
In Bowl and Dice (see opposite page, right), the viewer is presented with a rendition of one of the most widespread pre-contact Native American games of Northeastern America, often called “hubbub” by a variety of New England tribes (“Pequot Village,” Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center). In hubbub, players roll dice in a basket and wager small items of value by betting on the outcome (Prindle). Pre-contact dice were usually made from antlers or animal bones; the vessel to contain the die was often a wooden bowl or woven basket. However, in Bowl and Dice, the dice are from the turkey of my Thanksgiving Day supper (2008), shaved and ground from the animals’ femur bones. The bowl is a hollowed tree burl, an arboreal infection.
Ring and Pin is a traditional pre-contact Native American game found in the majority of Native American tribes across North America (Prindle). The game is simple: Players grasp a pin, usually made of wood or animal bone, and attempt to throw a circular ring, attached
by a fibrous root or sinew, to the end of the pin. Each tribe had its own variation of materials based on what was found locally. The rings were usually made of “carved rings of bone or hide, strings of toe bones or fish vertebra, skulls perforated with holes, dried squash rinds, or bundles of twigs or hair” (Prindle). However, in Ring and Pin (middle, page 66), the ring is a bored casino chip, the wood is Oriental bittersweet and the game is impossible to win: The fibrous root connecting the casino chip to the pin is not long enough.
Sticks is a simple game of chance. One player holds 51 wooden sticks behind his back. Another player, blindfolded, tries to guess in which hand the other player holds the single stick with marked black center (Culin 232-3). Should the player guess correctly, “he takes the deal and holds it until this opponent wins it back in like manner” (233). The player who obtains the fifty-first stick wins. However, in Sticks, fifty small, toothpick-like sticks are carved from Tree of Heaven, an invasive plant of New England, and the fifty-first stick is a stem from a green briar thorn bush - also an invasive species of New England (Knuttel, Lizarralde). Thus, players in this rendition of the game seek to obtain the sticks of an invasive tree in an attempt to obtain the fifty-first stick, i.e., the thorn.
Relativity Today Digital prints 9” x 16”
We do not have to agree with their interpretation of what they saw, but we must try to understand it. (Jennings 115) In Relativity Today, the viewer is presented with six works. Each exhibit contains two different photographs, printed twice. A word is written over each picture of the set. This photo-text juxtaposition is intended to provoke a reconsideration of the associated meanings of visual phenomena in contemporary culture. Different interpretations arise when the viewer’s perspective oscillates between a pre-/post-contact Native American viewpoint and a contemporary American perspective. This series of photojuxtapositions is a visual illustration of the following phenomena.
Untitled (Disease / Bowl) Digital prints
Untitled (Home / Fun) Digital prints
Untitled (Holy / Mother) Digital prints
Untitled (Blessing / Warning) Digital prints
Untitled (Art / Craft) Digital prints
Untitled (Patriot / Traitor) Digital prints
National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC (February 2009).
Contemporary Criticism, Theory and Historical Precedents
Oriental Bittersweet and Other Invasive Species: Americans in North America is a body of visual work that could be categorized as postmodern art because, 1) I find myself “in troubled relation to the past” and constantly “question the present” (Berstein and Lowe 28). 2) I embody “[my] own perspectives and understandings of the world” in my art (13). 3) I aim to “bring contemporary issues and debates to the consciousness of viewers through whatever material or aesthetic means necessary” (Weintraub and Danto 16). 4) I seek to “connect art with social and political issues” (McCaster 47). 5) I argue for the “viability of local narratives” instead of universalizing meta-narratives (47). 6) I accept ephemerality (Weintraub and Danto 15). 7) I intend to “change the state of being of the viewer” by creating an experience (16), and 8) I rise to the “level of philosophy while at the same time remaining concrete and physical” (16).
Examining the work of Sophie Calle, Marco Baliani, Mel Chin, Andy Goldsworthy and Barry McGee initiated my reflection of identity and place in the work of OBOIS:ANA. Incorporating and Exploring Identity French artist Sophie Calle uses identity as a method to investigate history in the multimedia work Take Care Of Yourself. For this installation Calle asked 107 women – from a copy editor, forensic psychiatrist and journalist to a dancer, therapist and famous actress – to analyze and interpret a breakup email sent from her boyfriend. Their responses varied and resulted in interpretations that ranged from music and performance to writing and textual analyses. Calle’s acknowledgement of the importance of identity in this piece allowed her to conduct this thorough, multi-faceted investigation that otherwise would not have amounted to anything. Marco Baliani, Italian director, performer and actor, painfully dissects and confronts his identity in the multi-media performance Corpo di Stato: Il delitto Moro. Driven by a need to understand and confront the past, Baliani interrogates himself and his role in the events following the 1978 kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, then-leader of the Italian Christian Democratic Party (Baliani 2). He oscillates between the historic and the personal as he asks himself how his life has changed following the kidnapping and how he confronts tragedy today. Revealed in monologue divided by video and photomontage, his recounting is bitterly self-critical. The emotional distress Baliani experiences during the performance makes Corpo di Stato difficult to watch. Baliani admitted following a recent performance that he will be unable to perform the work after another year (Baliani, Discussion). Using Place In Revival Field, Mel Chin creates landscape art by healing nature (Weintrab 50). In this piece, Chin takes “land that has become so laden with toxins that it is incapable of sustaining life or generating edible vegetation” and he harvests leeching plats called “hyperaccumulators” (46). These plants thrive on the heavy metals in the soil that Chin seeks to remove (46). The artist then presents pictures, video interviews and raw data of the physical changes to his environment for the exhibited visual work of his art. Although he relies heavily on scientific
procedure, Chin works like a traditional sculptor: He begins with an simple idea, approaches his material and fashions it into a “concrete reality” (49). The artist says, “‘Soil is my marble. Plants are my chisel. Revived nature is my product... This is my responsibility and poetry’” (qtd. in Weintrab 49). British land artist Andy Goldsworthy investigates place in his earth works. The artist’s magnitude of visual work, from temporary installations indoors and outdoors - often documented in photograph to permanent sculptures in museums and the woods, evinces his perpetual investigation of place through nature: For example in his “frost shadow” series, Goldsworthy casts a shadow on the ground between the freeze and thaw of cold mornings that will hold while the frost of the surrounding area melts (Goldsworthy 16). The result is a photograph with a long shadow of frozen grass surrounded by green, thawed grass. In “Spring / mud and moss/ worked into the roots / of a beech tree / returned in summer,” Goldsworthy introduces the human hand to the growing moss of a tree: He extends the naturallyoccuring moss in a snake-like, meandering pattern that linearly interrupts the natural moss growth but blends in due to its similar scale and delicate treatment. And lastly, Goldswothy created a stone arch over thirty feet tall in an outdoor installation at the Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal. The arch, constructed with no metal rods or mortar, exhibits tension, energy and movement as it forcefully presides over the people and nearby buildings. American illustrator and street artist Barry McGee utilizes place in his public street illustrations. McGee, who trespasses and vandalizes when he produces his public art, draws or paints figurative images of old weary men, skewed skylines and empty alcohol bottles. There are two notable consequences of McGee’s production of art in transitional and otherwise unnotable spaces: Firstly, McGee relies on the democratic nature of place. And secondly, McGee redefines an environment by creating place that would have otherwise remain unnamed and unseen (Golden 35).
Research of James Luna and Fritz Scholder and were crucial to the development of OBOIS:ANA. Fritz Scholder Fritz Scholder continuously confronts his identity and that of Native Americans in his expressionist paintings that span from the mid-twentieth to the early twenty-first century. Scholder is largely credited with demolishing the painting style promoted by Dorothy Dunn’s Studio at the Santa Fe Indian School through his Indian Series (Sims 30). In these numerous paintings, Scholder portrayed Native Americans in situations and environments unportrayed in art before. His subjects appear lost and fading away from the viewer. Referencing Indian with Beer Can (1969), Scholder admitted “No one had dared paint the massacres. No one had dared paint an Indian with a beer can. With all these artists running around and doing Indians, it had always been romantic views, which, of course, wasn’t Indian at all. They more like Italians dressed up in feathers” (qtd. in Sims 31). The artist also said, “I felt it to be a compliment when I was told that I had destroyed the traditional stye of Indian art, for I was doing what had to be done,” (qtd. in Sims 30). James Luna The “convoluted relationships between native and non-native Americans serves as the background against which James Luna’s artwork is presented” (Weintrab 98). Luna, a Lusieno/Diegueno tribal member, documents the “strange perversion of prejudice of admiration upon Native Americans” and “articulates the discrepancy between the Indians who occupy the white imagination and those who occupy the Federal reservations through his work (99). In Indian Tails (1993), Luna “simply speaks to an audience. Throughout the plaintive narration, his tone becomes progressively more anguished:” I don’t want to be an Indian anymore. Everybody wants to be an Indian .... I don’t want to be an Indian anymore, I don’t want to be an Indian anymore. I don’t want to be an Indian for historical reasons I don’t want to be an Indian for commercial reasons
I don’t want to be an Indian for “Sentimental Reasons” I don’t want to.... (qtd. in Weintrab 98). In Artificat Piece (1987), viewers were often startled to discover that the title’s artifact refers to Luna himself (99): Clothed in a beechcloth, [Luna] lay prone on a large display case in a gallery devoted to American Indians at the Museum Man in Balvoa Park, San Diego. The gallery was otherwise given over to relics and dioramas honoring the revered aspects of Native American life. No part of the permanent display addressed the real problems that beset the living representations of these people. Rather, the museum placed Indian life in the same category as dinosaur skeletons and plant fossils. Luna shattered the impressions that Indian are extinct by presenting himself as a breathing artifact (99). In James Luna: Actions and REactions, the artist writes, Everybody want to be an Indian so they can say they have culture. Everybody wants to be an Indian so they can be spiritual. Everybody want to be an Indian so they can be funded. Everybody want to be an Indian so they can be a victim. Everybody want to be an Indian so they can be multicultural. (qtd. in Weintrab 102).
Oriental Bittersweet and Other Invasive Species: Americans in North America is a critique of history that seeks to invoke contemplation. I look back at the history of colonial New England and I re-examine it through 21st century theories of post-colonial, race, ethnic and American studies, philosophy, anthropology, ethnobotany and contemporary art criticismamong other fields. Despite relying on these theories, however, I have not arrived at any truth in my critique. At twenty-one years of age, Thomas Miner gazed longingly toward the setting sun like many of his fellow Englishmen. He heard of a land of green forests and unpolluted waterways, exotic flora and fauna and he yearned for a new beginning. He took a step that is perhaps unimaginable today: He departed for a New World, completely unknown and unseen, to make a new life for himself. Nevertheless, Thomas did well: He married a woman, fathered children, raised crops and livestock for a livelihood, served in the military and worked in the government. Indeed, an active, bourgeois life by both historical and contemporary standards. So why do I criticize Thomas Miner so harshly? Because historical distance permits me to see the consequences that his actions have resulted in today. But Thomas merely did what he thought was acceptable and made sense at the time. Am I contributing to changing weather patterns by heating my house with coal and driving a petroleum-fueled automobile? Do I kill organisms that could hold the cure for cancer when I wash my hands
with chemically-laden soap? Am I destroying the cornerstone of other cultures by teaching English abroad? Do I advocate the use of child labor and inhumane working conditions by buying goods from China? And perhaps most obvious, Do I support an imperial and militaristic world power by being a citizen of and paying taxes to the United States government? Yes -- all of the above. These are all aspects of my life that I recognize today (even without the benefit of historical hindsight) that are analogous fodder for an ex-post facto critique of my (21st century) life. However, questioning and understanding the past is important, and some may argue fundamental, to move forward. Oriental Bittersweet and Other Invasive Species: Americans in North America is my attempt to understand and come to terms with my nationâ€™s past, my familyâ€™s past and my own past.
Baliani, Marco. Corpo di Stato, performance. Wesleyan University. 16 April 2008. Baliani, Marco. Discussion. Wesleyan University. 16 April 2008. Berstein, Bruce and Truman T. Lowe, Gerald McMaster, Joyce M. Szabo, Charlotte Townsend-Gault. Essays on Native Modernism: Complexity and Contradiction in American Indian Art. Washington, DC: National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, 2006. Caulkins, Francis Manwaring. History of New London, Connecticut: From the First Survey of the Coast in 1612 to 1860. New London: The Day Publishing Company, 1895. Golden, Thelma. “Place, Considered.” Art:21 - Art in the Twenty-first Century. Susan Sollins, ed. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001. Goldsworthy, Andy. Time. Moffat, Scotland: Carmeron Books, 2000. Hileman, Maria. “The Indians; Natives of This Land.” New London: A History of Its People. Camelina Como Kanzler, ed. City of New London, 1996.
Opposite: Cross-sections of state soils, Dig it! The Secrets of Soils, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC (February 2009).
Kaufman, Sylan and Wallace Kaufman. Invasive Plants: A Guide to Identification, Impacts, and Control of Common North American Species. Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2007. Knuttel, Leigh, Arboretum Horticulturalist, Connecticut College. Email correspondence. 12 December 2008. Lizarralde, Manuel. Associate Professor of Anthropology, Connecticut College. Personal interview. 20 March 2009. Mancini, Jason. Director of Research, Mashantucket Pequot Musuem and Research Center. Email correspondance. 26 April 2008. McCaster, Gerald and Paul Chaat Smith, Jolene Rickard, Brenda L. Croft, Ivo Mesquita,Lee-Ann Martin, Sylvie Fortin. Vision, Space and Desire: Global Perspectives and Cultural Hybridity. Washington, DC: National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, 2006. Miner, John A. An Ancestral Narrative: Descendants of William Myner c. 1450 - c. 1700. 2nd edition, 2001. Miner, Peter. “Thomas Minor Family History.” 3 September 2008. <http://alum.wpi.edu/~p_miner/Miner.html> Miner, Thomas. The Minor Diaries - Stonington, Connecticut. Lillington, North Carolina: The Thomas Minor Society, 1993. Parker, Ingrid. “Invasive ecology.” Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. Vol. 9, 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. “Pequot Village.” Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. 14 October 2008. Rickett, John. “Introduced and exotic species.” Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues. Vol 2. Ed. Craig W. Allin. California: Salem Press, Inc., 2000. Schultz, Eric B.; Michael J. Touglas. King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2000.
“Science: 1680s-1800s: Early Classification of Nature.” Race: Are we so different? American Anthropological Association. 2 February 2009. <http://www.understandingrace.org/history/science/early_class..html> Sims, Lowery Stokes, editor. Fritz Scholder: Indian / Not Indian. New York: Prestel, 2008. Sterry, Iveagh Hunt and William H. Gerrigus. They Found a Way. Brattleboro, Vermont: Stephen Daye Press, 1938. Swearingen, Jil M. “Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).” PCA Alien Plant Working Group, Alien Plant Working Group, National Park Service, Washington, DC. 12 January 2009. <http://www.nps. gov/plants/alien/fact/ceor1.htm> Vedagiri, Usha; Smith, Douglas. “Introduced species.” Environmental Encyclopedia. Vol 1, 3rd ed. Ed. Marci Bortman. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2003. Weintraub, Linda and Arthur Danto, Thomas McEvilley. Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Meaning in Contemporary Society, 1970s –1990s. Litchfield, CT: Arts Insights, Inc., 1996. Wilbur R. Jacobs. “British Indians Policies to 1783.” Handbook of North American Indians. Ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn. Vol. 4.: History of Indian-White Relations. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1988. Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States: 1492 - Present. New York: Perennial Classics, 2003
This thesis would not have been possible without the help and encouragement of many professors, staff and fellow students of Connecticut College. I give my sincerest thanks and complete admiration to Denise Pelletier, Andrea Wollensak, Manual Lizarralde and Jason Mancini. I express my deepest thanks to Mike Wardlaw, without whom this thesis would have fallen apart. I am also so very grateful for advisement from Greg Bailey, Tim McDowell, Leigh Knuttel, Mary Kallio, Fred Burdick, Jim Luce, Nick Bellantoni, Mark Braunstein, Avner Gregory and David Smith throughout this project and beyond. Many, many thanks to the numerous volunteers -- particularly Jesse Lerch, Elizabeth Fraire and Dana Zichlin, during installation week. Also, many sincere thanks to Brenna Muller, Celia Whitehead and Julia Norton. Thank you Bruce, Betty and Kim.
An investigation of place - specifically southeastern Connecticut - and my identity as a descendant of Thomas Miner, one of the first Europe...