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Posts from the ‘Water’ Category

Earth Day, 2020, Gallery Sitka

Earth Day rolls around again on April 22 and it is going to be a difficult one.  Like nearly everyone in the world, we’re hunkered down and trying to stay healthy.  It is so heart breaking to hear that so many are unable to achieve what was once such a given.  And of course, it’s always the most vulnerable and the most disadvantaged who seem to be paying the price, along with those from health care to the grocery supply chain.  I am reminded of lessons I’ve learned from a colleague, an environmental scientist, the put this into some kind of larger perspective.  The point of environmentalism isn’t to save the planet.  The planet will survive, albeit perhaps it will evolve. Nature is stronger than the human race.  We need to save ourselves.

In earlier times, what seems like a thousand years, but was really just a month or two ago, I submitted some work for consideration for an Earth Day Exhibition, at Gallery Sitka.  The juror is Melissa Richard, a mixed media artist and educator.  I’m grateful to have been chosen to show in the exhibition, but now of course, the exhibition will be going online.  I’ll pass the url along when I can.   Thanks to Melissa and the folks at Gallery Sitka.  I’ve mentioned this before, but the power of water is awesome (as in inducing a sense of awe, not as in being really really cool).  Perhaps we should pay it more attention.

Erosion, Croatan Sound #1, 2015

Erosion, Croatan Sound #2, 2015

Erosion, Ocean City, New Jersey, 2010

“Under the Highway” Exhibition in Worcester

Falls Under the Highway, Blackstone River - 2015

EXHIBITION OPENING AT THE FRANKLIN SQUARE GALLERY, HANOVER THEATER, JUNE 27, 6 – 8PM.  ARTIST TALK AT 6:15.  REFRESHMENTS WILL BE SERVED!

I’m happy to report that an exhibition of my work from the Blackstone River will be opening at the Franklin Square Gallery at the Hanover Theater in Worcester, Massachusetts on June 27.  The exhibition is produced by ArtsWorcester and I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity.

The exhibition works were taken along the Blackstone River Bikeway, in Millbury and Worcester, Massachusetts.  The Bikeway, which is an even better walking trail, was created during Worcester’s “Little Dig,” i.e. the reconstruction of Route 146, around 2000.  I have been fascinated by the anxious beauty there since I first explored the Path in 2013.  One can see the interaction of the River, the highway and the railroad, and society in the context of an urban park.

What the River Sees, Blackstone River- 2016

The River is both beautiful and long suffering.  The bikeway was created as part of an effort to celebrate and restore the River through the establishment of the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor.  The Blackstone has enormous historical significance as the engine of entrepreneurship in the new United States in the late 1700’s.  Enormous wealth was created, thousands were employed, but the River was taken for granted.  As I’ve described here previously, the River became one of the most polluted rivers in the country.  Now, many folks are trying to help the River and the surrounding areas, but it’s tough going.  I hope the exhibition contributes to raising awareness of the hidden beauty of the River even in this seemingly hostile environment, celebrating the work that’s gone into trying to help the River and at the same time demonstrating the ever present possibility that we could take our environment for granted at any moment.

Railroad Bridge, Diversion Canal - 2015

The Anthropocene

Relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.  

Have we crossed into a new geological and biological epoch?  Perhaps.  There is some debate as to when humans began to overpower the earth, at least the surface 1% of it.  Global warming has only been on the radar screen, for most of us, for a few decades.  Some scholars though date the anthropocene from the onset of the industrial revolution, and perhaps even the dawn of agriculture thousands of years ago.

Traveling around the Blackstone River Valley of central Massachusetts, one gets the definite sense that it’s been going on for a while.  I’ve been immersed in issues related to sustainability for the past year or so as part of my work at Babson College.  This valley, where I now live, reveals an interesting story of the industrial revolution and its impact, one that I will be talking and photographing more about over the next several years.

I’ll with just a simple image of a rather iconic location in the Valley,  the dam at the Mumford River that created the mill ponds that powered Whitin Machine Works.

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The Whitin Machine Works was founded in 1831.  It ultimately became one of the largest textile machinery factories in the world, employing over 5000 people at its peak in the late 1940’s.  It’s been out of business since 1976, victim of changing business conditions.  Obviously, here, there was an impact on the environment, though nothing we aren’t used to seeing.  Perhaps not such a big deal, though we can imagine that the river was ultimately quite polluted. Consider though, courtesy of Google Earth, the bigger picture.

Whitten Machine Works

When I took the first image I was standing on the sidewalk of the roadway you see in the lower right hand corner.  Note how the dam has changed the surrounding geography, for miles.  The dam no longer provides power for the mill, but it shaped a landscape that those in the community came to accept and with which they are now powerfully linked.  The next time you see a dam, consider what’s behind it.  This is one dam.  More to come.

(I want to give full credit to my colleague at Babson College, Professor Joanna Carey, for the fundamental ideas behind this series on dams in New England.)

Further Up the River: Boom and Bust

Readers know that the story of the Blackstone River has been a major focus of my work over the past year or so.  Much like the Quabbin Reservoir area, I find the mix of nature, history and environmental struggle compelling.  For first time callers, the Blackstone River runs from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island, a span of just under 50 miles.  The fact that it falls 500 feet along the way created the story of the River as resource, place of exploitation, place of growth, place of social change, place of pollution, place of neglect and place of beauty.  That’s quite a list I know, but I do believe it is actually a rather conservative list.

The Blackstone River was the home of the industrial revolution in the United States, beginning just after the signing of the Constitution.  Entrepreneurs powered mill after mill with the falling water.  The landscape changed from agrarian to industrial.  Massive numbers of workers and their families came to work in those mills from all over the Europe as well as Canada.  Times were good for many.  Global competition intervened and the factories moved.  Jobs were lost and the river was left as a dumping ground.  It became a poster child for the Clean Water Act and since the Act’s signing, the quality of the water is improving, albeit slowly.  To those of you who have read the same material before, sorry for the review session.  Now we move on.

We recently took another journey with our friends from Blackstone River Cruises, this time along the stretch of the River that runs through northern Woonsocket, Rhode Island.  The era of the mills began south of here in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, but this is where that era exploded, before imploding.  The River as it runs through Woonsocket was home to some of the largest mills in the United States.  The River also flooded here, repeatedly, sometimes with devastating results.  As you cruise along the River, you can see the history of nature and man and their impact here.  I think it’s useful just to absorb the scene before drawing conclusions, so I start with the River itself.

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The River is quite lovely, especially on a day like this.  In the background you can see the industrial past and present.  Looking more closely, you’ll see that the River has been “channeled.”

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Rock has been placed along long stretches of the river bank on both sides by the Corps of Engineers.  That river bank is not supposed to move in the wake of a flood event.  Other actions by the Corps, the opening and closing of flood gates, are meant to control the water level.

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The abandoned mills pre-date the rock channeling, but not the flooding.  When a mill is flooded, jobs are lost, sometimes thousands of them.  The Alice Mill was once the largest rubber factory in the world, built in 1889 and continued to function as a rubber factory until the 1960’s with a few interruptions.  After its main activity ceased, efforts were made to repurpose the building, but it burned, as abandoned mills tend to, in 2011.

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The former homes of the families who worked in these mills are still readily apparent along the River.

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Parts of Woonsocket are quite nice, but the city payed a high price for the experience of boom and bust.

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Further north, in spite of the rock channeling, nature is making a comeback as it always does when left to its own devices.

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One problem we face is understanding the impact of actions that can take hundreds of years to play out.  We’re not terribly patient as a rule.  Boom and bust appears from this vantage point to be a hard way to go.

Blackstone Heritage Corridor NPS Calendar

I’m honored to have had two images chosen by the Blackstone Heritage Corridor and National Park Service for inclusion in their 2018 Calendar.  Both are from the River Bend Farm National Heritage Corridor in Uxbridge, Massachusetts.  I’ve mentioned this location before.  This portion of the National Heritage Corridor explores the Blackstone Canal, which was constructed in 1827-28 running from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island.  The Canal was open for only two decades and was considered a business failure.  Inspired by the success of the Erie Canal in New York, the Blackstone Canal was to provide relatively inexpensive and fairly rapid transportation along this developing corridor.  It’s history turned out to be torturous as it was initially thought to be a boon for the growing cotton mill industry along the Blackstone River.  Soon however, the Mill owners were suing the Canal owners over the use of water from the River.  This on the heels of the conflicts between the areas farmers and industrialists over water use.

This section of the Canal has been restored.  The tow path runs along the Canal and was used by Ox and Mules to power the boats that navigated the canal.  For July:

Blackstone Canal and Towpath in Spring -  2016

Both of these images show an unusually wide portion of the Canal which was for the most part extremely narrow.  For November:

Dock along the Blacksstone Canal in Fall - 2016

The work of the National Park Service as well as the states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts here in the Blackstone Corridor helps us to try and grapple with the very complex intersections between the natural environment, entrepreneurship, social policy and social justice that took place and still are in play in the Corridor. As I’ve pointed out, the Blackstone River was one of the Rivers that actually provoked the Clean Water Act, signed by that noted environmentalist, Richard Nixon…(hey, he signed it, so good for him).  The lessons from the Corridor are lessons that evolve over hundreds of years.  It is not easy for us to understand those lessons for that very reason, but by holding the discussion, we can perhaps make progress.

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of attending the second annual Biodiversity Festival hosted by the Corridor, in Lincoln, Rhode Island.  It was inspiring to see so many people, including our wonderful daughter Molly, who are engaged in trying to protect our environment.  Molly works at the Northern Rhode Island Conservation District. These folks engage in a wide variety of environmental and educational activities with the goal of protecting the drinking water for a large number of Rhode Island citizens.  Drinking water….kind of important I think.  One lesson is clear:  protect that which is essential to our lives.