The Blackstone River, which runs from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island was, and still is, very heavily dammed. Counting its tributaries it’s easy to find a dam nearly every mile or so along its path down to the sea. The River falls nearly 500 feet along the way and was the river of choice for textile mill builders in the late 1700’s and 1800’s. It is considered to be the energy for the dawn of the industrial revolution in the U.S. (beating the Merrimack River by a couple of decades). I’m currently teaching a course titled “Unintended Consequences: at the Interface of Business and the Environment,” at Babson College. I’m very fortunate to be joined in this effort by Professor Joanna Carey, an environmental scientist. It became very clear early on that she sees a river in a very different way than I, even though I’m also an environmentalist. To her, a river if far more alive and dynamic. The dams of the Blackstone River and watershed play a crucial role in the course. They have changed nearly everything about our landscape.
I wanted to capture a bit of the sense of these dams for our students, most of whom have never set foot in the Blackstone Valley, though we’re about to bring them out. I initially thought I should really have used a drone for this, but there’s a problem with that approach. I don’t fly drones. Then I realized that there is something about these dams that is particularly New England, at least to me. Their scale is different. In spite of their impact, which is massive, they tend to be much more approachable, more intimate. T’hey remind me in some ways of the dams at the Quabbin Reservoir which though massive, are also very approachable.
If you’re on a mobile device the embed may not work. You can see the video here.
These dams powered numerous textile mills, changed the landscape, and created beautiful ponds. Some played a role in the expansion of slavery (for another post, but yes, it’s true). Most impeded the work of the rivers involved by stopping the movement of sediment, and fish. Some will be removed, though I suspect many won’t. It’s just too costly. Dam removal impacts both property values and in some cases can release centuries of pollution. Perhaps what’s done is done. Human impacts can be irrevocable.
People don’t tend to know what’s going on under the highway. Neither did I.I had driven over this location for nearly twenty years before I looked. I’ve mentioned this area before, this is near the head of the Blackstone River in Worcester and Millbury, Massachusetts. The River winds, looking rather tepid at times, along beside the Providence and Worcester Railroad tracks and under Route 146, the main highway that also, like the River, goes from Worcester to Providence. Beside the River there also winds a Bikeway, part of the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor. The Bikeway is lovely in most spots, down here, it is more interesting. Here’s a short journey. (My apologies, if you are on a mobile device, you probably can’t see the embedded video directly. However, go here, and you’ll be able to have a look.)
I’m grateful to have found my way down there, with Chris’s accompaniment of course. FYI, the sounds you here are the combination of falling water and the echo chamber effect from the semi’s going by overhead.
I find this location to offer a powerful look into the quandary that is our relationship with nature.This is in fact a very beautiful river further south. It has its own beauty here.But, it also been abused for several centuries. Now there is a real interest in cleaning it up, and that is happening. But you can’t go back in time, you can’t reset the clock. The question is I think, what can we learn from our shared experience?
I want to give a major thanks to ArtsWorcester, the cultural hub for emerging artists in Central Massachusetts, for the opportunity to present a solo exhibition of my work in the Franklin Square Gallery at the Hanover Center. I’ve posted about the exhibition, “Under the Highway: Blackstone River Landscapes,” recently but the opening was held on the evening of June 27th. It was a terrific evening bringing together a wonderful combination of folks interested in the arts and the environment. In particular, I want to thank Juliet Feibel, Executive Director who took the chance on staging the exhibition and guided everything from start to finish, Kate Rasche, Program Manager who got it done in the trenches, Tim Johnson, Art Preparator who hung the exhibition and Alice Dillon from Clark University who wrote a nice piece on the exhibition for visitors who stop by over the next four months. The hanging of an exhibition as many of you probably know is an art in and of itself. If the exhibition is not properly hung, including aesthetically hung, the individual pieces of art lose much of their impact. It’s very hard work to hang an exhibition. I know my limitations and Tim will never get any competition from me.
Typically, it’s helpful to get your name in the paper, though these days I’m not always so sure. But there were two nice pieces in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, pre and post opening. Press and pictures from the Opening can be seen at that link. Nancy Sheehan from the Telegram also wrote her very interesting take on the exhibition which she titled, “What nature has given us” which you can also check out by clicking on the link. Thanks to the Telegram for supporting the arts with their coverage.
I have to throw in a another more general plug for ArtsWorcester. As a business person for too many years, my eyes and ears are always assessing how a business is run. Do they know what they are trying to do and do they provide a well orchestrated operation for getting it done. ArtsWorcester gets high marks on all counts even though they are not a large organization. I’ve worked with quite a few galleries over the years, and many of them are pretty shaky on both mission and execution. As some of you may also know, ArtsWorcester has just had a very successful fund raising campaign in a very short period of time. When donors are willing to vote with their wallets, something good is happening.
Finally, thanks to everyone who attended. Your support means so much.
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.
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.