Drawn & Quartered: 160 Acres Waiting for a Development is a site-specific installation of mixed-media paintings and drawings on paper through which I investigate the changing rural environment and rapidly diminishing "green spaces" of America. The installation is part of an ongoing project, The Last American Farm, in which I explore the future of the family farm at the edge of expanding urban and suburban development. The project, uniting 160 diverse, but contiguous panels of farm fields in one-point perspective with a shared horizon, is inspired by childhood memories of life on a small family farm where my father tilled the soil and planted, as once did another man described by Wendell Berry:
The …man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing.
In 1864, George Perkins Marsh wrote his seminal work, Man and Nature, later reissued as The Earth as Modified by Human Action. Using the developing landscape to illustrate his message, he described not only human nature’s proclivity to abuse the land, but also humanity’s capacity to restore it.
In the creation account of Genesis, God issued an original mandate. When he created man and woman, he blessed them: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it…" (Genesis 1:28). Some have called this the "cultural mandate." By this definition, human beings, created in the image of God, were given the responsibility to care for, to nurture, and to cultivate the earth. Much of our current landscape testifies, however, that the activity to "subdue" has been co-opted as a justification for abusive and exploitative development.
In Drawn & Quartered, as in all my work, I address themes of family, home, and community, the nature of physical displacement and spiritual homelessness, and the search for cultural authenticity and identity in the ordinary places of life. The multi-panel nature of the installation, as well as the related Historical Dislocations in the Domestic Landscape: Family Stories, are constructed not only to reflect the increasing pluralism and fragmentation of twenty-first century societies, but also to attempt visually to fulfill what I see as a human longing for restoration, for belonging to something greater, for a spiritual connectedness, and for solidarity within the human experience.
Each panel in the project represents one English-statute acre, as determined by Kings Edward I, Edward III, and Henry VIII. From the Germanic word "akraz", the Old English "aecer" was developed, and by 1000 AD the term had come to refer to the area of land that a pair of oxen could plough in one day. 640 acres is called a "section" (a.k.a. a mile); 320 acres, a "half section"; and 160 acres, a "quarter section"—thus, Drawn & Quartered.
Because Drawn & Quartered, comprised of individual paper panels each measuring 11 x 30 inches, is site specific, the installations may be hung in a variety of configurations ranging from 88 x 600 inches to 11 x 4800 inches (224 x 1524 centimeters to 28 x 12,192 centimeters). Installation options include a single wall area with 160 acres or four walls with groups of forty acres: "North Forty/South Forty/West Forty/East Forty." Space for entry and egress into the cross-shaped structure would be equally available from all four corners.
The completed project would be exhibited in a site in which earth on loan from a local farm would be configured in rows and furrows on the exhibition-space floor. The width of each row would correspond to the length of one average human stride, approximately thirty inches, the width of each panel in my project. Viewers would "walk the field" to experience the work.
Four hermetically sealed glass jars, containing a sample of soil from the oldest recorded family farm in continuous use in each of the major American time zones, would be buried at four points in the installation "field." At the close of the exhibition, the earth from the local farm would be returned to its source, and the jars, remaining sealed, would be placed in a small-scale memory garden created to commemorate the four origins of their contents.
Materials for the project include four glass jars, earth, oil, raw pigment, gesso, acrylic, acrylic gel, pumice, sand, straw, dried potato peelings, smoke (the method used in my childhood to protect crops from an early freeze), cow urine, horse hair, raw graphite, graphite stick, vine and synthetic charcoal, conté, modeling paste, ink, lithography crayon, colored pencil, watercolor, paint stick, oil bar, oil pastel, pastel, and rabbit-skin glue on Rives BFK.
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