Posted: September 14, 2006
On Thursday, September 28, through Saturday, September 30, Mount Holyoke will present Dis/Placement and Re/Membering: The Quabbin and Hetch Hetchy Canyon. This series of events will examine the flooding in the 1920s and 1930s of four western Massachusetts towns and the Hetch Hetchy Canyon in California--in both cases to create public water supplies for the growing urban areas of Boston and San Francisco, respectively. The events are sponsored jointly by the Center for the Environment, Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts, and the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum.
A reception in the art museum on Thursday, September 28, at 4:30 pm will kick off the series. Marianne Doezema, Florence Finch Abbott Museum Director, will speak about the museum's recently opened exhibition, Looking Beneath the Surface: The Quabbin and Hetch Hetchy Canyon, which explores the political, ecological, historical, and personal implications of these dramatic transformations of the environment. A centerpiece of the exhibition is Albert Bierstadt's well-known depiction of Hetch Hetchy Canyon, which was the first major painting acquired by the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum at its founding in 1876. Bierstadt completed the painting in 1875 using photographs and sketches he made during a trip to Yosemite in the summer of 1873. The Hetch Hetchy Canyon was submerged beneath millions of gallons of water in the early 1920s when the Toulumne River, which flows through it, was flooded. Bierstadt's painting is one of the few contemporaneous representations of the canyon that remain, and it has been reproduced frequently over the years, particularly in connection with recent reports about the proposed plan to drain the area and recover the land. The exhibition also includes rare photographs showing how the Swift River Valley was cleared of structures and trees in preparation for the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir.
The series will continue Thursday evening at 7:30 pm in Gamble Auditorium with a panel discussion moderated by Lauret Savoy, professor of geology and director of the Center for the Environment. The panel will include Sacramento Bee editor Tom Philp, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for his editorial series on the reclamation of the Hetch Hetchy Canyon; Lawrence Buell, Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University, award-winning author of several works, including Emerson (2003) and Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the United Sates and Beyond (2001); and Marge Bruchac, an Abenaki and historical interpreter of native peoples in New England, author of Malian's Songand other works, and winner of the Storyteller of the Year award.
On Friday morning at 8:30 am in Willits-Hallowell Center, Philp and Buell will participate in a roundtable discussion regarding environmental issues, professions, and activism.
Capping off the series on Saturday from 1:00 to 3:00 pm will be "Quabbin Reflections: Stories from the Lost Towns," readings and memories concerning the flooding of the Swift River. This will take place at Mount Holyoke's Joseph Allen Skinner Museum. This 1846 building, formerly the Presbyterian Church in the lost town of Prescott, was dismantled by Holyoke industrialist Joseph Skinner and moved to South Hadley in the early 1930's to house Skinner's wide-ranging collection of American and European furniture and other artifacts. Author Jane Yolen, winner of the Caldecott Medal and other prestigious awards will read from her book Letting Swift River Go. Mount Holyoke English professor and poet Robert Shaw, whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New Yorker, the Nation, and Parnassus, will read his Drowned Towns. The event will also feature readings from Here Was Home, a compilation of oral histories from the Quabbin, and reminiscences of Lois Barnes, Robert Wilder, and Earl Cooley, former residents of the lost towns.
Lauret Savoy, who helped organize the series, has been amazed by the many connections between the Quabbin and Hetch Hetchy Canyon stories. "Did you know that when it was built, the Quabbin aqueduct was the second-longest drinking-water aqueduct in world, second only to Hetch Hetchy?" she asked. "There are so many points of intersection. Both stories fit the goals and work of the Art Museum, Weissman Center, and Center for the Environment. It's an ideal theme for collaboration."
"This project has been a wonderful way to bring several College entities together," Doezema said. "In fact, the idea began to germinate soon after the Water Matters series, which was an exciting collaboration between the same three entities on campus, the Weissman Center, the Center for the Environment, and the Art Museum. The national press coverage surrounding the Hetch Hetchy Canyon drew our attention first, and then it didn't take long for us draw connections with the history of the Quabbin, which is also an important story, for residents of Massachusetts and beyond. We hope the subject will once again garner interest from communities outside the campus as well."