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Art Historian James O'Gorman to Lecture November 8

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November 1, 2002

Art Historian James O'Gorman to Lecture November 8

Photo: Cervin Robinson

James O'Gorman

As smoking rates decline in the United States and demand for American-grown tobacco dwindles, many tobacco farmers are diversifying their crops or moving into other businesses, leaving their curing barns as memorials to a disappearing industry. Such is the case in the Connecticut River valley, once a major producer of cigar leaf tobacco. Best-selling author and art historian James O'Gorman has brought to life the risks and rewards of living and working close to the seasons in his new book, Connecticut Valley Vernacular: The Vanishing Landscape and Architecture of the New England Tobacco Fields. He will speak about tobacco farming and tobacco barns as vernacular architecture at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum Friday, November 8, at 7 pm. The art museum galleries will be open for the program. A reception will follow.

O'Gorman's work, which draws on oral histories, newspaper reports, agricultural diaries, and vintage and newly commissioned photos, continues the Weissman Center's semester-long exploration of writing and thinking about travel and tourism, Destinations: New Meanings of Travel. "O'Gorman's elegy for New England's rural heritage expands our understanding of tourist views of the Pioneer Valley," says Marianne Doezema, director of the art museum, where Changing Prospects: The View from Mount Holyoke is currently on view. The exhibition explores the cultural and historical significance of the mountain that was the second most visited tourist site in the country in the nineteenth century. "When landscape painter Thomas Cole
created View from Mt. Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (The Oxbow), the centerpiece of Changing Prospects, he had already read travel literature that celebrated the view of both wilderness and cultivation afforded by the mountain that looms over the Pioneer Valley," said Doezema. "Cole's painting features that same combination, showing both the sweep of God's handiwork and the fertile fields of the Connecticut River Valley."

O'Gorman, Grace Slack McNeil Professor of the History of American Art at Wellesley College, is widely acclaimed as an author, lecturer, editor, consultant, and historian. He teaches courses in the history of painting, sculpture, and architecture in the United States from colonial times through World War II. O'Gorman has a Ph.D. from Harvard and has taught at Wellesley since 1975. He is the author of numerous books including the best-seller ABC of Architecture. In 1981 O'Gorman received the first Historical Collections Prize from the Essex Institute of Salem, Massachusetts, for his article "Twentieth Century Gothick: The Hammond Castle Museum in Gloucester and Its Antecedents." A life fellow and emeritus member of the board of directors of the Philadelphia Athenaeum, he is a past president of the Society of Architectural Historians, a former board member of the Victorian Society in America, and former editor of the journals for both organizations. In 1998 he received the Henry Russell Hitchcock Prize from the Victorian Society in America and the Annual Book Award of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities for his Living Architecture: A Biography of H. H. Richardson.

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