Begun in response to the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Turning Back, an exhibition of 164 photographs by acclaimed photographer Robert Adams, will be on display at the Colby Museum of Art beginning February 2nd. According to Adams, “The theme of this [work] is the glory of the natural world and the tragic nature of human beings. The West is gone. What did we do with it? What have we traded for this great forest? What did we get in exchange?” For what he subtitled A Photographic Journal of Re-Exploration, the photographer headed East from the Pacific Ocean, photographing the evidence of irresponsible stewardship and unmitigated greed that he found in the forests along the way. He continued until he came upon a reason for hope in the orchards, pastures, and cottonwoods of Halfway, Oregon, about four hundred and fifty miles east of the Pacific.
A Usable Past brings together paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by self-trained artists working in the eastern part of what is now the United States during the long nineteenth century. Produced and originally circulated outside the elite sphere of fine art, these objects emerged from vernacular traditions that favored decorative aesthetics over mimesis. In the twentieth century, artists, scholars, and collectors came to believe that artworks like these expressed such supposedly quintessential American values as industriousness and ingenuity, and that they also served as native precursors to Modernism. A Usable Past features highlights of the Museum’s extensive holdings of folk art of the United States supplemented by loans from distinguished New England collections. The exhibition includes many artworks from the American Heritage collection of Edith and Ellerton Jette–one of the earliest collections to enter the Colby College Museum of Art.