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Herbert Bayer's Earthworks

From reader Brice Maryman comes the news that the Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks of Herbert Bayer in Kent, Washington, have been designated a Historic Landmark.

All at once a sculpture, a park, and a stormwater retention facility, they were created by the late Bauhaus master in 1982. The 2 1/2 acre earthworks are the focal point of a larger, 100 acre park, and include "a long retention berm; various mounds, a pond within a ring-shaped mound, and a channel, all interspersed with viewing areas and walkways along the stone-lined banks of Mill Creek. It provides a serene greenspace within the city, a place for public gatherings and private reverie." (from the Seattle Times)

Bayer's EarthMound, executed in Aspen Colorado in 1955, was the first example of an earthworks as contemporary art, the vanguard of a 'landart' movement that would come to encompass the more famous examples of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty and Maya Lin's Wavefield.

But his artwork, particularly the 'Undulating Landscape' of 1944, shows that he had been thinking about the possibilities of ground-plane manipulation for some time.

I'm glad someone gave him the chance to express his ideas in the landscape instead of just on canvas. Because one of the most impressive things about the Mill Creek Earthworks is that the city officials of a rather small town had the vision to commission such an innovative and large-scale work.

It shows how far-reaching can be the effect of a politician with imagination, and conversely the many opportunities that are missed by a focus on solving problems that, albeit sincere, often neglects aesthetics and fears innovation.

I wish my city would consider the artistic possibilities of stormwater retention.
Or of anything, really...

Additional resources:

article on Bayer's environmental design as graphic arts language
info and contemporary comments on the Mill Creek Earthworks collected by the city of Kent

P.S. My wonderful brother is now very happily married. Thanks for your patience, and the nice notes!
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1 comment:
B. said...

the thing that struck me most during the hearing was how emotional it was. it reinforces something that we both probably feel...that places profoundly affect us and that history surrounds everyday.

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