Documentation—the systematic recording of a site’s size, orientation, character-defining features, and overall condition—is arguably the most important element of any preservation project. Particularly if the fate of a site is yet to be determined, having a detailed record of its current state guarantees its preservation, in a way. Whether a site is expected to be preserved in-situ or not, documentation should always be one of the first steps of any attempt in saving or rehabilitating an artist-built environment.
Nothing beats the relentless march of time and elements, especially under a sun that bakes every surface in 120+ degrees days every summer. So it is no surprise that Salvation Mountain, a literal man-made mountain 28 years in the making, has been falling apart and being built back up almost daily since Leonard Knight started putting his heart into it all those years ago.
I started my internship at SPACES at the beginning of June, and the past five months have been some of the most rewarding of my life. I have spent this time digitizing SPACES’ large collection of slides by Seymour Rosen that documented art environments, researching these environments, and updating the information presented on the SPACES website. With these new scans, we were able to get clearer images from Seymour’s slides.
Earlier this year, my husband and I had the (overwhelming, outstanding, ecstatic) pleasure of spending a few weeks on vacation in Italy. To make the most of our time, we focused on the northern half of the country, traveling a big loop that began and ended in Rome. While there are an astonishing number of sights to see – too many, maybe – my biggest priorities were two of arguably the most fantastic art environments out there – Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden and Sacro Bosco a.k.a The Monster Park of Bomarzo. Luckily, with Rome as our first and primary stop, visiting these sites turned out to be pretty easy.
Many art environments either are or start as home-based collections connected to a larger creative practice. This can make these collections somewhat elusive to archives and scholars, as they often are eventually liquidated. Fortunately, there are instances where family or friends identify that they are faced with something unique or notable. Such is the case with Irwin Rubin, who passed away after planning a museum of miniatures that never saw completion. If realized, this miniature museum could have been an art environment. Carmelle Sadfie, a student of Rubin's and founder of the Irwin Rubin Archive, has shared Rubin's story with us here that prompts us to ask — What other would-have-been art environments are out there?
Elizabeth D. Smith is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Art & Architecture Department at the University of California Santa Barbara, specializing in American art and material culture of the twentieth century. Her dissertation, “Build/Live/Work: Artist-Built Environments and the Expanded Vernacular in the Twentieth Century,” examines the ways artist-environment builders responded to new forms of mobility and movement in the postwar era. In 2021, she visited the SPACES Archives to view source materials related to her dissertation.
Can you introduce yourself, your positions, and your work in the field of art environments? OK: Hi there! I’m Olivia Knauss and starting in December 2022, I joined the Paradise Garden Foundation team as their new Operations Manager. I had a very memorable first visit to Paradise Garden when I was researching the Garden for my graduate thesis at NYU a couple of years ago. When I visited, I rode out a tornado in one of the Garden’s three Airbnb Suites, with the Garden cats, Calvin and Hobbes. Walking through the Garden at night and reading Howard’s signs throughout was incredibly memorable. The experience stuck with me, even after I returned to NYC to finish up my master’s degree and embrace a whole new world of remote work during the onset of the pandemic. When I saw that the Garden was hiring, I had to apply.
Earlier this year, Annalise Flynn at SPACES connected with Jenenne Whitfield, President and CEO of The Heidelberg Project in Detroit, Michigan, for an update on the acclaimed art environment created by Tyree Guyton. Many thanks to Jenenne for providing this in-depth interview, and we wish her the very best as she transitions into her exciting new role as Director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, this month!
SPACES Founder Seymour Rosen experimented with photographic processes through the creation of photograms. Photograms are an exposed image without the use of a camera. Items, rather than a negative, are placed on photo-sensitive paper, exposed to light, and their silhouettes remain unexposed. Where light is blocked, chemicals remain unreacted and wash away with water. While Rosen made photograms in his darkroom, the SPACES and Kohler Foundation staff made cyanotypes, a different type of photogram that uses the sun.
A big thank you to Ally Spongr of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area for speaking with SPACES about their stewardship plans for Prophet Isaiah’s Second Coming House, a current preservation project of the Kohler Foundation. This week, we present Part II of our focus on the future of the Second Coming House by getting a behind-the-scenes look on the ongoing conservation work of the Prophet’s artwork by the Pennsylvania-based firm B.R. Howard. (To catch up on Part I, click here.)