David Gloman devoted the past summer to painting the natural scenery of the Connecticut River Valley. His goal? To recreate the landscapes that scientific illustrator Orra White Hitchcock—featured in the Fall 2018 Amherst magazine—had created nearly two centuries ago.
The result of this “act of preservation and conservation,” in Gloman’s words, was a fall exhibition in Frost Library of works by Hitchcock alongside recreations by Gloman, senior resident artist at Amherst. When viewed side by side, these works reveal how natural landscapes in and near Amherst have changed over time. The exhibition also paid homage to the Nonotuck and Pocumtuck peoples, the first to call the Valley home.
To recreate Hitchcock’s works, Gloman first consulted with Kurt Heidinger, director of the Biocitizen School of Field Environmental Philosophy in Westhampton, Mass., to identify the places she would have stood to create them. They visited the College’s Archives and Special Collections, which holds the largest collection of Hitchcock’s original artwork. Then they selected eight works and literally went into the field to find the exact spots where Hitchcock would have set up her easel.
“The most striking thing was trying to find the actual places where she had stood,” Gloman says. He couldn’t always position himself exactly in the right place, in some cases because of new tree growth and in one because of Interstate 91.
Hitchcock’s artwork illustrated the scientific research of her husband, geology professor Edward Hitchcock, the College’s third president. The paintings Gloman recreated were published in Hitchcock’s 1841 Final Report on the
Geology of Massachusetts.
“He was trying to find geological or scientific proof of the Bible,” Gloman says, which factored into the ways Orra saw and depicted her subjects. “She had an appreciation for nature, and the structure of nature,” he says, “and the artistic talent to make these places feel alive.”
In his course “Translating Nature: Drawing, Painting and Sculpture,” Gloman and his students similarly explore connections between art and science. “It’s about looking at things and understanding natural structures, like why certain trees spread out in a particular way or why a leaf is a different color on the top than on the bottom,” he says. “We look at natural objects and analyze what they look like, and we try to infer why.” In this way, students learn how to look at scenes holistically.
Gloman also aims to teach his students a few life skills. “Art is about planning; changing your mind once you’ve started; and giving yourself the freedom to explore, try something new and make mistakes,” he says. “It’s also about feeling empowered to have a voice and a point of view.”