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In the early years of colonization, settlers in America fought a battle of survival with the wilderness, a struggle that overshadowed any romantic view of nature or interest in the flowering of the arts.
Portraiture, however, was accepted as a practical art form by the upper levels of society, and it was as "face-painters" that artists first made their mark. Despite this culturally barren climate, American artists persevered in broadening their personal styles and thematic approaches, and in so doing displayed their "native" talent.
After winning independence, the inhabitants of the young republic searched for a distinctly American source of national pride and spiritual focus. They found it in the American landscape, in the country's vast scale, virgin forests, and awesome natural wonders.
With a new sense of national identity, artists set out to depict, with absolute veracity and in full detail, the country's beauty and bounty as evidence of divine blessing. Their efforts were rewarded with public acclaim and admiration. Paradoxically, the belief that communion with nature was morally edifying did not stay the axe and prevent the subsequent plunder of the wilderness. Even as artists were painting epic-scale canvases to convey the solitude and majesty of the West, pioneers were pressing forward with domestication of the land in the name of progress. At the turn of the century, after more than a hundred years of expansion and conquest, the frontier was a thing of the past.
The natural environment continued to provide inspiration for artists in the early years of the 20th century, but their responses became more subjective and interpretive. Instead of idealizing the country's scenery and imbuing it with moral and religeous significance, artists became absorbed in the technical aspects of painting: the manipulation of form, color, and composition to convey their imaginative and personal visions of the American land.
Nora Panzer, Office of Public Programs
From stunning panoramas and majestic bridges to nuclear waste dumpsites, Between Home and Heaven captures the compelling complexity of contemporary landscape photography. Featuring 90 works by 39 artists, along with illustrated essays by three prominent critics, this book helps redefine the nature of the American landscape. The landscape today resonates as much with the contradictions and ambiguities of the late 20th century as with the idealized works of such 19th-century painters as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church.
The time of the "unspoiled" wilderness is largely past and the grandiloquent photographs of Ansel Adams and his followers seem anachronistic. To reveal the truth within the landscape, photographers of the present day have had to find a way to mediate between the sometimes harsh realities of contemporary life and the edenic traditions of the genrebetween home and heaven. This book, which accompanied a major exhibition at the National Museum of American Art, is a fascinating and thorough account of the paths today's artists have taken through the enigmatic terrain of contemporary America.
Between Home and Heaven,drawn from a collection of over 300 photographs, was made possible through the support of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation.