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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Change the Station, Change the Noise: Space for the Inner Self in Wild Places

When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.
~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (1938) 

Our world is a huge ball of constant connection, be it from phones to tablets to computers. We are bombarded with noise; the noise of voices, opinions, statistics, and 24 hour news cycles. It was not so different at the turn of the 20th century. Communications were being invented and exploding around the world. Newspapers were the twitter of this era. Letter writing was texting. Phones were still in their infant stages of growth. There was a new kind of noise, and people were feeling just as overwhelmed by it as people today feel by their phones and online presence.
Yellowstone by Thomas Moran, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
It was around this time that people, such as John Muir and Aldo Leopold, were taking up the cause to save open spaces and to escape from the 'noise' of the modern world. Sounds familiar doesn't it? Many were doing the “Grand Tour” of Yellowstone, among them were Teddy Roosevelt and even Rudyard Kipling. Kipling visited Yellowstone in 1889, he wrote in his journals that he encountered “The Wonderland” one has only read about in books. Art collector, businessman, and founder of the Freer | Sackler Museum, Charles Lang Freer, was among the many Americans who discovered the beauty and peace in the natural wonders of the United States wilderness.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. 
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Freer often went hiking with Frederick Stuart Church, an artist, with whom Freer had become great friends. In the 1880s, Freer started building his renowned print collection and he was soon elected chair of the Detroit Club, which had been founded by prominent Detroit citizens to open an art museum. It was through this organization that Freer became friends with several leading American painters including Church, Gari Melchers, Dwight William Tryon, and Charles A. Platt.

Charles Lang Freer in the Catskills, Freer | Sackler Archives

Freer and Church often hiked and camped out throughout the famous Catskills Mountains. The Catskills are a famous refuge for outdoors seekers, hikers, and artists. The area has been made famous through stories and artwork by such illustrious people as Washing Irving and Thomas Cole.

Falls at Catskill by Thomas Cole, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Freer viewed traveling into nature as a means of finding balance in a world overrun by industry and competition. As he wrote to Frank Hecker in 1892, "We spend nearly all of our hours outdoors and like the springs of these mountains we have a feverish desire to keep in constant motion. The springs minister to our refreshment, the air invigorates us…" Through Freer’s receptiveness to the power of wallowing in the natural world, he gained an abiding appreciation of landscape painting. Painter Dwight Tryon was just beginning to get recognized in 1889 when Freer bought his landscape, The Rising Moon: Autumn right off the easel in Tryon's studio.

The Rising Moon: Autumn by Dwight William Tryon,
Freer | Sackler Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. ~ John Muir

So it seems even the important personages of the early 20th century were looking for "down time" and "disconnection" from modern communications and noise.  It was a way to not only connect back to the physical world around them, but to reconnect with themselves and one another.  Perhaps we all need this sacred space to reconnect with the inner most chambers of ourselves? 

4c Forest Conservation Single,
National Postal Museum Collection
Teddy Roosevelt ended up being one of great advocates for creating National Parks, he became known at the "conservationist president." Yellowstone, the first National Park was created by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Roosevelt toured Yosemite with John Muir in 1903 and ushered in the National Monuments Acts Act in 1906, which helped to create many preserves and parks. On August 25th, 1916, The National Park Service, was finally created and is celebrating its 100th anniversary today. We have always needed the land, not just for sustenance, but for the wild places that can replenish our inner selves, so they run over with renewed inspiration for living. Not all wild places need be far away, it can be as simple as taking the time to visit your local park. Looking at the clouds, the trees, observing the dappling light play through the trees, jumping in a lake. Be in the moment, be in a different type of noise. Oliver Sacks may have phrased it best in these modern times, “We seek ... a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in." Choose a day and just wander down your local streets, free of everything, but your moving legs and open ears.

Charles Lang Freer in the Catskills, Freer | Sackler Archives

Only one who wanders finds new paths. ~ Norwegian proverb

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. 
 -  John Lubbock

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by Thomas Moran, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Lara Amrod, Archivist
Freer | Sackler Archives

Avery, Kevin J. Hudson River School. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Wing, 2004.

Kipling, Rudyard. From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel (Cambridge Library Collection - Literary Studies). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Lawton, Thomas and Merrill, Linda. Freer: A Legacy of Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, 1993.

National Park Service. Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation.

National Park Service. Yellowstone: A History of the First National Park. 2009.

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