Ne­vada mu­seum opens unique Lake Ta­hoe ex­hibit

The China Post - - ARTS - BY SCOTT SONNER

The first ma­jor his­tor­i­cal art sur­vey of Lake Ta­hoe and the Sierra’s in­fa­mous Donner Pass takes an am­bi­tious trip through two cen­turies, high­light­ing the roles of Na­tive Amer­i­cans and rail­road barons and the tourists and sci­en­tists try­ing to halt the loss of clar­ity in the azure wa­ters.

“Ta­hoe: A Vis­ual History” opened Satur­day at the Ne­vada Mu­seum of Art, fea­tur­ing more than 400 ob­jects by 175 pain­ters, pho­tog­ra­phers, ar­chi­tects, bas­ket weavers and sculp­tors. Ar­ranged chrono­log­i­cally for the most part, it com­bines cul­tur­ally and his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant cre­ations with con­tem­po­rary works.

“It’s a vis­ual en­cy­clo­pe­dia of the lake,” said Wil­liam Fox, di­rec­tor of the Reno mu­seum’s Cen­ter for Art + En­vi­ron­ment.

The pro­ject’s been in the works for five years, said Ann M. Wolfe, the mu­seum’s se­nior cu­ra­tor/deputy di­rec­tor.

“Amer­ica’s most iconic land­scapes, places like Yosemite, Ni­a­gara Falls, and Yel­low­stone, have been stud­ied by art his­to­ri­ans and scholars ex­ten­sively, but as far as art history goes, this Ta­hoe-Donner re­gion has been un­rec­og­nized,” Wolfe said.

“So much art has been made about this great his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive of the Sierra be­ing this bound­ary to Amer­i­can progress in the 19th cen­tury — the tri­als of the Donner Party fol­lowed by the suc­cess of the Transcon­ti­nen­tal Rail­road as a sym­bol of progress,” she said. “But it’s never re­ally been brought to­gether.”

For the first time, all 1,394 square me­ters of the mu­seum’s gallery space will be de­voted to a sin­gle theme.

“To do it jus­tice, it had to be the whole mu­seum,” said Amanda Horn, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor.

Through Jan. 10, the ex­hibit will show­case the works of Ansel Adams, Al­bert Bier­stadt and Frank Lloyd Wright. But it be­gins with the largest col­lec­tion of Washoe In­dian bas­kets ever dis­played in one place, many by Louisa Keyser, known as “Dat­so­lalee.”

Next, visi­tors fol­low maps and jour­nals of western ex­plor­ers, in­clud­ing John C. Fre­mont and John Muir. The path tracks the ar­rival of the Transcon­ti­nen­tal Rail­road in the 1860s and the en­su­ing log­ging and min­ing boom, the shift from tim­ber to tourism and the rise of the re­sorts in the early 20th cen­tury be­fore en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism emerged and sci­en­tists be­gan to study Ta­hoe’s ecosys­tem.

A cen­ter­piece is the 19th cen­tury paint­ings of Bier­stadt, Ed­win Deakin, May­nard Dixon and Lorenzo La­timer, much of it com­mis­sioned by rail­road barons. The sec­tion also touches on Chi­nese la­bor­ers, many of whom died while lay­ing the rails.

The most treach­er­ous stretch was just north of Ta­hoe at Donner Pass, which gets its name from a dis­as­trous jour­ney that left set­tlers stranded, re­sulted in dozens of death and prompted some to re­sort to can­ni­bal­ism in the win­ter of 1846-47. It’s about 64 kilo­me­ters from Reno.

The ex­hibit ref­er­ences ideas that never ma­te­ri­al­ized at Ta­hoe, in­clud­ing a re­sort de­signed by Wright in 1923. A model of Wright’s “Sum­mer Colony” is dis­played.

The ex­hibit closes with works by sculp­tor Maya Lin, in­clud­ing pins ar­ranged on the wall in an out­line of the lake and its trib­u­taries and glass bub­bles on the floor. The size of each varies based on pre­cip­i­ta­tion re­ceived that year. Each con­tains clear or cloudy wa­ter based on the clar­ity mea­sured that year.

The re­gion’s art has been ne­glected, Fox said, be­cause Ta­hoe was de­vel­oped largely as a “pri­vate play­ground” with es­tates built on the riches of min­ing and tim­ber.

“The lake was caught up in this very pow­er­ful re­source ex­trac­tion,” Fox said. “It was pri­va­tized very early on. It never had a chance to be­come a na­tional park, which nor­mally is what you do with a scenic cli­max, like the Grand Canyon or Mount Rainier. You memo­ri­al­ize it.”

With all the beau­ti­ful im­agery, Wolfe con­cedes some might cri­tique the show as be­ing “boos­t­er­ish.”

“But there’s also some crit­i­cal chap­ters in our history we are ad­dress­ing,” she said, in­clud­ing the “history of Chi­nese rail­road la­bor that has all but been for­got­ten.”


This im­age pro­vided by the Ne­vada Mu­seum of Art shows Wil­liam Dan­forth Bliss’ Ta­hoe Tav­ern, Ta­hoe City, Cal­i­for­nia, 1902, on a hand-col­ored pho­to­graphic post­card by an un­known pho­tog­ra­pher that is part of new ex­hibit “Ta­hoe: A Vis­ual History” at the Ne­vada Mu­seum of Art in Reno, Ne­vada.

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