Landscapes in Oil by Philip Juras
There are qualities to be found in natural grassland settings that are unparalleled in the southeastern landscape. When you gaze into the unobstructed open space, your view is flooded with light and atmosphere and its interplay in the fine textures in the ground plane. Your open field of vision offers pathways for your mind to wonder at the lay of the land, the arrangement of trees and clouds, the patterns of vegetation, and even what lies beyond the horizon. It may begin to occur to you that these sublime arrangements of nature are no accident. In fact they specifically describe the underlying natural conditions and record a history of repeated disturbance such as fire, flood, and/or drought. In the Southeast, where fire in particular has been removed from the landscape, the existence of grasslands as a widespread environment has been largely forgotten. In the rare instance where disturbances have persisted, there is an opportunity to glimpse the pre-European Southeast, a territory in which fire was particularly widespread. A traveler, passing through these territories hundreds or even thousands of years ago, would have more often than not enjoyed the pleasant aspect of grasslands as much as of woodlands. Some idea of that presettlement environment can be gleaned from descriptions by early explorers such as Bartram, Lederer, Lawson, Spangenberg, and Byrd. Combining their accounts with an examination of modern grassland remnants and scientific research into the natural history of an area begins to paint a picture of the landscapes explored in this exhibit.