Over 20 oil paintings of landscapes from Tennessee, Illinois, and Georgia explore the aesthetics, ecology, and history of environments shaped by recurring natural disturbances, especially fire. The scenes, particularly the smaller field paintings, record my impressions from several of the managed natural areas I’ve visited while investigating fire adapted grasslands, savannas, and woodlands east of the Mississippi River—a region where there is otherwise enough rainfall for forests to dominate the landscape. Some of the larger works recreate views of those sites as I imagine them before European-American settlement. Almost all represent remnants of once common ecosystems whose affiliated plant and animal species are now in decline and whose continued existence depends on our stewardship, much as they depended on people’s historic use of fire for their widespread establishment. In these “natural” landscapes, humans are very much a part of nature, rather than apart from it.
Fire adapted grasslands and woodlands are largely unknown to today’s inhabitants of the eastern United States although they were well known for millennia to Indigenous Americans and also briefly to the European-Americans who supplanted them. In part this was because while they were still somewhat widespread, these landscapes failed to gain the cultural recognition and celebrity enjoyed by verdant northeastern forests and dramatic western mountains, preferred subjects of 19th century American landscape painters and early photographers. Most importantly, the landscapes themselves vanished with the wildland fire suppression that accompanied agricultural conversion of grasslands, the closing of the open range, the building of roads and settlements, and more recently the widespread fire suppression policies of the mid-20th century.
These paintings aim to address that discrepancy by portraying forgotten grassland and woodland ecosystems that are once again benefiting from our attention.