A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Earth Day and art intertwine in Oklahoma City
A greener Festival of the Arts launches Tueday, while photographic exhibits “Ansel Adams: An American Perspective” and Bryan Cook’s “Give Nature Time” pay powerful homage to the country’s National Parks and wilderness areas.
Ansel Adams ventured onto “the Diving Board,” a spur of granite 3,500 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, to capture one of his most iconic photographs, “Monolith, The Face of Half Dome.”
And he didn’t use anything as slim and lightweight as an iPhone to take the image that helped establish the granite dome as one of the most familiar landmarks in Yosemite National Park.
“He described it as having an abyss on his left and brush on his right, so it’s not like he’s necessarily standing in this wide open field to capture his photographs,” said Alison Amick, curator at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, where the exhibit “Ansel Adams: An American Perspective” is on view.
“Ansel Adams was someone who really enjoyed being out in nature … and he would perhaps travel with one if not more large cameras, a tripod, his negatives, and all of his other associated equipment with him. So, it would be quite a process physically to even get the equipment into position to make a photograph.”
Tuesday marks the 44th Earth Day, celebrated annually April 22 with worldwide events to show support for environmental protection. Started in 1970, more than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world, according to EarthDay.org.
In Oklahoma City, Earth Day and art are closely intertwined this year. Along with the Adams exhibit at the OKC Museum of Art, local landscape photographer Bryan Cook is exhibiting five large-scale images taken during his exploration of National Parks and wilderness areas at [Artspace] at Untitled.
And the 48th Annual Festival of the Arts launches Tuesday in downtown Oklahoma City with a new eco-conscious policy in place: All food and utensils supplied during the 2014 Festival of the Arts will be compostable. The only materials used for consumption that won’t be compostable will be the recyclable water bottles.
Even the forks are biodegradable at this year’s festival, which runs through Sunday.
“We’re into the fifth year of a five-year plan to have a zero footprint of trash. A zero footprint of trash: That is remarkable when you think there’s 600,000 to 700,000 people that come through that event and we’re literally recycling everything – or as close to everything as you can possibly do,” said Peter Dolese, executive director of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, which organizes the downtown celebration of visual, performing and culinary arts.
Adams, who died in 1984 at the age of 82, was respected as an outspoken activist as well as one of the America’s most widely recognized artists. President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 1980 for his efforts as a “visionary and environmentalist.”
“Throughout his career, Ansel Adams was drawn to nature, so he traveled predominantly throughout the American West and California to places such as Yosemite and made a number of works there that really captured his inner personal response to the natural environment,” Amick said. “He was very committed to the American wilderness and to its preservation and his images really explored his feelings about the environment and also stand as beautiful images of what he experienced and a really personal response to nature.”
“Ansel Adams: An American Perspective,” which features nearly 60 black-and-white photographs and includes examples of Adams’ work from 1920 to 1965, is on view through June 1 at the Oklahoma City museum. Organized by the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, the exhibit marks the first time the museum has shown Adams’ iconic photography. Among Adams’ famed photos included in the show are “Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park” (1960), “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” (1941), and “Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley, California” (1944).
“Ansel Adams is probably the most well-known American photographer. He has that really strong name recognition and rightly so – his images are absolutely stunning,” Amick said.
Adams also is remembered as a predominant member of the Sierra Club, one of the country’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organizations. The nonprofit’s motto is to “explore, enjoy and protect the planet.”
“He was the official photographer for a number of years for a number of the trips that the Sierra Club made, and he was also on the Sierra Club’s board of directors as well. He remained committed to the environment … and its preservation throughout his lifetime,” Amick said.
Cook, who along with creating photographic art works as a preparator at the OKC Museum of Art, shares Adams’ passion for exploring and capturing powerful images of America’s natural wonders.
“I don’t see there ever not being a need for that kind of work … as far as the message that I’m wanting to give, which is ‘Here’s what it’s like for me to experience the outdoors, wilderness, parks, all sorts of things, the way I do. I want you to go and see it for yourself, see what it’s like for you. Because it can be something different,’” Cook said.
“I want people to leave their neighborhood and go to some of these places that are protected. America has an important heritage of conservation … of very important, beautiful places on their own. To me, they’re part of what it means to be American.”
Over the past year or so, Cook, 31, traveled to 10 National Parks and federally protected wilderness areas to take photographs for “Art 365,” a program through which the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition grants five artists each $12,000 and one year of curatorial guidance so that they can create new, innovative artwork. The “Art 365” exhibit is on view at [Artspace] at Untitled through May 10 and will travel next month to Tulsa.
Cook’s artistic trek took him from Glacier National Park in Montana and the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico and the Ouachita National Forest in Oklahoma. Although he hiked 170 miles and endured temperatures ranging from more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit to -10 degrees to capture the five 4-foot-by-4-foot photos in his “Give Nature Time,” Cook said people don’t have to go to such extremes to connect with the natural world.
“Some of the photographs I make are literally by the side of the road. You can go to places and see beautiful things from your car if that’s what you want to do. I assure you, you can go to any National Park in your car and see wonderful things without having to do the things I do — but there’s more waiting for you if you want to get your feet a little dirty,” he said.
“I think a love of the land is its best defense, and if I can cultivate that then maybe I’ve done some good.”
GOING ON: Artistic Earth Day
“Ansel Adams: An American Perspective”
When: Through June 1.
Where: Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch Drive.
Information: 236-3100 or www.okcmoa.com.
“Art 365: Bryan Cook’s Give Nature Time”
When: Through May 10.
Where: [ArtSpace] at Untitled, 1 NE 3.
Closing reception: 2 to 4 p.m. May 10.
When: May 23-Aug. 9.
Where: Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa’s Hardesty Arts Center, 101 E Archer Street, Tulsa.
Opening reception: 6 to 9 p.m. May 23.
Information: www.Art365.org or 879-2400.
Festival of the Arts
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through April 26, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 27.
Where: In Festival Plaza, on Hudson Avenue and at Myriad Botanical Gardens.
Admission: Free. Pets are not allowed.
Information: 270-4848 or www.artscouncilokc.com.