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Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison Project Gallery

Terraforming: Art and Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed

Terraforming: Art and Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed was a cross-disciplinary exhibition about water in California’s Central Valley and the West on view at Stanford University Libraries from January 26 through May 10, 2017. Artwork from the archive of Helen and Newton Harrison was presented on one side of the gallery and documents from the history of civil and environmental engineering on the other. This spatial juxtaposition maintained the integrity of each discipline, but also positioned them as parallel histories that converge temporally and conceptually in the 1970s, when social and environmental consciousness manifest in both professions concurrent with a broader turn towards social and environmental consciousness in the United States. The exhibition argued that artists and engineers can work together to rethink and reimagine freshwater landscapes and ecology in a sustainable way. This digital archive extends the life of the exhibition with photographs and texts from the gallery installation meant to encourage further research and collaboration.


Art in the Sacramento Watershed drew selectively from the Harrison archive, which Stanford University Libraries acquired in 2010, to introduce materials relating to California water. The archive contains 260 linear feet of material in total, including photographs, original drawings and collage, exhibition posters, audio and video recordings, and maps, supplementing 72 project files that document the Harrisons’ wide-ranging artistic research and site-based works.

Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed drew from local, state, and national archives as well as private collections to tell the story of water resource management in California’s Central Valley and Sacramento River Valley in particular. Maps, navigational instruments, letters, photographs, planning documents, and artifacts were presented as historical evidence of civil and environmental engineering as integral to shaping freshwater systems in California.


Read the piece exhibition designer Becky Fischbach wrote about the exhibit in the Stanford Libraries blog, Special Collections Unbound.

This exhibition was on view in the Peterson Gallery, Green Library Bing Wing. Co-curators Laura Eliasieh (PhD Candidate in Modern Thought and Literature) and Emily Grubert (PhD Candidate in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources) and exhibition designer Becky Fischbach gratefully acknowledge the support of Peter Blank, Robert Trujillo, Glynn Edwards, Lucy Waldrop, Freya Channing, Michelle Paquette, Tim Noakes, Larry Scott, Polly Armstrong, Geoffrey Willard, and Michael Angeletti in drawing together materials for Art in the Sacramento Watershed, as well as Helen and Newton Harrison, Gabriel Harrison, and Kelly Skye without whom this exhibition would not be possible. Special thanks also to G. Salim Mohammed, Julie Sweetkind Singer, Deardra Fuzzell, Astrid Smith, Timothy J. Cruzada, Paul Saffo, Dennis K. Bird, Peggy A. O'Day, David Freyberg, Rosemary Knight, Adam Pidlisecky, Meredith Goebel, Jay Famiglietti, Leon Szeptycki, Tara Moran, Esther Conrad, Tina Cannon Leahy, Rodney Davis, Kris Kasianovitz, Laura Jones, Martina Smith, Anna Bunting, Katie Clifford, Jessica Ventura, Rebecca Crowther, Dylan McDonald, Alex Guilbert, Steve Hubbard, Karen Paige, William Greene, Vern Fisher, Danella Debel, Johanne Adams, Erin Mellon, Kristin Perry, Elizabeth Felter, Cyril Manning, Josh Schneider, Daniel Hartwig, and Sara Kerr in developing the exhibition materials for Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed, as well as Megan Prelinger whose talk "Pulling the Watershed Out of the Box: A Journey through Historical Evidence," delivered at the ODC Theater in 2014 inspired this exhibition.