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Harriet Feigenbaum: Strip Mine Reclamation Projects in the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania

September 12, 1986
Judith Stein

A writer and curator, studied at Barnard College, and has a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Eye of the Sixties, Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016). Her curatorial projects include Red Grooms, A Retrospective, for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and The Figurative Fifties, New York School Figurative Expressionism, co-curated with Paul Schimmel. Her exhibition, I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin, traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995, and earned a best catalogue award from AICA/USA. Her articles, interviews and reviews have appeared in Art in America, Art News, and The New York Times Book Review, as well as on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air and Morning Edition. Among her honors is a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant; a Pew Fellowship for literary non-fiction; and a Lannan Foundation writing residency in Marfa, Texas.

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" Being young and unsophisticated, I did not know where to take the conversation next. But I would not forget what I saw."

September 12 through November 2,1986
Harriet Feigenbaum is an environmental artist with a special mission. Working with several barren, strip-mined sites in central Pennsylvania, she is in the process of transforming them into fruitful vineyards and gracious forests. Her reclamation projects address both aesthetic and ecological issues. She has developed a system of planting using serpentine rows running diagonally across the sloping hills. This design prevents soil erosion while at the same time creating an illusion of rolling terrain. Feigenbaum is working with pine trees and grape vines in this configuration. Grapes were an inspired solution because they grow best on poor or acidic soil and on hilly terrain. Her project for the Greenwood Colliery in Scranton uses willows in circular plantings as a specific control to the problem of land erosion in a silt pond.
Her reclamation projects in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania are some of the most exciting and practical examples of environmental art of which I am aware. Through the forum of this Morris Gallery exhibition, I would hope that other artists and landowners will be encouraged to initiate similar efforts to reclaim useless and hazardous land.
Judith Stein
Associate Curator and Coordinator Morris Gallery

Artist Statement
In the summer of 1965 I found myself with two weeks vacation from my job and no vacation money. Desperate to get out of New York, I lighted on the anthracite region of Pennsylvania which was close, cheap, and unusual. With a few drawing pads, I took a bus to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and on arrival asked where the nearest coal mine was. I was directed to what was at that time the Glen Alden Coal Company in Ashley, a suburb of Wilkes-Barre. Arriving at about six in the evening, I was directed to the office of George Payne, a company executive. I explained that I was interested in doing some drawing of their yard and landscape. He expressed some surprise and suggested that I come back the following day at noon when I could draw the miners between shifts. I did, and later, on my third trip to Glen Alden, Ivor Williams, then vice-president in charge of operations, made arrangements for me to go into the deep mine. Outfitted with coveralls, hard-hat, and light, I spent four hours drawing underground. I did not see anyone wearing a face mask or respirator, nor was I given one, and I blew black dust out of my nose for a full week after.
My trips to Wilkes-Barre continued into fall and winter, and on my fifth or sixth trip I visited the company’s open pit mining operations. The person showing me around had no qualms about describing the adverse effects of mining, such as the fact that the company could expect ten to twelve fatalities annually, that sulphur from the mines made the paint peel off local houses, that underground fires popped up not only on culm banks but in people’s backyards and basements, that cave-ins and road collapses were a common occurrence, and that occasionally a local child would fall into an open pit. When I asked whether the open pits were going to be left like that I received an unexpected answer: “We’re putting fences around them.” I then asked the next obvious question: “Couldn’t they at least be partially filled and eventually planted?” I remember a quick answer, something like “too expensive but the government is getting after us on some of the culm banks.” Being young and unsophisticated, I did not know where to take the conversation next. But I would not forget what I saw.
By 1979 I had been doing outdoor environmental work for over ten years, all of it temporary. That is, none of the projects lived out their natural lives, whether it was my hayfield at the Nassau County Museum or my brick enclosures at Palisades Interstate Park. I began to get tired of taking down environmental projects that sometimes occupied as much as ten acres, and began to look for permanent situations without having to wait for curators or commissions. I thought back to 1965 and my visits to WilkesBarre and Ashley and the Glen Alden Coal Company where I first encountered strip and open pit mining. This recollection led to the idea of combining land art and reclamation….
Harriet Feigenbaum, “Reclamation Art,” Issue, A Journal for Artists, winter 1986.

1. An Approximate Original Contour, 1984
Mixed media on bass wood
7’x 10’x 14″
2. Office of the Dead, 1985
Bass wood
6’x 4’x 6″
3. Wetlands for Wildlife, 1986
Mixed media
19.5’x 10.5’x 13″
1. Erosion and Sedimentation
Central Plan for Red Ash and Coal Silt Area, 1986
Color photograph
2. Black Walnut Forest, 1986
Color photograph
1. Plan for Greenwood Colliery Sun Dial, 1985
Charcoal on paper
8’x 5′
Courtesy of Marian Locks Gallery
2. Elevation Plan for Wetlands for Wildlife, 1986
Ink on acetate over watercolor
42″ x 27″
3. Erosion and Sedimentation Central Plan for Red Ash and Coal Silt Area, 1984
Charcoal on paper
10’x 5′
Public Art Projects, United States
In Process:
Serpentine Vineyard, The Storrs Pit, Dickson City, Pa.; The Storrs Pit project sponsors, Scranton Area Foundation, Department of Environmental Resources, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Dickson City Land Waves, The Storrs Pit, Dickson City, PA
Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan for Red Ash and Coal Silt Area, Scranton, PA; sponsors: National Endowment for the Arts; Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, Scranton, PA.
Black Walnut Forest, The Storrs Pit, Dickson City, PA
Valley of 8,000 Pines, The Storrs Pit, Dickson City, PA
Widow’s Walk and Dog Run, America the Beautiful Fund, Harriman Park, Palisades, NY
Battery Park City — A Mirage, “Art on the Beach,” Creative Time, Inc., New York, NY
Parking Lot Pentagon Off Washington Avenue, “Artyard,” Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Cycles II – Land Structures Built Where the Petroglyphs Are Made by Children, Artpark, Lewiston, NY
Cycles, “Sculpture Sited.” Nassau County Museum of Fine Arts, Roslyn, NY
Hayricks, Spook Farm Gallery, Far Hills, NJ

Public Art Projects, Europe
1976 The Structuring of Barren Ground, Olmastrino Farm, Greve, Italy
1974 Hayricks Until the August Fires, Torre al Pino, Molino del Piano, Italy
1973 Windricks in the Mistral at Mas de S. Jerome, Maussane, Italy
1971 Hay Structures on the Farm of Duke and Duchess Salviati, Migliarino
Pisano, Italy
1969 The Gates of Cinaglio, Cinaglio, Italy

Selected Solo Exhibitions
1981 Marian Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, Pa.
1976 City University Graduate Center Mall, New York, N.Y.
1974 Warren Benedek Gallery, New York, N.Y.
1972 Warren Benedek Gallery, New York, N.Y.
1969 Ruth White Gallery, New York, N.Y.

Selected Group Exhibitions
The Comet Show, Light Gallery, New York, NY
Land Marks, Edith Blum Art Institute, Bard College, Annandale on Hudson, NY
Sites and Solutions: Recent Public Art, Freedman Gallery, Albright College, Reading, PA
The House that Art Built, University of California, Fullerton, CA
Architectural Sculpture, Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA
Breaking In, Creative Time Inc., New York, NY
Sources in Recent American Art/Architecture, New Jersey Institute of Technology, School of Architecture, Newark, NJ
Estuary, Merce Cunningham Studio, New York, NY (commissioned for Simone Forti performance)
The Presence of Nature, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Dwellings, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, Pa.; Neuberger Museum, Purchase, NY
O.K. Harris Gallery, New York, NY
Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Hayden Gallery, M.I.T, Cambridge, MA
Works on Paper, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Fiftieth Anniversary of Surrealism, French Cultural Services, New York, NY
New York Artists on Tour, Sculpture 3, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York, NY

By The Artist
“Reclamation Art” Issue, A Journal for Artists, winter 1986.
“Where Should Land Art Go?,” Heresies, #13, 1981.
“Bernini and Galileo,” The Art Bulletin, March 1977.
About the Artist (selected)
Catalogues Landmarks, New Site Proposals by Twenty-Two Original Pioneers of Environmental Art, Edith C. Blum Art Institute, Bard College Center, Annandale Hudson, New York, 1984; essays by Lawrence Alloway, Erik Kiviat, Shelley Rice, Daniel Simberloff.
Daniel L. Cusick, “Her Artistry a Tribute to the Land,” The Scranton Times, October 13, 1982.
Leslie L. Mercuri, “Environmental Artist to Reclaim Strip Mines,” The Metro, Aftsnews Magazine for the Pocono Northeast, October 1982.
Barbara Cavaliere, “The Presence of Nature,” Arts, March 1979.
Lucy Lippard, “Architectural Complexes in Nature,” Art in America, January-February, 1979.
Kay Larson, City Site Works, Desert Digs,” The Village Voice, August 28,1978.
Grace Glueck, “Sculpture Under a City Sky,” New York Times, July 14,1978.
Eileen Thalenberg, “Some Sculpture at Artpark,” Arts Canada, October-November, 1977.
David L. Shirey, “Drawing the Viewer into the Art,” New York Times, October 17,1976.
Ronald Onorato, “Sighted Sites,” SoHo Weekly News, October 14,1976.
James Beck, “Harriet Feigenbaum at the CUNY Mall,” Art in America, July-August, 1976.
James Mellow, “Harriet Feigenbaum at Ruth White,” Art International, March 20,1969.
The Morris Gallery displays the work of outstanding contemporary artists with a connection to Philadelphia, determined by birth, schooling, or residence. The exhibitions are chosen by a committee composed of area artists, museum personnel, and collectors, and the curatorial staff of the Academy. Currently serving on the Morris Gallery Exhibition Committee are: Cynthia Carlson, Paolo Colombo, Bill Freeland, Faith Ginsburg, Dr. Helen Herrick, Cheryl McClenney, Carrie Rickey, Eileen Rosenau, Judith Tannenbaum; Academy staff Judith Stein, Morris Gallery Coordinator, Frank Goodyear, Jr., Linda Bantel, Kathleen Foster, Betty Romanella.
Copyright, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1986
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