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New Haven's Sentinels

The Art and Science of East Rock and West Rock

Jelle Zeilinga de Boer

Publication Year: 2013

West Rock and East Rock are bold and beautiful features around New Haven, Connecticut. They resemble monumental gateways (or time-tried sentinels) and represent a moment in geologic time when the North American and African continents began to separate and volcanism affected much of Connecticut. The rocks attracted the attention of poets, painters, and naturalists when beliefs rose about the spiritual dimensions of nature in the early 19th century. More than two dozen artists, including Frederick Church, George Durrie, and John Weir, captured their magic and produced an assortment of classic American landscapes. In the same period, the science of geology evolved rapidly, triggered by the controversy between proponents and opponents of biblical explanations for the origin of rocks. Lavishly illustrated, featuring over sixty paintings and prints, this book is a perfect introduction to understanding the relationship of geology and art. It will delight those who appreciate landscape painting, and anyone who has seen the grandeur of East and West Rock.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: The Driftless Connecticut Series & Garnet Books


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

A century ago, Benjamin Silliman, professor of chymistry and natural sciences at Yale College (now Yale University), described East Rock and West Rock as “forming bold and beautiful features in the scenery around New Haven . . . looking like an immense work of art.” The Rocks, he noted, were indispensable stops for a geology course. ...

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pp. 1-8

Together, East Rock and West Rock, along with Pine Rock and Mill Rock, form a fundamental part of New Haven’s skyline. To some, these craggy mounts resemble the ruins of a breached medieval wall; to others they mark monumental gateways. ...

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1. Landscape Painting in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 9-23

However, painting landscapes required a resolution of the conflict between prevailing religious dispositions and artistic demands. In 1829, art and literary critic John Neal wrote, “There is not a landscape, nor a portrait painter alive, who dares to paint what he sees, as he sees it” [author’s emphasis]. ...

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Nineteenth-Century Views of New Haven and Its Sentinels

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pp. 24-27

New Haven’s many church spires appear prominently on the masthead of the eighteenth-century New Haven Chronicle (Image 13). This woodcut includes one of the earliest portrayals of East Rock, but the church spires conspicuously reach much closer to heaven. ...

Gallery One, Views of New Haven from the Rocks

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pp. 28-44

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2. Topography and Geology of the New Haven Area

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pp. 45-50

New Haven was settled in 1638 on a relatively flat plain at the southernmost end of Connecticut’s “Central Valley,” a giant geologic “ditch” which originated some 230 million years ago and slowly filled with sediments and volcanic rocks over a period of about 50 million years (Image 23). ...

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3. Silliman’s Conundrum: The Role of Basalt in the Geological Controversy between Neptunists and Plutonists

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pp. 51-60

Geology as a science went through a major stage in its punctuated evolution during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Opposing beliefs concerning the origin of the Earth expressed by proponents of religion on one side and of science on the other led to a fiercely debated controversy in which the biblical “Deluge” and columnar basalt played key roles. ...

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4. Tectonic Setting of New Haven’s Rocks

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pp. 61-75

Contemporary sensibilities tend toward seeing the Rocks through the eyes of scientists rather than those of poets and painters. Few today seek a spiritual dimension in the landscape of Connecticut, despite the fact that the Four Rocks and Metacomet Ridge are among the most thought-provoking topographic features of Connecticut’s geological anatomy. ...

Gallery Two, West Rock Paintings

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pp. 76-91

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East Rock

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pp. 92-95

The East Rock complex is composed of four hills, Whitney Peak, East Rock, Indian Head and Snake Rock. The tectonic setting of East Rock appears to be similar to that of West Rock. Its magma(s) also rose along a curved fault that dipped east. ...

Gallery Three, East Rock Paintings

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pp. 96-111

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Pine Rock and Mill Rock

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pp. 112-116

Pine Rock and Mill Rock are the exposures of dikes rising about 200 feet above the valley floor. Their magmas followed fractures that cut steeply through the Late Triassic sandstone formations and underlying basement complexes. ...

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5. The Judges Cave on West Rock

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pp. 117-121

A pile of large basaltic rock fragments sits perched on the southeast slope of West Rock. In the nineteenth century, the rocks could be clearly seen from New Haven jutting out above the smoothly glaciated upper surface of the deforested hillside. ...

Gallery Four, Judges Cave Paintings

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pp. 122-128

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6. Thomas Cole’s Landmark in His Course of Empire Paintings

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pp. 129-136

In September 1833, Thomas Cole, the father of the Hudson River School, proposed to create a series of five paintings to embellish a fireplace wall in Luman Reed’s New York City residence. In a letter to his client, Cole wrote: ...

Appendix One: Minerals and Metals Associated with Connecticut Basalts

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pp. 137-139

Appendix Two: Further Notes on the Artists and Their Art

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pp. 140-144


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pp. 145-149


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pp. 150-151

Geologic Glossary

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pp. 152-154

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pp. 155-156

First of all I’d like to mention Joe Webb Peoples and James R. Balsley, the professors who enticed me to come to Connecticut. Joe Webb introduced me to Connecticut’s fascinating geology and Jim taught me the intricacies of fossil rock magnetizations. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780819573759
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819573742

Page Count: 180
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Driftless Connecticut Series & Garnet Books

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Subject Headings

  • Geology -- Connecticut -- New Haven Region.
  • Geology -- Connecticut.
  • Landscape painting, American -- 19th century.
  • New Haven (Conn.) Region -- In art.
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