- Wild Spaces, Open Seasons: Hunting and Fishing in American Art ed. by Kevin Sharp
Before sharing a hunting story at a dinner party, it pays to survey your audience. This truth says much about the current relationship between urban-ensconced humans and nature. Homo sapiens historically relied on hunting for food, but the Industrial Revolution and innovations in agriculture led people away from rural, utilitarian lifestyles. This demographic shift affected our politics, economics, and society in the Great Plains, and it also affected the manner in which society generally viewed hunting and fishing.
Kevin Sharp, director of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, has brought together an adept group of four contributors, all curators, who succinctly and gracefully describe how American art from 1800 to 1945 reflected the shifting ethic, opinion, and utility of hunting and fishing. Throughout the colorful book, images of drawings, paintings, and sculptures are used as mirrors into the psyche of culture.
The book begins with a discussion of the mythology of hunting and fishing as historic backdrop to the period but also the role of hunting and fishing in creating myth in America during the nineteenth century. The reader is then led through images that exemplify the perils of hunting, which contributed to the prevailing worldviews of man versus nature as the western states were settled by American and European immigrants. Readers with interests in the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains will be at home with the images in this chapter.
I especially enjoyed the third chapter, which focused on the role of fishing and hunting as community-building activities as their utilitarian roles diminished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The final chapter has a focus on the variation in perspectives on the individual as depicted in paintings of American hunters.
Each chapter draws the reader back to times long past and stimulates with new thoughts and perspectives on works of art that may be commonly appreciated only at a surface level due to their content of brilliant landscapes and well-represented animals. I am currently working on my own visual, historical narrative, and I found the graphical layout and flow of the book to be enjoyable; the editor and designers have created a synthesis between words and art that inspires one to turn pages. My only regret is that the authors did not include any political cartoons, such as those by Ding Darling, which were impactful in the mid-twentieth century as a reflection of society's desire for new laws and personal ethics. If the story of the American hunter is of interest to you, this book will be a unique and welcome contribution to your collection.
University of Nebraska–Lincoln