By Katherine Sorenson ’16
Brendan Baylor, a visiting art instructor at Northland College, has created a visceral woodcut print depicting the history of clearcutting in northern Wisconsin.
The opening reception for his exhibition, Tracing Power: The Ecology and Economy of Place, will be held Friday, October 16 from 5-7 p.m. in the Northland College Dexter Library and will be on display until November 6. He will give a public lecture Thursday, Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. in the Northland College Dexter Library, room 013.
When Baylor moved to Wisconsin last year, he was immediately confronted with the utter lack of old-growth trees in this region, vastly contrasting his experience growing up among the behemoth foliage of the Pacific Northwest.
Baylor began poring over historical photographs, treaty documents, and economic records, uncovering the bleak history of clearcutting that denotes a devastating narration of ecological violence across the region, he said.
Baylor seeks to encourage an “emotional engagement” in the viewer to trigger a “rational understanding” of the way forests were managed and mismanaged in the inception of this area.
Baylor’s inspiration stems from a tiny black-and-white photograph in a historical textbook that he painstakingly translated to wood, and then onto paper. He transferred the original image onto thirty-two panels, each measuring one by one foot, to create a woodcut print grid of four by eight panels. The main thing that slowed his work, was human limitation: he could only physically cut about one block a day without risking hand cramps and exhaustion.
Intending to create a massive image from a small one, Baylor’s process required him to scar the wood blocks, utilizing a vibrating Dremel tool to create negative space and convey the image clearly.
The arduous process of cutting created an artistic metaphor for Brendan, comparing the meticulous ruthlessness of the historical clearcut to the rigid depiction of the image he carved onto each panel.
Baylor spent roughly 150 hours doing the actual carving, and countless more tweaking the design and adding an overlay of text from the 1842 Treaty of LaPointe. Explaining the significance of this treaty, Brendan describes how this document “provided legal basis for extractive industries to clearcut the region,” acting as an effective tool of colonialism.
Collaboration also provided scientific accuracy and understanding to the piece as a whole. Baylor worked with Sarah Johnson, assistant professor of natural resources and biology, to understand the current ecological state of forests in this region. Johnson participated in a 2007 UW-Madison re-survey of plant biodiversity in Wisconsin, closely mirroring a plant survey performed in the post-cutover by John Curtis, the author of The Vegetation of Wisconsin.
The re-survey results suggested that the forests of this area are not bouncing back as plentifully as locals would like to assume. Analyzing data such as landform features, vegetative composition and environmental traits, Johnson’s team studied how past logging, changes in land use, and other economic activity affected species’ persistence and extinctions over time.
Baylor utilized this study to recognize how a loss of biodiversity due to clearcutting resulted in the conditions we see today.
As a visiting professor, Baylor has an outsider’s view into historical strategies for management and stewardship, coalescing them into a physical experience for the viewer. His use of graphic imagery to create an interface of artistic and historic provides a lens with which to understand this region and, in his own words, “What is our place in this living community?”
Sponsored by the A.D. & Mary Anderson Hulings Distinguished Chair in the Humanities, this exhibit is free and open to the public.