Raptors of the Desert Sky Story

Of all the animals cared for at the Museum, raptors are perhaps what we are best known for. Twenty-eight nonreleasable birds call the Museum home, half of which participate in Raptors of the Desert Sky.

The Museum started the free-flight Raptors of the Desert Sky program, which runs from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, more than a decade ago. Each summer day, visitors with tickets to this iconic program leave the buildings and asphalt trails behind, walking to a nearby forest clearing. The natural venue provides a unique space where five birds fly daily, landing just feet away from visitors and occasionally gliding close overhead. Human elements are minimized, giving people a glimpse into the lives of wild raptors—from owls to turkey vultures. During the program, a naturalist narrator conveys the bird’s unique adaptions, habitat requirements and conservation needs. These close encounters enable people to connect with the birds on a deep level, inspiring many to become lifelong stewards of wildlife and the landscapes we all share. 

The program is as enriching for the birds as it is for the audience. The activity provides exercise. The birds are empowered to navigate their environment, free to make choices, rewarded for coming close.

Each day each bird can choose to participate in the program. It turns out raptors aren’t that different from people. They have stage fright. They get tired. They have bad days. They don’t have to fly if they don’t want to. Another can take their place. Some, like Pefa the peregrine, are fearless, confident and highly motivated. She rarely misses a show. Others, like Walter the golden eagle, can be shy and easily overwhelmed. They might only make occasional appearances. That’s okay, as it’s all about providing the highest possible welfare to the animals we care for while sharing them with our community, and it makes for a dynamic program.

Many visitors come back multiple times, meeting different birds and learning more about the region’s wildlife with every visit. Tickets aren’t available in advance and sell out quickly—get to the Museum early to experience this summer highlight!

A New Chapter: The Waterston Desert Writing Prize Presents New Opportunities to Fulfill Museum’s Mission

Founder Ellen Waterston

In 2020, the High Desert Museum officially adopted the Waterston Desert Writing Prize, which honors creative nonfiction that illustrates artistic excellence, sensitivity to place and desert literacy. Inspired by author and poet Ellen Waterston’s love of the High Desert, the Prize strengthens and supports the literary arts and humanities through recognition of excellence in nonfiction writing about desert landscapes, community interaction with Prize winners and associated programs.

The Museum has a long history with the Prize, having hosted the award ceremony since its inception in 2014. The Museum and the Prize are a natural fit; both emphasize the uniqueness of desert regions, highlight the arts that explore and define them, and create conversations about contemporary issues. Adoption of the Prize enables us to further our mission and expand our support of the arts.

It was part of founder Donald M. Kerr’s vision that the Museum should be a platform for dialogue. Reading and writing can lend insights into other perspectives—and help us understand and articulate our own. A single, beautifully crafted line can link us to each other and the landscape. In this way, literature fosters empathy and connection. “Every year we have the honor of experiencing new perspectives on desert landscapes,” said Ellen Waterston. “Writers participate from all over the country and our vision of what a desert is continues to grow.”

The literary arts are an avenue for discovery of the landscape and our place within it. To write with originality about deserts demands and inspires close examination of place—deepening appreciation for landscapes often overlooked. Such work has never felt more important; sagebrush steppe is one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America. Ursula Le Guin’s meditative poems on Steens Mountain country (in the book Out Here) offer a new lens on an ancient place. Since encountering them, I have been unable to visit the desert without noticing the “rising brightness of the rock,” movement and color previously missed.

Through our interdisciplinary work, the Museum explores the interconnection of people and place. Nature writing is evolving in exciting and necessary ways, as people gain—or regain—awareness of our connection to, and impact on, the world around us. Increasingly, writers include humans in the narrative. Writer Lydia Peele suggests nature writing, “rather than being pastoral or descriptive or simply a natural history essay, has got to be couched in stories…where we as humans are present. Not only as observers, but as intrinsic elements…we’ve got to reconnect ourselves to our environment and fellow species in every way we can.” Peele implies that writing can assist in remaking this vital connection.

2020 Prize Winner Hannah Hindley

Many previous winners of the Prize have demonstrated such a holistic approach. The 2020 winner was Hannah Hindley for Thin Blue Line, one in a collection of stories that explore the Sonoran Desert’s disappearing waterways, the fish that used to call them home and the efforts to help restore depleted tributaries with city effluent. “It’s a strange story of ghost rivers, dead fish and resilience in the heart of urban spaces in the desert,” stated Hindley.

We are excited to start this new chapter of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize and honored to continue its inspiring work. In 2021, the Prize will recognize one writer with a $2,500 award, a residency at PLAYA at Summer Lake and a reading and reception. We are now accepting submissions.

The Waterston Student Essay Competition is also open! We invite young writers from Crook, Deschutes, Harney, Jefferson and Lake counties to submit nonfiction prose essays exploring desert landscapes. Learn more about the student prize.

Submissions for the 2021 Waterston Desert Writing Prize will be accepted through May 1, 2021.

 

 

Exploring an Ancient Relationship

Photo by Transcendent Clicks Photography

Beavers—members of the family Castoridae—have existed in North America for around 40 million years. It could be argued that the modern North American beaver, Castor canadensis, and its ancestors have had a more profound influence on the physical and cultural landscape of this continent than any other non-human mammal. While it may have a reputation for flooding roads and downing ornamental trees, there is so much more to the beaver. The High Desert Museum’s original exhibition and public art project Dam It! Beavers and Us explores our long and evolving relationship with this oft-overlooked yet valuable animal.

Beavers have been integral to many Indigenous cultures, such as the Blackfeet Nation, for millennia. But the arrival of Euro-American settlers and pressure from the fur trade saw populations plummet. Humans extensively trapped them for their fur, meat, castoreum—an oily secretion from castor sacs used by beaver to mark territory and still occasionally by humans as a flavoring—and other parts. By the late 1800s, they neared extinction. However, due to changing fashion trends, regulations and the rodent’s own resilience, numbers are rebounding.

Today, beavers are gaining greater recognition for their value alive, as ecosystem engineers. There are many ways to coexist with this humble herbivore—and even more reasons why we might want to. Colonies improve water quality, reduce erosion and help other wildlife and plants thrive. Countless species, including humans, benefit from their ponds and wetlands. People have long been drawn to the fertile green meadows that result from beaver activity.

Photo by Stacy Passmore

These mammals also mitigate some impacts of climate change. They hydrate the landscape—of great importance in the dry High Desert region. An average beaver dam in the Columbia River Basin can store 1.1 million gallons of water per pond! Their habitats store carbon and serve as vital refugia from wildfires. They also support threatened species, such as steelhead trout.

In Dam It! Beavers and Us, we playfully explore the past, present and future of this remarkable rodent and its interconnection with humans. This keystone species has whittled its way into the hearts of people from all walks of life—ranchers, ecologists, artists and architects. Many have dedicated themselves to the return of the beaver. Visit the exhibition to discover why so many now see the beaver more as a partner than a pest. Meet the extinct, bear-sized beaver, Castoroides ohioensis, and learn why beavers once were parachuted in wooden boxes into Idaho wilderness.

Additionally, the Museum will install several four-foot-tall beaver sculptures in public spaces. A different artist will paint each fiberglass sculpture in their own, unique style. Project artists include Sweet Pea Cole, Ellen Taylor, Jess Volk and Andries Fourie. Be ready to spot some new, vibrant art around Central Oregon!

 

 

Preserving Folklife

The High Desert region has rich and varied cultural and artistic traditions. These artforms range from music, silversmithing and storytelling to Indigenous basketmaking and beadwork, Mexican charro roping and quilting. In academic circles, these traditional artforms are called folklife.

Folklife is everyday knowledge, traditional art and lore passed down within communities through imitation, conversation and practice. Since the spring of 2020, Riki Saltzman, former executive director of the Oregon Folklife Network at the University of Oregon, has been working with the High Desert Museum as the folklorist to record and preserve those traditions — ones rooted in the cultural life of a community whose members share a common language, ethnic heritage, religion, occupation or geographic region.

Saltzman, in collaboration with the Oregon Folklife Network, conducts fieldwork and pours through existing records to document our region’s culture keepers, including creating listening sessions with artists to preserve their stories and collect insights into the fine points of their artform. She collaborates with artists and arts and culture organizations in Central and Eastern Oregon.

The work supports a growing knowledge of folklife across the state. It also furthers the Museum’s continued commitment to gathering and documenting the diverse stories of people throughout the High Desert region.

Riki Saltzman, High Desert Museum folklorist

Since 1982, Saltzman has worked at private nonprofit and state agencies in nine states where she directed a range of public programs, organized conferences and curated exhibits. Saltzman earned her Ph.D. in anthropology and folklore from the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of A Lark for the Sake of Their Country: The 1926 General Strike Volunteers in Folklore and Memory (2012, Manchester University Press) and edited the new book Pussy Hats, Politics, and Public Protest (University Press of Mississippi), which looks at the historical and cultural legacy of the 2017 Women’s March.

The folklorist position is supported by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Saltzman’s appointment helps fulfill the NEA’s vision of vibrant traditional art programs throughout the country.

“Our job as folklorists is to tell the stories of the culture keepers,” Saltzman said. “We listen and then help them to share their traditional arts with others.”

Culture keepers, often referred to as folk or traditional artists, have strong cultural ties to their art forms, which they actively practice and work to preserve and pass on through presentations, demonstrations and performances. Culture keepers also work to pass down their artforms to younger generations to ensure their preservation.

Saltzman’s work with culture keepers will have a strong impact programs, exhibitions and collections at the High Desert Museum.

 

Higher, Faster, Farther

Denny Edwards, “The Flying Irishman”

Looking back on a life of risk-taking and death-defying stunts, land speed record holder Kitty O’Neil declared, “I’m not afraid of anything. Just do it. It feels good when you finish. You made it.” Her words speak not only to her own love of speed but also offer encouragement to anyone contemplating a new challenge.

Our newest exhibition, Daredevils, looks at those who have attempted death-defying feats such as jumping a canyon or going faster than anyone thought imaginable. For daredevils and risk-takers, the High Desert’s playas and canyons have long provided a setting to test the limits of what’s possible. This original exhibition considers the cultural significance of daredevils against the backdrop of the challenges of the 1970s, including the Vietnam War, an economic recession and an unfinished civil rights movement. It was a time with some similarities to our own, as we navigate the uncertainty of a global pandemic and confront the nation’s racist past and present.

The exhibition highlights some of the best-known daredevils, such as Evel Knievel and Kitty O’Neil, considering how they became larger-than-life symbols of hope, freedom and independence.

Snake River Canyon, Idaho

It includes objects from High Desert stunts, such as the 1966 Triumph motorcycle that Denny Edwards, known as “The Flying Irishman,” jumped when he came out of retirement for a final jump just a few years ago. It showcases a helmet and jumpsuit worn by Kitty O’Neil, who set a land speed record in Oregon’s Alvord Desert in 1976.

O’Neil averaged 512.71 miles per hour, reaching a maximum speed of 618 mph, and held the women’s record for over 40 years. It features the leathers worn by Oregon native Debbie Lawler when she broke Evel Knievel’s record for the longest motorcycle jump, traveling 101 feet and clearing 16 Chevy pickups in 1974. Knievel later regained the record in Portland, Oregon, but Lawler still holds the record for the longest jump by a woman.

Through a playful and engaging exhibition for all ages, Daredevils explores the meaning risk-taking plays in our lives and why these individuals capture our imaginations.

Seven Surprising Self-Care Products from 1902

Arsenic as a beauty aid?! 

We might think of self-care, the practice of taking care of one’s health and well-being, and the industry that has developed around it as a relatively new concept, but people have been hawking self-care goods for decades. At the turn of the twentieth century, these potions and contraptions made big promises, many of which seem dangerous or at the very least laughable today.

Take a look at these seven surprising self-care products from 1902.

 

1. Dr. Rose’s Arsenic Complexion Wafers

A pale complexion was desirable for a young lady of the early 1900s. Large sun hats and parasols were used to achieve the look of preserved skin, but for an expedited process, you might turn to a self-care product like this. “Perfectly harmless, when used in accordance with our directions,” the advertisement reads. The wafers undoubtedly did cause paleness… among other conditions.

 

 

 

2. Wrinkle Eradicator

“This convenient little article will remove wrinkles from around the eyes and nose and any part of the face,” so long as you don’t mind the process. This suction cup “invigorates” the skin back to health.

 

 

 

3. The Princess Bust Developer

Resembling a standard toilet plunger, this product promised: “a symmetrically rounded bosom full and perfect.”  You “will be surprised, delighted, and happy over the result of one week’s use” is guaranteed. And for those wishing to properly display the latest in women’s fashion, it seems a small price to try such a contraption. Especially, since a full refund is “guaranteed” if you are not fully satisfied.

 

4. Vapor Bath Cabinets

Not unlike the modern sauna, with the surprising difference being a ventilated hole for one’s head, “vapor baths are great for blood and skin diseases.” There didn’t seem to be an ailment that the vapor bath couldn’t fix: “scrofula, eczema, salt rheum, hives, pimples, ulcers, boils, carbuncles, barber’s itch, oily skin, poor complexion, the common cold, …” the list goes on and on. With an alcohol stove, vaporizer, four-walled rubber-lined cabinet, and $5.95 one could have a cure for just about anything.

 

 

 

5. The Toilet Mask

A facial mask meant for “the removal of freckles, liver spots, and other facial blemishes” doesn’t seem so surprising at first. This mask, however, isn’t comprised of soothing botanicals and extracts. Rather, it’s an “acid cured” mask, made of transparent rubber, that promises to turn the skin soft and velvety.

 

 

 

6. Electric Insoles

Poor circulation? Cold feet? This product offers just what you need… an electric current. “A mild pleasant current is produced along the soles of the feet, which stimulates the blood and keeps it circulating constantly.” What is a little discomfort with the promise of health, right?

 

 

7. Giant Power Heidelberg Electric Belt

And if you don’t think the electric insoles are “shocking” this belt might do the trick. A cure for all “diseases, disorders, and weaknesses peculiar to men.” This product claims that the user will experience more benefits in one week of use than six months of going to the doctor.

 

 

 

All products advertised from the Sears, Roebuck and Company Catalogue from 1902. Sears, Roebuck and Company. “Catalogue No. 112.” Catalogue No. 112. : Sears, Roebuck and Company : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Sears, Roebuck & Co., Chicago, archive.org/details/catalogueno11200sear/page/n9/mode/2up. Accessed 30 Apr. 2020.

 

 

A New Wildlife Resident

One of the most common questions we get from visitors is about how the creatures, from river otters to desert tortoises, came to be in our care. And every day, I spend time with a small, new resident that came to us last summer, a Western painted turtle with a very interesting story.

A good Samaritan found her in Woodburn with a screw in her shell and fishing line cutting into her neck. She was rightfully turned in to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) for recovery. ODFW speculates that she was being kept as someone’s pet because of the screw. Most likely her owners inserted the screw so they could tether her outside. She escaped anyway and then got caught up in the discarded fishing line.

After the rescue and rehabilitation, ODFW contacted us to see if we could provide her with a home. We had the perfect spot in our Desertarium.

We have four Western painted turtles in the collection. All can be found in the Desertarium’s turtle exhibit. The species is found across North America, with the Western painted turtle being one of four subspecies. They are commonly found in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. However, they are still found throughout the Cascades, even on the east side in our neck of the woods.

Oregon’s native turtle species are protected, and it is illegal to remove one from the wild to keep as a pet. Unaware of this fact, many who stumble on a Western painted turtle in the wild are tempted to take it home. There are a few exotic turtle species in Oregon that are illegal to possess, the most well-known being the red-eared slider. It’s now invasive in Oregon thanks to the exotic pet trade. The message here would be to always do thorough research when deciding whether to acquire an exotic pet because they are not always legal. They often require care that is beyond what the average person can provide. Even if you find yourself out over your skis, so to speak, it is illegal to release pets into the wild.

Now that the turtle has a happier ending at the High Desert Museum, why is she non-releasable? This turtle cannot go back into the wild for a few reasons. First, ODFW biologists do not know where she came from. If she wasn’t originally part of a population of turtles, introducing her could potentially have adverse impacts. Oregon turtle populations are fragmented due to the disappearance of habitat continuity caused by human development and habitat degradation. Because of this, introducing outside DNA can potentially create offspring that are not well-suited for that particular area.

Because of the fragmentation of wild populations, introducing an individual to a new population could also spread disease that is found in one area to another. It is important to note that in the state of Oregon it is illegal to release wildlife that has been under human care for longer than 72 hours.

Discarded fishing line and other refuse — pack it in and pack it out. It is that simple. Discarded fishing line, hooks, lures, plastic bags, balloons, Styrofoam — all of it has the potential to harm wildlife. This turtle could have died if not found and given help.

We’ve been very happy with her progress. She is frequently seen floating at the surface of the exhibit where she can check out the activity in the gallery. She is also spotted basking with the other two females of the same species. Her wound from the fishing line is completely healed, but she will have her screw hole for some time. In the short time she’s been with us, she’s become an amazing ambassador for her species, sharing with visitors the importance of conservation and responsibility.

Resilience Through Art

Self Portrait by Takuichi Fujii

During World War II, the U.S. federal government incarcerated 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, about two-thirds of whom were United States citizens. The government used racist propaganda and fear-based arguments to justify their actions. For those who were incarcerated—imprisoned without charge—the experience was life-changing.

Sunflowers by Takuichi Fujii

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii examines this painful chapter of American history. Artist Takuichi Fujii was among those imprisoned, first at the Puyallup temporary detention camp on the Washington State Fairgrounds and then at Minidoka Relocation Center, where he lived with his family for over three years. During this time, he painted with oil and watercolors and sculpted. He also kept an illustrated diary. Nearly 400 pages in length, it chronicled his family’s forced removal from Seattle and concluded with the closing of Minidoka. Fujii’s illustrated diary as well as the other works he created illuminate the bleakness of everyday life in confinement as well as moments of beauty and hope. For some of those incarcerated, art served as a means of expression and survival. Fujii’s work makes apparent the resilience of those imprisoned.

After the war, Fujii and his family moved to Utah and then to Chicago as a part of the government’s resettlement program. He continued to paint, experimenting with abstraction. After his death in 1964, Fujii’s artwork from 1942 onward was kept in storage by his family until his grandson recognized its significance and began translating the diary.

This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see the breadth of Fujii’s work, including his American realist paintings of the 1930s, his wartime paintings and drawings and his postwar abstract expressionist paintings. One historian has called Fujii’s illustrated diary “the most remarkable document created by a Japanese-American prisoner during the wartime incarceration.” It not only sheds light on the past but continues to resonate today.

 

 

Bringing Perspective to Oregon Encounters

A fourth grader works a crosscut saw at the High Desert Museum during Oregon Encounters, a program that shares about what the region was like in the 1840s.

From using a crosscut saw to building a wagon, the High Desert Museum’s popular annual social studies field trip brings Oregon’s history to life for fourth-grade students. For years, the Museum has hosted students from all over the state during a one-week period to explore history through living history characters, hands-on activities and other unique experiences. Known until recently as Frontier Days, this program had mostly told this history from the singular perspective of Anglo-Europeans.

In 2017, we received a grant from the Oregon Heritage Commission to transform this experience into an opportunity to increase student awareness of the diverse perspectives and cultures that make up Oregon’s history. However, we quickly discovered that this program redesign was not a simple process. It involved challenging questions and internal changes to our approach to education programs.

At the same time as the Oregon Heritage Commission grant, the Museum was invited to participate in the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services-funded Cultural Competency Learning Institute. This institute brings together museums from across the nation to advance diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion (DEAI) within their institutions. Through this institute, we learned the value of working internally to build board, staff and volunteer awareness of and investment in DEAI in conjunction with telling diverse stories through our programs. During this process, our Oregon Heritage Commission-funded redesign project served as a concrete example for increasing internal understanding of why telling diverse stories matters.

Behind the scenes at the shoot for the Letitia Carson video that was featured during the revised Oregon Encounters program.

In April 2019, our redesigned program, now called Oregon Encounters, included the stories of American Indians, African Americans, Native Hawaiians and Latinx populations. The response from teachers and students was overwhelmingly positive. One student commented: “In movies, it is always white settlers, but at Oregon Encounters, I learned that so much diversity is embedded in Oregon’s history.”

In addition, we are continuing to build on these experiences to re-examine other programs. For example, we recently received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to support Creating Together—a project that is bringing together Native experts to reinterpret our permanent exhibition on Plateau Indians. Alongside this project, we are launching a yearlong training series that will include speakers and group readings to expand staff awareness of Native perspectives. With a more culturally competent staff, we will be able to more meaningfully incorporate Native perspectives throughout our exhibitions and programs and not limit them to a single exhibition.

As museums and heritage centers diversify the stories we tell, it is equally important to build awareness and understanding within our institutions. Although this internal work is challenging and there are no road maps, it is essential to ensuring we move beyond one-time programs and meaningfully commit to DEAI.

 

Waves of Artwork from Harmonic Laboratory

If you visit the Museum this summer, you’ll get the opportunity to explore the original exhibit Desert Reflections: Water Shapes the West. The dynamic, multifaceted exhibition weaves together science, history, art and contemporary issues in its examination of the role of water in the region’s past, present and future.

In addition to the discussion of the complexities of water management, Desert Reflections connects visitors to its significance through visual art, music and spoken word performances. The High Desert Museum commissioned artwork from four Pacific Northwest artists for the exhibition. The project began with field trips into the desert with experts in order to spark discussion and inspiration for the pieces.

One of the four artists on the journey is Eugene’s art collective Harmonic Laboratory. The group created two installations for the exhibition. These are their stories.

Garden of Earthly Delights

When you enter the Spirit of the West Gallery, the main location of Desert Reflections, walk to the back of the room and you’ll find the haunting video triptych Garden of Earthly Delights. Three large flat screen televisions are arranged in a horizontal row, each displaying discrete black-and-white videos.

Garden of Earthly Delights depicts a loss of innocence, making deliberate reference to Hieronymus Bosch’s iconic triptych by the same title, created in the late 15th century. The original imagery reflects biblical scenes read from left to right; Eden, the Judgment, and Hell. Bosch’s triptych stands as a warning against the devastating outcome of irresponsibility and self-interest. The imagery used in the Harmonic Laboratory video version follows the same basic narrative, but is more political in nature, representing the tension between two bodies of diverse backgrounds engaged in a negotiation over water as a scarce and precious resource.

Observing the panels from left to right, the first screen situates an Indigenous woman emerging from a pristine river surrounded by a lush forest. The center panel zooms in on the two central figures’ hands pouring water back and forth between clear vessels. In the final screen a white male collapses onto the dry, cracked surface of a High Desert wasteland.

Garden of Earthly Delights uses two natural High Desert settings representing either an abundance of water or an extreme lack thereof. The protagonists reflect the socio-political tension between two groups in conflict over water rights: the Native peoples who have inhabited the area since time immemorial as riparian civilizations with deeply ancestral and spiritual ties to the water supply, and the white settlers who have journeyed west over the past two centuries to establish their homes and industries. This is a cautionary tale of the ultimate price of exploitation.

Awash

Floating above one’s head more than 8 feet from the ground, Awash creates an array of sonic and visual movement. The piece runs 32’ along the Museum hallway, and the viewer walks underneath a 120-speaker network. As sound moves across the speakers, the installation physically moves up and down in one large sinusoidal wave via Dacron string connected to a large rotating disc. The disc connects to 20 rows of speakers, translating rotary motion into smooth vertical movement.

Awash depicts the life, color and environment of the High Desert in a network of sound and moving parts. The kinetic sound sculpture emanates sonic shades of the High Desert while simultaneously flowing as a connected sinusoidal wave spanning 32 feet. The work hovers above the viewers’ heads and envelops them in sight and sound.

The soundscape in Awash has three types of audio: wind, water and color. For these three archetypal sounds, there are two audio modes. These modes either immerse the listener or move sound across the 32-foot structure. To help situate the listener within the High Desert, the piece amplifies field recordings of High Desert wind and Oregon waterways. The outside is brought inside, and across the length of the speaker array, viewers are enveloped in sounds that move above, through and around them. For sounds of color, a recording of a Skinner church organ, played by slowly adding keys and organ stops, creates lush, harmonic textures. These textural colors evoke the richness of the High Desert, a place that is shaped by multiple forces interacting in complex ways.

Unpacking the technical and mechanical design of Awash parallels understanding the symbiotic and complex forces at play in the water cycle of the High Desert. Ten electrical boards rest atop the structure, driving how sounds move. The boards are synchronously timed to trigger spatialized sounds across the structure. Standing underneath, one can hear and feel how natural forces move around us –– sounds of water and wind flow uninterrupted –– absorbed only by what is present within the space. The energy of sound is acoustically absorbed by bodies and materials in the museum, akin to the way that natural resources are consumed and absorbed within an ecosystem.

Sound waves propagate throughout the space and undulating kinetic motion immerse the viewer. Light shimmers off tessellating shapes hanging midair, evoking an environment teeming with life and motion. Like scales from fish or rings of a tree, the piece marks the shape of a body inside a living ecosystem. Awash is made up of small pieces; yet, the individual components connect to form a mass that has weight.

Awash mirrors the distribution of energy within an ecosystem. In the High Desert, floodplains provide an energy buffer that supports the productivity and sustainability of life, in particular fish populations. The kinetic sound sculpture disperses sound energy across 120 3-watt speakers. As sound moves over longitudinal and lateral planes, the space becomes “awash” with varying frequencies and amplitudes. No one speaker is loud enough to cut through the ambient noise of the environment, but together, the distributed energy of the speaker network moves sound as large, vibrational waves across the constructed landscape of the Museum.

Experience Desert Reflections: Water Shapes the West and let Harmonic Laboratory’s installations wash over you. Desert Reflections is on display through Sunday, September 29, 2019.