There are a variety of methods to define nature whether it is as simple as trees and plants, or as complex as an entire ecosystem. But what can be easily agreed upon is that the concept of nature is often depicted as a contrast to humans. Whether it is a polar opposite or a resource to use, nature is a different space to inhabit. When the general public thinks of nature, a few things that easily come the to mind may include: the closest forest or a national park. Many consider Letchworth to be nature, however it is completely constructed. It used to be the estate of William P. Letchworth, and after he died, it was bounced between several groups including: the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society and the Genesee Park Commission, before the Civilian Conservation Corps took it over. We can see the human influences in the present throughout Letchworth, through the stone bridges, picnic shelters, and the winding roads. The curious thing, is that these structures are manipulated to imitate nature, almost to the point that we associate it with nature itself. This will explore the painting Summer Afternoon, in conjunction with features of Letchworth State park, to understand why we view these engineered facets as nature.
The painting above, by Isaac Fastovsky, illustrates a nature scene landscape, saturated with vibrant colors within the river and trees. If we zoom in to the river, we see a few young boys intruding on the river's space. A harmless occurrence, merely a few boys playing in the creek, and perhaps this invokes a feeling of nostalgia. This entire scene has been carefully constructed in order to mask the subtle human influences upon this river scene. The trees curve towards each other in an arc to mask the bridge arching over the boys. The bridge utilizes the autumn leaf color scheme in order to blend in. Even farther back, obscured by more trees, is a boardwalk utilizing the same camouflage as the bridge.
Paintings like Summer Afternoon are from artists who were a part of the Federal Art Project, which during the Great Depression strived to increase morale through the improvement of: the aesthetic quality of life with beautiful paintings, build artist to artist connections, and give employment to unemployed artists. This is similar to what the Civilian Conservation Corps did for young men. What looks natural in both of these, are carefully constructed to blend in.
Along with this careful construction within nature, there is also the reputation and ideals that we as humans build nature up to be. In the 1930s, the New Deal was utilized to improve the lives of Americans, during a time of suffering. And now, in the modern era, people are once again turning to art and nature during a time of extreme stress and struggle. This set of four images to the left are built structures with natural elements from Letchworth State Park. The man-made walls and bridges imitate the chunky blockwork and layering of stone that is present in the natural gorge. The gray and reddish rock pull hues from the natural rock to camouflage itself. Humans use their creativity to mimic and improve their concept of what nature should be. Letchworth and the New Deal Gallery paintings can be threaded together to display one of the underlying human tendencies: escapism. We create stone bridges to blend in with nature, we create paintings to mimic nature, and we try to lose ourselves in nature itself.
—Breslin, Tom, and Tom Cook. History of Letchworth State Park, Letchworth
—“Civilian Conservation Corps.” History, A&E Television Networks, 11 May 2010, CCC.
—“Federal Art Project of Works Progress Admin - Modern Art Terms and Concepts.” The Art Story, The Art Story Foundation, Art Story Foundation.