As an architect, I’m always very interested in the landscape and the vernacular of regional buildings. So when I moved out to western Massachusetts a few years ago and I saw the tobacco sheds for the first time, I was immediately struck by their inherent beauty. Learning that farming in general (but tobacco farming in particular) is an important and unique aspect of the region’s history, but that it’s a dying practice has made it that much more interesting for me.
My proposal is relatively simple: To fill a tobacco barn with lights, open the ventilation panels and just let the light shine out onto the landscape. We will essentially be creating a beautiful lantern. This lantern will highlight the value of Amherst’s farming community in conjunction with Amherst’s 250th Celebration.
The working title is Shedding Light – As with much of my work, the idea is to call attention to the environment (both built and unbuilt) and create a forum for the questions that arise as a result of the work. In this case I am calling attention to the role of public art in the community, beauty of the barn, to the special quality of the tobacco that’s grown here, to the disappearance of the farmer for all the various reasons, to the risk of smoking… And while light has been used in very literal ways to illuminate both objects and issues; with Shedding Light, illumination itself is the object of attention. What is the power of art to connect us to our landscapes, both cultural and physical?
Due to the temporary nature of Shedding Light this project also calls for a series of photographs or film to document the work. As well, complimentary programming such as an exhibit of photographs or film at wunderarts gallery, a collection of oral histories from Amherst’s farming community and lectures should also be explored. Partnerships with local academic experts and students in various fields are most welcome.
To honor the awareness and sensitivity in the Amherst community towards a sustainable future for both its landscape and its residents, I propose that this project should be supported by alternative energy sources (this could mean a photovoltaic array or a windmill powering the lights inside the barn). And while the lighting of the shed is a temporary feature, the sustainable energy source will be left behind to help power the farm for decades to come. This will be both a visible legacy of the significance of Amherst’s 250th birthday as well as an exciting hint at the direction that regional agriculture might take in the future.