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Merit Award - Communications

A Land Between: Owens Valley, California

Center for American Places, George F. Thompson, President (editing); Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts (funding); Johns Hopkins University Press (publisher); Cover Design, Martha Farlow School of Planning & Landscape Architecture (Funding); Rebecca Fish Ewan (author and photography); Eastern California Museum (historic photos)

Rebecca Fish Ewan
Assistant Professor, Arizona State University
School of Planning & Landscape Arch.
P.O. Box 872005
Tempe, AZ 85287-2005
Tel: 480-965-9769
Fax: 480-965-9656
fish.ewan@asu.edu

Statement of Purpose: The fieldwork that culminated in the publication of A Land Between focused on the eco-cultural history of the Owens Valley in southeastern California. It began as an inquiry into how people perceive the landscape and how these perceptions promulgate changes on the land. Owens Valley was selected because of its long history of struggles between natural elements, particularly water, and cultural needs and expectations. The Owens River supplies 75% of the municipal water for the city of Los Angeles and most narratives (films, oral histories, and books) center on the story of water extraction by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The intent of this book was to offer a more holistic picture of the valley's long and fascinating history. For example, Native Americans have lived in the valley for thousands of years; it was the site of a Japanese American war relocation center; the mountains that edge the valley are home to the ancient bristlecone pines, oldest living trees in the world; and countless motion pictures have been shot in the valley. The author conducted extensive fieldwork, hiking to the top of Mount Whitney, journeying into the Sierra Nevada by pack mule, and traveling the many roads that traverse the valley floor. Trained in landscape architecture, the author came to the project with the philosophy that direct site reconnaissance is the best and most essential way in which to record and ultimately tell the story of a place. Using the tools of landscape architecture - sketching, photography, literature review, archival research, interviews, and field notes - the author compiled, over a nine year span, a thick and rich understanding of the landscape and the many human marks on the land.

Community Context: A Land Between reveals the deep connections between communities and the land. The Oxford English Dictionary defines culture as "a piece of tilled land"; this has been a guiding premise, that the culture and ecology of a place are intimately wedded.

Role of the Entrant: The entrant authored the book and took all the non-historic photographs.The entrant selected the other images from the collection at the Eastern California Museum, with assistance from museum staff (except one from a private collection).

Special Factors: This book's uniqueness is two-fold. It allows the reader to see the valley beyond the context of the water wars between Los Angeles and the Owens Valley residents. This has not been done in a poetic way since Mary Austin published Land of Little Rain in 1903. Because of the nature of the fieldwork and archival research, the book also offers an example of a way of seeing place, one that is intuitive, holistic, and doesn't set culture and nature into a false dichotomy. Rather than interpret the story of the landscape, the author uses oral histories, letters, journals, memoirs, and interviews to allow the voices of other people to speak.

Significance: The perception of landscape architecture is of a discipline with thin scholarship. While the author disagrees with this perception, it is one that persists outside and, to some degree, within the discipline. This is because scholarship is evaluated by a very narrow measure, one that says only that which can be counted counts. This measure only values the reductionist methods of research borrowed from the social and physical sciences. The author believes the history of landscape architecture is ripe with examples of practitioners and scholars of landscape architecture contributing to the discipline through thoughtful and reflective examination of place. A Land Between contributes to this long legacy of research conducted within the discipline that then communicates (in this case in book form) to a broader public.

2002 Award Winners
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