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Christoph Irmscher
IU Department of English

Jennifer Piurek
Univeristy Communications

Last modified: Monday, September 13, 2010

IU's Lilly Library offers sustainability exhibition as part of 2010 Themester

Sept. 13, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- From the first stirrings of environmental consciousness in the early American republic to modern "resource wars," a new exhibit at Indiana University's Lilly Library offers a chronological look at concepts of sustainability over the past 200 years.

"Straw Leaves, Table-Bugs, and Birch-Bark Poems: Sustainability at the Lilly," curated by IU Professor Christoph Irmscher, is the first of several Themester-related exhibitions planned for this fall. A program of IU's College of Arts and Sciences, the university's fall themed semester focuses on topics related to "Sustainability: Thriving on a Small Planet."

The Lilly exhibit opened Sept. 1 and continues through Oct. 11. A public reception is scheduled for Sept. 14 (Tuesday), from 5 to 7 p.m. During the reception, Irmscher will lead tours of the exhibit.

"Straw Leaves, Table-Bugs, and Birch-Bark Poems" also shares archival materials on sustainability and addresses general topics, such as the relationship between book-making and the environment, and the increasing concern modern environmentalists have shown for young readers.

Irmscher said that aside from highlighting "the amazing variety and breadth of the Lilly's collections," the exhibit also shows that writers and artists have "for quite a long time thought creatively about the relationship between human and nonhuman animals."

Among the items on display are the writings of naturalist William Bartram and an inscribed copy of Resource Wars by writer-photographer-environmental educator Subhankar Banerjee, who will be in residence on the IU campus from Oct. 19-22 as a featured guest of Themester 2010.

John Muir

The Lilly Library purchased this photo of John Muir specifically for this exhibit.

Other noteworthy items are a first edition of Rachel Carson's seminal book Silent Spring and several editions of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck alongside a press kit for the 1940 movie of the same name and the Best Director Oscar that was awarded to John Ford for the film. In addition to Henry David Thoreau's Walden is an 1856 letter Thoreau wrote to a friend who was preparing for a wilderness adventure: "As for a knapsack, I should say wear something watertight & comfortable, with two or three pockets to keep things separate. Wear old shoes; carry no thin clothes. Do not forget needle and thread and pins, a compass, and the best pocket map of the country obtainable."

A privately printed edition of Beatrix Potter's famous The Tale of Peter Rabbit contains an illustration later excised from the published book that shows Mrs. McGregor serving the pie containing Peter Rabbit's father to her husband and the family dog.

Also part of the exhibition is a 1983 "broadside" (an early poster used to announce an event or issue a proclamation) by author Wendell Berry, a prolific farmer-poet-essayist and one of the gurus of the modern conservation movement. He will read from his works on campus Nov. 9 and Nov. 11 as part of IU's Patten Lecture Series.

Others Themester-related art exhibitions this semester include:

  • "African Reinventions: Reused Materials in Popular Culture." IU Art Museum. Opening reception on Friday, Sept. 24, 6:30-8 p.m. On display Sept. 25-Dec. 19.
  • "Resource Wars in the American Arctic: Photographs by Subhankar Banerjee." School of Fine Arts Gallery. Opening reception at 7 p.m., Oct. 22. Open through Nov. 19.
  • "Dreams for a Sustainable Future Community Art Project with local artist Joe LaMantia" (various locations and dates).

View a complete calendar of Themester events. To receive a regular update of weekly Themester activities and events, e-mail with "add me to the listserv" in the subject line.