Americana: Vermont

In My Neck of the Woods
September 25, 2011 to November 07, 2011

Vermont resides within the historical landscape of New England, which was the first region to be developed as American territories. The original settlers in the 1700's forced their way into this lush landscape, three quarters of which was forest, cutting down tree after tree. Alongside the production of maple syrup, logging has been one of Vermont's largest industries for over 250 years. As a result, growing alongside this history is the deep-rooted cultural identity of the lumberjack or woodsmen.

From the earliest days of logging in the 1700's through the early 1900's, being a lumberjack was a real job and an actual way of life. Working, living, and, inevitably, dying alongside each other, the logging men worked hard and played hard. As the story now goes, a lumberjack was a large man, tall, hairy, bearded no doubt, and armed with an axe or a rifle. He wore long johns, flannel, suspenders and stomped about in heavily worn boots. Lumberjacks have been celebrated via songs, myths and folklore including the mythic hero Paul Bunyan, and by state and world championships, such as the Logger Olympics. Pride, masculinity, physical strength, competitiveness and hunger were key to a lumberjack’s identity.

Two hundred years later, many who would have once referred to themselves as lumberjacks, both through trade and lifestyle, would now rather be called loggers or ax- men. Wishing to step away from this illustrious cliché, these tradesmen see the lumberjack as an identity that has gone astray. And how could they not? Many loggers and ax-men today come from a long lineage of lumberjacks and inherit a resilient pride in relation to their craft and community. But in a time when GQ magazine declares the urban lumberjack in vogue through an article titled The New Face of Wall Street, or when the lumberjack is one of the most popular Halloween costumes found among masked serial killers and super heroes, there no longer seems to be much connection between this famous icon and his roots.

In MY Neck of the Woods aims to trace and tease out these lumberjack myths and clichés through a visual timeline tracking its evolution; from the lumberjack’s origins in the logging camps of early America to today's modern and trendy inner-city lumberjack and jills. The timeline is represented visually by an illustration of lumberjack silhouettes knocking down a tree and traversing it across America, portraying the migration of the lumberjack from the northeast in the early 1700's to the northwest in the early 1800's. Key points in logging history are represented by individual silhouettes, and further elaborated on in didactic materials alongside the foresting and logging history of Vermont, which runs in parallel. As the lumberjack morphed from a labor-mans position and a symbol of hyper masculinity and dominance of nature to a modern sustainable woodsman who tries to reconnect with nature, Vermont's lumber history addresses and evolves through similar struggles. After nearing complete deforestation by 1900, Vermont today, is within reach of total forest regrowth and through new practices of sustainable logging, is now one of the greenest states.

Chelsea Perry

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