Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison
Among the leading pioneers of the eco-art movement, the collaborative team of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison (often referred to simply as “the Harrisons”) have worked for over forty years with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to initiate collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions which support biodiversity and community development. The Harrisons’ concept of art embraces a breathtaking range of disciplines. They are historians, diplomats, ecologists, investigators, emissaries and art activists. Their work involves proposing solutions and involves not only public discussion, but also community involvement and extensive mapping and documentation of these proposals in an art context. Past projects have focused on watershed restoration, urban renewal, agriculture and forestry issues and urban ecologies. The Harrisons’ visionary projects have, on occasion, led to changes in governmental policy and have expanded dialogue around previously unexplored issues leading to practical implementations variously in the United States and Europe. There is a large body of literature on their work. They have exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe, and been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the European Union, the German, Dutch, French and English Governments and have won the following:
- 1992 Nagoya Biennale, Artec. 2nd prize for “Atempause fur den Sava Fluss”, translated into Japanese.
- 1996 Concrete Association, Award for “California Wash”, for doing the most original concrete work in the USA for that year.
- 2001 inaugural Groenevald Prize awarded for Greenheart Vision, for doing the most for the Dutch land scape in that year.
- 2010 inaugural AWE inspiring Award for arts and the environment, for doing the most to explain Global Warming to the British Public, The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management in association with the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World.
- 2013 NACIS inaugural Corlis Benefidio Award for Imaginative Cartography from the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS), 2013, a Lifetime Award
Artists and scientists
They are historians, diplomats, ecologists, investigators, emissaries and art activists. Their work involves proposing solutions and involves not only public discussion, but community involvement and extensive mapping and documentation of these proposals in an art context. Past projects have focused on watershed restoration, urban renewal, agriculture and forestry issues and urban ecologies.
In Honor and Memory of Helen Mayer Harrison
July 1st, 1927-March 24th, 2018
Helen Harrison, my wife of 65 years, the mother of our four children, my co-worker in the peace movement and my co-creator in the world of ecologically driven art for now 50 years, drew her last breath at 8.49 this Saturday morning. Three of our four children, Steven, Gabriel, Joy, and myself were holding her at that moment. Our fourth child, Josh, had just spoken to her on the phone from New York. For the past two years, as the dementia became more demanding, loving people, myself, our kids and a wonderful array of caregivers included, looked after her twenty-four hours of every day. Her last breath, so very quiet, so very peaceful. I want to thank all of you who have written so kindly, so generously, in such a heartfelt manner, in e-mails, snail mail, facebook and other media. So thank you. And thank you again.
Most everybody knows about Helen and our collaboration, and if you wish to know extensively, it’s in our Force Majeure book. But there is an early Helen that only a few people around us at critical moments knew. Helen was a kind of polymath, who easily entered disciplines as diverse as mathematics, sociology, anthropology and the like. Almost forgotten is that in 1958 she started the first Montessori school in the city of Florence, working directly with one of Maria Montessori’s most accomplished students.
In 1960 we became part of the peace movement in the East Village, NYC, leading marches from the lower East side. The group she helped put together included Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker, Dave McReynolds of the War Resisters League, Judith Malina and Julian Beck of the Living Theater, David Dellinger of the Pacifist Anarchist Group, Robert Gilmore from the American Friends Service Committee and there were others. Finally, she became the first New York coordinator for the Women’s Strike for Peace, followed a few years later by Bella Abzug. Moreover, she was one of the organizers of the women’s march on Washington in 1961, which protested above ground atomic bomb testing.
From my perspective, she participated creatively and generously to the history that she actually made. Before we first married in 1953, we had a lot of fun discussing how much smarter than each other we were, since each of us could do easily lots of things that the other found difficult. In 1965, we began a teaching career – I teaching sculpture at the University of New Mexico, and she teaching literature there. She set up special classes for the Native American kids, who often had to leave school and help family with the harvest and then come back to school. Helen invented extremely creative curricula to accommodate these students.
In 1967 we were made a stunning offer to teach at University of California in San Diego, I helping form the Art Department and Helen taking over Educational Programs, and being groomed to become the first woman Vice-Chancellor in the history of the University. We did a lot of work back then with Third World College, Herbert Marcuse and Angela Davis were the founders.
On a few -isms, moving to the University of California, we ran into the French. Ah, the French. We were encouraged, she more than I, to become structuralists after Levi-Strauss. That faded, and we were encouraged to become post-structuralists, which also faded and we were assured that if we became semioticians we could do remarkable work. And as that faded, post-modernism came along. We had a morning conversation – either she said or I said – let’s skip it, postmodernism, that is, which we did. Radical deconstruction appeared to us to be neither radical nor did it deconstruct anything in the material sense. Best to make earth, which we did do.
In 1970, Helen put aside ever becoming a Vice-Chancellor, resigned and joined me in art making. We had long decided to do no work that did not benefit the ecosystem. Our collective work began with me making topsoil and she growing our food in it. Our early collaboration was based in part on Helen being an illuminated co-producer of small parts of our work. Equal collaboration was assumed when she added to the work sufficiently, transformational ideas, for it to no longer look like the work I did. This happened in the last months of 1973 and the first months of 1974 where she brought into the work global warming, elaborated narrative, and photography. The Lagoon Cycle followed, beginning in 1974 and continuing to 1984. It looked like nothing I had ever done, it looked like nothing Helen had ever done either. It was obviously something we had collectively done, and so by 1975, really it should have been 1974, we became co-equal collaborators, hence her name is first on the Lagoon Cycle.
By the mid-90s, when we were in our 60s, while we were doing large scale ecologically based environmental work in Germany, we decided to try a bold experiment. We began to teach each other how to be each other, so that if one went before the other, work could continue. Everything else about Helen that she has done is more of a public nature and in our book. Above all her empathic powers which, entangled with her intellectual powers, made her the force to contend with and the person with whom I spent 65 rich years.
Joshua Harrison - Co- director
Joshua is an accomplished filmmaker, interactive producer and online educator. As and undergraduate, he founded UC Students for Solar Energy, and was instrumental in convincing the University of California at San Diego to add solar engineering to its curriculum, as well incorporating solar water heating to its campus infrastructure. During that period, he organized the first alternative energy fair in Southern California. He later served as policy director for the Ecology Center of Southern California, and did extensive lobbying on coastal and water conservation issues as well as serving as the youngest member of the California Democratic Central Committee. In the 1980's he assisted Newton and Helen Harrison with a number of artworks testing the possibilities of incorporating environmental concepts into everyday life. Josh was a Fulbright fellow in Argentina in 1995 and 1996, investigating the relationship between the author Jorge Luis Borges and then emerging world wide web. He the co-founder and artistic director of the St Barth FIlm festival - dedicated to promoting Caribbean film and film culture, now celebrating its 19th season. He is currently Director of Learning and Performance at Drury Design, design and building interactive curricula and learning programs for major corporate clients.
Kelly Skye - Communications and Project Manager
Kelly has a MSc Environmental Science, MFA Digital Arts New Media. Kelly is responsible for the centers communication strategy as well as acting as our in-house graphic designer, and video producer.
Matthew Jamieson - GIS specialist and mapmaker
Matthew has a BS in Geography and a MFA in Digital Arts and New MEdia. He has worked for many years as a GIS analyst and professional mapmaker.
Ruthanna Barnett - Studio and research assistant
Ruby had a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Lancaster. She also has practiced Human Rights Law as a LLDip LPC.
Edward Shanken - Senior researcher
Ed has a PhD in Art History from Duke University. He is a Associate Professor at UC Santa Cruz a is a well known writer and teaches about art-science collaboration, surveillance culture, interactivity, sound art, and ecology.
David McConville - Senior researcher
David has a PhD in Art & Media from the University of Plymouth. He is chairman of the Buckminster Fuller Institute and co-founder of Spherical, an integrative design and research studio.
Brett Hall – Site Manager
Brett is the Director of the UCSC Arboretum and State Board President of the California Native Plant Society and has many decades of experience sampling and growing montane as well as coastal vegetation. His experience covers botany, ecology, vegetation mapping and classification, propagation and nursery cultivation, garden and landscape design, interpretation and restoration. He is also involved coastal rare plant community conservation research.
SCIENCE ADVISORY COUNCIL
V. Thomas Parker, PhD
Professor of Biology. San Francisco State Univeristiy. Specialties: Plant Ecology, Community Ecology, Vegetation dynamics (dispersal, seed banks, seedling establishment, mycorrhizae), Fire Ecology, Vegetation conservation and management, Evolution and Ecology of Arctostaphylos (Ericaceae) and Ceanothus (Rhamnaceae), Tidal Wetlands, Chaparral, Mixed Evergreen Forests. Co-author with Mike Vasey on the genus Arctostaphylos for Flora of North America and the Jepson Manual of California Vegetation.
Michael Vasey, PhD
Interim Director, San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Biology Lecturer. San Francisco State University. Specialties include Ecology and Evolution, Tidal wetland eco-systems, fire ecology. Co-author with Tom Parker on the genus Arctostaphylos for Flora of North America and the Jepson Manual of California Vegetation.
Todd Keeler-Wolf, PhD
Senior Environmental Scientist. California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Vegetation Classification and Mapping Program
Committee Chair, Vegetation Program, California Native Plant Society
Michael Hamilton, PhD
Director, Blue Oak Ranch Reserve, University of California, Berkeley
Conservation Biology, Ecology, Natural Areas Stewardship, Geographic Information Systems, Sensor Networks, Eco-Informatics
Aside from the 6 projects currently developed by the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure, the Harrisons’ visionary projects have, on occasion, led to changes in governmental policy and have expanded dialogue around previously unexplored issues leading to practical implementations variously in the United States and Europe. There is a large body of literature on their work.
The World Ocean is a Great Draftsman 1978
A High water line is drawn around the globe. The poetic text goes into some detail about what the world might look like and feel like. It ends in a question, “When catastrophe happens, will we help each other?” 35 years later the answer appears to be maybe, at best.
The Garden of Hot Winds and Warm Rains 1996
The question is asked, “What will Bonn Germany look like with a 3°C temperature rise?” Answers are suggested by Paleobotanical research, which goes back 300 billion years and finds the Dawn Redwoods and many other species that now exist.
Greenhouse Britain 2006
An 8’ x 14’ precise model of the island of Britain with 6 projectors above it. They project on the island waters with storm surges, moving up in 2-meter increments. The idea was to democratize global warming information, by making visible what would happen to people's lands and homes as waters rose, therefore encouraging people to become planners on their own behalf.