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Special Collections & University Archives


Terraforming: Art and Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed

Terraforming: Art and Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed opens Thursday, January 26, 2017, with reception from 3-5 in the Green Library Rotunda, Stanford University

Cross-disciplinary exhibition examines California water history 

The Stanford University Libraries presents Terraforming: Art and Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed, a new cross-disciplinary exhibition curated by Laura Cassidy Rogers (PhD Candidate in Modern Thought and Literature) and Emily Grubert (PhD Candidate in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources). The exhibition is on view in the Peterson Gallery, Green Library Bing Wing, from January 26 to April 30, 2017 with a public reception on Thursday, January 26, from 3-5 PM in the Munger Rotunda. 

Terraforming: Art and Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed examines the history of freshwater in the Sacramento Watershed, juxtaposing materials from the archive of California artists Helen and Newton Harrison with materials from local, state, and national archives that document the development of water resources in California’s Central Valley and the West. Presented as discrete, parallel displays—with Art on one side of the gallery and Engineering on the other—the exhibition demonstrates that social and environmental consciousness has manifest in both professions, and that artists and engineers can work together to rethink and reimagine freshwater landscapes and ecology in a sustainable way.

Art in the Sacramento Watershed

Born in New York City in 1927 and 1932 respectively, Helen and Newton Harrison came of age in the years following WWII and married in 1953 with ambitions to develop and use their abilities in a way that would benefit society. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Helen studied language, learning, and social psychology and Newton studied painting and sculpture. That period of training and self-reflection is key to appreciating their 50-year tenure as collaborating artists and educators in the UC system, first at UC San Diego and subsequently at UC Santa Cruz. In the first decade of their collaboration, the 1970s, the Harrisons began to pose questions that challenged institutional norms and advanced a new model of artistic research that engaged with both social and environmental issues. For example, in Sacramento Meditations (1976–1977), the Harrisons challenged the historic transformation of the Sacramento River, Delta, and Bays of San Francisco from a seasonal floodplain into an intensive irrigation economy with dams, canals, levees, and drains, asking “What if all that irrigated farming isn’t necessary?”

Art in the Sacramento Watershed draws selectively from the Harrison archive to show their development as artists, and to demonstrate the creativity and utility of their artistic research in the context of California’s Central Valley and the West. The exhibition highlights Sacramento Meditations (1976-1977) as well as a more recent work called, The Bays at San Francisco (2007–present). But they have worked extensively through the world in areas as varied as Japan, Brazil, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, and Tibet. 

Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed

The timeline of Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed begins a century earlier, at the time of the Gold Rush. Just weeks after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, news of the discovery of gold in the Sacramento Valley swept the nation to spur a massive wave of westward migration, settlement, and water demand. The completion of the transcontinental railroads, built in the decades after the American Civil War (1865–1890), brought millions more people and their water needs to this arid region. In response to the need, surveyors and engineers developed proposals for water management in California’s Central Valley. This precipitated the construction of a major system of canals, dams, and other built infrastructure known as the Central Valley Project. Maps, letters, photographs, diagrams, and objects from local, state, and national archives as well as private collections tell the story of the Central Valley Project with a focus on Folsom Dam on the American River, which runs from the Sierra Nevada to its confluence with the Sacramento River in the Sacramento Valley.

Dialogue and Convergence

The cross-disciplinary argument of Terraforming: Art and Engineering in the Sacramento Watershed is that these parallel histories converge temporally and conceptually in the 1970s when artists and engineers alike began to question the guiding tenets of their professions, concurrent with a broader turn toward social and environmental consciousness in the United States. In the 1970s, the Harrisons abandoned the tenets of abstraction and its reverence for art objects to engage more directly in the compositional fields of the physical environment. And civil engineers began to more explicitly consider questions of ecosystem sustainability in addition to questions of water provisioning and human safety, developing into the field now increasingly styled as Civil and Environmental Engineering. The exhibition thus follows art and engineering to the present day to argue that human influence and creativity will continue to shape freshwater systems in California, with challenges like climate change, groundwater depletion, and wetlands restoration continuing to require multidisciplinary effort and collaboration. 

About the Harrison Papers

Stanford acquired the Harrison Papers in 2010, introduced the archive to the Stanford community in the exhibition and symposium Art Meets Technology: Core Samples from Nine Archives in the fall of 2013, and made the archive fully available for research in 2016 upon completion of processing by project archivists Lucy Waldrop and Freya Channing. Photographs, original drawings and collage, exhibition posters, audio and video recordings, and topographic maps are major components of the archive, supplementing 72 project files that document the Harrisons’ wide-ranging artistic research in conjunction with their site-based works. A project gallery of the Harrison Papers is available for online viewing at

In conjunction with the exhibition, and in recognition of the Harrisons’ status as recipients of the inaugural 2013 Award for Imaginative Cartography from the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS), “Tibet is the High Ground,” an ongoing work by the Harrison Studio, is on display in the David Rumsey Map Center, Green Library Bing Wing, 4th Floor. 

Visitor Information

Exhibit cases are illuminated daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open; hours vary with the academic schedule. To confirm library hours, call 650-723-0931 or go to

The David Rumsey Map Center, Green Library Bing Wing, 4th Floor, is open to the public weekdays from 1-5 p.m.

For a map of campus, transportation, and parking information, go to

Note: The exhibition is free and open to the public; first-time visitors and those without Stanford ID must register at the entrance to Green Library before entering the building.


Stanford Stories from the Archives: 1891–2016

Logo version of poster design for Stanford Stories exhibition

To celebrate the university’s 125th anniversary the Stanford University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, presents Stanford Stories from the Archives, featuring letters, photographs, publications, objects, and ephemera that show the evolution and unique aspects of student life on the Farm. The primary exhibition and three smaller satellite shows will be mounted in Green Library and the Arrillaga Alumni Center.

Opening October 6, 2016, exhibit cases in the Green Library Rotunda explore specific topics central to the Stanford experience: Student Traditions, Activism, Housing, Overseas Study, and Fieldwork. Those in the adjacent 2nd floor Peterson Gallery examine student life decade by decade beginning with the Pioneer Class. The south lobby of Green Library’s east wing features a display of “Stanford Athletic Firsts.” Beginning October 20, 2016, “Stanford Innovators” will be on display in the Bender Room, and the Arrillaga Alumni Center will feature “Incomparable: The Stanford Band.”

By exploring the decade-by-decade cases reaching back to 1891, viewers will witness how profoundly changed student life today is compared to the University’s early years. Back then, co-founder Jane Stanford invited students to socialize in her home (“Only students expected / Dancing,” she wrote in a handwritten letter to President David Starr Jordan in 1903), enrollment was tuition-free, and cars were politely discouraged beyond the entrance gates to prevent the horses from spooking. Racial and ethnic diversity was minimal: the vast majority of students were of Caucasian descent (the Pioneer class boasted a single African American and a handful of Japanese American students, all male), and a curfew and strict code of conduct regulated the lives of coeds. The ban on automobiles was lifted in 1914, tuition in the amount of $40 per quarter was introduced in 1920, and the student body gradually diversified, in large part due to student activist demands beginning in the 1960s. Social regulations for female students endured into the mid-1960s, when a rent strike forced the university to allow off-campus housing for women.

Despite the significant differences between Stanford student life of yore and of today, similarities abound, especially concerning student engagement with and responses to natural and world events: earthquakes, floods, wars, and racial, sexual, and economic injustices to name a few. As evidenced by the holdings of the University Archives, then as now, Stanford students get involved. On display are a student pass-card for participation in San Francisco relief efforts following the 1906 earthquake and fire, a WWI volunteer ambulance corps application and arm patch for those who served on the front lines, and photographs of WWII military training in the heart of campus, as well as students picketing on the library lawn against nuclear testing in the late 1950s. Vietnam War-era opposition to conscription and weapons research, civil rights,  activism, and the beginnings of sexual liberation and gender politics are represented in artifacts such as a 1966 mimeographed flier voicing impassioned opposition to selective service testing, a handwritten letter from the student-initiated Stanford Sexual Rights Forum to Stanford News Service Director Bob Beyers, informing him of the group’s intention to demand access to birth control and support the rights of homosexuals, and a typescript of the “ten demands” issued by members of the Black Student Union following the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Traditions and student amusements, entertainment, and creative endeavors get exposure throughout the exhibit, but a strong current of social activism, and of students taking charge of charting the direction of their own educations, runs through the Stanford Stories from the Archives: 1891–2016 exhibit in Green Library’s Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda.

The curatorial team for the primary exhibit has selected for display documents, photographs, and audiovisual clips, by turns charming and alarming by contemporary standards, that reflect the attitudes of their time, attest to the comparative simplicity of campus life a century or even a half-century ago, invite discussion, and challenge viewers—in looking back at how things were and how and why they’ve changed—to consider what’s ahead.

The Archives has partnered with graduate students in the Documentary Filmmaking program to create a short virtual reality film titled “Moments of Innovation: A Stanford Virtual Experience,” which weaves Stanford past and present into a unique visual experience. The movie will be viewable on YouTube and on an Oculus Rift in the David Rumsey Map Center, located on the 4th floor of Green Library Bing Wing and open weekdays from 1-5 p.m. 

An online version of Stanford Stories from the Archives will be live at as of October 6, 2016.

Subtext to the telling of these stories is a request that alumni and other members of the Stanford community consider donating—or loaning for selective scanning—materials related to their time on the Farm: scrapbooks, photographs, letters, fliers, audio and video recordings, among other formats. Student life represents one of the most difficult aspects of the Stanford experience to document, and as the steward of Stanford’s institutional memory, the University Archives proactively collects these ephemeral stories and materials. “Help ensure your story is told as part of the larger Stanford story” is a prevailing theme of the main exhibit and its satellites. To learn how to share your materials with the Archives, please visit or email

A public reception is planned for Wednesday, October 6 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Green Library Bing Wing Rotunda.

Exhibit cases are illuminated daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open; hours vary with the academic schedule. To confirm library hours, call 650-723-0931 or go to

For a map of campus and transportation information, go to

The exhibition is free and open to the public; first-time visitors and those without Stanford ID must register at the entrance to Green Library before entering the building.