Emma Silverman

At Armstrong Redwoods State Park in Guerneville California, tourists crowd a well-marked interpretive nature trail, eagerly marveling at the aged, massive trees. Most are unaware that on the steep hill above them stands a small complex of weathered, wood-paneled buildings. This is Pond Farm, and though it is not as immediately awe-inspiring as the towering redwoods, it is also site of historic significance.

Pond Farm was founded as an artist’s colony in 1949, based on models like the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College. For the first several years, artists taught students in a variety of media, but for most of Pond Farm’s existence—from 1952 to 1980—it was a summer program devoted to ceramics, run by the inimitable Marguerite Wildenhain. A generation of ceramic artists trained with Wildenhain, hiking to the top of the sunny hill and spending seven or eight hours a day at the pottery wheel.

In 1963 the Parks Service bought the land around Pond Farm and struck a deal with Wildenhain—she was allowed to live on the property for the rest of her days, after which time Pond Farm would become part of the State Park. Since Wildenhain passed away in 1985 Pond Farm has lain dormant, and its importance for histories of art, understandings of ceramics, and local culture has not been widely recognized. Thus, the current staff of the Parks Service and the Stewards the Coast and Redwoods are faced with the problem of how to preserve the history of a little-known site that is located far from a mainstream art institution—up a narrow winding road, in the midst of a forest.

This summer I’ll be working with these organizations to develop a digital history map of Pond Farm, which will integrate photographs, documents, and video oral histories. The publics for this project are multiple. Certainly the many tourists who visit the park comprise a public—they may encounter this map on the Armstrong Redwoods State Park website, or in person at the visitor’s center. Therefore, the map must be appealing and straightforward enough to engage the casual viewer. Another public are the artists and scholars who have more than a passing interest in the history of Pond Farm, who might want to understand it within in a larger cultural history. The map must be complex and authoritative enough for them, and link to further resources for study. In addition, funders comprise a third public are funders, who might look at the map to make a decision as to whether or not they want to help to sustain the physical presence of the site. The map needs to persuade them that Pond Farm is worth preserving.

In her book Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology, and Politics, Zizi Papacharissi describes how social media can sustain an affective connection, “a feeling of being there” (32). Papacharissi is referring to tweets during the Arab Spring, a format that is much more instantaneous and collective than a digital map. However, Papacharissi’s insights about the affective bonds formed through digital technologies are highly relevant. For my publics to care about Pond Farm, a digital map must give them a feeling of “being there” without ever having set foot on the site.

In order for this project to be successful, I take my lead from Steven Lubar’s admonition in Seven Rules for Public Humanists that a scholar must become “a facilitator and translator as well as an expert.” For there do exist excellent scholarly books and essays written on Marguerite Wildenhain and Pond Farm, yet the site remains relatively unknown to a broader public. My task is therefore to translate the existing knowledge into a format that will engage my publics, facilitating the creation of affective bonds between Pond Farm and multiply positioned viewers of the digital history map.