At its core, the “American Primitives” exhibition asserts a relationship between Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, an iconic manifesto of American individualism, and its evil twin, American isolationism. These works reflect upon a variety of radically self-centered worldviews served by the perceived righteousness of this lauded trait of American identity.
Since its inception with a declaration of independence, and the founding fathers’ anti-tyranny, pro-individual stance, our country has been characterized by Thoreau’s concept of self-reliance; the individual over the collective, the ‘me’ over the ‘we.’ Like his fellow transcendentalist, i.e. Emerson and his ‘giant eyeball,’ Whitman and his song of himself, Thoreau placed this self in nature; in the expanse of the great American landscape. Our iconography reflects this: the pioneer spirit, the laconic cowboy, the lone wolf, ‘roughing it’; a highly romantic perception of nature as truth and purity, where one’s truest self is found.