ILLUSTRATED NEW ENGLAND
Not sure which of David Buckley Borden’s fantastic illustrations we first ran across, but whether it was the Masshole, the Demonym Map or one of his New England Ecological Engineers, we were hooked immediately. A landscape designer by day, David has a great Tumblr that we’ve been fans of for some time. To kick off 2014, he was kind enough to share some of his art and talk with us about how New England’s culture, landscape and ecology are reflected in his work.
AG: David, you’re originally from New England. We know it’s hard to describe where you’re from in just a few words, but what are one or two things the rest of the country (and/or New Englanders themselves) should know about the region?
DBB: The New England forest was once clear-cut on an Amazonian magnitude. At the height of the region’s merino wool craze in the 1840s, approximately 70% of the New England landscape was cleared for pasture and agriculture. This sheep craze is just one example of the culture-driven landscape transformations the region has undergone in the course of its history. New England was arguably saved from the ecological disaster of sheep farming by another major cultural event: the Civil War and the subsequent opening of the West. All landscapes are created and experienced within a cultural context, and this is important to keep in mind when getting to know New England, or any other region for that matter.
AG: What draws you to explore the cultural landscapes of New England through the lens of art? How does where you’re from influence what you do?
DBB: In my view, the human condition is a place-based experience and I’m exploring my place, New England, by way of art and design. Many of the ideas underlying my artwork are the same ideas I’m exploring in my landscape architecture practice. Part of my daily work is to analyze and communicate ideas related to landscape and this practice is often done through drawings. Still, the landscape architecture profession takes itself very seriously and operates on a long timeframe. My art is a creative counter to this; the artwork is created relatively quickly and is “light” in attitude, although no less informed. Because there are no clients to serve, my art allows me to explore my personal landscape-related interests including the nuances of being a native New Englander and the influence of place on the human experience.
AG: In several of your pieces, you combine cartography with the vernacular of New England. What is it about that intersection that interests you? Is there any sort of regional tradition along the same lines?
DBB: There is a regional tradition of cartography, especially in the terms of New England’s colonial past. Many of the earliest documentations of New England were maps; maps of exploration, territory, resources, rivers, trade routes, etc. Beyond its history, I love cartography because it’s accessible. People know the language of maps. As a creative device, the map is an ancient, yet highly effective, communication tool that still resonates with folks, much like the vernacular of New England. Both cartography and the vernacular are relevant and meaningful to a broad cross section of people, which is of great interest to me as both an artist and a designer of the built environment.
AG: Your artwork draws from not only the cultural aspects of New England, but also its ecology, geology, etc.—elements that you work with as a landscape designer. How have you (re-)discovered the landscape around you through your illustration?
DBB: In terms of landscape, if geology is the bones, then ecology is the hair, skin and nails. And culture is the heart and soul. I work at the junction of man and nature. Much of my New England artwork can be boiled down to insights, commentary, or interesting facts about this intersection of landscape and culture. Some of my illustrations are project proposals, some are nerdy inside jokes, but all are exercises in learning about a landscape’s existing and/or proposed condition. In essence, my art is a means to understanding a place.
AG: With the Maine plaid and the preferred disruptive pattern material (DPMs), you delineate states using fabric tropes. We’re intrigued by the idea of regional fabrics. Talk to us about what plaid and camouflage represent to New Englanders and how they’re worn and used.
DBB: The term “urban fabric” is sometimes used in the urban planning and design field to describe the density, character and built condition of cities and suburbs. For example, a city with narrow streets and lots of densely built small buildings is said to have a tight fabric. Along these lines of thinking, I explore the fabrics of regional landscapes. So, what type of fabric would best describe the Maine woods in winter? A red and black Buffalo plaid seemed right to me.
Camouflage, also known as disruptive pattern material (DPM), is certainly a popular clothing pattern in New England. It is used on everything from snowmobiles to bikinis. Each prevalent camouflage pattern has a unique origin and its own set of cultural associations, including stereotypes. In the case of state identity, you can bet your wool mittens, New England is divided on the issue of camouflage preference… On the regional scale, each state possesses unique landscapes: the finger lakes in New Hampshire, the blue hills of Massachusetts, the swamps of Rhode Island, the valleys of Vermont, etcetera. Each landscape has its own distinct landscape ecology patterns and from 2000 feet above they reveal their own unique patterns, which often look like military issued camouflage patterns.
AG: One of the things we’re trying to explore in the American Guide is the persistence of regionalism. How do you see that playing out in New England?
DBB: The maple syrup bucket is half full. The type of regionalism that runs hand-in-hand with “place as tourist attraction” is alive and well in the town commons of New England. The type of regionalism that centers on a unique regional place-based way of life defiantly limps along. Market forces and transportation and communication technologies certainly challenge the regional character of New England, but there are forces greater than iPhones, cheap drywall and two-day shipping. In particular, people’s longing to be rooted in a place and their willingness to carry on family/local traditions are at the core of the persistence of regionalism.
AG: Are there any artists or designers you admire who similarly explored (or currently explore) New England regionalism?
DBB: New England has a rich art history and currently has a variety of thriving regional creative hubs: Portland (ME), Brattleboro (VT), Peterborough (NH), Providence (RI), New Haven (CT) and my current hometown of Cambridge (MA). Some of the most influential “regional” artists to my creative work include Eric Sloane, Andrew Wyeth, Jon Piasecki, and my graduate school drawing instructor Anne McGee, who paints wonderfully insightful Fenway Park and Cape & Island scapes.
Although not artists per se, there are a number of influential New England-based writers who explore regionalism related topics in their work. These writers are the greatest influence on my fundamental understanding of the place-based experience and the complexity of cultural landscapes. My list is long, but three of the most powerful authors include Howard Mansfield (NH), John Stillgoe (MA), and Richard Forman (MA). And if I had to recommend just one book, it would be Stillgoe’s Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places.
AG: Besides your Tumblr, where else can we find your work?
DBB: I’d like to welcome everyone to attend the group art show at the Aviary Gallery on January 2nd in Jamaica Plain, MA. The show, entitled BEST IN SHOW: An exhibition of art inspired by animals, both real & imagined runs through the end of the month. I have two animals in the show.
Beyond the animals exhibition, I’m currently developing an art installation at Bodega in Boston for March and am working with Trifecta Editions on a three-day art happening in May.
In the interim I’m participating in the Boston Fun-A-Day project by developing 31 one-page landscape installation proposals during the Month of January. The ultimate goal is to build a couple of these proposals in the field this summer. I encourage people to follow the daily progress of this project on my tumblr and instagram or my ol’ fashioned website.
Editor’s note: We’d definitely recommend checking out the Aviary Gallery show if you’re in the area. The Gallery is at 48 South Street in Jamaica Plain, MA and the opening reception is tomorrow, January 2nd from 6-9pm. Pets are welcome and a portion of the show’s proceeds will be donated to the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
Illustrations in order of appearance - top to bottom, left to right:
1) Massachusetts’ Premiere Ecological Engineer - The Massachuset and Wampanoag tribes called the land I grew up in “Nanamooskeagin,” or “land of many beavers.” Sadly, the only castor canadensis I’ve seen in my hometown are found on the Abington town seal at the top of property tax bills. (Silkscreen print on 8 X 10” Rives BFK grey paper)
2) New England Demonym Map - Some times people name places. Other times places name people. (Mixed media: pencil, pen, watercolor, carbon transfer, photoshop touch. 8.5” X 11”, 2012)
3) Nurse Log- A familiar sight in the New England forest, the nurse log is essentially a fallen tree, covered with a layer of moss and organic debris. It provides a natural germination field for native species of shade loving plants. (Ink, graphite, colored pencil and carbon transfer on paper, 8.5 x 11”, Winter 2013)
4) Maine Is Cold Map (Collage, Winter 2013)
5) Masshole, Circa 1620 A.D. - The definition of a “masshole” is arguably as varied as the people of Massachusetts. My personal perspective is more concerned with local soil horizons than issues of poor driving manners or sour temperaments. (Two-color silkscreen print of this Masshole drawing available from Trifecta Editions)
6) Granite Love Letter - Installation Proposal:Life-sized fieldstone love note in the wild flower field on the southern hillside at Bobolink Farm in Harrisville, NH. Installation consists of 22 tons of dry-laid local granite field stone consisting of four stone fence inspired forms, laid out as “X O X O.”
7) Momma Said Knock You Out - The chestnut blight is a cruel organism; just as it appears the chestnut sapling has made its triumphant return and is going to shoot up to be a mighty tree of yore. It doesn’t. In the words of LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback/I’ve been here for years”… a sad arrested state for a tree that once made up the majority of America’s total tree cover. (Pen, pencil, carbon transfer on paper, 8” X 10”, Spring 2011)
8) New England DPM Preference Map (Mixed media: Pen, pencil, acrylic paint, illustrator. Spring 2013)
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David Buckley Borden is an artist, landscape designer (highly unlicensed landscape architect), and humorist hailing from the great state of New England. David’s art includes a variety of creative work ranging from landscape installations to silkscreen prints covering an even greater variety of interests in landscape architecture, all things “great outdoors,” and the past, present and future challenges to the lands of North America. Outside of work, when not leading his one-man campaign for sustainable cutis anserine americana, David can be found quietly playing in the dirt in and around his Cambridge, Massachusetts home.
Find more of his work at davidbuckleyborden.com, on Tumblr at davidbuckleyborden.tumblr.com and follow him on instagram.