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Sierra Club Environmental Education Program
LeConte Memorial Lodge

this is the american earth 1955 exhibit and 1960 book

Joseph Le Conte Portrait - from the 1896 Blue and Gold University of California YearbookIn 1955, the Sierra Club mounted an exhibit entitled This Is the American Earth at the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley that represented a watershed in the annals of conservation advocacy.

The exhibit and the book of the same name, published five years later, were instrumental in spawning the modern "environmental movement." Originally created by photographer Ansel Adams and photographic historian and writer Nancy Newhall, This is the American Earth led to the Club's highly successful and award-winning "Exhibit Format" book series.

"This Is the American Earth is one of the great statements in the history of conservation," proclaimed Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. It has been reprinted several times in the subsequent decades. You may read an excerpt from the foreword by David Brower (off-site link). The is also a summary of The Making of This Is The American Earth by Landscape Photographer Blogger. (off-site link)

In recognition of the historical importance of This Is the American Earth, the Sierra Club reissued the book and re-created the exhibition as part of its 100th anniversary celebration in 1992. The new exhibit opened at the Ansel Adams Center in San Francisco, and was subsequently shown at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and on tour in Japan. During the summer of 1993, the Sierra Club hosted the This is the American Earth exhibit once again in Yosemite, this time at the Yosemite Museum next to the Visitor Center.

The exhibition and book comprises more than fifty stunning black and white photography, half by Ansel Adams and half by artists such as Werner Bischof, Margaret Bourke-White, William Garnett, Eliot Porter and Edward Weston. The photographs were drawn from public and private collections throughout the country. These magnificent photographs are accompanied by a poetic narrative text by Nancy Newhall, who made the selection of images included in the original book and exhibition.

The text and photographs explore the country's awakening to trends of environmental protection after the westward expansion of the mid-19th century, the establishment of National Parks to preserve wilderness areas and the need for a more global response to environmental protection in the wake of widespread urban and industrial development in the mid-20th century.

Despite being written more than fifty years ago, Newhall's compelling text remains a major document of environmental writing, one that speaks strongly to our contemporary world even in the twenty-first century.

Here is the complete text of the exhibition flyer of 1955 which accompanied the exhibit. We find its message rings even more true, 50 years later:

This is the American Earth

An exhibit on the theme of conservation, produced under the auspices of the California Academy of Sciences and the Sierra Club, exhibited at the LeConte Memorial Lodge, Yosemite Valley, summer of 1955.

The purpose of this exhibit This is the American Earth is not only to present the natural scene in terms of National Parks and wilderness areas, but also to give perspective to the whole vast pattern of conservation. We hope this will aid in a more specific appreciation of parks and wilderness and encourage constructive action in their behalf. the exhibit suggests the enormous inspirational potential of the natural scene, and pleads for wise forest protection and use, for the cautious building of dams, for understanding of management of the soil, and for the protection of wildlife. It strives for continuation of the wilderness mood, the spiritual experience of young and old in the presence of nature.

A great obligation of our age is to protect and wisely use our natural resources. Both the material and intangible resources of our land are constantly threatened by men who would exploit them for short-term gain. Much of the tangible wealth of the earth - the timber, grass, oil, minerals, and watershed - is gone. And the intangible wealth of nature - as expressed through the National Parks and Monuments and the great scenic areas - is continuously imperiled. The vigilance of individuals and organizations dedicated to an ordered progress of civilization, in our tim and in the time of our descendents, has done much to curb the destructive influences. It is a continuing vigil.


We suggest -

1. Start at the left-hand inner panel (No. 1) and follow through the six inner panels.

2. Go to the outer (west) panel and follow 7, 8, and 9.

3. Cross to the separate east panel (Redman's Sierra Nevada) then to Whiteman's Sierra Nevada.

4. Return to the east side of the room and take up the outer panels, 12, 13, and 14.

The custodian is prepared to give information on the Sierra Club, on the National Parks, and on Yosemite Valley.

Organizations such as the Sierra Club and its associated groups throughout the country continue to serve the cause of conservation and give their support to the ideals and efforts of the National Park Service toward the protection of our fast-dwindling wilderness areas. Your support of their program is invited.

The Sierra Club * 1050 Mills Tower * San Francisco 4

This exhibit was made possible by the generosity of Walter A. Starr. It was conceived by Nancy Newhall, writer, and Ansel Adams, photographer, with the collaboration of Frann Spencer Reynolds, artist, and Richard Reynolds, geographer, and Eldridge T. Spencer, architect, and Samuel Provenzano, artist. Acknowledgement is gratefully due to many individuals, organizations, and government bureaus who generously gave time, knowledge and illustrations to this project.

Information and Donations

For more information, during the summer contact Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge Curator, P.O. Box 755, Yosemite, CA 95389, (209) 372-4542.

During the winter, contact LeConte Lodge Committee Chair, Harold Wood, P.O. Box 3543, Visalia, CA 93278; phone: (559) 697-3525; e-mail:

Tax deductible donations to support the exhibits, renovation, and programming efforts of the LeConte Memorial can be made to "Sierra Club Foundation," marked for the LeConte Lodge Fund. Send to: Sierra Club Foundation, 2101 Webster St., Suite 1250, Oakland, CA 94612.

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