Discussing the influence of the classics on America is nothing new; indeed, classical antiquity could be considered second only to Christianity as a force in modeling America's national identity. Read more...
Discussing the influence of the classics on America is nothing new; indeed, classical antiquity could be considered second only to Christianity as a force in modeling America's national identity. What has never been explored until now is how, from the beginning, Californians in particular chose to visually and culturally craft their new world using the rhetoric of classical antiquity.
Through a lively exploration of material culture, literature, and architecture, American Arcadia offers a tour through California's development as a Mediterranean haven from the late nineteenth century to the present. In its earliest days, California was touted as the last opportunity for alienated Yankees to establish the refined gentleman-farmer culture envisioned by Jefferson and build new cities free of the filth and corruption of those they left back East. Through architecture and landscape design Californians fashioned an Arcadian setting evocative of ancient Greece and Rome.Later, as Arcadia gave way to urban sprawl, entire city plans were drafted to conjure classical antiquity, self-styled villas dotted the hills, and utopian communities began to shape the state's social atmosphere.
Art historian Peter J. Holliday traces the classical influence primarily through the evidence of material culture, yet the book emphasizes the stories and people, famous and forgotten, behind the works, such as Florence Yoch, the renowned landscape designer and set designer for Gone with the Wind, and "Sister Aimee" Semple McPherson, the most publicized Christian evangelist of her day, whose sermons filled the Pantheon-like Angelus Temple. Telling stories from the creation of the famed aqueducts that turned the semi-arid landscape to a cornucopia of almonds, alfalfa, and oranges to the birth of the body-sculpting movement, American Arcadia offers readers a new way of seeing our past and ourselves.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-02
- Reviewer: Staff
Holliday (The Origins of Roman Historical Commemoration in the Visual Arts) catalogs and examines the many ways in which classicism has influenced visual culture, architecture, and society in California. Writing from a place of personal interest, California native Holliday, a professor of the history of art and classical archaeology at California State University, Long Beach, describes the importance of the Roman classical civilization in early American society and traces its influence on California, where Arcadian imagery was used to sell the state to outsiders and to help develop its identity in contrast to “the dense industrial cities of the East and Midwest.” Holliday discusses film, architecture, landscape painting, agriculture, water policy, and even fitness trends and spiritualism. Many noteworthy figures who helped cement the idea of California as an Arcadian paradise (intentionally or not) are also taken up, including writer John Muir, Mexican painter Diego Rivera, and public intellectual Charles Fletcher Lummis, who advocated for the preservation of California’s missions. In the last chapter, Holliday reflects on contemporary issues that stand in stark contrast against the concept of California as blissful utopia, namely urban sprawl, industry, and drought. Well-researched and all-encompassing, this is a thoughtful analysis of how contemporary Californian culture came to be. Photos. (June)