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American Landscapes - Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World

American Landscapes

Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World

Edited by Ann J. Abadie & J. Richard Gruber
Series: University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses Series

Hardcover : 9781496845733, 352 pages, 257 color illustrations, October 2023

A lushly illustrated consideration of the significance of landscapes in art and literature during times of unprecedented change


American Landscapes: Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World is a major contemporary survey of landscapes in art and literature of the United States, especially the American South. Inspired by William Dunlap’s extraordinary landscape Meditations on the Origins of Agriculture in America and a collection of forty paintings and photographs by Southern artists, this volume brings together artists, authors, and scholars to present new perspectives on art and literature both past and present.

The volume includes art and text from artists John Alexander, Jason Bouldin, William Dunlap, Carlyle Wolfe Lee, Ke Francis, Linda Burgess, Randy Hayes; photographers Sally Mann, Ed Croom, and Huger Foote; museum directors Betsy Bradley, Jane Livingston, and Julian Rankin; and authors W. Ralph Eubanks, John Grisham, J. Richard Gruber, Jessica B. Harris, Lisa Howorth, Julia Reed, Natasha Trethewey, Curtis Wilkie, Joseph M. Pierce, and Drew Gilpin Faust. This diverse group explores major eras of American history portrayed in Dunlap’s painting, a landscape that evokes the displacement and genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the Civil War, and William Faulkner’s fiction. They examine the history of landscape art in America, connecting art with the works of major writers like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Natasha Trethewey, and Jesmyn Ward.

In eighteen new essays written during the pandemic and since the events of January 6, 2021, the essayists emphasize how the key issues Dunlap addressed in his 1987 artwork have become part of the national discourse and make his work even more vital today.


"This sumptuously designed book explores the artistic legacy of William Dunlap, one of the American South’s most acclaimed painters. Insightful essays place Dunlap’s work within the broader context of American and Southern landscape traditions. The book also includes conversations among some of the most engaging commentators on the South, giving readers an intimate glimpse into the world of Southern art and museums. The discussion of the Southern roadside is sparkling and fun, too. The book is a feast of Southern creativity and enlightenment as the region’s art is placed in juxtaposition with its traditions in literature and music. It is one of the most significant recent contributions to understanding Southern culture."

- Charles Reagan Wilson, professor emeritus of history and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi

"With incisive vision, American Landscapes offers creative insight into the many-layered meanings of Southern landscapes."

- Ligia Römer, director of the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation

"Landscape is one of the sinews of American history, identity, and character. And nowhere is that better demonstrated than in this monumental volume. From the gorgeous illustrations to the historical essays to the reflections of the artists and photographers, this book is a cornucopia of delight. Editors Abadie and Gruber and their contributors have given us a book to be both valued and cherished."

- Robert W. Hamblin, emeritus professor of English at Southeast Missouri State University

"You will want this collection on your coffee table or nightstand. Keep it close for reference, reflection, and inspiration. They are all here, an assortment of Mississippi luminaries, thoughtfully telling you about Southern road trips and the formidable power of this place we call home."

- Margaret McMullan, author of Where the Angels Lived

"A big, elegant fish-fry of a book, where elite meet to beat their feet, with adroitly situated picture windows."

- Roy Blount Jr., author of Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South; Alphabet Juice; and Roy Blount’s Book of Southern Humor

"Imagine an epic dinner party that rages late into the night, attended by the South’s finest artists and thinkers, emboldened by good food and strong drink and stronger opinion. This smart book offers a seat at that table and a feast of bold new ways to regard landscapes as yoke and lodestar, puzzle and myth."

- John T. Edge, director of the Mississippi Lab at the University of Mississippi and author of The Potlikker Papers

"Readers will enjoy a riveting cultural road trip though the American South. The twenty-five contributors—painters, photographers, writers, culinary artists, curators, and museum directors—reflect on the rich Southern ‘sense of place,’ landscapes physical, personal, historical, and artistic. A brilliant master class in visual and verbal arts richly illustrated and presented in spirited conversations among the luminaries who shape the South’s artistic landscapes today. Truly, a trip worth taking!"

- Annette Trefzer, author of Exposing Mississippi: Eudora Welty’s Photographic Reflections

"My friend David Dark argues that beauty prepares the heart for justice. In the same way, American Landscapes straightens our collective spine to walk with courage into a new day, bolstered by the beauty drenching the pages of this lovely book."

- Susan M. Glisson, executive director of the Welcome Table Collaborative, a network of organizations devoted to racial healing, reckoning, and repair

"Commemorating an important interdisciplinary symposium celebrating the work of the artist William Dunlap, Ann Abadie and Richard Gruber have assembled a stunning monument to the Southern landscape, bringing key painters, photographers, writers, literary critics, and more into a communal meditation on the land that inspired and shaped them all. The essays and exhibits (which include glorious full-color reproductions of art of all types) illustrate the aesthetic and deeply human reflections the South’s body has stimulated from generations of artists, thinkers, and ordinary citizens. Simultaneously the collection limns the effect of seismic cultural events, such as the civil rights movement and the pandemic, on the production of images of the land, providing exhilarating evidence of the South’s changing same."

- John Wharton Lowe, author of Calypso Magnolia: The Crosscurrents of Caribbean and Southern Literature

"To meditate is to focus one’s mind deliberately, attentively. American Landscapes: Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World results from a community of painters, poets, photographers, writers, editors, philanthropists, curators, and designers collaborating with ‘an angle of vision’ (Jane Livingston) inviting viewers and readers to think deeply about all aspects of this work’s subjects: landscapes, art, literature, a changing America. This collage of more than 150 images of art, keynote presentations, conversations, event photographs, the full exhibition of Landscape Painting and Photography, a coda of twenty post-pandemic reflections brings to mind Joseph Cornell’s Americana Fantastica for the cover of the January 1943 View, a surrealist magazine. Yet, when I consider William Dunlap’s 1987 monumental Meditations on the Origins of Agriculture in America, impetus for the March 2019 symposium ‘Meditations on the Landscape in Art and Literature’ at the University of Mississippi that engendered American Landscapes: Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World, I salute the genius of editor Ann Abadie, designer John Langston, artist William Dunlap, and curator J. Richard Gruber, and I envision the experience of viewing a creation by M. C. Escher. Narrative artist Ke Francis writes in his coda ‘Meditations on Landscape,’ ‘We see the caterpillar and we see the butterfly, but we are missing the magic transformational power of that metamorphosis.’ The bold assemblage of these meditations corrects such a misstep. Each page of American Landscapes: Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World (the publication is a work of art itself) invites us to meditate on the mysteries of time and landscape."

- Pearl Amelia McHaney, author of A Tyrannous Eye: Eudora Welty’s Nonfiction and Photography and editor of The Eye That Is Language: A Transatlantic View of Eudora Welty by Danièle Pitavy-Souques

"The pleasures and rewards of this volume radiate outward from William Dunlap’s extraordinary, haunting painting, Meditations on the Origins of Agriculture in America, through the museum exhibition curated around the painting and the interdisciplinary symposium organized to celebrate and explore it, and outward still further into the history of American landscape painting, the Mississippi artist’s eye and ear for the land, and the challenges of painting, writing, and curating against a contemporary landscape of pandemic and imposed solitude. Splendid and sumptuous, this book is a feast for the eyes and mind."

- Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies and Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Mississippi

"American Landscapes: Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World is a wonderful tribute to the life and art of William Dunlap. Twenty-five writers, artists, photographers, and art historians whose work is anchored in the American South reflect on Dunlap’s work Meditations on the Origins of Agriculture in America and how the region’s sense of place inspires its artists and writers. Beautifully edited by Ann Abadie and Richard Gruber, the book explores Southern art and literature in exciting new ways."

- William Ferris, author of I AM A MAN: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1960–1970

"Profusely and beautiful illustrated throughout with full color photos and images, American Landscapes: Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World is an inherently fascinating and impressively informative read from start to finish."

- Susan Bethany, Midwest Book Review

"I would recommend this text for anyone that enjoys the interdisciplinary nature of art history and how creative works often illuminate the socio-political sentiments of their time. That being said, the imagery is high quality and would also serve as an excellent coffee table addition."

- Lacy Ellinwood, Mississippi Books Page/The Clarion-Ledger