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“Down to Earth”: Exhibition about Environmental Issues

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 The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints & Photographs Division.

The renowned editorial cartoon artist Herblock (1909-2001) was a vocal advocate for the environment throughout his long career. The new exhibition “Down to Earth” presents a fascinating look at toxic waste, air pollution, and land conservation by pairing Herblock’s hard hitting yet humorous original drawings with striking contemporary photographs.

The exhibition curators, Sara W. Duke and Carol Johnson, work in the Prints & Photographs Division. When I asked them about their creative idea to mix cartoons and photographs together, they agreed, “We were happy at how well the images matched. Due to the richness of our collections, we could represent many topics with strong images in both media.”

The formerly good earth / Herblock.
The Formerly Good Earth, Drawing by Herblock, 1970. © Herb Block Foundation, used with permission.

Reveilletown, La. Photograph by Sam Kittner, November 1988.
Reveilletown, La. Photograph by Sam Kittner, November 1988. Gift of Kent and Marcia Minichiello, 2001. © Sam Kittner, used with permission. (photo appears in online version of the exhibition)

In 1970, Herblock supported the passage of the Clean Air Act in a drawing about the world-wide risks of pollution. The photographer Sam Kittner showed the consequences of industrial pollution for a historic community in Louisiana that had to be relocated.

"All right, all right - I believe it" / Herblock.
“All right, all right – I believe it.” Drawing by Herblock, 1998. © Herb Block Foundation, used with permission.


[River 1, 7/2007, position 69 degrees 40' 12" north, 49 degrees 54' 28" west, altitude 70 m, Greenland ice cap melting area]
River 1, position 16, 69 degrees 40′ 12″ north, 49 degrees 54′ 28″ west, altitude 70 m, Greenland ice cap melting area. Photograph by Olaf Otto Becker, July 2007. © Olaf Otto Becker, used with permission.

In 1998, Herblock commented on the reality of global warming by drawing a heat wave that wouldn’t quit. A decade later, German photographer Olaf Otto Becker documented a river formed by melting ice in Greenland and used geographic coordinates in the image title to help track the impact of climate change in the future.

Generous support from the Herbert L. Block Foundation made the exhibition possible.

Learn More:

  • View the “Down to Earth” exhibition online.
  • Visit the show in person, through March 23, 2013, at the Graphic Arts Gallery in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
  • Several photographers and collectors are giving gallery talks about their work.

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