Note: While currently out of print, requests for the 'Garden of Eden on Wheels' catalogue have been such that we have chosen to make the essays and selected images available on our web page.
Erna Aljasmets, Eesti NSV udhariduskoolide opilaste toid
And swear by him who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer. Rev 10:6
In 1933 Mary Elliott Wing, a seamstress living in Roanoke Virginia, conceived of and constructed the first truly modern mobile home. Inspired both by the dimensions of the Biblical ark as well as Scriptural accounts of the Noachian deluge and promises of subsequent apocalyptic eras, Mary Wing devised a mobile dwelling capable of quickly adapting to a world of rapid changing environmental and social conditions. Whether driven by the lure of distant attractions or the threat of impending disaster, Mary Wing's mobile home was able to uproot at a moments notice and migrate to any location to which her 1930 Chevrolet could haul her and her mobile dwelling. Mary Wing's construction project was inspired not only by the physical Ark but by its plan and purpose as well. Living as she was in the early years of the economic downturn of the 1930's, Mary Wing carefully and lovingly equipped her trailer with all such things as would be needed to preserve life against the devastating economic storm that raged outside the protected confines of her land-ark.
Mary Wing's was, of course, neither the first mobile dwelling nor even the first mobile home in the contemporary understanding of the term. As noted by J.B. Jackson in his The Movable Dwelling and How it Came to America,
The verb to dwell has a distinct meaning. At one time it meant to hesitate, to linger to delay, as when we say, "He is dwelling too long on this insignificant matter." To dwell, like the verb to abide (from which we derive abode) simply means to pause, to stay put for a length of time; it implies that we will eventually move on.
As if propelled by a literal understanding of the verb, the dwellings of our forefathers were for millennia predominantly mobile in nature. As David A. Thornburg remarks,
The history of the house trailer really begins with the covered carts and wagons used by prehistoric nomads who wandered the steppes of Asia. Four thousand year old models of these ox drawn vehicles have been unearthed in Syria, and Assyria, some of them looking surprisingly like 19th century Conestogas.
The house trailer is, of course, but a sub-set of the larger age-old category of mobile dwelling. From the Basque sheepherder tent/coat and Bedouin woven goat hair "blacktent" to Mongolian yurts, human ingenuity has created an astonishing array of portable dwellings.
However, in America, it was the migratory worker and seasonal factory worker, tacking together small masonite trailers or packing up their home built housecars and assembling in camps as early as 1920; or, the evangelist, carpenter or salesman, who built their first trailer to follow some private dream; or simply the old time "trailerite" or auto camper, a casual, cantankerous and fiercely independent soul of the teens and twenties who together caused a brand new industry, mobile home production, to emerge and flourish right out of the depths of the Great Depression.
* * *Coincidentally, as the seamstress Mary Elliott Wing was designing and constructing her mobile home on the Atlantic coast, 3000 miles away on the Pacific coast, the astronomer, Edwin Hubble, observing distant stars from the vantage point of a 5000 ft. mountain-top a short distance north east of Pasadena, California, was making important observations concerning the spectra of distant stars - observations that help place Mary Wing's unique efforts in perspective.Erna Aljasmets is Keeper of Folk, Traditional and Urban Handcrafts at the Eesti NSV udhariduskoolide opilaste toid in Tallinn, Estonia. Erna teaches Vernacular Art and Aesthetics at the Eesti vabariik kultuuripaevade raames and is a Research Fellow in Visual and Cultural Studies at the Vasteliina keskkooli optetaja. She has curated several handcrafts exhibitions in locations as diverse as Moscow, Yerevan, Kiev, Switzerland, Berlin, and Helsinki, as well as her native Tallinn. Her books include Ma ise ilutegija (1969), Laste loomeroom (1978), and Laste loomertoo (1988).
Hubble's keen, if fortuitous, 1933 observation that the more distant the star the redder the coloration of its characteristic spectra, was the first step in what was to become a cascade of deductive reasoning which culminated in two of the most significant understandings in the history of Western cosmological thought - namely that the universe is thousands or millions of times larger than was commonly supposed and secondly, the universe is not only much larger than had been assumed but it is dramatically increasing in size with each passing moment.
There is an important corollary to Hubble's second realization that all of existence is expanding: if the amount of matter in the universe is more or less fixed but the size of the universe is constantly expanding, then the space between the objects in the universe is that which is increasing. The amount of matter in creation is not expanding; the distance between the bits of matter is getting greater. In other words the stuff of existence is thinning out, getting colder, running down. Or in the words of W.B. Yeats "the center does not hold; things fall apart."
Ants Viires, the noted Estonian historian, responding in 1975 to Hubble's view of an ever expanding cosmos, wrote in his Puud ja inimesed: puude osast Eesti rehvakulturis "...time ravages everything, our person, our experience, our material world. In the end everything will be lost. In the end there is only the darkness. ...and despite the apparent fullness and richness of our lives there is, deposited at the core of each of us, a seed of this total loss of this inevitable and ultimate darkness."
Against this flood of darkness, against this inevitable annihilation, certain individuals are called upon to preserve what they can. And those of us who hear and heed this call to hold back for a time some small part of existence from the inevitability of entropic disintegration have come to be known as collectors.
Steven Jay Gould and Rosamond Wolff Purcell in their poetic essay on collecting, Finders, Keepers, note that collecting is an act of passion. Speaking of the 16th through 19th century collectors, represented in their unabashedly beautiful book, Gould and Purcell note:
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They all believed passionately in the value of their work; they were driven, sometimes at the cost of life or sanity, by this conviction, this urge to collect, to bring part of a limitless diversity into an orbit of personal or public appreciation. In an age of passivity, where Walkman and television bring so much to us and demand so little in return, we must grasp the engaging passion of these collectors, And we must also remember that passion, for all it public and private joys, literally means suffering.
If viewed from the perspective of self-preservation, this activity of gathering together, compiling and tending to often useless objects might appear illogical. In attempt to make sense of this seeming senseless and curiously compulsive activity, commentary on themes of collecting often focus on issues of scarcity and value, on the of amassment of objects as a vehicle for the accumulation of wealth and/or power. But it is all too easy to ascribe motives of self interest to this passion to gather - to view collecting as an act of hoarding, of taking for one's self when, in fact, to assume the mantle of gathering for aftertime can just as easily be viewed as a self-less if not sacrificial act.
Over the past half century agricultural science has engineered remarkably successful plants with yields that would have been unthinkable a century ago. These remarkable successes have understandably rendered these hybrids nearly ubiquitous. This success and ubiquity, however, carry with them very real if often overlooked risks - risks of susceptibility of the world's hybridized food stuffs to disease and the very real potential for famine - risks which have been eclipsed in the largely justifiable euphoria of success. Against this possibility of potential wide scale famine, as well as out of simple concern for the loss of genetic material, there has developed a system know as The Indigenous Seed Bank Project, a loose network of gardeners around the world.
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Like Adam and Eve tending to and caring for their Garden, the seed bank gardeners, by collecting, sowing and harvesting seeds of traditional indigenous plants, are similarly cultivating and caring for genetic strains, perhaps as ancient as the Garden itself - strains that would have surely been lost were it not for the seed bank's collective effort. Similarly, if less concretely, all collectors can be seen as participating in a larger species wide project of keeping and preserving the "stuff of life", nourishment in another but not less important form, from the ravages of time.
Four thousand three hundred and forty three years ago, Noah, was called to build an ark and provision it with all such as was necessary to withstand the impending apocalypse. That ark proved to be the first and most complete museum of natural history ever assembled and, by extension, Noah and his family, the first and most successful of collectors - collecting systematically, if urgently, to rescue from extinction all of creation. Sixty three years ago, Mary Elliot Wing was also called to build an ark and provision it with all such as was necessary to withstand the economic apocalypse of the 1930's. Like Noah and his family, Mary Wing also built and assembled those things necessary to rescue from extinction life itself.
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And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. Rev 10:6
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Whether by earthquake, seas of blood and clouds of human-faced locusts or the final entropic death of all star matter, knowledge of the end of time is part of human consciousness and Ants Viires' "seed of total loss, of inevitable and ultimate darkness" resides in us all. Against this inevitability of ruin, some of us are called to collect and preserve. And it is our belief that those who have been appointed collectors are in fact serving in that capacity for us all. This exhibition presents the fruits of the efforts of five such individuals to whom we are deeply indebted.
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