A Way Of Providing Ventilation
Adam Lenz & Zach Rowden
October 31 - November 12
Windsor Art Center - Windsor, Connecticut
A Way Of Providing Ventilation is a multidisciplinary project examining the history and architecture of the tobacco sheds in Windsor, Connecticut. The project is formed around a series of ten charcoal drawings, created by Adam Lenz while in residence at the Windsor Art Center. The drawings abstractly reflect on the landscape, architecture, and imagined airflow patterns of the regional tobacco sheds and are intended to serve as graphic scores - documents that incorporate graphics as a means of conveying musical directions in lieu of standardized Western musical notation. The drawings were interpreted by multi-instrumentalist and improviser Zach Rowden.
The tobacco industry has left a significant mark on central Connecticut. It played a major role in the economic development of the region, is responsible for much of the diversity of the greater-Hartford area, and has left an iconic architectural imprint on the landscape. During the Golden Era in the 1920s-30s, over 30,000 acres of land were dedicated to tobacco cultivation and by the 1950s the industry was estimated at over $50 million. The workforce needed to keep up with the demand far exceeded the local available population and resulted in widespread imigration. Over the last 150 years, immigrants have come from a wide range of places including Eastern Europe, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, other areas in the Caribbean, Mexico, the American South, and across the Northeast to work in the local tobacco industry. This has greatly contributed to the diverse makeup of Hartford, Bloomfield, and Windsor that persists today. The unique architecture of the tobacco sheds throughout the area has also left a significant visual mark on the region. They serve as symbols of the history and cultural identity of the Connecticut River Valley, especially as many of the sheds are being torn down with the industry adapting to climate, cultural, and economic shifts.
From late-September through early-October, Adam and Zach worked to Interpret the drawings during recording sessions held in the gallery and lobby spaces of the freight depot building at Windsor Art Center. These recordings form the source material for a sound installation exhibited alongside the drawings. Adam further manipulated and cut up these recordings, reconstructing them in layers in a manner similar to collage. The presentation of the sound installation is a non-linear realization of the drawings. It is intended as a means of capturing the overall spirit of the visual works, to provide a space for the listener to confront the physicality of the sheds and the tobacco curing process, and to acknowledge the complex history of tobacco growing in the Connecticut River Valley. The exhibition is also intended as a way of collectively processing and mourning the current demolition of the OJ Thrall Family tobacco sheds at the intersection of River Street and Kennedy Road, making way for an Amazon distribution facility.
During the recording sessions, Zach engaged sounds from the double bass, fiddle, and cured shade tobacco leaves grown in Windsor. At the interstices of the recording takes, Adam and Zach had discussions about local history and the history of tobacco in the region, smoking culture, the agricultural process surrounding tobacco, the architectural components of the regional tobacco sheds, and the flow of people and tobacco in and out of the Connecticut River Valley. These conversations helped to provide a framework for the improvisation sessions and to guide in Zach’s interpretations of the charcoal drawings.
The first recordings were based around a loose, deconstructed interpretation of a 17th Century English song Tobacco’s But An Indian Weed. English colonizers settled in Windsor in 1633 just a short walk from the Windsor Art Center on property now controlled by The Loomis Chaffee School. This site was a historically important trading post for the River Tribes of the Eastern Algonquian Confederation, with its location at the confluence of the Farmington and Connecticut Rivers. The Indigenous people of the Connecticut River Valley taught the colonizers how to cultivate tobacco in the region, a plant that had been used for medicinal and ritual purposes by the Indigenous people long before the arrival of Europeans. Although the installation doesn’t contain a direct statement of the English song, the harmonies hang in the air and echo the complexities of the local history surrounding the tobacco industry. These sonic fragments hint at the racism, cultural suppression, violence, and lack of contemporary recognition inflicted upon the Indigenous people of the region.
European colonizers began cultivating tobacco in the Connecticut River Valley in the early 17th Century. The hot, humid summers and rich soil provided optimal conditions for growing tobacco and the quality leaves produced in the region eventually became highly in demand as wrapper and binder leaves for premium cigars. After the seedlings are planted, the tobacco plants spend approximately eight weeks growing to maturity. The leaves are then harvested, sewn into bundles and hung in the sheds to cure. In 1901, seeds from tobacco plants growing on the island of Sumatra, in modern-day Indonesia, were brought to the area and planted by OJ Thrall. A system of growing the tobacco plants under shade cloths was developed to replicate the overcast conditions and high humidity of the tobacco-growing regions of Sumatra. Shade tobacco quickly became the preferred variety of tobacco in the valley, leading to the Golden Era of tobacco in Connecticut.
A variety of ventilation systems are incorporated in the design of Connecticut tobacco sheds, however, many of the iconic sheds in the Windsor area incorporate a levered, slat-wall system that allows for vertical wallboards to open, providing a means of ventilation control. While the tobacco leaves lose some of their moisture content while hanging in the sheds, the purpose of this step is to cure the leaves. The curing process allows for the color and flavor to be developed in the leaves and prepares the leaves for storage until they are ready for consumption. Many sheds incorporate heating elements fueled by gas tanks at the base of the sheds to assist in this process. The levered wall systems operate in balance with the heating elements and the local weather conditions to even out temperature, allow for gas exchange, to increase or decrease humidity, and to assist air movement throughout the shed.
Both the drawings and the sound installation presented in A Way Of Providing Ventilation draw heavily from this architectural feature. In the creation of the works, the slat-walled tobacco sheds were viewed as potential instruments. Their opened ventilation slots were envisioned to function similarly to a harmonica or a pipe organ where airflow through the access points allow for
the articulation of sound. Many of the drawings depict imagined airflow patterns through these structures and across the surrounding landscape. These images are accompanied by the creaks, squeaks, crackles, and airy sounds Zach recorded during the improvisation sessions, imagining the sound of the air flowing through the shed walls, across the curing tobacco leaves, and the sounds of the structure shifting in response to the pressure changes.
This exhibition is the culmination of a preliminary line of research into the history of tobacco growing in the Connecticut River Valley. Following the exhibition, Adam and Zach will further develop the sound installation components to be released as an album in 2021. The creative materials and research will continue to be examined as a growing body of work for additional exhibitions, live performances, and editions.
Coming Spring 2021
A Way Of Providing Ventilation (WAC)
Adam Lenz & Zach Rowden
Sleeping Gnome Arts
Limited Edition Cassette & Digital Download