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Elise Brewster collaborating with the San Francisco Estuary Institute

Award: $35,000 Visual Arts grant awarded in 2002

Presented in several public sites: Winter 2004

Through an innovative partnership between art and science, this project sought to make visible the hidden physical history of three Bay Area landscapes. Artists Elise Brewster and Susan Schwartzenberg collaborated with scientist Robin Grossinger and the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) to illuminate the Bay Area’s landscape history using outdoor signage (“The BayBoards”), a library exhibit, a museum forum, and a web site.

The project emerged from research into the region’s ecological history conducted over many years by Grossinger, Brewster, Josh Collins, Chuck Striplen, and other SFEI investigators, along with other local historians, archivists, and environmental scientists. Elise Brewster had synthesized historical documents into compelling maps.  Inspired by the maps’ content, she developed an artistic practice of creating three-dimensional “Reclaimed Views” of local settings—illustrating how they looked decades and centuries earlier.

The “BayBoards” were strategically placed in San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany to offer glimpses into how adjacent locations (such as Albany Hill) likely looked in the past. Exhibits at the Lawrence Hall of Science and the San Francisco Public Library and a website allowed viewers to access materials collected during study of each site.

Elise Brewster’s work combines environmental sculpture, visual art, and landscape architecture. She has accomplished numerous public landscape projects, including “Pews” at the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, and “A Room with a View,” at the Port of Oakland.

SFEI is a nonprofit environmental science research institute, based in Oakland, California.  It was established to serve as a central, public-interest resource center for the scientific understanding necessary to protect and restore the Bay Area. SFEI’s Historical Ecology Project, developed by Grossinger, Collins, and Brewster, has gained national and international attention for its innovative synthesis of thousands of historical documents into compelling maps of the pre-European landscape.