watershed transposed

June 1, 2024

I started work on this series of prints a year ago, and also four years ago. These plants, transposed over a set of 1955 maps showing New York City, come from botanical specimens and illustrations I completed during my archival research and fieldwork in the city’s rural watershed in 2020-2023. They suggest the living, growing spaces that have been made both desirable and necessary because of watershed management over the past century—the Joe Pye weed and goldenrod that grow in meadows, the yarrow and cow parsley on the edges of roads, the Japanese knotweed that forms dense embankments along the edges of farm fields and riverbanks.

I have chosen to overlay these plants on maps of New York City because I aim to draw attention to the ways in which both city and rural watershed are spatially entangled.

The maps represent the city at this turning point moment, when the social, economic, ecological, and cultural geography of the Catskills was being rapidly remade to provide water. I chose maps of New York City from this period because the 1950s saw a rapid expansion of the territory and reservoirs which make up the city’s water supply.

By 1955 the Pepacton Reservoir, the largest of the city’s six rural reservoirs, had just been completed in Delaware County, New York. Work had already begun on the Cannonsville Reservoir, which would be completed a decade later in 1965. This period also represents a past landscape of which there are still living memories today, held and shared by former reservoir valley residents who continue to gather to remember these places.

When water supply managers transformed the Catskills landscape to create a water supply for the city, flooding six river valleys and displacing several dozen villages and hamlets, they drew an intimate link between these distant places. Everyday life—from driving down the highway to running a farm—in the watershed is shaped by the need to provide clean water for the city. Equally important, New York City’s own geography and ecology is shaped by its relationship to this rural watershed. By layering these plants over the city to which water from this region flows, I visualize the ways in which the city and the rural watershed each extend into one another’s spaces.