Robert Smithson and the Origin of "Earthworks"

Description Land artist Robert Smithson came to Kent State as a visiting artist in January 1970. This photograph, from Special Collections and Archives’ Smithson collection, shows him at work on the piece he created here entitled Partially Buried Woodshed. Using existing architecture and dirt as well as machine and peopled labor, in the dead of a northeastern Ohio winter, Smithson piled soil on the roof of an abandoned shed at the edge of campus. The artist added just enough dirt and snow to push the support beams to their furthest extent. In time, the shed’s lintel would break, dealing a fatal blow to the building. For Smithson, Partially Buried Woodshed would forever remain in sync with its time and place, changing constantly and enduring uncertain conditions. What remains of the work today can be seen on campus, located just southeast of the Liquid Crystals Materials Science Building.
Smithson used and popularized the term “earthworks” to describe this and similar projects. Among them, Spiral Jetty is very well known and Partially Buried Woodshed is a regular topic of study in art history, peace studies, and environmental studies. An avid reader of science fiction, Smithson apparently borrowed his term ”earthworks” from British author Brian W. Aldiss’s novel of the same title. The 1967 American paperback edition seen here, from Special Collections and Archives’ book collection, was very likely the actual version of the book that the artist read and gleaned inspiration from. It’s interesting to imagine Smithson carrying this paperback, with this cover image, around with him sometime during the months prior to his visit here at Kent State.

--Guest curator, Dr. John-Michael Warner, KSU School of Art
Author/Photographer Aldiss, Brian W. (Brian Wilson), 1925- , author
Moore, Doug, photographer
Publisher New York: The New American Library
Date 1967-07; 1970-01
Extent 128 pages
8 x 10" b/w photographic print
Institution Kent State University
Repository Special Collections and Archives
Provenance/Collection Stephen Jama Collection (paperback novel)
Finding aid Robert I. Smithson, Partially Buried Woodshed Papers
LC Classification Number PR6051.L3 E2 1967
Portion Digitized Front cover of book
One photograph
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Access Rights This digital object is owned by Kent State University and may be protected by U.S. Copyright law (Title 17, USC). Please include proper citation and credit for use of this item. Use in publications or productions is prohibited without written permission from Kent State University. Please contact the Department of Special Collections and Archives for more information.
Duplication Policy
Date Copyrighted 1965
DPLA Rights Statement
Format of Original archive (mixed materials)


Curated by Kathleen Siebert Medicus with guest contributors