Leopold Writer in Residence: Gretchen Ernster Henderson

14Sep6:00 pm7:30 pmLeopold Writer in Residence: Gretchen Ernster HendersonTalk

Event Details

Life in the Tar Seeps: Renewable Land Ethics through Land Arts


Join Aldo and Estella Leopold Writer in Residence, Gretchen Ernster Henderson, for her talk exploring land ethics through land arts as she focuses on Great Salt Lake as a watershed for reperceiving overlooked places to renew approaches for environmental healing. Located in the Carson National Forest, “Mi Casita” is an inspiring retreat for distinguished and emerging writers, thinkers, and artists to reflect and write about the relevance of Aldo Leopold’s ideas to 21st century cultural and environmental issues. This year, the Leopold Writing Program celebrates the 11th anniversary of this influential residency.


At Great Salt Lake, near Robert Smithson’s iconic earthwork Spiral Jetty, a motley crew of scientists walk the mudflats of a reputedly dead sea to study fossils in the making. In 1970, Smithson selected this site for his artwork because of the seeps of raw oil. Gretchen Henderson came to the tar seeps, of natural asphalt, after recovering from being hit by a car in a crosswalk, made of manufactured asphalt. Like the spiraling artwork that made the Great Salt Lake’s north shore famous, Henderson’s associations of life and death, degeneration and regeneration, and injury and healing slowly congealed. As she reexamined pressing issues that this delicate area revealed about the climate crisis, her sense of ecology spiraled into other ways of perceiving the lake and its entangled lives. How do we confront our vulnerability to recognize kindred dynamics in our living planet? How do we move beyond narrow concepts of the beautiful and the ugly to care for ecosystems that evolve over time? Life in the Tar Seeps contemplates the ways that others have understood this body of water, enlivening more than this region alone. As Henderson witnesses scientists, artistic curators, land managers, and students working collaboratively to steward a challenging place, she grows to see the lake not as dead but as deeply alive, a watershed for shifting perceptions of any overlooked place, offering possibilities for environmental healing across the planet.


Gretchen Ernster Henderson (MFA, PhD) is a multimedia writer and educator who bridges environmental arts, cultural histories, and integrative sciences. Her just released fifth book, Life in the Tar Seeps: A Spiraling Ecology from a Dying Sea (Trinity University Press 2023), grew from her 2017–19 Annie Clark Tanner Fellowship in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah and has been seeping across a variety of exhibitions, publications, and field practices. As she explores watersheds, Gretchen is interested in how the arts and aesthetics contribute to collaborative approaches to environmental stewardship. Her 2023 Aldo & Estella Leopold Writing Residency draws on the Leopolds’ legacy of interconnecting ecosystems through land ethics that are renewable with each generation, shaped also by human and planetary disability and health. Born and raised in California, Gretchen is a senior lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and also teaches seasonally at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Virginia and the University of Arizona Poetry Center in the Sonoran Desert.



September 14, 2023 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm