In order to show a commercially based agricultural economy and to highlight the role of Chinese men in the workforce, I suggested that the Watsonville field be made to look like an early apple orchard, with strawberries planted between the trees, and that the scene be peopled with cast figures representing the workers in the field. In order to do interplanting, which I thought would visually suggest a landscape and community in the process of changing, the scene needed to be set in the 1890s. That made it possible to show Chinese workers, but also talk about the changing nature of the workforce in the area, because Japanese men began to take over in the valleys orchards in the late 1890s.
And thats what we decided to do.
Then came the task of turning what Id learned from books into an accurate, three-dimensional setting. What would an 1890s apple orchard look like? Before I took the job with America on the Move,
if youd asked me that question, Id have said Who cares? But part of the joy of working on a large exhibition project is that you get to research the strangest things, and you get to discover that thinking about apples and strawberries and sugar beets can be completely absorbing, and can make you think about the practice of history, and how to know the past.