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Jess, If all the world were paper
- The August 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the American military announced the beginning of the Atomic Age, a period of anxiety that escalated into the decades-long Cold War with the USSR.
- Beginning in 1942, the American government sponsored the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop atomic energy and weapons. After World War II, many scientists (including Jess, the artist) continued to work at centers across the country, such as the Hanford Atomic Energy project in Washington State.
- Jess worked for the Manhattan Project and Hanford Atomic Energy before coming to believe that these technologies would destroy the world. Turning to a career in art, Jess used symbols to create multiple levels of meaning in his paintings. Works like If All the World Were Paper and All the Water Sink suggest the possibility of apocalypse, but also leave much to the viewer’s own interpretation.
See this painting at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Read more about Jess (Burgess Franklin Collins) from FAMSF
Read about the circle of poets, writers, and artists surrounding Jess
Learn about the Cold War and 1950s anxieties about the Atomic age
Learn more about the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb and explore primary sources about it
Read more about the life of Robert Oppenheimer and nuclear technology after WWII
Listen to oral histories by people involved with the Manhattan Project
Explore the construction of the Hanford and the people who were displaced in the process
Read about the Hanford Site today
Explore the 17th-century book that inspired the title of this painting
More to think about
Our society celebrates advances in technology (the newest phone camera, or the latest social media channel) but it’s clear that technology also causes us great anxiety. Movies depict robots that threaten our existence, recent developments in genetic engineering raise the specter of artificially-created human beings, and enough atomic weapons exist to end all life. Can science and the development of technology lead us too far from our humanity?