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Doomtown: The Atomic Art of Doug Waterfield

October 12, 2012 – January 20, 2013

An exploration of atomic testing phenomena and subsequent 1950′s atomic culture is captured in “DOOMTOWN,” the original paintings of atomic art by Doug Waterfield in his exhibition opening October 12 at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge.

When the Atomic Energy Commission, predecessor to the Department of Energy, began 1950′s testing of atomic bombs in the Nevada Test Site, the creation of several “Survival Towns” also known as “Doomtowns” were part of the test. These replica towns were built to see what the effects of the detonation of atomic weapons would have on Anytown, USA. The houses were furnished and peopled with mannequins. The photos and film footage that survives from these tests was quite influential on Waterfield’s painting series, entitled “Doomtown.” It is a commentary on a bygone age of American history, and is an effort to bring awareness to the past known as the Atomic Age – an age of optimism, technological advances and unmitigated paranoia.

“I first became interested in atomic testing while watching some documentaries on the Trinity test and the Nevada Test Site. I was particularly interested in the “survival towns.” These were recreations of what was considered to be the quintessential American town, populated by mannequins, and then lit up by atomic blasts to see what the effects would be. I couldn’t get that idea out of my head. There was so much potential symbolism there. The projected identities of the mannequins, the psychological effects of seeing human analogs destroyed by atomic blasts, all of it captivated me. It was also a slice of society that has passed us by. Many people are not aware of the details of what actually occurred during the tests. That’s one of the driving forces behind my work – educating the public. I don’t want to take a political view on the morality of atomic testing – people already know what to think of that. I want to take this little known aspect of our history as a world power and shed a little light on it – that’s all, ” explained Waterfield.

Doug Waterfield is an Arkansas native currently residing in Nebraska with his family. He is an associate professor art at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. His work has been shown nationally for the past 25 years.

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