LECTURE: In the Arms of Saguaros | William L. Bird
Join historian William L. Bird for a exploration at how the saguaro cactus become the far-flung icon of the American west. Historically the iconography of the Carnegiea gigantea has served many promotional needs. First, as a leading botanical curiosity illustrating 19th century government survey party reports; and closer to our time, as a welcoming metaphor of southwestern travel and tourism whose outstretched arms gathered resources, beckoned visitors and hooked new residents. Discovering that there was nothing like cozying up to a saguaro, desert publicists in the postwar era created a social saguaro in the company of freshly starched western wear and bathing suits. Models typically rested or stood barefoot in and on the arms of saguaros whose troublesome spines had been removed for the purpose of a pose. The saguaros that sacrificed their spines for tourism represent the closing of an era of environmental ambivalence at the dawn of a greater appreciation of the fragility of nature’s sharpest curves. William Lawrence Bird is Curator Emeritus at the National Museum of American History – Smithsonian Institution. He received a B.A. in History from the University of Maryland (1973); M.A. in History from the University of Arizona (1975); and Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University (1985). He began his museum career while a graduate student at the University of Arizona, working part time at the Arizona Historical Society with a grant-in-aid funded by Emory and Ann-Eve Johnson. He is a former Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellow at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, University of Wisconsin – Madison. His work has appeared in Smithsonian; History Today; Technology & Culture; The Encyclopedia of Radio and Television; and American Art Review. His museum exhibits and books include Holidays on Display; Paint by Number: America’s Doll House; Souvenir Nation; and American Democracy. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.