Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden

Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden

Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden

Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden

Synopsis

This innovative history of California opens up new vistas on the interrelationship among culture, nature, and society by focusing on the state's signature export--the orange. From the 1870s onward, California oranges were packaged in crates bearing colorful images of an Edenic landscape. This book demystifies those lush images, revealing the orange as a manufactured product of the state's orange industry. Orange Empire brings together for the first time the full story of the orange industry--how growers, scientists, and workers transformed the natural and social landscape of California, turning it into a factory for the production of millions of oranges. That industry put up billboards in cities across the nation and placed enticing pictures of sun-kissed fruits into nearly every American's home. It convinced Americans that oranges could be consumed as embodiments of pure nature and talismans of good health. But, as this book shows, the tables were turned during the Great Depression when Upton Sinclair, Carey McWilliams, Dorothea Lange, and John Steinbeck made the Orange Empire into a symbol of what was wrong with America's relationship to nature.

Excerpt

In the spring of 1931, a most unlikely figure could be seen in the new Luncheon Club of the San Francisco Stock Exchange. By all accounts, he went about his business with as much alacrity and stamina as the most ardent trader. But this man did not deal in stocks. a devoted Marxist, he considered such financial speculation the work of “parasitic exploiters.” in any other circumstances, this brown-skinned Mexican would not have gained access to the exclusive club. But his name was Diego Rivera, and he was considered by many to be the second-greatest living painter (and Picasso was not available). in this inner sanctum of an economic system he abhorred, Rivera was covering the walls with his Allegory of California (see figure 1).

In creating the mural, Rivera acted on his belief that art should relate to the conditions of life of its audience. He drew inspiration from the work of pre-Columbian artists, which “had been intensely local: related to the soil, the landscape, the forms, animals, deities, and colors of their own world.” in envisioning the mural while in Mexico, Rivera knew he wanted to “represent California with the three bases of her richness—gold, petroleum, and fruits.” As a stranger to this land, he would have to find some way to immerse himself in California’s actual and symbolic landscape. At first, however, it looked like Rivera’s entry into the Golden State would be denied. the fbi had a file on the artist, but the lobbying of San Francisco’s . . .

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