Perspectives: Hydropower as Art

I lack artistic ability, so I definitely admire and appreciate this talent in others. I had a friend in elementary school who could draw, it seems, without effort. I would just sit in awe and watch him draw all sorts of images, freehand. Even my stick figures are scarcely recognizable as representing people.

Naturally – given my interests in both art and hydroelectric generation – I was intrigued to learn about an art exhibit in Westminster, Md., entitled “Hydropower.” Micah Cash, a painter and photographer based in Charlotte, N.C., displayed a collection of his paintings and photographs of hydroelectric power facilities in September and October at McDaniel College in Westminster. His work “examines how land use, landscapes and their social histories influence cultural geography,” according to his website.

The paintings he exhibited are abstract in nature and are quite striking. They show 21 hydropower facilities: Barkley, Bear Creek, Chatuge, Cherokee, Chickamauga, Douglas, Fontana, Fort Loudoun, Guntersville, Hiwassee, Melton Hill, Nickajack, Norris, Ocoee #2, Pickwick Landing, Tellico, Tims Ford, Watauga, Watts Bar and Wheeler.

Why paint hydro facilities? As Cash explains on his website: “These paintings are informed by the large-scale landscape alteration of hydroelectric dam sites. They are reconstructed and synthesized landscapes of specific locations, rebuilt from memory. Impacted by my experience, the paintings are created to express how I remember these locations, particularly in response to the cultural and ecological compromises of the surrounding communities.”

The photographs exhibited are part of Cash’s Dangerous Waters collection, which documents the cultural shifts that have come since the Tennessee Valley Authority public works projects “altered the course of the American South.” A total of 22 facilities are shown in this collection: Apalachia, Blue Ridge, Boone, Chatuge, Chickamauga, Dogwood, Douglas, Fontana, Fort Loudon, Great Falls, Hiwassee, Kentucky, Melton Hill, Nickajack, Norris, Ocoee #2, Pickwick Landing, South Holston, Tellico, Tims Ford, Watauga and Wilson.

If you want to view these paintings or photographs, visit

Learning about this exhibit prompted me to spend some time looking into other artists who may have used hydropower as an inspiration for their expressions. And I found a few:

  • Cool Globes was an exhibition of 120 sculpted globes, each 5 feet in diameter, along the lakefront in Chicago in 2007. Among these was a globe crafted by Aesop Rhim, titled Hydropower, that represented hydropower in the oceans, based on the movement of tides and waves.
  • In Edmonds, Wash., artist April Richardson teaches a class – Art in the Park at Rocky Reach Dam – that uses art to inform students about hydropower, nature, and local fish and wildlife.
  • Portland General Electric hosts an Art Jam at its hydroelectric facilities to “foster public appreciation of the rich historyof hydropower in the Pacific Northwest.” Dozens of artists create unique works that are subsequently displayed for the public.

I have visited many hydropower facilities over my 13 years of working on Hydro Review, and I can say they are all unique and beautiful. The photo on page 12, of the 1,872-MW Ludington pumped-storage plant in Michigan, is a perfect example of this unique beauty.

So show us your beautiful hydroelectric plants. Email me your best photos, paintings or even videos (, and in the future you may see them featured in the pages of Hydro Review.

Elizabeth Ingram
Managing Editor


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