Many of us have heard about the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government undertaking during World War II which produced the first atomic weapons. Much less is known about Hanford Nuclear Site in south-central Washington state where plutonium used in the bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, was manufactured.
At the end of the Cold War, the Hanford Project reactors were decommissioned and millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste were left behind. In 2000, large portions of the site were designated the Hanford Reach National Monument, but the area remains the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States.
Artist Glenna Cole Allee became aware of the Hanford Project and its lingering effects on people and environment shortly before the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986. After years of research on the site and along the Columbia River, she amassed photographs, videos and interviews to create her 2022 exhibit “Hanford Reach.” This multimedia show is open to the public at Pacific’s Reynolds Gallery through April 1.
“The longer I worked at Hanford, the more distrust I had about what I was stepping over, what was directly under the ground, which mirrored the nature of the stories that I was being told,” Allee said. “It felt that there were undercurrent truths.”
The Hanford Necklace
There’s one picture which the artist put slightly out of sight in the show because it deals with what’s been concealed in terms of harm the Hanford Project has had upon the human body. Certain kinds of cancer which people experience in radioactive zones are so common around Hanford that they are called the Hanford Necklace for the scar many people wear across their throats from surviving thyroid cancer.
More photos from the show can be found in Allee’s book “Hanford Reach: In the Atomic Field” (November 2021).
A reception and book signing will take place March 24, 6-9 p.m., at the Reynolds Gallery.
Allee started by photographing the area but was frustrated by the narrowness of the photo lens. She realized that to uncover the true nature of the site, she needed to learn from listening to people who lived in Hanford and worked the land around the nuclear zone.
“I began to realize that there were stories that were being sort of amplified and stories that were being silenced,” Allee said. “That there were vast numbers of people that had passed through and never been counted. Many of them had done the worst jobs, the most hazardous jobs. A lot of African Americans had moved up for jobs. A lot of Mexican, Mexican American and others had worked the fields and never been counted in the numbers of people harmed.”
The Hanford Site is also a spiritual Native American place where sacred ceremonies have been held for thousands of years according to the local tribe mythology.
When you enter the gallery, you first see large scale photographs of the land, seemingly sights from another planet. But then you discover that the sound, video and light are also integral parts of the show. Through collaboration with sound designer Jon Leidecker/Wobbly, videographer Michael Paulus and poet Kathleen Flenniken, Allee adds creative dimensions to the exhibit helping her audiences to immerse themselves in the time that has passed and the future of the Hanford Site.
Watch the video below to hear from artist Glenna Cole Allee about the exhibit.
Multimedia Exhibition by Glenna Cole Allee
The Reynolds Gallery, University of the Pacific
1071 W Mendocino, Stockton
February 28 – April 1, 2022
Michael Paulus, videography
Jon Leidecker/Wobbly, sound design
“Plume” – a poem by Kathleen Flenniken