More than 20 years ago, when Martin Hogue pulled into Campgrounds of America near South Dakota’s Badlands, he was surprised to find a map showing numbered sites for tents and RVs, as well as a swimming pool, miniature golf course and dog park — even the streets. with names as if he had entered a small village.
“This was my first experience camping, so I really had no reference other than what I’d seen in movies or read in books,” said Hogue, associate professor of landscape architecture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “I imagined myself as a tough adventurer who goes out into nature. Instead, my destination was assigned to me by a campsite ranger who carefully circled the location of my campsite on a printed map. Admittedly, I was a bit surprised, but also intrigued. I thought, are all campsites like this?
This is a question Hogue has explored in a series of research projects and as a designer, most recently as artist-in-residence at Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in upstate New York, where he created the four-week Camping at the Art Park Summer. program.
Hogue proposed the program after publishing “Thirty-Four Campgrounds,” a photograph of nearly 6,500 American campsites — each one, he believes, a stage on which hikers perform a series of ritual activities, often alongside comforts brought from home. His next book, Making Camp: A Visual History of Camping Essentials and Activities, due out next year, will examine the history and design of essential camping components, from tents and sleeping bags to picnic tables, fire pits and orienteering maps, in eight essays. In the process, he traces a roughly 150-year arc from the origins of recreational camping from an exclusive experience in the Adirondacks — not unlike modern “glamping,” Hogue said — to what it is today, with tens of millions of Americans camping each summer.
The growth of automobile camping in the 1920s led to increased standardization of campsites in the 1930s, a process that Hogue says was heavily influenced by New Deal planners, including Emilio Pepe Meineke, a plant pathologist and consultant to the National Park Service who was concerned about the destructive impact of automobiles . One-way ring roads with vehicle stops and fixed sites for tents, fire pits and heavy picnic tables became the norm.
In The Illustrated History of the Picnic Table, Hogue explains how camping influenced the design of the ubiquitous picnic table, whose dimensions were first shown in National Park Service drawings in 1922.
“If you stop and pay attention, you realize that the picnic table is a really unique shape,” Hogue said. “It’s not that old and it’s about camping.”
Likewise, he said, campers might be surprised to learn that “sleeping bag” is a relatively new term that entered the lexicon in the mid-19th century.
Hogue sought to celebrate and revive the signature elements of camping at Cazenovia’s Stone Quarry Hill Art Park, which recently hosted campers for the fourth June weekend.
The project offered visitors a new way to interact with the sculptures and landscapes of the 104-acre art park, expanding public outreach in a way similar cultural institutions could emulate, Hogue said. At the same time, he said, the campsites and campsites themselves became part of an art installation for others to see – until the campsite was dismantled, leaving only memories of the experience.
In addition to the communal fire pit, Hogue has created four numbered and named camping sites equipped with a picnic table, Adirondack chairs, a wheelbarrow, a trash can and a flashlight — all painted a bright teal to stand out from the landscape, and Hogue said, make decomposed sites readable as a system.
Recalling the experience that sparked his fascination with campsites as architectural spaces, Hogue greeted guests with an orienteering map he had designed, showing a road winding through the art park, icons marking camping, parking and dining areas, as well as several key structures and rules
“It’s been an exciting journey because there’s a complexity to it that you don’t expect,” Hogue said of his research into the history and culture of camping. “As an architect and designer by training, getting the map was what made it all happen.”