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Twin Oaks, Louisa, Virginia, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"

A work made of chromogenic print.

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  • A work made of chromogenic print.


August 2000


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


Currently Off View


Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Twin Oaks, Louisa, Virginia, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Made 2000


Chromogenic print


No markings recto or verso Twin Oaks was founded in 1967 by a group of people who had read about a fictional utopian community in B.F. Skinner’s novel, Walden Two. Skinner was a psychologist who taught at Harvard—at the heart of his book is a belief that scientific study and socially engineered rewards and punishments can change human behavior. Behaviorism, as this idea was termed, was doomed from the start at Twin Oaks. Only three of the original eight founders were truly dedicated to creating a behaviorist community. More importantly, the commune was founded at the height of the hippie era—a moment in time far more given over to personal liberty and spontaneity than to behavioral control or the dominance of reason over emotion. Moreover, the benefactor who made his land available to the commune stipulated that Twin Oaks must have a continuously increasing population to be in compliance with the lease. This provision forced the commune to accept new members regardless of their interest in the founding principles. After abandoning elemental behaviorism, except for the “planner-manager” decision-making model (a system of elected managers whose decisions may be overturned by a majority of the membership) and the labor-credit work system, Twin Oaks thrived and continues to do so today. Ninety adults and fifteen children (there is a quota for the number of children) live happily and well on the land, and their commitment to functioning as a model social system based on equality, income sharing and nonviolence remains unswerving. Members work actively for peace, justice, ecology and fairness. Anthropologist Jon Wagner considers Twin Oaks to be “among the most non-sexist social systems in human history.” Each summer, the community hosts a women’s gathering, as well as the communities conference that has helped many other communes to successfully form and develop. Twin Oaks grows forty to sixty percent of its own food and is in the process of becoming an ecovillage. At present their collective income is derived from making and selling hammocks—Pier One Imports is the largest purchaser of them. They also manufacture and sell tofu and offer services in book indexing and web design. Buildings at Twin Oaks are named after the great communes of the past, including Oneida, Harmony, Llano and Kaweah. With its long-term success and unwavering commitment to principles, Twin Oaks has proved itself the equal— and more—of its antecedents. From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


Image: 26.5 × 33.2 cm (10 7/16 × 13 1/8 in.); Paper: 27.9 × 35.5 cm (11 × 14 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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