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Fruitlands, Harvard, Massachusetts, 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.


October 2004


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


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Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Fruitlands, Harvard, Massachusetts, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


United States (Artist's nationality)


Made 2004


Chromogenic print


No markings recto or verso Utopian experiments have failed for a variety of reasons, conflicts with the external world and internal dissension about leadership among them. Fruitlands, however, failed out of sheer impracticality predicated upon inordinate idealism. After a radical school for children that he initiated had failed, Bronson Alcott began Fruitlands in 1843 in a particularly beautiful landscape near Harvard, Massachusetts. Absolutely no animal products were consumed on the commune, hence the name Fruitlands. In fact, Ann Page, the only female member besides Alcott’s wife, was expelled from the community for eating a piece of fish. A total of eleven adults eventually joined, including Samuel Bower, who became a nudist upon realizing that clothing was spiritually stifling, and a man who reportedly ate nothing but apples one year and crackers the next. Also part of the commune was Samuel Palmer, who wore a long, flowing beard that was out of style, and upon whose gravestone appears the epitaph, “Persecuted for Wearing The Beard.” Alcott seems to have been a remarkable man who made a lasting impression upon all those he met, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. An intellectual, educator and deeply religious figure, he was referred to as the “father of transcendentalism,” an idealistic belief system in which the world and everything in it is thought to have a spiritual basis. Not only was the community vegetarian, no animal products were used whatsoever. Neither wool nor honey nor wax— not even animal fertilizer—was used. Vegetables with roots that grew downward were forbidden because they disturbed worms. For a short time Fruitlands thrived, but during a visit Emerson commented with prescience: “They look well in July. We shall see them in December.” And in fact, by January 1844, seven months after its founding, Fruitlands had fallen apart. A much more pragmatic transcendentalist utopia was begun in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1841, when George Ripley and fifteen others founded Brook Farm. Although the community was composed of poets and musicians, it was predicated upon a belief in physical labor as a condition of mental well-being. And unlike the members of Fruitlands, they did sell their milk and vegetables and honey. The Brook Farmers worked hard, and when the workday was over there was an extraordinary calendar of musical events, dramatic readings, plays, literary society meetings and parties, dances and picnics. It all ended in 1846 when a fire destroyed the community’s central building—little physical trace remains today of Brook Farm. 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

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