Placemaking and Wayfinding

Toponymy And Hidden Histories

As part of an Irvine Foundation grant project for the Monterey Museum of Art, Enid Baxter Ryce chose 20 paintings from the museum’s permanent collection representing places in Monterey. Ryce painted a large oil painting mapping these locations. After conducting ecological and historical research into each site and Enid wrote brief histories for each place and painting centering on toponymy and the place name’s relationship to hidden histories.

Enid’s painting and writing were featured in the Monterey Places, 2016 exhibition of the selected paintings (plus 15 more) and an innovative interactive museum tool – a mobile website created by Enid Baxter Ryce and Jenny Conte with which viewers can use the paintings to tour and learn about places in Monterey County.

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Devil’s Half Acre is Enid Baxter Ryce’s comprehensive historical and environmental research project exploring a unique phenomenon in American toponymy. (Toponymy is the study of place names.)

A 200-year old pub in moss-covered rural eastern Pennsylvania with a backyard full of canal workers’ corpses; a field of mysterious small hissing gas geysers in Acadia, Maine; a torture chamber in Virginia replete with whipping posts; a small corner of Salem, Massachusetts; a patch of Idaho littered with unusually pointy rocks; Ft. Worth, Texas’ infamous tenderloin district, haunted by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Butch Cassidy — more than fifteen unusual places in the United States are – or once were – named “Devil’s Half Acre.”

Devil’s Half Acre offers a haunting, humorous, disturbing and moving cartography of an American colloquial institution – a place name often used to signify something hidden or suppressed in the American consciousness.

With this project Enid Baxter Ryce traces the origins of the place name from medieval poetry through 18th century American land surveyor diaries.

Centering on Devil’s Half Acre, VA as the most urgent subject in the study, the project makes an argument for the retention of this place name in contemporary interpretation of this historical place.

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