When Martin Hogue pulled into a Kampgrounds of America near the Badlands of South Dakota more than 20 years ago, he was surprised to receive – even named – a map with numbered tent and RV sites, as well as a swimming pool, miniature golf course and dog park streets. as if he had entered a small village.
“This was my first camping experience, so I really had no guidance other than what I had seen in movies or read in books,” said Hogue, associate professor of landscape architecture at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “I thought of myself as a hardy adventurer who goes into nature. Instead, I was given a destination by the campground warden, who carefully circled the location of my campground on a printed map. Admittedly, I was a bit surprised, but also intrigued. I was thinking are all campsites like this?”
It’s a question Hogue has explored in a number 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 designed his four-week Camping at the Art Park summer program.
Hogue proposed the program after publishing “Thirtyfour Campgrounds,” a photographic survey of nearly 6,500 American campgrounds – each, he suggests, a stage where campers engage in a variety of ritualized activities, often alongside amenities they provide bring from home. His next book, Making Camp: A Visual History of Camping’s Most Essential Items and Activities, due out next year, will explore the history and design of every campground’s key components—from tents and sleeping bags to picnic tables—through eight essays. Fire pits and orientation maps. In doing so, he traces the roughly 150-year arc from the origins of recreational camping from an exclusive experience in the Adirondacks — not unlike modern-day “glamping,” Hogue said — to what it is today, where tens of millions of Americans camp every summer.
The rise of autocamping in the 1920s led to increased campground standardization in the 1930s, a process Hogue says was heavily influenced by New Deal planners, including Emilio Pepe Meinecke, a plant pathologist and National Park Service consultant, who was concerned about the destructive effects of cars. One-way streets with one-way streets with stops for vehicles and fixed locations for tents, fire pits, and heavy picnic tables became the norm.
In “An Illustrated History of the Picnic Table,” Hogue explains how camping influenced the design of the ubiquitous picnic table, whose dimensions were first established 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 has to do with camping.”
Likewise, campers might be surprised to learn that “sleeping bag” is a relatively new term, having entered the lexicon in the mid-1800s.
Hogue wanted to celebrate and reinvigorate the distinctive elements of the campgrounds at Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, which recently hosted campers for the fourth weekend in June.
The project provided visitors with a new way to engage with the 104-acre art park’s sculptures and vistas, and expanded the public in ways that similar cultural institutions could emulate, Hogue said. At the same time, he said, the campers and campsites themselves became part of the art installation visible to others — until the campsite was dismantled, leaving only memories of the experience.
In addition to a shared fire pit, Hogue created four numbered and named campgrounds, each outfitted with a picnic table, Adirondack chairs, wheelbarrow, trash can, and flashlight — all painted an eye-catching cyan to contrast with the landscape and, Hogue said , make the spread out places readable as a system.
And Hogue recalled the experience that sparked his fascination with campsites as architectural spaces, greeting guests with an orientation map he designed that includes a loop through the art park, symbols marking spots for camping, parking and dining, as well as contains some important structures and rules.
“It’s been a fascinating journey because it has a complexity that you didn’t expect,” Hogue said of his research into camping history and culture. “As an architect and designer by training, getting a card was the trigger.”