All works Copyright 2006, Karen Rice. All rights reserved


I grew up in Richland, Washington, next to the Hanford Nuclear Site, where my father worked for nearly thirty years. A plutonium production site during the cold war years occupying a vast desert expanse of over 560 square miles, Hanford produced plutonium for the first bomb test at Trinity, and for the Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. Nine reactors hugging the banks of the Columbia River were built there and eventually decommissioned. Today, considered by many to be one of the most toxic waste sites on earth, Hanford serves as a test ground for environmental remediation, with over 10,000 workers charged with the task of cleanup.

My father, a metallurgical engineer and mid-level manager at Hanford, could only discuss his work in the vaguest of terms at home. Each day, he drove the five plus miles out of town, past the guard station that housed the uzi sub-machine gun-bearing Hanford Patrol, to his work site. One of his many offices during his tenure at Hanford sat below a water tower at the 300 Area. Bold print on the side of the water tower cautioned workers in its proximity that "Silence Means Security." Later, he worked on the experimental FFTF Breeder Reactor program. What began for me as a child with a simple desire to visualize where my father worked (caught in glimpses in leaden silhouettes along the northern desert horizon if I climbed high enough in the backyard sycamore tree) evolved as an artist and an adult into a full-blown curiosity with Hanford and its myriad histories, half-lives, and reverberations.

My drawings and paintings are an attempt to understand the locus of what I still call "home": a place not bound by mere physical geography but a terrain that spans beyond the first critical atomic pile in Chicago; beyond the ancient cataclysmic floods that ripped with hurricane force winds across the region's basalt plateaus, and beyond the dining room table where the question, "What did you do at work today, Dad?" could never really be answered. The terrain unfolds infinitely, with a dissonant cacophony of laborers circling through their days of construction and cleanup; with subatomic particles shooting through strata of desert soil, sagebrush, tumbleweeds and water; with the slap and drone of speed boats and jet skiers racing up the Columbia River, its dark turbid waters churning beyond the decommissioned reactors in a series of slow moving lakes to the ocean.

Karen Rice