I-131. No, it’s not an interstate highway bypass but a radioactive isotope that rained down on us as nuclear fallout during the 1950s and 1960s, when the U.S. Department of Defense, swept up in atomic fever, detonated some 90 nuclear devices in the Nevada desert.
In August 1997, the National Cancer Institute released a study assessing human exposure to I-131, showing that everyone in the contiguous 48 states was exposed to some level of the dangerous isotope, with Western states to the north and east of Nevada receiving the highest doses. For those of you who failed geography, that would be Idaho and Montana.
Because public concern over I-131 exposure has mushroomed since that study was released, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Service (DPHHS) recently issued a special report on I-131 and Montana’s rate of thyroid cancer, a disease that’s commonly associated with radiation exposure. For what it’s worth, they found Montana’s thyroid cancer rate to be 4.2 per 100,000, well below the national rate and among the lowest in the nation.
Still, while the DPHHS report states that “these results ... should provide a substantial degree of reassurance to the population exposed,” it cannot rule out other health effects from other radioactive isotopes—namely Strontium-90 and Cesium-137, which also fell from the Big Sky, and which the Defense Department never bothered to monitor.
“What is a woman doing in the studio when everyone knows she should be in the kitchen?” That’s just one of the transparent and yet heavily freighted questions posed by Miriam Schapiro in the new book about her life’s work, Miriam Schapiro: Shaping the Fragments of Art and Life. Schapiro, in case you haven’t heard, is the subject of a month-long, gallery-wide exhibition at the Art Museum of Missoula, and if you really had to ponder her question, that probably means you haven’t seen her work yet.
In the past 50 years, Schapiro has vouchsafed a place for herself in our culture as a true pioneer of feminist art, and this lushly illustrated volume shows us just how she did it. From her expressive paintings in the 1950s, to her articulate collages in the 1970s, to her autobiographical works in the 1990s, Schapiro has both informed and conveyed what it has meant to be a woman artist in the latter half of the 20th century. That’s a lot to document, no doubt, but if there are any gaps in the story, you’ll have the chance to patch them this Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 5 p.m., when Schapiro herself will be on hand at the Art Museum to sign copies of the book. It’s a rare opportunity to meet an aesthetic legend, as well as a chance to take in the show, meet some folks and ponder what otherwise might appear to be obvious questions.