Tag Archives: environmental art

Flowerchild: Then and Now

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I walk daily on a path through a virgin prairie near where I live.  The blooms change week by week, and I photographed some of them, to preserve their image before they withered and stepped aside for the next wave of blossoms.

I was listening to the sound track of “Forrest Gump”, which has songs from the late 60’s and early 70’s, the music of my childhood and teen years.  “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane was playing:

“Come on now we’re marching to the sea
got a revolution got to revolution… ”

I thought about the flower children of the 60’s, calling for revolution, and the  reference to “marching to the sea”, which calls up Sherman’s march to the sea, from the Civil War.  I am currently reading Sick From Freedom:  African American Illness and Suffering During The Civil War and Reconstruction by Jim Downs.  Mr. Downs revises the glossy view of the emancipation of the African slaves in the United States, and documents the catastrophic wave of privation and disease which met the newly emancipated bondsmen and women, because of medical ignorance and administrative incapacity.  Thousands upon thousands of former slaves died of exposure, starvation and disease following emancipation.  Which is obviously not to say that they were better off in slavery; in fact, the fear of that argument kept the grim facts from coming to light for generations.  It is important that this story is finally being told.

It may seem odd to make a jump from beautiful wildflowers to catastrophic demographic displacement, while in the midst of a gorgeous meadow on a summer day, but that’s how my mind runs.  Tearing down, I thought,  is quick and easy; building up is slow and torturous.  As I listened to the song calling for political change, I felt glad that the cultural revolution of my youth did not escalate to a violent overthrow of the U.S. government.  This sounds simplistic; but as I watch social/political upheavals around the world, and see our country use “shock and awe” as a “defense” policy, I worry.  Change is essential; people are suffering under cruel dictatorships, but as with the prairie, the return of life following a scorched-earth policy takes generations; the cost is terrible and the results are always mixed.

My little photographic record (which led to this line of thought) began with seeing a flower I’d never seen before, a few days earlier.  Since I didn’t have my cellphone/camera that day, I took a mental photo and did a little sketch in watercolor while I was at my teaching job at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Fay, an avid gardener in my class, didn’t recognize it, either, and suggested that I take it to Plant Information, where they were able to identify it for me:    Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea Purpurea).  The description in the book said it requires a “rich, well-developed environment.”  In other words, it only grows where generations of untouched prairie plants have been able to flourish and propogate and create the right conditions; it’s not just going to pop up on a foreclosed subdivision where people stopped mowing the grass for a year or two.  Which explains why I’ve never seen it before; it doesn’t grow just anywhere.
The custodians of Gallery Park, the beautiful jewel which contains patches of untouched prairie, utilize controlled burns to maintain the natural cycle of destruction and rebirth that allows the prairie to flourish.  How do we replicate a “controlled” burn in the world of politics and nation building?  Now, there’s the challenge.
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“Knittivists” Repairing The World

There is a wonderful project called “Tikkun Tree”, which is organizing fiber artists to contribute knitted, crocheted, embroidered and sewn leaves and doves to a fiber olive tree.  The tree will be a symbol of peace and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is inspired by  “the courageous and remarkable efforts of Jewish and Palestinian citizens and activists in Israel and Diaspora who have been working toward peaceful coexistence” and also by “the many recent knittivist community needlework projects, including the pink tank, knitnotwar 1,0o0 Project , Knit a River, and the Red Sweater Project“.

I can embroider and sew, I think it will be fun to foliate!  If you want to participate, send your leaves to:

The TikkunTree Project
P.O. Box 2088
Philadelphia, PA 19103

I love to paint olive trees.  Here are some works which include olive trees from my portfolio:

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Openlands Preserves Nature and Presents Art

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When Fort Sheridan was developed as a residential community, a grant enabled the creation of the Openlands Nature Preserve.  This project is a restoration and preservation of one of the last remaining ravine and bluff ecosystems in the metropolitan region.  There are beautiful walkways, complemented by original, site-specific works of art.

Interpretive signs illuminate the environment and the art with poetry by Lisa Roberts, who curated the art selections.  The works are by Kate Friedman (Reading The Landscape), Vivian Visser (a driftwood installation called Erode), Ginny Sykes (a mixed-media mural on an underpass called Arc of Nature), Sharon Bladholm (cast bronze/resign plaques on a stone wall called Soil:  Alive With Life) and Olivia Petrides (painted obelisks called Leaf and Earthbark Prisms).

The ravine walk is wonderful, a gentle incline down to a beautiful beach.  The art is a perfect complement to the environment.  It serves an educational function while enhancing our experience of the beauty and complexity of nature, and our place in it.

Petrides’ striped prisms reminded me of the work of artist Kerry Hirth.  She is a synasthetic artist, which means that she interprets sound as color.  She created a work called Birds Lost from a Giant Sequoia Forest During Fifty Years (pastel on canvas, 12″ X 48″).  She explains that “This painting begins at the deep roots of a sequoia forest and moves up the trees toward the treetops and then further up the mountainside to a pine forest and ultimately to the sky. Between the roots and the sky, there are seven distinct sections. Each section represents a species of bird that once lived in the forest but no longer does as a result of habitat destruction. The sections are defined by the way they reflect the distinct plumage of each bird.”

"Birds Lost", by Kerry Hirth

Sometimes art as “earthworks” is a destruction or disruption of the natural environment in which it is placed.  Not in this case.  I look forward to returning to the Openlands Preserve and spending more time with the art, particularly the poetry that accompanies each visual art piece on a trail marker.

My Rain Barrel with Mayor Daley

Rain Barrel with Dog

Our artist-painted rain barrels were chosen as the backdrop for Mayor Daley’s press conference to create ” green ” jobs for former inmates.  The Mayor’s address was held at the Center for Green Technology. The barrels were positioned on the stage behind the mayor.  You can see mine smack behind the Mayor at the very beginning, before he steps to the podium.   It sounds like a great idea!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBhXN_KOscE