The Science of Sustainability

Nurture/Nature: Art and our Environment

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A Bufflehead mounted specimen provided an opportunity for students to examine a bird up close.

A Bufflehead mounted specimen provided an opportunity for students to examine a bird up close.

Her voice rang out over the excited young artists, “Who knows what ‘nurture’ means?”  Small hands shot up in the air, anxious to share their new knowledge.  Two kindergarten classes from Maya Lin in Alameda, a new Arts Magnate School, were here to participate in an art and science field trip.  Ginny Parsons is an Environmental Artist with her work currently featured in the “Nurture/Nature” exhibit at Rhythmix Culture Center in Alameda.  Her large canvases and found-board paintings line the walls of K Gallery, where the students were gathered.  Her paintings feature dense habitats, textured and layered with beeswax and bacon grease. They’re populated with large-scale, evocative depictions of shorebirds, pelicans and falcons.

Students looked through a spotting scope to see live birds up close.

Students looked through a spotting scope to see live birds up close. Photo by Janet Koike.

After Ginny’s introduction to the process of creating art and more specifically, environmental art, it was my turn to lead a short bird walk with the students from the art center to the Estuary waterway behind the Bridgeside Shopping Center.  Students used a spotting scope and binoculars to observe cooperative coots and gulls on the docks and pilings.  The young observers noted the red eye and white bill against smooth, black feathers of the coot.  They applauded when a brown pelican dove headfirst into the salty water with a splash. Feeling inspired, we headed back to the art studio to work with magazine pages and oil crayons. Ginny had each child create their own unique piece of artwork to take back to school. Their teacher explained the outing followed their classroom studies about habitat.

There are new movements afoot to bring together art and the environment throughout the U.S. and even some here, closer to home.  There’s an interesting school in Philadelphia, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education with an Environmental Art Department.

Young environmental artists at work.

Young environmental artists at work.

They note, “using art as a tool to understand nature, and nature as a framework to understand the elements of art…offer(s) a fun, innovative and effective paradigm for studying the natural world and visual language.” Closer to home, Ginny Parsons will be hosting a “Make It Workshop” this weekend at Rhythmix (reservations required) and then an Earth Day workshop at the Alameda Free Library. Families can also participate in the annual Sandcastle and Sculpture Event at Crown Memorial State Beach held one Saturday each June.  Additionally, for the last couple of years in September, an “Art in Nature Festival” has been held in Redwood Regional Park. A favorite Andrew Goldsworthy-esque play area remains in the park after the last festival where you can create with natural materials along the edges of a trail through a young redwood stand. You don’t have to be adept at art or drawing to use your powers of creation to get a new perspective on nature!

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Category: Blog, Environment

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Sharol Nelson-Embry

About the Author ()

Sharol Nelson-Embry is the Supervising Naturalist at the Crab Cove Visitor Center & Aquarium on San Francisco Bay in Alameda. Crab Cove is part of the East Bay Regional Park District, one of the largest and oldest regional park agencies in the nation. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Natural Resources Management and an epiphany that connecting kids with nature was her destiny. She's been rooted in the Bay Area since 1991 after working at nature centers and outdoor science schools around our fair state. She loves the great variety of habitats stretching from the Bay shoreline to the redwoods, lakes, and hills. Sharol enjoys connecting people to nature with articles in local newspapers and online forums. Read her previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.