The Living Hampshire Tree Project
During the week of October 19 to 23, 2015, I worked with over sixty Hampshire College students from the Innovations for Change: Problem-Solving for the Future and the Teaching Art to Children courses to create a collaborative collage. It measured four by eight feet, and adorned a wall of the Hampshire College Farm barn over the weekend of October 24 and 25–the culmination of the college’s Family and Friends week. Our hope is that our collage will find a permanent home in the college’s Living Building which is currently under construction.
In preparation for the project, I gave short reading assignments on environmental art and collaborative art:
The first assignment was on Mary Mattingly’s Wading Bridge in Iowa’s Raccoon River: http://hyperallergic.com/243273/the-story-of-an-installation-in-a-polluted-river-and-its-subsequent-removal/
The second was an article by Amit Gupta, the founder and CEO of Tenlegs on the importance of collaboration: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amit-gupta/artistic-collaboration-_b_3763586.html.
The third article was a thesis by Sarah E. Graddy entitled Creative and Green: Art, Ecology and Community: http://greenmuseum.org/generic_content.php?ct_id=238
The last article was on African artist El Anatsui who won a Golden Globe award in the 2015 Venice Biennale and whose large, flowing tapestries are made of recycled bottle caps: http://thesoleadventurer.com/el-anatsui-wins-golden-lion-for-lifetime-achievement-at-the-56th-international-art-exhibition/
On the Monday I gave a presentation focusing on my artwork relating both to the environment and collaboration. This was followed by a lesson in contour drawing—a drawing process that requires careful observation and concentration. Then the students and I went outside to do contour drawings of leaves. Since the fall leaves were at their peak in the area, this was a perfect time to draw them–a glorious variety of leaves in reds, yellows and golds were on the trees and scattered throughout the campus. Afterwards, over tea and cookies, I answered students’ questions pertaining to my work.
The following day I hiked through the woods and took photographs of the famed Hampshire Tree that stands proudly in the center of a cultivated field alongside an apple orchard. Later, I worked with student volunteers to gesso our canvas and to draw the tree in its center.
On the Wednesday afternoon I lunched in the farm house at the Hampshire Farm with a small group of students and faculty. During lunch I fielded more questions. A faculty member asked if I have done any projects relating to the Florida aquifer. I described “Sanctuary,” a multimedia installation that I had mentioned briefly during Monday’s presentation and that I showed in 2014 at Hillsborough Community College, Dale Mabry Campus, in Tampa, that addressed the issue of Florida’s deteriorating springs. Visitors had been invited to contemplate the installation from a bench and contribute their thoughts in a notebook placed there. Here is what one visitor wrote: “…The weathered, rusted metal captures the essence of pollution building over time… the sand underneath the sculpture evokes the banks and bottom of the springs; the paintings are a perfect impression of being under water, and the audio of water…accentuated the entire experience…” Another wrote, “This space comes alive with the sounds, visuals and kinetic movements of the mobiles and… your message came through loud and clear.”
At Hampshire College I hoped to make a similar impression on participants by enhancing their appreciation of nature and by reminding them, through the art-making process, of our interconnectedness with the natural world. This process will be reinforced throughout the semester as the students and faculty explore Innovations for Change: Problem-Solving for a Sustainable Future. “The course is co-taught by three faculty members from three different schools at Hampshire with additional visiting experts drawn both from within Hampshire and internationally. The goal of the course is to raise student understanding of and engagement with sustainability, from many perspectives. The course includes the science of climate change; future biodiversity; psychological responses to change and our natural resistance to change; social, political, and religious perspectives on sustainability; environmental art and cultural heritage of the relationship between humans and the earth; public education and action, particularly through design of theatre, art, and other avenues into public awareness about sustainability; green design and energy and new technology; and innovations and problem solving for sustainable living.”
Back to our collaborative art project. Out in the fields on a beautiful fall afternoon I did a demonstration of a gestural drawing of a cow. Then equipped with pencils, brushes and black and white tempera paint, the students scattered to various parts of the farm to draw cows, chickens and pigs (regretfully the llama, along with sheep and goats, was on another section of the farm, so we have no images of these). It was a joy to wander among the students, who were sprawled out on the field or perched in front the the pig pen or chicken coop, watching their animal paintings take shape. Since the majority of the students are majoring in the sciences, not the arts, I was impressed by the quality of the completed paintings, some of which were quite professional. The perfect weather added to the ambiance of a golden New England fall afternoon.
Finally, again working with student volunteers, we made copies of the leaves and paintings, reducing many of them so we could fit them all onto the canvas. Next, we cut them out–over a hundred leaves and about sixty animals. We then adhered the cut-out copies to the canvas, first the contour drawings of leaves, then the animal paintings. Scale and perspective were ignored in favor of a striking graphic design that is reminiscent of prehistoric cave paintings or the early settler’s embroidered samplers. This enabled us to return the original drawings and paintings to the students.
After a Friday afternoon lecture on sustainable architecture by architect Naomi Darling which addressed, in part, the new Living Building being erected on campus with guidelines far more stringent than LEEDS certified buildings, we showed the completed collaborative collage to students and visiting parents. Since it was Family and Friends week there were several family members in attendance at our lessons and lectures, and many more at the Hampshire Farm where the completed collaborative project was on display and proud students could point out their unique contributions.
The Living Hampshire Tree Project Statement
This piece is the result of a week-long collaboration between visiting artist Rose Marie Prins and students in the Hampshire course “Innovations for Change: Problem-Solving for the Future,” with additional drawings from students in the course “Teaching Art to Children.”
The intent of the work is to connect both artists and viewers to the natural world, by teaching them to “see like an artist” through careful observation of nature. By gaining an intimate appreciation for nature, we hope participants will come to treasure, and work to preserve, the environment.
The work includes contour drawings of leaves found on the Hampshire campus, and black and white paintings of the animals at the Hampshire Farm. The focal point of the piece is the Hampshire Tree, an iconic tree much loved by students and represented in the Hampshire logo for many years. The piece pays tribute to Hampshire’s new Living Building, with its plants that will filter our water, and honors the flora and fauna on this campus.
Rose Marie Prins, Sarah Partan, Jana Silver, Seeta Sistla
48 students from Innovations for Change and approximately 15 students from Teaching Art to Children