“One thing about Indianapolis,” says the taxi driver as we pass by the almost hundred-year-old Indy 500 racetrack, “there’s plenty of parking.” I’m noticing that perhaps more than any other mid-sized city in the USA, Indianapolis embraces the automobile. There’s urban sprawl in all directions. First-rate commuter roads head off over former farmlands into further subdivisions. Here and there, remnant woodlots or marshy bogs slope down to meandering rivers. Trying to save some of these remaining lands is why I’m here.
The Central Indiana Land Trust is one of 1,100 US organizations in the business of reserving and preserving natural lands and their threatened ecosystems. By purchase, gift, legacy or easement, the organizations round up parcels so future generations will be able to see what countryside was like. We’re having an art show — a fundraiser to draw attention to the cause. The Trust has chosen 15 prominent painters and asked them to paint on the Trust’s lands. Each artist has contributed two works — most of them are plein air oils. These Hoosiers are a hardy bunch; around here they’ve reinvented outdoor painting with gusto. I’m one of the jury. We get to hand out cash to the winning painters. More than three hundred supporters show up for the opening. It’s a bash.
Long ago and far away, Thomas Moran helped convince Teddy Roosevelt that the USA needed National Parks. Anyone who beheld one of Moran’s panoramas of the Grand Canyon could see that the place needed protection. Many other artists such as John James Audubon and Ansel Adams have been instrumental in saving the picturesque and the natural. It seems to me that painters, more than any others, recognize the presence of sacred grounds. Going into a landscape and setting up an easel is an act of faith that just might bring further grace to the wild and beautiful. Unlike hunters and fishers, who also have a vested interest in preservation, artists take without taking. A painting made outdoors is a sacred event.
Long ago and far away, a passing hiker watched me paint a modest swamp near Mt. Rainier in Washington State. When he finally spoke to me, he did so in a whisper, as if he was in a cathedral. “Thank you,” he said. “Now I see the beauty of it.” About that time I began to see what my role might be, how we all had a job to do, and how we needed now to be more responsible.
PS: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” (Joni Mitchell)
Esoterica: Our keynote speaker was environmentalist and author Stephanie Mills. She talked of our connection to the land and how we lose the connection at our peril. She told of the role of visualizers and the simple technology needed for preservation in a frantic time. If you want a good read, you might lay your hands on her book Epicurean Simplicity. Stephanie Mills is a modern-day Thoreau who lives in a cabin in northern Michigan, keeps our precious Mother Earth in mind, and distributes wholesale epiphanies that shine brightly in the direction of a creative, contented, low-impact life.
Sacred event indoors or out
by Sara Chambers
You said that “A painting made outdoors is a sacred event.” I assert that any painting made in or out of the studio is a sacred event when it answers the call of Spirit to bring forth a creation from love and passion. Without the passion and love, even a plein air painting is just another painting.
Taking and giving
by Buzz Balzer, Cashton, WI, USA
You mentioned that artists take without taking, inferring that hunters and fishers do the taking. There is one huge difference: the hunters and fishers put up ALL the money through license fees and excise taxes that support the preservation and acquisition of these very lands that the artist plunks his easel down on and paints! I know because I’m BOTH a hunter and an artist. You’d better thank the hunters and fishers for providing artists, hikers, birdwatchers, etc. a place to go. Thank you.
Landscape gone forever
by Elin Pendleton, Wildomar, CA, USA
I live in Western Riverside County in Southern California — the most abused geography in the nation for the rape by developers of the pristine hills and landscape. Although not unique to this region, the concentration of hill-flattening grading into terraced home sites (easier to build on ticky-tacky postage-stamp-sized FLAT lots) is legion. I spent a good part of a year painting fields and farmlands, hills and valleys in this region that are no more. Layered now under tile roofs and step-down lawns to streets where no native species or fauna survives, I bemoan the loss of the landscape that continues unabated while the developers’ deep pockets continue to feed the fat-cat politicians. All in the name of progress.
Beauty of life often missed
by Gary Lanthrum, Manassas, VA, USA
The Washington Post Sunday Magazine did a story recently about a classical violinist Joshua Bell and an experiment in observation ( video clip.) Bell showed up at a Washington, D.C. metro station during morning rush hour, opened his violin case and started to play for spare change like other street musicians. In this case, the musician was one of the world’s best, the violin was a Stradivarius and the music was magical. Despite the exquisite beauty of the music, the morning rush hour crowds pushed past with little or no recognition. One notable exception was the children that were with their parents en route to day care. They recognized the magic of the moment and tried to stay and absorb it. The reporter covering the story interviewed a number of people that walked by and opened their eyes to what they were missing — much as Robert’s painting of the scene near Mt. Rainier opened a hiker’s eyes to the beauty he was surrounded by. Too often the real beauty of life is missed as we submit to the daily grind. One role of the artist is to observe the beauty that others miss and to help others see it through their creative pursuits.
Early American preservation
by Laurie DeMatteo, PA, USA
My latest portrait is of Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, Geographer, Medical Doctor, Naturalist, and Socialist among Early American Indians. He mapped the Northern territories of Early America and helped to unite the country with the future and preserved new history of unknown land formations. Because of his thorough report to congress in 1871, in presentation with Thomas Moran’s landscapes, President Ulysses S. Grant dedicated the first National Park, Yellowstone, to be preserved land for future scientists and travelers to study and take in its beauty. The background is after Moran’s Yellowstone Grand Canyon although it is no match to his. Dr. Hayden also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, taking his young students with him across the west. Appreciation is an education that comes along with arts and sciences.
No more wild property
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA
I grew up on what used to be the “wild” north shore of Long Island, New York. I went back there a few years ago and literally got lost because there were so many new roads, businesses and malls, and the landscape had changed so radically.
Wild is a concept left behind way long ago. Even the five-acre property I had spent many hours in the woods on was now swatches of neatly trimmed lawns, with not one, but two enormous honking houses with equally ponderous garages to serve each one.
No more old stone ice house, no more 2-story barn with bats and cats, no more old funky rambling farmhouse built in the 1880s with secret passageways built by the hiding Nazi in the late ’40s, no more ivy, maple and oak woods. I was devastated.
Record for posterity
by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel
Israel is one of the most densely populated countries of the world. I live on the edge of the desert which has not yet been covered over by roads and buildings as has the megalopolis along the length of our Mediterranean coast and inland. My regular plein air sessions are in my environs, a 20 minutes trek from the fence of my village (kibbutz), and have produced a body of work going into its third decade now. Early last summer I did a 10-metre long plein air 170-degree panorama composed of 10 canvases that join end to end. I had no intention of doing such a big work, yet each time I felt I had to continue and add another canvas as more scope had to be taken in. Into July, the temperature began to reach 36 degrees Centigrade (about 98 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade, and even though I was totally covered against the sun and drinking litres of water, the last few days I was experiencing headaches at the end of my day-long sessions. Even the Bedouin shepherds with whom I had become well acquainted, retreated to the shade of their tents by 10 a.m.
The result is now hung in the dining room of the kibbutz, the only wall long enough here to accommodate such a piece. The response of the local populace, who know well the area, was heart-warming. Yes, we have a holy mission to record for posterity (the Hebrew word is literally to “eternalize”) our environs and aid awareness of the beauty of nature around us. If a landscape artist has a political agenda, beside that of raising consciousness to higher levels of awareness, it is to aid in the conservation of nature.
Artists’ retreat and bird sanctuary
by Mary Erickson, Marshville, NC, USA
My husband and I have just purchased 40 acres in Marshville, North Carolina that we are turning into an artists’ retreat and bird sanctuary. Ultimately, we want to leave it as an ongoing project, to a group like Nature Conservancy or a local land conservancy. Some time ago it occurred to us that “someone had to do it.” Why not us?
High Ridge Gardens is a 40-acre bird sanctuary and artist retreat tucked between Charlotte and Wilmington, North Carolina. Located in the Piedmont section of the state, the property consists of rolling pastures with horses, wooded trails, pinewoods, mixed hardwood and coniferous woods, an art studio (work in progress), a hay barn, two year-round ponds, and one seasonal pond. On the property is our home and a separate guesthouse. It is a 3 bedroom brick house located at the northwestern edge of the property. The house has front and back covered porches with rockers, a barbecue grill area, outdoor covered picnic area, and a fire pit with seating for evening campfires. You are welcome to join us anytime!
Plague of development
by Sandra Donohue, Robson, BC, Canada
Kudos to the Indiana Government! Let’s get with it and support the conservation of our provincial and regional wildlife area/parks. Every year, fewer and fewer park rangers and conservation officers are hired. Here, in B.C., in the Kootenays, despite regional opposition, plans for the development of a major ski resort at Jumbo Mountain, 55 km west of Invermere, seem to be moving along. This will have a profound effect and possibly wipe out the grizzly bear population all over the southern Purcell Mountains. All over the world these sacred, wild places are disappearing, and Canada is not immune to this plague.
Conservation vs. preservation
by Lydia Lourbacos, New Orleans, LA, USA
Teddy Roosevelt would turn over in his grave at being credited with the creation of the national park system, which he vigorously opposed. He was bitterly against the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. He believed land was put there for man to use. He was a land conservationist not a land preservationist. He and Gifford Pinchot advocated the creation of the National Forrest Service (in the Department of Agriculture)to use and replenish (conserve) natural resources, but was against formation of the National Park Service (in the Department of the Interior) which preserves land for the “protection and enjoyment of future generations” without using the land resources in the national parks. This is why there is no hunting, mining or logging in national parks. You cannot take anything out of any of the almost 400 national park units (including parks, monuments, historical sites, scenic riverways, etc) but national forests are logged, mined, grazed, etc.
The real credit for creation of the national park system goes to the visionary genius of Frederick Law Olmstead, the architect who designed both Central Park in New York City and City Park in New Orleans. Frederick Law Olmstead was the author of the enabling legislation for the National Park Service in 1916 and its champion through Congress over the vehement opposition of Roosevelt and Pinchot.
The concept of setting aside land for free public access is a very American concept based on the remembered difficulty of getting access to land in Europe, most of which was owned by the titled upper classes. Thomas Moran’s paintings of Yellowstone and the geysers were instrumental in making people realize how beautiful nature, untouched by human hands, could be, as early as the 1830s. The awareness of the need for public land in the US is sometimes also seen in earlier statehood status vs. later statehood status when the awareness of the need for the right to access land was more popular. Texas (statehood in 1845) has about 10% public lands accessible to the average person, while more recent states (New Mexico, Arizona, both in 1912, Alaska 1959) have upwards of 70% public lands.
The controversy over land use vs. preservation is as violent and emotional in our lifetimes as it was when Teddy Roosevelt battled Fredrick Law Olmstead. When Jimmy Carter created all the national parks in Alaska in the early 1980s, hunters and miners shot at National Park Service employees for “taking away” their lands.
For more information see Alfred Runte’s book National Parks: An AmericanExperience
A natural analogy
by Peter Gluck, Romania
I am not an artist, have not the smallest trace of talent for visual or audio arts, but I am enjoying much the great creations of the chosen people. All I can is to use words — I have written — after my retirement as scientific researcher — 246 weekly issues of a Romanian language e-zine dedicated to web-search and problemology i.e. solving and discovering real-life problems.
In one of my editorials — No 243 — I have discovered an important and very Natural Analogy:
T. S. Eliot has shown that too high doses of reality or a too long contact with reality are toxic to humans. We need extra imagination to amortize the shocks with reality and in order to build more human and more better realities. Without imagination we cannot design the future. We need both realism and imagination. Nature sends us a striking analogy. The brain works similarly to the lungs. Realism is the nitrogen, imagination is the oxygen of the human brain. Nature suggests even the proper composition for the “air of thinking”: 1 part imagination to 4 parts realism — statistically and globally speaking.
Help save our planet
by Janis Jones, Sedona, AZ, USA
Our group of artists in Sedona, Arizona — Sedona Visual Artists Coalition — put together a show of work called Sustainable Visions an Art exhibition on a theme of environmental preservation and balanced living with nature. Over 50 artists contributed works based on this vision.
This was part of a bigger celebration of April Water Awareness Month in the southwest desert. Our art group is a member of the Sedona WaterWise Alliance, a collaboration of organizations: Sustainable Arizona, Sedona Women, Institute of EcoTourism and ILX, Hopi Nation, Keep Sedona Beautiful, Sedona Public Library, Sedona Schools, Sedona Art Center, Black Mesa Trust, Verde Valley Birding, Sedona Visual Artists Coalition, League of Women Voters, Arizona Water Consortium, Gardens for Humanity, Flicker Shack, New Frontiers, Sedona Recycles, City of Sedona and others.
Along with the Sustainable Visions art exhibits were water conservation conversations, a water fair and exposition for students, and an entire week of events with the Hopi, called “Carrying the Gift of Water,” and a Sustainability Resource Center display at the Sedona Public Library.
We feel as artists that we have a chance to produce a message that reaches people on several levels and perhaps touches a chord that will get them to do something to help save our planet and precious resources.
Oils can’t be green
by Melinda Collins, Redwood City, CA, USA
As an oil painter, I have often worried that it is a medium that can’t be inherently “green” but my attempts to get acrylics to do what I want paint to do have always led me back to oil. I am interested in any and all tips other oil painters have about taking care of brushes without washing them (at least very often), disposing of paint and solvents, etc. I wash my brushes with soap and warm water, but I do wonder about the oil residue going into the drain — I need to find a better way. They never seem to get really clean with just a solvent washing. I never pour out solvents, knowing they pollute even on the ground. I also wonder how oil paints are made and if there are “greener” companies that have better environmental standards in their manufacturing. I love oil paint but I also love the environment.
(RG note) Thanks, Melinda. I’m not aware of any oil paint manufacturers who are greener than others, unless you go to water-based oils. Perhaps readers may be better informed. Over the past while we have all been made aware of the degradation we are giving Mother Earth and the efforts needed to save Her. More and more painters are confining waste oil products to sealed paint buckets or other (labeled) containers and sent along to dumps for proper disposal. These precautions seem minor, but if everybody does their small part a significant improvement can be made. For a spirited discussion on the business of cleaning brushes and cleaning up, please read: Cleaning paint brushes
At The Summit
oil on canvas by Lesley White, Prince George, BC, Canada
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Sandy Nelson of Kitty Hawk, NC, USA who wrote, “Ah Robert… every time I paint plein-aire, I worship in the universe’s largest cathedral! Amen. Amen. Amen.”
And also Heather Wood of Elora, ON, Canada who wrote, “I think it’s wonderful that as artists we are witness to the earth’s beauty and importance, and that we donate work for good causes, etc. But, what I’d really like to see you do is use the airplane less, shrink your footprint a bit by flying less? Its something we all have to stop doing unless it’s really, really necessary.”
And also Miro Cernetig of Victoria, BC, Canada who wrote, “Robert, you are connected to the muses, but the day to day grind is tough.”
And also Paul Kane of Bloomington, IN, USA who wrote, “All I want out of life is a little valley in southern Indiana and some paints.”
And also Cassandra James of Austin, TX, USA who wrote, “I believe we are visionaries, and this role is dire necessity in a more and more destructive world. Creativity is the best counterpoint.”
And also Betty Bacavin of Cobble Hill, BC, Canada who wrote, “A project nearer to home that I think is worthy of saving is the Kinsol Trestle in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island — no, not a natural site, but an historic site.”
And also Donna Ordille of Hammonton, NJ, USA who wrote, “I spent the first thirty years of my life in Indiana and love it there. Even though I now live elsewhere, I will become a member of the Land Trust and am forwarding your email and information about the CILTI to all my Hoosier friends and relatives. You might want to take a look at a beautiful book of Indiana landscapes one painting from each county, Painting Indiana: Portraits of Indiana’s 92 Counties, Indiana Plein Air Painters Association, 2000.”
And also Tina King of Ajax, ON, Canada who wrote, “You have probably seen it on computers and thought to yourself, ‘Where is that scene and boy would I like to set up easel up and start painting.’ As a photographer, we capture scenes and immortalize them forever. Here’s one photographer, Peter Burian, who did just that in Autumn.”
And also Joe Murray of Jefferson, Iowa, USA who wrote, “It always amazes me how society labels the systematic destruction of natural resources with urban blight and call it success. Just the opposite is true. Today we have to travel and hunt for miniscule places where the natural beauty of the environment is present.”
And also Maryjo Warstler of Goshen, Indiana, USA who wrote, “Coming three hours north into Amish country will still reveal meadows, flowers, pastures, creeks, and many wonders that have left many parts of our disappearing landscapes. Being from Indiana, it is true many farmlands are being sold after generations owning them and turned into industrial sites, subdivisions, and malls.”
And also Gail Ribas of SW Harbor, ME, USA who wrote, “I grew up on Manhattan Island, NYC, and now live on Mount Desert Island, Maine. This is also the home of Acadia National Park. The original artists that came to capture the beauty of the island, like Thomas Church, were directly responsible for bringing the public. Each September, I host a paint-out on the island as part of the International Plein Air Painters annual event. Everyone is welcome.”
And also Virginia Wieringa of Grand Rapids, MI, USA who wrote, “The land trust is a fabulous idea. We have friends in Northern Michigan who own an old boys’ camp, Camp Tosebo and run it as a resort. They put 40 acres in the Michigan Land Trust. It’s a magical place to walk and enjoy nature.”
And also Chella Gonsalves of Modesto, CA, USA who wrote, “Being a Hoosier and a plein air artist but now living in another agricultural valley, the Central California Valley, I appreciate what you have witnessed and written about that lovely green terrain of the real, early Midwest, Indiana you too are a part of ‘them’… a sacred event.”