From the beginning, my art seemed “accessible” to animals, adult humans and their children. Early on, I was encouraged to apply for “artist in the schools” residencies in several states. I did several in Utah and Wyoming; it was a way to get more projects and experiments “realized”. At the same time I was wary of these projects. The reasons I avoided it at times were two: I knew the art world degraded artists who worked with children as not being serious artists, and I felt it was in some ways a cheat to help children fall in love with a nature and the environment we adults seem determined to destroy by the time the children reached adulthood. I still feel this, and our seeming disregard of dealing with climate change drives me crazy. But I did do some work with school children.
I did a summer workshop, a 2 week “day camp” for kids with the community college in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was a great introduction to environmental art for kids. I showed them images from my extensive collection of environmental art. We looked at and tried out the art of Andy Goldsworthy, Hamish Fulton, Richard Long, Chris Drury, Nancy Holt, and others. We painted sticks with patterns and stuck them out in the landscape in different patterns to see how they looked in different situations.
We looked at ancient petroglyphs and pictographs and drew with chalk on the parking lot. We “walked” a design based on ancient “Nazca” drawings. (This works best in snow.) We did sun prints and rock mosaics outdoors. We did clay “Charles Simmons” miniature Anasazi ruins and set them outdoors. We had a visit from Wyoming Game and Fish Department to tell us about the needs of wildlife. And we built a branch pile sculpture. Our final project was to hand build clay birdhouses, making sure they fit the size requirements to be useful to local birds. They used coil, slab and pinch pot techniques with raku clay. I bisque fired them and we wrapped them in sawdust, straw, and rags to do a sawdust firing in an old steel drum. They came out looking “cloudy” with grey and black smudges, looking unusual but “natural”. My great disappointment was that the kids and the parents liked them so well they wouldn’t hang them outdoors, feeling they were artworks and should be on display in the living room!
As an environmental artist, I have to create a lot of proposals, trying to explain to people what I have in mind to do on the site we want to work on. I’ve posted before about building models for this, but last week I found an even easier way to “envision” a sculpture.
Recently our local performing arts center invited artists and crafters to re-purpose wood from two trees near the center badly damaged by one of our winter wind storms. I thought it was right up my alley: tree branches are a major part of my artistic vocabulary. For the proposal we were requested to send in, we were invited on a field trip to the city’s tree dump. While other artists sort of stood around, nudged tree trunks with their feet, hummed and tugged at thick bark, I took photos. The branch and log pile looked like this:
I printed out some of the photos as black and white photocopies and looked at promising branches. I cut them out of the photocopies, and then started to play with them:
In amazingly short time, they arranged themselves into a “Garden Guardian”, which I re-photographed and photo shopped, adding a text for the proposal. Finished, with just a few scissor slashes, so all I had to do was fill out the application form. Does anyone know why people send you PDF forms to “fill out” when you can’t get into them? Or does anyone know how to fill out a PDF digitally? Please email any instructions or suggestions to me at
Last week I went to south Florida to spend time with my former intern, Jesse Etelson. He came to Fort Collins last summer to help me sort my archive, learning about my process in the process. Before he came he sent me some questions I thought would be good to share with a wider audience of young artists who might be interested in eco-art.
I know that I want to make sculpture for animals. I know that the process of making that happen and documenting it is exciting. I want to feel that my art has helped the world. How do you balance your need to be a unique artist with the challenge of functionality when working with science?
OK: I started out as a potter, and to some extent I feel I am still making containers, but for life instead of food (and when gardening, for food too!). I was taught to take a functional form, say a teapot, and then make it unique to myself. Here’s my “Wyoming teaset” for example.
Now, for wildlife habitat sculptures, I always start with the perimeters of the science, generated by the species, then figure out where there is room for art. Think about all those books on habitat gardens, telling you what size birdhouse you should build for the kind of bird you want to attract. For example, if a hawk needs a nesting platform 36 inches by 40 inches, what goes around the outside of that shape can be artistic, as long as it does no harm. The structure that holds it in place can be sculptural as long as the animal is attracted to it. My excuse for still holding to an aesthetic object is dual: it has to be “attractive” to the species, and if it is also attractive to humans it shows how much honor I give to my value of helping biodiversity. Occasionally I have to make something not so attractive or even invisible to supply the needs of the species, but if you learn more about contemporary art you’ll learn about artists who are now all about relationships, not objects.
Birdhouses, for example, can look like anything, but they need to have the exact measurements in the floor size, hole size, and height of hole above the floor to attract specific species, or even to get used.
Is unique art best suited for people and inspiring them?
Another reason I make art is I believe that to get people to support an idea and make change to accommodate it, they need to be impacted by it emotionally as well as intellectually. Science is really good at intellectual ideas (well, with reservations about their skill in communicating). But science data doesn’t connect emotionally as art can. Obviously you and I and even a hundred other artists can’t generate enough artworks to save all the endangered species. Can our work reach enough people to get their attention? I maintain hope. I am amazed by the number of people who have viewed my work and seem to respond to it.
I find myself thinking about the point of what I am trying to do, over and over. Other eco-artists address water, food and waste problems but those areas lack spirit to me and I find myself drifting back to animals and nature, the subjects and issues that I feel passion for. If I have ever known god, it is in nature and the magic of animals. We are animals too and that wild spirit is inside us, however deeply buried and confused, and the social issues represented in our relationships with each other and nature are very compelling to me.
I agree totally with your spirituality. I had the chance to ask Christa Tippets, the host of NPR’s “Speaking of Faith” (it now has another name) about this type of non-traditional spirituality and she said it is the fastest growing “religious” segment of society. Interesting!
I’m thinking I might need to go to graduate school, but where are the programs in environmental art?
It would probably be a great idea for you to go to grad school if you can do it. Two new programs (Finally!) on environmental art have reached my attention: U. New Mexico has expanded their land arts program to include environmental art (check it out closely) and University of Falmouth in England has just transferred a program from Dartington Hall to their Art Department. Neither is clearly eco-art or even environmental art, but until the Harrisons get their program up and running at UC Santa Cruz these are the ones I know of. Years ago I had the chance to ask John Beardsley about where I might go to grad school. He thought about it for several days, and finally suggested going to an “ecologically oriented Landscape Architecture program”. Most of the eco-artists I know have art degrees and often a graduate degree in a related field.
Last week Jesse Etelson invited me to come to south Florida and spend time looking at possible projects in his area. We met with Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida, went to talk about eco-art at two Earth Day weekend festivals, had kids help us build a branch pile sculpture (see Get Involved: DIY page on my website and http://www.facebook.com/ecoart4wildlife. Jesse showed me some small project sites where he has worked with Audubon and Florida Oceanographic.
I gave a talk on environmental art at the Martin County building which they put on their website for anyone to watch. You might catch it at http://www.martin.fl.us/portal/page?_pageid=357,2119332&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL. At the end of the program a young girl came up to me, showed me her wildlife drawings and gave me one. The young EcoArt interns contributed information about their training and their ongoing art work.
I was amazed and delighted at the MJ’s organization, EcoArt South Florida. Mary Jo Aagerstoun’s dedication to creating an orginization for the development of public appreciation of ecoart, and training young artists to work on the environmental restoration challenges in south Florida are astounding, and I don’t know of any other organization like it, but would love to have one in every state of every country since the whole planet needs our help! more at http://ecoartsofla.org/
We went to Torry Island, at the edge of Lake Okeechobee near Belle Glade and had a meeting with a great turnout of people– educators, agency people, city officials, water engineers, wildlife people, and Ashley, a young woman who owns a part of the island. The Island needs some restoration work, and Ashley wants to see some eco-tourism development including eco-art to help create points of interest. She arranged for us to go into the lake on a jet boat (my ears rang for 48 hours, even with ear protection, but I have to admit it was fun to go right out into the marsh. One of their species of concern in the area is the Snail Kite, a beautiful raptor (like a falcon) who only eats Apple Snails. The Apple Snail is at risk due to an invasion of French Apple Snails, which have a closing gasket too hard for the Kite to get through, but is more aggressive than the native Apple snail at breeding. So Jesse is working on a proposal to address the whole food web with a spiraling bio-swale. The snails would have a safe place to breed and spread into the marsh and there would be a roost for the Kites to hunt more easily. Visitors can see the snails breeding and egg laying and an increased chance of seeing the Snail Kite. Then there will be a nesting sculpture for the Kites a safe distance from the visitor area. He will have a team of young students available to help excavate and create sculptures thanks to a summer work training program in the area. It’s a win-win-win model for conservation, work training for disadvantaged youth, life support for the snail, the birds, Jesse and Eco-art South Florida, who are trying to create another ecoart node in Palm Beach County.
Our second big excursion was a hike into Big Cypress N.P. with Matt “Panther” Schwartz. I thought he was a wildlife biologist, but he is a non-scientist who is dedicating his life to saving the Florida Panther (very similar to our western Mountain Lion). He had recently been busy suing the National Park Service who had decided to begin allow deer and pig hunting in the endangered panther’s territory. Why would a respectable federal agency allow hunting in a national preserve, let alone in habitat where the hunters compete for prey needed by an endangered species? Unbelievably, the panther man and his small organization lost the case. Anyone interested in helping him, or learning more, can sign up for his e-mail list at SouthFloridaWild@yahoo.com.
Jim Moir took us out into the Indian River Estuary/Lagoon in his boat. We survived two squalls and saw oyster reefs and learned about worm reefs, some in need of conservation.
We spent more time during the week looking at sites in need of restoration, sites which could be potential eco-art project sites, and what kind of team we would need to put together to work on the sites. I’m very interested in being the artist on an interdisciplinary team, since I feel the need to be working at a larger scale than I can handle on my own. One of our ideas will probably require three artists, a water engineer, a landscape architect, a marine biologist, and representatives from the county, local homeowners and nearby environmental organizations. Sounds like a team to me!
I’d love to hear from other artists who work with interdisciplinary teams. Please email me at Lynne.Hull@eco-art.org about your experiences.
With the successful experiments of the “Raptor Roosts”, “Hydroglyphs”, “Marten Havens” and “Floating Islands” I felt I had established a basic approach and a vocabulary to continue my work with wildlife. My process was to learn about a species’ needs, which components were lacking or scarce in a specific habitat, which needs could be addressed structurally, and design around them.
My process included doing research to learn enough about a species or eco-zone, to give me the background and vocabulary to approach scientists and wildlife professionals. With them I could then generate and validate ideas. I also learned about getting permission from land owners, private and government, to create temporary or more permanent sculptures on their land. I had discovered areas not far from my home where I could carry out experiments. I don’t communicate well by drawing, but I think in three dimensions so making models expressed my ideas, and having models on site was a good way to show project participants our construction goal.
Knowing about species interdependence, I decided it would be interesting to create multiple sculptures for multiple species needs on a site. That would involve more money and more people. I received feedback on my work, some negative but surprisingly more positive, even from humans.
I learned to write grants to get arts funding. I found I could attract environmental organizations as partners when my work added arts funding to help achieve their environmental goals. This required learning an organization’s goals and showing them ways my work paralleled and extended their goals. With the partnerships, arts funders were more inclined to fund an “interdisciplinary” project. By “leaving” the art world to make art for animals I had done something of interest to the art world.
From the beginning, my art seemed “accessible” to animals, adult humans and their children. Early on, I was encouraged to apply for “artist in the schools” residencies in several states. While it was a way to get more projects and experiments “realized”, I had two reasons to avoid work with school children: I know the art world discounted artists who worked with children as not being serious artists, and I felt it was in some ways dishonest to help children fall in love with a nature and environment as we adults seem determined to destroy it. Our current disregard of the consequences of climate change still drives me crazy. However, artwise, I began to get some funded opportunities to carry on the work I was now devoted to. I did do several school projects, but only if the school had a site for creating habitat.
I saw an opportunity to apply for a small western states arts federation grant and was awarded some funding to create two more raptor roosts, one to include a nesting platform. I suggested putting them along a desolate section of highway in north central Wyoming. Game and Fish suggested that since that was sheep ranching country, and since ranchers there are convinced that eagles, hawks, and most other predators are eating their baby lambs (sometimes true), it would not be a good idea. Instead they suggested a parking pull-out along I-80 between Rawlins and Rock Springs. They had built some nesting platforms and had good response from ferruginous hawks. The land, however, was in BLM ownership rather than state. I was warned that BLM could be difficult to work with. Instead, I met a Raptor Biologist who became one of my great advocates. At one point he told me over the phone, “I am totally behind you. I really believe in your work”—more praise than I had ever had from the art world!
With the “Lightning” raptor roosts, I learned to talk to a huge variety of people and groups. The Wyoming Arts Council had sent a letter of support to Game and Fish. They contacted BLM. BLM contacted the rancher who held the grazing lease on the site. I talked to the power company who had volunteered to install the Laramie raptor roosts and their Rock Springs branch would install these next ones. I think by the time we were done we had 5 government agencies, a corporation, two arts councils and several individuals involved in the project! All photos of the “Lightning” roosts are BLM photos.
The location for the sculptures, at a parking pull-out along I-80 between Rawlins and Rock Springs, Wyoming, is a wide open, fairly barren segment of high desert steppe landscape. I looked for a theme for the sculptures, and interviewed some of the very few nearby inhabitants. They suggested that the most impressive landscape feature is the summer lightning storms that sweep through, so I worked from that motif.
My assistant Mark and I worked from my models, creating the tops for the sculptures in my studio and backyard in Laramie, then took them apart and loaded them into my little truck to drive halfway across Wyoming. The BLM had an empty garage where we reassembled the two sculptures with the 22 foot poles. Mark felt they might be too big, too elaborate. But when we installed them out on the prairie, Mark commented that they were almost dwarfed by the open landscape. It wasn’t until the ferruginous hawks built a nest on the nesting platform that I saw it as complete, in balance, a perfect collaboration. One of the power crew members on our way out from the site commented that he guessed they looked like lightning. Edward Abbey’s quote, “Artists have two jobs: to make art, and to be subversive” echoed in my head. Sweet subversion, I thought, keeping BLM staff and a whole power company crew working on Art, installing sculptures for a day rather than doing some of the less environmentally friendly practices they sometimes carried out.
Please email comments to Lynne.Hull@eco-art.org
More Raptor Roosts—1990
I began to think in terms of more than one sculpture on a site, and realized I would need help on larger sculptures and multi-sculpture projects. Who was likely to help? The Wyoming Game and Fish Department was an obvious choice. I talked to their local agents and administrators, who suggested I talk to the big guys at the state level. They gave me names, and I went visiting. For 18 months. Finally I found the education department, with a remarkably open-minded director in Dave Lockman, who agreed that my goals were very similar to their goals and they could help. We decided on a raptor roost. They identified the Shirley Basin Rest Area along Highway 287 between Laramie and Casper as a possibility, since it was state owned land. I was familiar with the site (the only public bathroom between the two cities, it is a popular stop) and remembered how windy it always is. So the theme for the “Wind” raptor roost was obvious—the metal sheets below the roosting branch, as well as the lower twisty branches, looked as if they had been blown across the prairie and stuck on the pole. I also created a variety of “branch pile sculptures” for the small wildlife garden at the Game and Fish headquarters building.
As I remember it, the process of getting permission, finding the right people, getting to know the crew who lived at the site (mostly snow-plow drivers & their families) and talking the highway department into installing the roost took about 8 months. Creating and installing the sculpture took 6 weeks.
Yesterday the city of Fort Collins sustainability department screened a film called “A Sea Change”. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It documents the journey of a retired teacher with a 5 year old grandson (mine is almost 3) who goes on a quest to find out how Climate Change is impacting the oceans he loves, which his family has depended on for their livelihood for generations. He quickly discovers oceans are in dire straits: acid from absorbing our carbon effluence is dissolving the thin, delicate shells of the tiny, beautiful terrapods. Transparent, jelly-like, they “fly” through the sea. They are part of the bottom of the food chain. Carbonation is disolving their transparent shells like a can of Pepsi or Coke can dissolve a human tooth in a few weeks. If the bottom of the food chain dies, every creature above it on the chain also dies. Millions of humans also depend on the sea for food and other services.
The grim science research regarding the CURRENT state of the oceans (not future possibilities) is poignantly set off by the teacher’s letters home to his grandson, with his agony over whether there will be a viable planet for the child. There are, however several highly encouraging moments.
Both a prominent economist and a pair of Norwegian engineers advocate that if the developed world would devote 2 % of its GNP (less than we have spent in Iraq) and mobilize the way we did for world war II and for the Space program, we would be totally on available alternative energy, with today’s technology, within 10 years!
Where can we find the political will and the belief in the urgency of the situation to do this? How much money would be available if we started by stopping all the current federal (i.e. our money) funding supporting any further dirty energy projects which are also killing our environment. The oil, gas, and coal energy business can go forward on their own money and infrastructure while we divert public funds away from degrading the soil, the water and the atmosphere of the planet we depend on, toward a realistic alternative. WE need to stop talking in terms of what might happen and switch to the present tense: This IS happening. Weather disruption IS happening. Polar ice IS melting. Ocean levels ARE rising. Deserts ARE expanding. We are a planet in peril. Our grandchildren ARE facing a desperate future. Our great-grandchildren, our village’s great-grandchildren, ARE an endangered species, because so many of the other species we are interdependent upon ARE disappearing.
This morning I attended a town hall meeting with my senator, Mark Udall. Citizens, bless them for being there, brought up many concerns: the economy, the lack of jobs, the abuse of protestors, health care, terrorism and the impact of homeland security on our citizens, treatment of the armed forces, building the “green energy economy”. I realized all of these could change quickly and positively if we acted on this mobilization. Even Senator Udall reminded us, “The Economy is a Subsidiary of the Environment”. Well, Senator, are you with us? Or must we lead on in spite of our government?
This sounds like a testimonial for this film but I was so impressed with the information and the balance between the science, the beauty of the planet, and humanity. Recommend to all concerned about Climate Change Impact; find it at http://www.aseachange.net/
I just finished a wonderful online conversation with a professor and students in an online art class in Australia. They wrote in wonderful questions about my work, my design process, my thoughts about how my work relates to the Land Artists, appropriate aesthetics for the natural environment, how much of my work I do myself vs having a fabricator, and lots more. The professor asked me the questions on audio and she and I traded back and forth on the mike button. The students could add to the conversation via a chat box and we could post images of sculptures I was discussing. I hope to write about some of these “FAC’s” in the future, and I hope the students will post some of their observations and responses to the talk as well!
The questions on my project development helped me realize how important model building is to my design process—I don’t feel I draw well enough to make my ideas clear through drawings, and until we develop mind to screen image transfers (good thing Steve Jobs is no longer listening) I needed a way to convey my ideas. I’m sometimes surprised to discover how close the finished sculpture is to the model, and on international projects taking the model to the site and sharing it with assistants and volunteers overcomes language handicaps. I find if I make a model for a proposal and see it in my studio, it reminds me when I don’t have a site to create it that I need to keep trying—a visual prompt for me as well as others. And I’ve found it’s a very good idea to figure out design flaws on a small scale before I do it on a huge sculpture and it’s too late to change!
The second launch of “Island 1” came during my time at Ucross artist residency in northern Wyoming. My friend Neltje offered her pond, so we had a big launch inviting local residents, ranchers, artist and other visiting artists. I asked participants to bring poems by, for and about ducks. We read poems and indulged in duck and goldfish crackers and of course bottles of Cold Duck. I placed tiny tea candles on the island and on other flotsam, and we launched it about sunset. Only the ducks missed the occasion, but they would come later.