The poetry of earth is never dead

John Keats portrait by William HiltonFebruary 23, 2021 marks the 200 year anniversary of the death of John Keats. Although his life was short, he has had an outsized influence on English poetry and literature in the years since.

But he was not always so beloved, and like many artists before and after, he was anything but acclaimed during his lifetime. In a blistering review of his epic poem Endymion, the magazine Blackwood’s called him “the most worthless and affected of all the versifiers of our time” and his poem was described as “imperturbable drivelling idiocy.”*

There was a prevailing theory at the time that only aristocrats had the capacity and sophistication to be poets. Keats’s father managed a horse stable, and although he was by no means impoverished, Keats always felt the weight of his humble beginnings. He originally wanted to be a doctor and went to medical school, but quit the profession before he even started, in order to devote himself to poetry.

Keats was inspired by nature, like many poets of the time, but his works evolved to tackle many different themes as he tried to break free of the sentimental stylings of his early work. Throughout his life he fought an internal struggle between his ambition and his ability, but he continued to work hard to become a better writer.

Many events are being planned in commemoration of the anniversary of his death, including a BBC radio play and a virtual tours at the Keats-Shelley House in Rome.

But perhaps the best way to appreciate this poet on his anniversary is to read his work. The sonnets are perhaps the most accessible of his poems, taking on subjects as varied as nature, books and authors he liked, letters to friends, or even how he was feeling that day. In the poem “On the Grasshopper and Cricket” he muses on nature and how it persists in inspiring us:

The Poetry of earth is never dead:
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
  In summer luxury,—he has never done
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
 
You can read more poetry by Keats here at the Poetry Foundation.

I also highly recommend the biography John Keats, The Making of a Poet by Aileen Ward, if you can find it. The biography won the National Book Award in 1964, and focuses on the poet’s creative development as well as the events in his life.

* * *

 

Winter in the untended garden

Artwork by Valerius De Saedeleer

Hello nature friends, welcome back to my blog! I’ve been taking a break from here lately, as other projects have pulled me away. The original purpose of this website was to discuss works of art that are influenced by nature, in all media. But it takes a lot of time to properly research and write about each topic.

Over the past five years, I have seen a huge increase in books and media about nature, so there is obviously an interest among both creators and consumers. But we (as a society) still seem to hold nature at a distance, as something to visit and appreciate in very controlled situations, while we continue our lives set apart. We like nature, but we aren’t necessarily close to nature. That’s something I hope this blog can help remedy, by showing how art can bring us closer to nature.

I hope to wrote here more frequently in the future, as I think there is a lot to discuss. For now, I will leave you with the magical winter paintings of Belgian artist Valerius de Saedeleer (1867-1941.) There is a cold stillness to his work, but also a warmth. Nature is frozen but alive, asleep but awake. His compositions are striking in their stark angles, their mix of large empty spaces and crowded detail. You can see more of his work here

Artwork by Valerius De Saedeleer

———

Artwork by Valerius De Saedeleer

———

Artwork by Valerius De Saedeleer

———

Artwork by Valerius De Saedeleer

———

Artwork by Valerius De Saedeleer

———

Artwork by Valerius De Saedeleer

———

Artwork by Valerius De Saedeleer

———

Artwork by Valerius De Saedeleer

———

Tending the untended garden, and appreciating small moments in nature

Small Daisy flower

The Untended Garden has been truly untended lately. I’ve been focusing on other writing projects this year, and it’s been hard to find time for this blog. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of nature-inspired books, art, music, films, and other media to talk about.  In fact there’s almost too much. And the internet does a great job at letting us share these amazing things. It makes me wonder about the direction of this blog, and where I want to take it.

Eventually I will come back to it regularly, but for now, here are a few recent nature photos of my own. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the small moments in nature, and how they often seem to encompass the entirety of the natural world in their own way. The smallest flea struggles to survive, just like a bird, or a lion, or a whale, and they all play their own part in the giant tapestry of the natural world. I also think that the more we understand the natural world around us, the better we can understand ourselves.

I put some of these thoughts into an article about how to reconnect with small moments in nature. I call it The 60-Second Nature Challenge, a way to observe the tiny pieces of nature in order to better understand the whole. You can read it here.

That’s all for now, I hope you can all get outside this summer, and find your own inspiration!

Tiny bee on flower

Bunny under fence

Butterfly on a burr flower

Queen Anne's Lace

Skipper on a leaf

pond460

Lacewing

Maria Schneider, music inspired by nature

The Thompson Fields by Maria Schneider

Jazz composer Maria Schneider draws much of her inspiration directly from nature. Her latest recording, The Thompson Fields, is inspired by the prairies where she grew up in Minnesota. As she said to NPR’s Here and Now, “The sound of my music is what it is largely because of the natural landscape I grew up with, and people who made me appreciate it so much.”

Her work incorporates elements of jazz and classical music, with improvisation from the musicians in her ensemble. Tracks like “Walking by Flashlight” and “The Monarch and the Milkweed” evoke nature and the feelings one experiences in nature.

The album was developed through the ArtistShare web community, which allows artists and fans to connect and support each other. It has recently been nominated for a Grammy Award.

Here is the official trailer for the album The Thompson Fields:

Here is the full interview with Maria on NPR’s Here and Now.

Here is an excellent profile in the New York Times from 2013.

And here is a great interview with Maria from the Detroit Jazz Festival, also featuring clips of her orchestra in performance:

This is my last post for 2015 at The Untended Garden. This site has been a little more untended than usual lately, but I hope to get back to it more in 2016.

It seems like more and more people are rediscovering nature as a balance to the world of technology we live in. Artists have been in touch with nature since the beginning of time, and I think they can play a big part in our understanding of the natural world.

Happy New Year!

Artists supporting nature

I’ve been neglecting this blog in recent months, as I’ve been trying to focus on my art and writing.  Thank you to all my loyal readers for staying connected. I have a backlog of interesting artists to feature in the coming year, so stay tuned for more posts.

Today I want to tell you about some artists who are supporting nature directly through their art. Cathy Berman has long had an interest in art and the environment, and after retiring she founded a website called For Mother Nature, which features artists who donate some or all of their proceeds to environmental causes. Below are three of the artists on the website.

Ann Kruglak, who creates sculptures in polymer clay, donates all of her proceeds to the Rainforest Trust.  Her donations have saved over 200,000 acres of rainforest.

Art © by Ann Kruglak

Floris van Breugel is a landscape and wildlife photographer as well as a scientist, who has traveled all over the world capturing images of nature. His work supports the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Photo © by Floris van Breugel

Eileen Doughty creates quilts and intricate sculptures out of thread, focusing on the concept of “place”. Her work supports The Potomac Conservancy.

 

Art © by Eileen Doughty

 

There are seven artists so far on the For Mother Nature website, and founder Cathy Berman hopes it will grow to include many more artists and environmental organizations. A lifelong artist herself with a degree in Environmental Conservation, she also hopes that her website will encourage visitors to build a stronger connection with nature. You can visit the website here:  http://formothernature.com

If you’re looking for more ways to support the environment through art, check out Artists for Conservation.

Also the National Wildlife Federation has an online store where you can adopt a polar bear, plant a tree, and support our earth in many ways.

Do you know other artists or organizations who support nature through their work? Share them in the comments!

The Diatomist – microscopic artwork created from nature

Sometimes the beauty of nature is so small, you need a microscope to see it.

Diatoms are single-cell algae, encased in glass shells, invisible to the human eye without a microscope. During the 19th Century, diatomists would make intricate arrangements of these tiny objects, creating beautiful designs.

Today there is one living practitioner of this microscopic art form, Klaus Kemp, the subject of a new documentary short by Matthew Killip. Klaus developed his own techniques for arranging these tiny works of art, because the original practitioners never passed down their secret techniques.

Below are some of Klaus Kemp’s designs. You can learn more about Klaus and diatoms in this interview with the filmmaker at the Smithsonian website. For more scientific reading on diatoms, visit the Identification Guide and Ecological Resource for Diatoms of the United States.

* * *

Diatom by Klaus Kemp

Diatom by Klaus Kemp

Diatom by Klaus Kemp

* * *

Inspired by orchids – Bianca Ana Chavez

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Here at The Untended Garden, we feature works both old and new, but this summer I’ll be highlighting contemporary artists who explore nature in their work.

Bianca Ana Chavez is a painter from California who has been inspired by nature all her life. She is currently living in Chiapas, a tropical region in the southernmost part of Mexico that is rich in biodiversity. The area boasts over 700 species of orchids, many of which are in danger from deforestation and poaching.

Working in a local plant shop, Bianca would draw the orchids and plants in her free time, and ended up painting an orchid mural around the outside of the store. She became inspired to study botanical art, and moved to Seattle to pursue a certificate in Natural Science Illustration. Studying at the University of Washington, she traipsed through the woods drawing moss and cicadas, and learning more about the small wonders of nature.

Returning to Mexico, she helped convert the plant shop into an art space inspired by nature, where visitors could draw, take workshops, and hear concerts surrounded by the beautiful flora. The name of the shop is Orchideafilia, which translates to “a love for orchids.”

Below (and above), you can see the mural in progress outside Orchideafilia.

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

A student taking one of her workshops at the art space:

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

More artwork by Bianca Ana Chavez:

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

Art © by Bianca Ana Chavez

You can see more of Bianca’s artwork at her website.

* * *

 

 

The Wilderness Project – children in the natural world

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

Photographer Heather McKay Bowes describes herself as “an explorer, a wild one at heart, a spinner of stories, a dreamer.” She uses her photography to tell stories, and is embarking on a new project that explores and celebrates the connection between children and nature.

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

The Wilderness Project is a journey through the wild places in our world, the forests, rivers, mountains and beaches. Heather will photograph children in these natural settings, and the same children will photograph their own view of these wild places. It’s a project designed to bring children and nature together.

As she says on her Kickstarter page, “The children will be asked to either write, tell, or sketch some of their discoveries made while photographing and this will be shared alongside their prints in a printed journal of their own.” Heather will also “connect with families whose children may need art and nature to express, communicate or heal themselves.” The entire journey will be documented and shared to inspired others.

The first phase of the project will focus on the New England wilderness, and will last a full year to experience all four seasons. She has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her project. You can visit the website to learn more.

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

 All photos in this post © by Heather McKay Bowes

 

A Celebration of Flight

A Celebration of Flight

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing a performance of A Celebration of Flight by IBEX Puppetry, directed by Heather Henson. Featuring a blend of puppetry, movement and music, it was an inspiring spectacle that beautifully depicted the natural world through the life-cycle of a crane.

The performance followed the young bird as it hatched from an egg, discovered the world, and learned to fly, while meeting various other creatures along the way (fish, dragonflies, turtles, birds.) The ending featured a gigantic white crane that flew majestically across the stage. A thundering percussive soundtrack and soaring vocal performance added to the magic.

The setting for this visual and musical feast was an outdoor amphitheater on the gorgeous campus of Swarthmore College, as part of the Puppeteers of America national festival. Surrounded by towering trees and lush greenery, with the audience seated on the ground, the connection with nature was even more profound. I even saw a real hawk soaring high overhead, as though joining in the spectacle.

At various points in the performance, children in the audience were invited to participate by waving their own paper birds and fish in the air. At the end they were all invited down to the stage to join the performance in a joyous finale that brought tears to my eyes. It was a celebration like no other – a true blending of art and nature, reaching towards a deeper understanding of both.

A Celebration of Flight

Majestic crane puppet flies over the audience

A Celebration of Flight

A Celebration of Flight

Photographs don’t do justice to the puppets, because their movement was what made them so magical. Below is a video trailer of the show performed indoors, which will give you a better sense of the overall production.

Learn more about IBEX Puppetry at their website or Facebook page.

Exploring the animal kingdom through music

Predator-Prey

Composers draw inspiration from everything around them, and many great songs have sprung from nature. Musicians Dak and Adam are taking their inspiration one step further, by recording a whole concept album inspired by the animal kingdom. Predator/Prey was inspired by the unusual names for groups of animals, and features song titles like “A Knot of Snakes” and “A Gang of Elk.” Here’s how the group describes their work:

Each of the 14 songs is completely inspired by the ecology and behavior of a particular species of Canadian wildlife and is written entirely from the perspective of the animal, both musically and lyrically.  Drawing inspiration from an incredibly diverse range of influences, the album pushes genre boundaries while retaining cohesion in true concept-album form.

Dak is a PhD student at the University of Toronto studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and sees this album as a way to engage and educate people about the North American wilderness. He is currently living in the Canadian Arctic working on fisheries research.

The album has taken 2.5 years to write and record, and they launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finish it. It’s great to see how nature inspires different artists in different media. Check out the video below to learn more, or visit the project website to hear samples.

Predator/Prey group shot

Predator/Prey recording session

Here is the group’s official website.

* * *