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:

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 magical Strandbeests – art comes alive

Strandbeest by Theo Jansen


The kinetic sculptures of Theo Jansen are unlike anything else in the world. They seem to defy category, they are art and machine, but also works of theater on a grand scale. And although they are are not sentient beings, they seem to have a life all their own, and people connect with them.

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, is featuring the first major American exhibition of Jansen’s work, before it travels on to Chicago and San Francisco. In a statement on his website, Jansen says he is trying to create “new forms of life” with his sculptures, and seeing them in action makes you think he might actually get there.

Part of the magic of these creatures is that they are self-propelled, and their limbs seem to move like those of animals or insects, and yet their movements are unique to themselves. It is truly like seeing a new species, and it makes us think about what it means to be “alive.” Designed to walk on the beach, some of his creations can detect when they are walking on wet sand, and thus avoid going into the water. There is a kind of artificial intelligence here. How much “intelligence” is necessary before we say that something is alive? Computers have far more artificial intelligence than the strandbeests, and yet because they move around like giant animals, we somehow relate to them more as intelligent beings, we want them to be alive.

From a purely visual standpoint, it amazes me how “natural” these creatures appear, both in their structure and movements. Despite the fact that they are entirely built from human-made materials (PVC pipes, plastic bottles), they seem like creatures that could occur naturally in the world. And yet some of their parts are purely mechanical — no animal uses a wheel and piston to propel their legs.

Here is a short documentary on Jansen and his art:

Theo Jansen from Salazar on Vimeo.

In the film, Jansen says, “To make my animals, I try to make a new nature, I don’t want to copy the existing nature, but it’s hard to avoid that.” He finds that when he designs the working parts of his creatures, he inevitably winds up with elements like those of living creatures — bones, muscles, legs — because that is the most efficient way to propel an object over uneven ground. He thinks of his creatures as going through their own evolution as he perfects them, much the way nature itself has gone through evolution over a much longer period of time.

The exhibit will run from September 19, 2015 through January 3, 2016 at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Here is a TED Talk by the artist:


And here is a lecture by the artist at the University of Michigan in 2008.

A floating forest on the freeway

Urban Air, by sculptur Stephen Glassman

Usually when an art and nature intersect, the work of art depicts or recreates the natural world, and is displayed indoors far from its subject. Sculptor Stephen Glassman uses the natural world to create art in public places, bringing art, audience and nature together for a shared experience. He designs giant sculptures using bamboo and inspired by natural forms, inserting nature into urban settings in ways that are surprising and dramatic. You can see some of his amazing works here and here.

Now he is embarking on a project to convert billboards into living bamboo gardens. Urban Air is the name of this new venture, and he has started a Kickstarter campaign to produce the first prototype in Los Angeles. He will also produce a system kit so that other unused billboards can be likewise transformed into floating gardens around the country.

Watch the video to learn more about this amazing project, or visit the official site.

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The Witness Tree Project – art inspired by nature

The Witness Tree Project (photo)

A Witness Tree is a very old tree that has “witnessed” great events in history. There are such trees all over the world, which are treasured by those who know them. One example is a honeylocust tree in Gettysburg, which is the only tree still standing that was there when Abraham Lincoln dedicated the battlefield cemetery in 1863. Witness trees are living links to the past, yet they don’t last forever, and it’s always sad when we lose one to storms or disease.

Ancient pecan tree being taken down
Ancient pecan tree at the Hampton National Historic Site

In 2009, two professors at the Rhode Island School of Design, in collaboration with the Hampton National Historic Site, created what would become the Witness Tree Project, now in its third year. Professors Dale Broholm (Furniture) and Daniel Cavicchi (History) and the National Parks Service designed a program where students study and produce artworks from witness trees that have recently fallen. It is interdisciplinary learning at its best, as students study the history and culture surrounding the tree, and use that to inform their work.

As their website explains: “In addition to classroom study, the Project variously involves field trips, guest lectures, exhibitions of students’ objects, and other events that highlight the significance of material culture, landscape, and design in learning about American history.”

The first tree used in the program was a pecan tree that had lived for over 150 years at the Hampton National Historic Site, a former plantation near Baltimore (see photo above). In 2010, they worked with trees from both the George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Sagamore Hill (the homestead of Theodore Roosevelt). This year, students are working with an historic Elm from the Olmsted site.

Below are just a few of the pieces created by students from 2010, and you can see many more amazing pieces here. Artwork from the current year’s project will be posted to their website later this year.

by Athena Lo
Athena Lo
Elish Warlop
Elish Warlop
Ben Kicic
Ben Kicic
Clara Zavani
Clara Zavani
Brett Dunnam
Brett Dunnam
Christopher Gent
Christopher Gent
Brendan Kiem
Brendan Kiem
Desmond Delanty
Desmond Delanty
Yu-Chuan Liu
Yu-Chuan Liu
Ming Yi-Wong
Ming Yi-Wong

Additional reading: Students Collaborate with National Park Service (article).