Environmental Artist Series an Eco-Friendly Campus Hit

By Heather Gazella
Staff Writer

Imagine an area of study that combines artistic tools with resources in the environment.

Last month, the Marywood Art Department welcomed Agnes Denes, a pillar in the Environmental Art Movement, as the last presenter in the “Fresh Perspectives-New Solutions: Visiting Environmental Artist Series.” The Wood Word recently met with Dr. Linda Partridge, Associate Professor of Art, to discuss how the series began.

The idea for an Environmental Artist Series began in the 1990s when Linda Partridge and Pam Parsons, both Associate Professors of Art at Marywood, had the idea for a course that combined studio art with art history. The Green Piece: Art and Nature in America course allows students to create art projects in the environment using various materials.

“We went through the grant office at Marywood and asked Renee Zehel to recommend foundations who would [support] this program,” said Dr. Partridge. “She recommended the Willary Foundation.”

In the end, the Willary Foundation granted the Art Department enough funding to host a three year series of professional speakers in this field of Environmental Art. The three year program was structured to inform the students and the community of projects that have been completed based on this interested of both art and the environment.

The Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority and WVIA were involved in promoting the series in the community. “Erika Funke at WVIA hosts a talk show called “Art Scene” and she featured long interviews about the artists coming to speak and the purpose of the series,” said Dr. Partridge. “The community involvement in this program has increased. We are delighted to see that people from the community are interested in these topics,” she added.

“This area of study that combines art with environmental projects is [fairly] recent,” said Dr. Partridge. “In the 1960s and 1970s artists, such as Patricia Johanson and Agnes Denes, had an interest in taking their art out of the galleries and moving it into the landscape.” The artists realized that bringing artistic talents into the environment should be beneficial, or call attention to pressing issues. “In the 1970s and 1980s art that became environmentally conscious began to have some life to it,” she added.

Agnes Denes, the last presenter in this series, is considered one of the founders of the Environmental Art Movement. In the early 1980s, Denes began to make connections among art, science, human values and the natural world. Of her many projects, Wheatfield-A Confrontation is the most recognized. She planted and tended a two-acre field of wheat on Battery Park Hill in New York City. “This was a statement about the land use, and [the golden wheat] became a visual knock out against the cityscape,” said Dr. Partridge.

Previous presenters include Arctic photographer Subhankar Banerjee who led an illustrated lecture on “Resource Wars in the American Arctic,” in which he presented environmental issues through his photography. T. Allan Comp, project director and employee of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Stacy Levy, a sculptor, spoke about AMD&ART (Acid Mine Drainage and Art) and the collaborative effort among artists, engineers, scientists, and the citizens of Vintondale, a small coal town in Western PA. Together they restored an ecosystem once ravaged by acid mine drainage, and created a clean watershed for public recreation.

“We need to keep doing this to expose our students and the community to different ways of thinking about art and the environment,” Dr. Partridge said. “Our students have commented that they didn’t know this field of art existed, and they didn’t know they could go out and make a difference in this way.”

The future goals are to continue the series, and put into use the information that the speakers have brought. “The Marywood Art Department and Patricia Johanson, are interested in designing a plan to investigate the possibility of doing a project on Marywood’s campus,” Dr. Partridge revealed. They are currently holding meetings with various community organizations to see if a project is possible.

Overall, Dr. Partridge was pleased with the student and public interest in the series, and feels it has been effective based on the overall positive questionnaire responses given at the end of each lecture. “After one of the presentations, people from the community actually came up and thanked us. That’s the kind of thing that says we need to keep doing this,” she said enthusiastically.

“All of the speakers in this series were effective because [their projects] were so different,” said Dr. Partridge. The variety of projects gave the audience an idea of the many different ways they can bring awareness to issues in the environment.

“However, one project that closely related to the issues of our own area was the AMD/ART,” she commented. Their project dealt with issues of a small mining town in Central PA that was severely scarred by acid mine drainage (AMD). The audience from our community was able to relate to the challenges of seeing mine ravaged land, and recognize the need to clean up the land and restore the ecosystem.

If you interested in getting involved with the possible project at Marywood, or involved with local organizations that are doing art projects in the environment, please contact either Dr. Linda Partridge or Pam Parsons in the Art Department.