As an environmental artist, I work to connect people to nature and each other through the arts. With two decades of social practice experience in the field, remarkable results abound when I engage communities in biodiversity studies. My art approach is site specific and mixed media, in a context of impromptu creative collaboration. Based in accurate regional science, activities highlight the vital role of native plants and pollinators in our food supply. Projects are learning opportunities as well as engaging pieces of art. As we study together the region’s natural history and deepen spiritual ownership in our communities, our place as stewards in a sustainable future is re-envisioned. The results of collective inquiry create community-relevant remedial gardens with interactive and kinetic sculptures and events. I am consistently delighted, inspired and informed by the process of creative group practice.
Habitat restoration is a proactive and beautiful way to help the pollinators. I design and build site-specific remedial gardens with native plants and pollinator-friendly features, incorporating mixed-media sculptural installations that are low-tech, interactive, and kinetic. My remedial approach starts with removing unwanted, oftentimes invasive plant materials. These unwanted materials are not discarded but rather, are transformed into living sculptures – they are used as armatures to be planted with beneficial native plants that will, over time, inhabit their form. These environmental interventions are site-specific and can provide multiple tangible improvements including erosion mitigation, water filtration, invasive plant removal and habitat restoration, and the creation of pollinator habitat. Garden design and native plant choices are based on a study of the site’s natural history. Sculptural installations are conceived on a permanence/impermanence continuum based on individual project parameters; some installations are temporary or biodegradable. The gardens become places of beauty that integrate art with native plants and food crops and are model habitats that benefit all of the partners: plants, pollinators, and people.
Hands-on activities take place at this intersection of art, community building and science. The public is invited and encouraged into art-making appropriate for people of all ages and skill levels. As a collaborative research process with wide-spectrum participation, these activities feature cooperative strategies, model democratic principles and embrace social bridging – including children’s contributions.
Kinetic features within the added sculptures are easily assembled, fun and low-tech; past projects have included pin wheels, bicycles, carousels, drawing machines, pop-up and flip books, mobiles, cranks, and wind-up toys. Using a wide range of media, from rocks and metals to mosaics cast with textures from nature such as moss and seed pods and even ice, to living and harvested plants, fibers and recycled materials, these sculptures become an artistic vehicle for viewers to explore energy self-sufficiency. Together, the remedial gardens and kinetic sculptures are a way to connect communities to nature and with each other in vibrant and unique ways.
In 1998, I founded Dottywood Community Arts in Lewisburg, WV, my community for over 25 years, as a breeding ground for artist-led, community based art projects that connect people to nature and each other. As West Virginia Governor Manchin said when he presented me with the 2005 WV Governor’s Arts Award for Arts Leadership and Service, “By working together on large scale hands-on murals and sculptures, an enormous sense of shared accomplishment and mutual respect is generated that moves into other areas of community interaction.”