Illuminating the Plastic Crisis: Art from Waste at the Schuylkill Center

By: Christina Catanese

 

Recently, plastic has been the object of much attention – environmental news feels saturated with increasing calls for bans on plastic straws and grocery bags; images of dead albatrosses on beaches with stomachs full of bottle caps and other small pieces of plastics mistaken for food; an unfolding crisis in the recycling industry triggered by China’s ban on imports on many recyclables, where most of America’s waste had been shipped for years; and the resultant environmental justice crisis in Chester, where Philadelphia’s recycling was being burned for a time this year. Statistics like “8 million tons of plastics enter the ocean each year” or “240,000 plastic bags are used globally every ten seconds” or “only 10% of all plastics ever produced have been recycled to date” feel utterly overwhelming, and it can feel difficult to know what to do with or about this information.

What if there was a different way to think about plastic – through beauty, and through celebrating rather than lamenting its durability? If we saw this material as precious and valuable, rather than disposable, would we reduce how much plastic we are using and throwing away? This is part of the message of the artist behind the Schuylkill Center’s summer exhibition.

Aglow features artworks created by Aurora Robson from industrial plastic debris, illuminated from within by LED lights. Along with the immersive installation in our environmental art gallery, Robson presents three outdoor sculptures around the Visitor Center.

Intercepting her materials from the waste stream, Robson transforms discarded plastic into mesmerizing, bold sculptures that disguise and transcend their material. Drawing attention to the global challenge of single-use waste, Robson seeks to imbue these often overlooked materials with care and intention, encouraging a viewer to consider their own relationship with waste and the waterways where it so often is discarded.

“People are so confused about plastic,” says Robson. “They think of it as disposable when it is precisely the opposite.” Plastic’s resistance to weathering and decay means it can last hundreds to thousands of years in the environment. This quality, along with the extreme volume of our current consumption and disposal of plastic, makes it a nightmare for the planet, but at the same time an untapped resource for artists. Along with other valuable qualities for sculpture like translucence and pliability, it is durable and almost automatically archival – an art conservator’s dream material.

Robson is a leading voice advocating for artists to be more conscious of the environmental footprint left by their art making. Besides shipping, her work is close to carbon neutral, made only from discarded or difficult-to-recycle materials. Her inquiry into the potential of plastic as art material has extended beyond her own art practice; she also offers courses and workshops on safety and best practices in low-impact artwork, as well as leads stream clean up efforts to source materials for sculpture out of local waterways and shorelines.

Many of the works in this exhibition are made from decommissioned highway safety drums and industrial detergent barrels, which are almost always sent to a landfill after their use, but which Robson here has cleaned, cut, welded, and transformed. Though the warm-toned organic shapes are abstract, they call to mind creatures of the ocean, some of the most impacted organisms of the plastic crisis.

 

Robson’s work presents a way of looking at plastic that goes beyond simply recycling more. It is activist work, in that it is an active response to a global challenge which activates our imaginations around creative solutions. The work in Aglow (literally) illuminates and alerts, but also plays its part to stem the tide of plastic waste streaming into the environment, where it will stay for centuries, threatening our health, choking ecosystems, contributing to climate change, and marking our human presence in the geologic record.

Aglow is on view in the Schuylkill Center’s art gallery and trails now through August 27, 2019. Join us on June 6 from 7-9pm for a reception with the artist and a guided tour of the exhibition at dusk. This exhibition is supported by the Joseph Robert Foundation.

Christina Catanese directs the Schuylkill Center’s Environmental Art program and can be reached at christina@schulkillcenter.org. For more information on the environmental art program, visit www.schuylkillcenter.org.

Community: Behind-the-Scenes

by Sam Bromberg, Environmental Art and Communications Intern

In the gray winter months, Community has brought a refreshing splash of vibrancy to the Schuylkill Center. Our gallery bursts with color and texture, from chunky knits to intricate wood carvings to sleek photography.

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The diversity of the show is the product of a collaborative community effort,  speaking to the impressive creativity and talent of our Schuylkill Center members, neighbors, staff, volunteers, and friends. The start-to-finish creation of this exhibition was a fruitful process. So, how did we go from bare white walls to the captivating display that’s transformed the gallery? Here’s the inside scoop.

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Clockwise from top left: Shannon Cronin, Maura Matthews, Paul S. Stetzer, Jr., Andrew Cherashore, Laura Eyring, Stephanie Weinger

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Artwork by Linnie Greenberg

This rendition of Community is its second presentation at the Schuylkill Center, the first being in 2017. Once again, local artists were invited to submit one to three pieces of all shapes, sizes, and mediums, with works related to nature and the environment or depicting the Schuylkill Center itself of special interest. The enormous outpouring of participants came as a welcomed, celebrated shock, but one that required some rearrangingmanaging over 90 artists is a tall task. The artist participation almost tripled from our first Community show! In an effort to conform to spatial restraints, artists were asked to choose just a single piece to display.

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Clockwise from top left: Jennifer Brady, Elisa Sarantschin, Peter Salera, Barbara Dirnbach

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Artwork by Jess Levine

Once the pieces to be exhibited were finalized, the daunting but rewarding task of installation was upon us. Fitting color and pattern together with material and tone and subject took thoughtful consideration. Though the show was wholly uncurated, the distinctive works compliment each other in perhaps surprising coordination largely thanks to the skillful visions of Exhibitions Coordinator Liz Jelsomine and Director of Art Christina Catanese. They deliberately, perceptively placed each piece on the walls, in Plexiglas displays, on carefully mounted shelves.     

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Artwork by Jamie Coyle

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Artwork by Sarah “Wolfie” Strub

We compiled short biographies, artists’ statements, lists of materials describing mediums, and desired price tags. In the chaos inherent to exhibition preparations, the show slowly began taking form, emerging as a unique display of our community’s capabilities and passions. After finishing touchesthe unglamorous work of sweeping and last-minute wall spacklingwe were ready for the big reveal. Abuzz with excitement, the gallery’s opening reception was a night to celebrate the artists with friends, family, and a potluck-style meal.

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Community will be on display in the gallery until April 27, with many of the artworks for sale and a portion of the proceeds going to the Schuylkill Center. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to show your support and experience our community’s talent!

Nature & Art Exhibitions in the Region: Field Trips with Schuylkill Center Art Staff

Collaboratively written by Lauren Bobyock (former Art + Communications Intern,) Liz Jelsomine (Exhibitions Coordinator), and Christina Catanese (Director of Environmental Art)

Though artists have always been inspired by nature, with the growing awareness of climate change and other ecological crises, an increasing number engage with themes of nature, landscape, and how people and culture connect to them. Over the past few seasons, several exhibitions in our region explored these ideas and the Schuylkill Center environmental art staff took a few field trips to enrich our thinking.

Natural Wonders at the Brandywine River Museum

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The relationship between beauty and the sublime is complex. Last fall, the Brandywine River Museum of Art examined this relationship in Natural Wonders: The Sublime in Contemporary Art. During our visit, Schuylkill Center staff pondered how the Brandywine produced this exhibition, which speaks to the state of nature in the world.

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The show was a flowing, engaging experience throughout. Thirteen artists participated in the show and work ranged from miniatures to 3D printing.

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I recognized one of the artist’s miniature work from a larger installation (located in Center City, Philadelphia at 16th & Chancellor Streets). The piece has since closed, but once covered an entire building side (pictured below.) The artist, Patrick Jacobs, had a mural of a dandelion field painted on the side of a building, and upon closer inspection, viewers came across a tiny peep hole, revealing what looked to be a vast landscape of dandelions in the countryside.

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Photo from West Collection

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Photo from patrickjacobs.info

While the work in this show was undoubtedly beautiful, even peaceful, the museum’s write-up of said that a closer look revealed “a menace can be found lurking within most of the work in Natural Wonders, and this danger often stems from human intervention.”

Issues ranged from species extinction and cultivation of wilderness to designer breeding. Some pieces demanded your attention, like the large videos playing in the gallery, or artificial flowers up to your waist. Other works pulled you in, requiring more detailed inspection, such as the little forests and flowing water barely peeking through old suitcase trunks.

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blog8Maya Lin’s Pin River challenged traditional ways of mapping. Instead of highlighting land with water being a part of the landscape, Lin mapped and highlighted the Hudson River as the main focus. Lin mapped only the water bodies themselves, removing other geographic reference points and letting the water’s shape and path stand on its own. In the case of the Hudson, the choice of nails was especially significant given the legacy of heavy metal pollution in the river.

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The Pennsylvania Landscape in Impressionism and Contemporary Art at the Woodmere Art Museum

What interests me most is the ability for human relationships with nature to be visible through art, whether intended or not. The Pennsylvania Landscape in Impressionism and Contemporary Art at the Woodmere Art Museum that was on view September 2018January 2019. The Woodmere Museum said, “juxtapositions of paintings and works in other media reveal how artistic practice has evolved and social context has become urgent in ways that could not have been imagined in the past.”

This exhibition included pieces from over a hundred years ago, as well as work made in recent years. Pieces began as traditional works. Artistic views regarding nature and the social landscape at the time could be seen. Over time, a shift to contemporary happened, where the views of artists remained present, yet were specific to challenges and outlooks we have with the environment today. Work also specifically focused on the Pennsylvania landscape. As a result, shifts in relationships towards the land were made especially clear.

We were delighted to see work in the show by artists we’ve had the pleasure of working with at the Schuylkill Center, including 3D videos by Pete Rose. Layering multiple views of populated areas in the city, such as a skatepark, Rose placed viewers in the space and provided them with a closer look at the people and activities happening there. Sandy Sorlien is no stranger to the Schuylkill Center and also displayed images from her INLAND project in our gallery. Sorlien photo documented the 200-year-old abandoned Schuylkill Navigation system that once literally fueled the Industrial Revolution.

Natural Wonders at the Brandywine River Museum and The Pennsylvania Landscape in Impressionism and Contemporary Art at the Woodmere Art Museum both exhibited art that depicts people relating to the environment, displaying the change in those relationships over time. While it may not always be intended or overt, art shows perspectives that individuals have towards our natural world, society, politics, and beyond.

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New Program Opens for Two-Year-Olds

Imagine witnessing a child’s love of nature unfurl through a series of moments: the first time they hold a wiggling earthworm, hear a warbler call, or watch frogs scurry into a pond. These experiences play into the sensory needs of young children and help to bolster their language, fine and gross motor skills, and cognitive abilities. For the first time this spring, we are offering this curriculum to children ages 25–36 months through Fledglings, a “watch-me-fly” program for children and caregivers.

This five-week series will use walks and wanders, songs, stories, and art to tap into children’s innate interest in the natural world. Each week will focus on a different theme as we explore meadows, ponds, and forests. We will also offer an optional Reader’s Club, which includes weekly books to encourage your child’s continued growth and curiosity. Through this program, we invite caregivers to join their children in creating nature-based memories or relax nearby as children develop a passion for and understanding of the natural world.

Since Nature Preschool started in 2013, we’ve connected over 700 children to the outdoors through child-centered, inquiry-based learning. We can’t wait to offer this opportunity to littler ones as well.

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Knit and Crochet for Climate Change

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

There’s just something about climate change. Despite the fact that predictions grow more dire by the day, it doesn’t feel like an emergency. It can be hard to wrap our minds around something so big and abstract. So how can it become more personal, tangible, visceral?

A group of knitters has one ideaby applying their craft to climate change data.

The Tempestry Project (https://www.tempestryproject.com/about) is global climate data visualization through fiber arts. A Tempestry is a wall hanging, or temperature tapestry, that represents the daily high temperature for a given year and location, with January at the bottom and December at the topthink of it like a bar graph. The Tempestry Project was founded by Justin Connelly, Marissa Connelly, and Emily McNeil in Anacortes, WA.

All Tempestries use the same yarn colors and temperature ranges, creating an immediately recognizable and globally comparable mosaic of shifting temperatures over time. If the high temperature is a roasty 96 degrees, the row for that day will be Cranberry, a rich red. If the polar vortex has just come through and the high is just 11 degrees, that row will be Fjord. The illustrative names of the yarn colors are an additional delight.

I’m a hybrid science/art person already, plus an avid knitter, so I couldn’t be more excited by this project. I finished my first Tempestry this winter. I chose 2017 in Cooksburg, PA, the year and place where my husband and I got married. I even knitted in a little silver thread for our actual wedding day; with an 84 degree high, it was a lovely row of Papaya.

People all over the world are making these Tempestries, assembling a global mosaic of shifting temperature patterns, row by wooly row. It’s gratifying to be part of a connected global network of fiber artists putting their energy toward raising awareness, and I found that the mindfulness of knitting and sitting with this global challenge helped me process my own feelings about it.  

A single Tempestry is meaningful on its own as a snapshot, a moment in time, a commemoration. But a collection of Tempestries reveals change over time. What if we had a whole slew of Tempestries for one place? Would we visually see the shift, as models predict for Philadelphia, to a hotter, wetter world?

During 2019, the Schuylkill Center will coordinate a collection of Tempestries that show daily maximum temperature data over several years for Philadelphia. The collection will be on long-term display at the Schuylkill Center to educate about how climate change is impacting our region.

We are seeking knitters and crocheters to get involved in creating this collection! To get involved, please contact me, Christina Catanese, at christina@schuylkillcenter.org or 215-853-6269.

We’ll be holding a kickoff meeting this spring for interested crafters to learn how to start making a Philadelphia Tempestry and assemble and distribute yarn kits for the collection.

More information on the Philadelphia Tempestry collection: http://www.schuylkillcenter.org/art/?ha_exhibit=tempestry-project-philadelphia-collection

 

Update 3/19/19: We have received an amazing response to this project and currently have more than enough volunteers to knit/crochet Tempestries complete our 30 piece collection!  But there are still ways you can get involved.

  • Contact Christina to be added to the list of alternates, in case any of our current team is not able to complete their Tempestries.
  • Help assemble yarn kits for knitters – contact Christina for more information on this, and note whether you have access to a digital scale that measures in grahams and/or a ball winder.
  • Make a donation to the Schuylkill Center to support this project: visit https://schuylkillcenter.pivvit.com/make-a-gift and include “Tempestry Project” in the notes field.
Other Tempestry collections are in the works for knitters and crocheters to contribute to as well:

Photos courtesy of the Tempestry Project

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Elfant

A Valentine to Bob and Nancy Elfant

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

It’s Valentine’s Day, that day set aside to think about the things we love. Bob and Nancy Elfant, local residents and strong supporters of the Schuylkill Center’s Wildlife Clinic, love animals.

“We both have a soft spot in our heart for animals,” said Bob last week. “And needy animals,” chimed in Nancy, noting their adoption of two rescue dogs 11 years ago. The Elfants were making a visit to the Wildlife Clinic, being given a tour by Chris Strub, the clinic’s assistant director.

“If I pass an animal along the road that has been hurt, I tear up– it’s just so sad,” Bob said, continuing, “humankind does enough to destroy and harm the animal world that if there is something we can do to give back or make them better, that’s our obligation.”

Bob is a founding partner of both Elfant Pontz Properties and Elfant Wissahickon Realtors, the latter with its cheery yellow “For Sale” signs (note the squirrel logo– there’s that love of  animals again) visible across the region. Nancy, a former social worker, is recognized by many as a former owner of Germantown Avenue’s Trolley Car Diner, where she ran the front of the house for many years. In the fall, the couple make a generous leadership gift to the Schuylkill Center that helped us reopen our Wildlife Clinic, closed, as noted here many times, through much of 2018 while we searched for a new director.

“It’s nice for us to donate to something concrete,” Nancy noted, pointing to the clinic, a bricks-and-mortar place that rescues wildlife. “It makes a real difference.”

Their support for the Wildlife Clinic became even more concrete recently when the Elfants brought a cardinal there a few weeks back. Outside of their family room, they’ve long maintained a series of feeders where they watch chickadees nibbling on suet, blue jays noisily eating seeds, goldfinches working the thistle feeder, hummingbirds sipping nectar, and more. And yes, they have decals on their windows to lessen the odds of window strikes by birds mistaking reflections in the glass for sky.

Even with the decals, they recently heard a thud against the window, and Bob had “that feeling where your heart goes into your stomach. We ran to the window, and the cardinal was laying there outside, clearly alive, clearly stunned.” They carefully placed the bird in a box and brought it immediately to the Wildlife Clinic.

“The best part,” continued Bob, “was watching (new clinic director Rebecca Michelin) examine the bird. Her touch was amazing, the way she can hold the bird in just the right way and blow on its chest feathers looking for bruising on the skin underneath, checking out the legs to determine they were not broken. She shone a flashlight into its eyes– it was like a human medical exam on an animal.”

The cardinal stayed overnight for observation, and the next day Rebecca called the Elfants with the happy news to “come get your cardinal, you can bring her home.” Bob was especially excited that Rebecca referred to it as “your cardinal,” giving them ownership of the experience. They released it that day in their backyard, Nancy capturing a photo of the bird shooting out of the box, the cardinal a mid-air blur of red.

While the Elfants give to a variety of causes– Bob is president of Arden Theater’s board, for example, with Nancy also a fellow board member– this particular donation is “dear to our hearts.”

When Bob was asked what he might say to other potential donors about the Wildlife Clinic, he didn’t hesitate: “Open your checkbooks,” he said. “If people can find it in their hearts to support animals, this is a great way to do just that.”

“We encourage people to do something,” Nancy concluded.

There are innumerable ways to support the Wildlife Clinic’s mission to protect wildlife in Philadelphia. Donations to the clinic are welcome– and can be offered online– but donations of in-kind materials can also be made; check out our website’s list. Plus there is an Amazon wish list there as well, so you can purchase a needed amenity for the clinic and have it shipped there directly.

You can also volunteer for the Wildlife Clinic, as almost 100 people have already done since the clinic reopened in November. Call the Schuylkill Center at 215-482-7300 to begin the volunteering discussion.

On Valentine’s Day, we join the Elfants in declaring our love for animals, and invite you to join the Elfants in showing that love by donating to the Wildlife Clinic.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

 

Celebrate Winterfest at the Schuylkill Center

By Mike Weilbacher

This Saturday– Groundhog Day, appropriately enough– the Schuylkill Center celebrates the reopening of our Wildlife Clinic with a family festival marking the day, Winterfest for Wildlife. Held at the Visitor Center on Hagy’s Mill Road and happening from noon to 4 p.m., the event includes nature walks, wildlife talks, face painting, wildlife-themed arts and crafts, storytimes courtesy of the Free Library, a bake sale, and more.

But the event kicks off at noon with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Since the Wildlife Clinic itself is typically closed to the general public as it is a hospital for ill and injured patients that need quiet and rest, the event occurs at the Schuylkill Center’s main building, where we’ll string a ribbon across our auditorium to be cut by clinic friends, marking the reopening of the clinic.

The Master of Ceremonies for the ribbon-cutting will be Kathy O’Connell, the award-winning host of WXPN-FM Philadelphia’s “Kid’s Corner,” one of the very few children’s radio shows in the country. Kathy, a long-time friend of the Schuylkill Center, will stay after the ribbon-cutting to meet and greet friends and engage them in wildlife-related activities.

Rebecca Michelin, our Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation, will present a slideshow on urban wildlife, and Ent Natale, an educator on the center’s staff, will lead walks looking for signs of local wildlife. In addition, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will be on hand to mark the day, as they are a key partner in the Wildlife Clinic. In fact, just this week clinic staff released a Cooper’s hawk brought to the facility by the Game Officer. (Since it was brought to us from the Naval Yard, our staff released it back at the Naval Yard.)

Since there are few patients on hand at the moment, small groups of visitors will be given limited-time tours of the Wildlife Clinic; vans will be shutting people back and forth from the Visitor Center to the clinic on Saturday. At Winterfest, visitors will be able to sign up for a slot on a tour at the event. Chris Strub, the clinic’s Assistant Director, will offer these tours while Rebecca presents wildlife talks at the Visitor Center. This will be the only time of the year when we will conduct this kind of tour at the clinic.

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The Cooper’s hawk brought to the Schuylkill Center for rehabilitation by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. After successfully being rehabbed by the clinic’s skilled staff, the bird– a skilled predator of other flying birds– was rebased this week where it was discovered, at the Naval Yard.

It makes perfect sense for Winterfest for Wildlife to occur on Groundhog Day, the only holiday named for a wild animal. While folk legend holds that groundhogs– also called woodchucks– peek out of their burrows and look around that day; if they see their shadows, they scare back into their holes and we have six more weeks of winter. If the weather is overcast and there is no shadow, guess what: early spring. While scientific studies– yes, someone actually studied this– show no correlation between Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, and weather patterns, there is a kernel of science embedded here, as male woodchucks have been spotted coming out of hibernation dens in early February to scout for the dens of females, likely getting an early start on the spring mating season.

With temperatures dropping back down into the single digits this week, let’s all guess that Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Saturday– and winter stays. But who knows?

Speaking of spring and baby animals, this is also why the Wildlife Clinic is holding its public coming-out party in February. Gray squirrels will soon be having babies, and one of the annual rites of spring at wildlife clinics across the country is marking that time when people start bringing in baby animals (or calling us about baby animals)– and baby squirrels typically lead the parade, usually starting around Valentine’s Day (though baby squirrel season seems arrive earlier and earlier in the calendar).

So come to the Schuylkill Center at noon on Saturday, help us cut the ribbon and celebrate the re-booting of this critical area facility, the only wildlife rehabilitation center in Philadelphia and one of a very small handful in the entire region. Stay for some baked goodies, enjoy Rebecca talk, take a winter wildlife walk, bring your children or grandchildren for story times and crafts, and enjoy the day.

Then, consider volunteering for the Wildlife Clinic, joining the ever-growing group of great people who will help Rebecca and Chris take care of the thousands of injured, orphaned and baby animals that will soon come pouring into its front door.

Or go to our website, www.schuylkillcenter.org, to find the list of items the clinic is seeking to be donated to help it meet the needs of its wild patients: dog and cat foods, blankets, T-shirts, and more. There’s also an Amazon wish list of supplies you can have sent to us directly. It’s all in the wildlife clinic section of the website.

Spring is coming, in spite of this week’s freezing weather, and the Wildlife Clinic will be heating up along with the weather. We’d love your help in making this happen, by volunteering, by donating, or simply by coming to Winterfest to see what all the excitement is about.

Hope to see you here.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Eduardo Duenas Reflects on Caravans and Life in Honduras

By Mike Weilbacher

While the Federal government remains mired in the longest shutdown ever (I am writing this on Sunday, so the fluid situation may change dramatically by the time you read this), a new caravan was scheduled to leave Honduras this week, thousands more beginning the long trek north to Mexico and the U.S.

This sad, hard, complex situation brought me to Eduardo Duenas, the Schuylkill Center’s Manager of School Programs, an educator on our staff who oversees a cadre of educators that help him teach school children on their visits here. A native Honduran, Eduardo has been in America for most of the last four years, the Schuylkill Center for the last two, and has permanent resident status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He’s married to an American citizen, and they are raising twin infant sons.

And  he’s easily the biggest– or at least the most vocal– Eagles fan on our staff, bleeding Eagles green.

Eduardo Duenas

Of the caravans, Eduardo, who knows some of the people assembling in the current caravan, says, “I feel sad. These people don’t want to leave. They don’t want a car or a pool– they just want to eat, they just want their kids to eat. Seven out of 10 Hondurans,” he continued, “are eating only once a day, and foreign aid from countries like the U.S. is not getting to the people. They rather die trying to get into the U.S. than watch their kids starve. If they had most of the basic things they need, they would not come.” Joining a caravan, he says, for many is “pure necessity.”

He visited Honduras with his family over the Christmas break, some of his kin meeting his sons for the first time, and came back devastated– his home city of La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast “has never been so dirty,” and was surprisingly empty, almost a ghost town, as many of the Hondurans once there have left for elsewhere.

Like Eduardo himself. Born in Honduras’ capital and largest city, Tegucigalpa, he was mostly raised by his grandmother in a region called Valle del Aguán, literally, the valley of the Aguán River, a river Eduardo knew intimately. “I was happy there,” as a child, he told me. “I’d run to the river almost every day; I loved to fish, loved to swim. I caught snakes, I caught butterflies.” Like so many youngsters his age, he learned  how to make slingshots, spending endless hours aiming at poor unsuspecting lizards, an activity he now rues a little. Above him were the mountains, so between river and mountains were “animals of all shapes and sizes, birds of all kinds. I always knew I loved nature study down there.” (Today, as an adult on our staff, he has a great nose for finding turtles, snakes, toads and more on group walks.)

Eduardo Duenas

Valle del Aguán is also one of the most fertile regions in Honduras, its rich soil growing coffee, bananas, mangos, pineapples, and more. “But we made deals, stupid deals, with foreign companies for like 100 years for one dollar,” one of the reasons the economy is bankrupt– people don’t control land or agriculture.

He left Valle del Aguán after high school, moving to the larger coastal city of La Ceiba so he could attend university. After an ill-fated stint in law school, he finished a degree in ecotourism, where he could be closer to the animals he loves. He tried making a life in Honduras– he has been a tour guide for ecotourism companies, a fisherman (snorkeling with a spear to catch fish), a landscaper pulling weeds and planting trees, even a street musician and artist; he has tried many things. But after he was pulled over by the police and detained in jail for a full day for no reason, he decided to leave Honduras. “I had to explain to my mother in 2012 that I didn’t have any opportunities in Honduras,” he said.

He went to Costa Rica, where he enrolled in a La Salle University program that led to dual  degrees in environmental management and sustainable development. There, he met his wife, a native of Villanova who worked for a company that had offices in Costa Rica. They married in Honduras in 2013, and she soon pushed to live in the U.S., as she thought their chances of making a life were better here.

“But I don’t want to go to a place that doesn’t like me,” he said about his first reaction to America, but ultimately agreed. “I applied for a visa,” he remembered, “but it took more than two years to get an answer.” To his great relief, he has only received support for his being in the United States.

In 2015, he and he wife spotted a pair of baby owls in the middle of a road. Using cell phones, they discovered that the Schuylkill Center ran a wildlife clinic, and were able to rescue one– the second was sadly struck by a passing vehicle as they were getting out of their car. He volunteered for the Toad Detour program, became a Trail Steward, and is now a full-time educator.

So while his journey is uniquely his own, it echoes the tragedy of the current situation in Central America, that thousands of people from Honduras feel their best chance for survival is a dangerous trek north. As the latest caravan starts its long walk north, my thoughts are with Eduardo, his family, his friends, and all Hondurans.

 

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Reflecting on Remembering Water’s Way: Artist Guest post

By Cassie Meador, Choreographer/Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange

Editor’s note: The LandLab resident artists of 2017-2018 (including this Dance Exchange project along with Kate Farquhar and Jan Mun) will be featured in a gallery exhibition at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, opening with a reception on January 10, 2019. More information at: https://www.cfeva.org/events/cfeva-exhibitions/landlab2019

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Over this past year, I have been working with the Schuylkill Center as part of their LandLab Residency program to address an environmental challenge through dancemaking and community participation.

On our first research walk at the center, I noticed several large bundles of sticks being used to slow waters movement across the land and to collect debris that might otherwise end up in the Schuylkill River. We learned that these curious bundles are called fascines. I was struck by the fact that each stick individually does very little on its own; it is the aggregate of them that holds the strength and ability to slow and divert the powerful force of water.

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As part of the walking and performance tours we shared at the Schuylkill Center, we built a loom with designer Zeke Leonard to create large weavings of sticks and native plants. These were then rolled, bundled, and carried on our shoulders as audiences followed us in and through the woods. We placed the fascines in areas impacted by increased storm occurrences due to the warming climate; they will help slow the water that is cutting through and eroding the land.

DSC_0234-925x614The fascine has been useful to consider as we reflect on the times we live in, and our response to a changing planet. We know that strength can be found in the the ways we come together, that this will require us to slow down at times, and that our collective action can move us in directions that offer resilience and strength to each other and our communities.

As you view the fascines in the CFEVA gallery or on the Schuylkill Center’s grounds (along the Fox Glen Trail), we invite you to reflect on a moment in your own experience when the coming together of many has offered the resilience and strength to move in new directions.  

"Dance Exchange  has allowed me to be part of the creation of spaces where people can interface with environmental issues in non-traditional ways. Spaces where people can ask questions and search for answers in community, not just by talking but by moving as well. It's a powerful combination". --Jame McCray, Interdisciplinary Ecologist and Remembering Water’s Way collaborator

“Dance Exchange has allowed me to be part of the creation of spaces where people can interface with environmental issues in non-traditional ways. Spaces where people can ask questions and search for answers in community, not just by talking but by moving as well. It’s a powerful combination”. –Jame McCray, Interdisciplinary Ecologist and Remembering Water’s Way collaborator

Remembering Water’s Way was the culmination of a year of research and art making with Dance Exchange and communities connected to the Schuylkill Center as part of the LandLab residency.  The artists led a series of animated hikes on our trails that connect participants to local ecology and reflect on the ways that water shapes our lives. These hour-long experiences wove together performance, installation, science engagements, and other opportunities, surfacing concerns and questions about the Schuylkill River and local waterways, and contributing to our understandings about the impacts of climate change on the region. The project was led by choreographer Cassie Meador in collaboration with Christina Catanese, Elizabeth Johnson, Zeke Leonard, Marcie Mamura, Sarah Marks Mininsohn, Talia Mason, Jamē McCray, and Kelly Mitchell. Watch a video documenting the project here.

About the author: Cassie Meador is a choreographer, performer, educator, writer and Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange. Her works have tackled numerous social and environmental issues, like How To Lose a Mountain, which reflects on a 500-mile walk Meador took from Washington, DC to a mountaintop removal mining site in West Virginia to trace the impacts of the energy that fuel her home. Meador’s Moving Field Guides, an interactive outdoor experience led by artists, naturalists and regional experts in ecology, is being implemented nationwide in partnership with the USDA Forest Service. Meador has taught and created dances in communities throughout the U.S. and internationally in Japan, Canada, England, Ireland, and Guyana. She has worked with the Girl Scouts to enhance environmental curricula through the arts. Her work with Wesleyan University’s College of the Environment has influenced educators and students to embrace a cross-disciplinary approach to conservation and environmental education.

Terry Willard_5

Photographing faces in the forest

When I go for a nature walk in a local forest, I see trees, birds, flowers, deer.

Not photographer Willard Terry.

When he goes for a walk — which he does a lot — he sees faces, lots of faces, incredible faces. Gnomes, ghosts, demons, animals, dinosaurs, people, aliens, all staring at him from tree trunks, tree roots, broken branches, gnarly bark, rock walls, even fence posts and barn siding.

Amazingly, once you start looking for them, there are faces everywhere.

And Terry has been photographing them.

He just published a book, “Pareidolia: Spirits and Faces of the Wissahickon and Schuylkill Valleys,” which will soon be available in the Schuylkill Center’s gift shop (and on Terry’s website as soon as he sets one up). The book’s title, pronounced parr-i-DOH-li-ah, while a mouthful, is the phenomenon in psychology whereby people see patterns in inanimate objects — like trees — and turn them into things they are not. The Man in the Moon is perhaps the best known example of pareidolia.

I visited Terry in his Port Royal Avenue home just before the winter solstice, where the retired school teacher — he taught at Germantown Friends for 30 years — was preparing for his annual solstice party. His wife, Holly, also a retired school teacher, also a veteran of Quaker schools (she at Plymouth Meeting Friends), were preparing for a celebration with their three sons, all of whom work in the arts.

They’ve lived in their 1840s-era home for more than 30 years and have been careful and conscious stewards of their historic home and barn. But they’ve brought that home into a greener future, their front porch including a portable hoop garden bed where the couple is growing salad greens — in December — and their wood stove reduces their reliance on fossil fuels, which is admirable.

Terry walks “seven or eight miles a day, consistently over 50 miles a week,” he told me, much of it at the Schuylkill Center’s sprawling property across the street and along the Wissahickon.

“Years before I retired, I used to run,” he said, but after an injury forced him to reconsider that activity, “now I walk a lot, and walking has made me more observant.”

He took me and his dog, Lily, to visit a maple tree at the Schuylkill Center just off Port Royal, where he had his “aha moment.” He had walked past this tree many times, but one day, the wizened face of a gnome frowning at him “just popped out at me,” as the bark’s bumps and gnarls formed a cranky face. He’s since photographed the maple many times and in the book includes a photo of the tree in winter, a dusting of snow giving his gnome a bad case of dandruff. The book’s bio page features an action shot his son took of Terry photographing the gnome.

Photographer Terry Willard pauses on his walk next to the maple tree that started it all, the one with the gnarly gnomish face

Photographer Willard Terry pauses on his walk next to the maple tree that started it all, the one with the gnarly gnomish face

Willard Terry sees an anteater in this branch

Willard Terry sees an anteater in this branch

Where Terry sees a unicorn, the author sees a camel. What do you see?

Where Terry sees a unicorn, the author sees a camel. What do you see?

 

 

“Once I started photographing faces,” he reflected, “I became more aware of them. You’re sort of half looking, but then they jump out at you like a guy is suddenly staring at you.”

For example, he points to a Tyrannosaurus-shaped branch he’s walked by hundreds of times on the opposite side of Port Royal from his gnome tree — and suddenly he saw it, T. rex in profile.

When I asked him about the Freudian nature of seeing faces where none existed, he laughed.

“I looked this up on the internet,” he offered, always a dangerous thing to do, “and saw that while some people see this as a sign of instability, others see a more creative mind at work.”

(For the record, I’m going with the latter.)

He also noted it’s a bit of a Rorschach, like a photo he calls “Duck Dinner,” where two mallards on a pond look to me like they’re about to be eaten by a plesiosaur, an extinct reptile, but others see the branch emerging ominously from the water as just another duck. Not sure what this says about me … a sign of my own instability?

His photography embraces more than pareidolia.

“I’m interested in portraits and landscapes,” he said, “where I like to look for patterns,” like a photo he showed me of sycamore bark, its jigsaw puzzle-patterned bark always a favorite of mine.

He also loves to add a sense of humor to his work, like a framed color landscape photo in his home of a Mail Pouch tobacco ad painted on the side of a Pennsylvania barn, smoke rising from the barn as if it were a giant chimney — which it clearly is not. But hidden behind the barn is the cooling tower of the Limerick nuclear power plant, steam rising from it creating the optical illusion of the barn as a chimney.

While he first taught a sixth-grade class and then seventh-grade English, in retirement, he’s teaching a black-and-white film photography course back at Germantown Friends.

“The kids have never seen film before,” he chuckled. “They have no idea what it is.”

His pareidolia photographs have been displayed before and will appear in the Schuylkill Center’s upcoming “Community” exhibition later this winter. We hope you come see them then.

Meanwhile, Willard Terry will continue walking 50 miles a week in natural areas, finding faces where less creative people like me simply see bark and branches.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets@SCEEMike and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.