Ingenious Experiments / Creeping Sogginess

By Kate Farquhar

As a participant in this summer’s Wet Lab exhibit, I received access to the space and tools I needed to start creating a trio of sculptures as part of my LandLab residency this year. Coming into the Schuylkill Center’s gallery space gave me my first chance to connect directly with an audience and gather my materials in one place. As a gesture of inclusion, I wanted to offer something enticing for people to test out alongside me as I worked. Capillary slippersmade from a technical fabric used in green infrastructureconduct water across their surface using the physics of passive, capillary action. Working by day as a designer, I have found myself longing to exhibit, test and share capillary fabric with a wider audience, since it’s usually hidden from view in stormwater management features. This ingenious material mimics how the cambium layer in a tree allows it to passively “drink” water up to the canopy from the soil. On the night of their debut at the Schuylkill Center’s Enchanted Forest Fundraiser, slipper-wearers standing in different kinds of damp material were able to experience the same rate of water movement (creeping sogginess) that trees do when they draw water up their trunks.

Capillary fabric is also a core component of the aforementioned sculptural trio I’m presently working on, called Synestates. As a group, these sculptures pursue questions about materials and the environment: Can conventional building materials extend habitat? Can green infrastructure become a meeting place for humans and other organisms? Can construction byproducts become part of a myth? The first sculpture, called pvines, was completed during my time in Wet Lab. It consists of an installation of steel chains that are attached to the ground and to low branches of two invasive Amur Cork trees. A thin strip of capillary fabric winds up the length of chain, accented by stars made from drinking straws and zip ties. Virginia creeper, a vine native to this area, is planted at the base of each chain. This sculpture seeks to determine whether a rain chain can be combined with capillary fabric to confer growing advantages to a climbing, suckering vine. As my first sculpture initiated its slow experiment, I found myself engaged in a flurry of tasks: cutting, prepping and chatting inside and measuring, rigging and learning about the site conditions outside.

Here are some of the lessons I brought home from my month at WetLab:

1) measure twice cut once (even though you still might waste some material)

2) nothing in nature is square or plumb

3) both optimistic over-design and stoic editing are important to the outcome

4) don’t force yourself to do anything you wouldn’t ask of a helper, and vice versa (climb too high)

5) if possible do some of your prep work in good company of friends and other creators

6) if you’re looking for participation from people you don’t know, those strangers will decide the pace, style and outcome of their participation, and (if even a few people engage) it will be far better than if you did it alone

7) brilliant artists are everywhere, sometimes incognito in other roles!

 

 

Kate Farquhar is a Philadelphia based artist and landscape architect, whose work combines her artistic interests with her apprenticeship in cutting edge green infrastructure. Her process occupies the space where habitat, green infrastructure and myth overlap. Currently, she collaborates with the interdisciplinary studio at Roofmeadow, designing green infrastructure and places for people.

Wet Lab is the current project in the Schuylkill Center’s gallery, on view until August 18, and is a space for artists and Schuylkill Center visitors to explore and reflect on water in a dynamic environment.  Over the course of the summer, twenty artists are responding to water in a variety of media, and presenting their work and process in our gallery for two to three week periods. Artists display completed works along with works in progress, at times using the gallery as their studio to work through a new idea or test creative hypotheses. Artist Carolyn Hesse participated in Wet Lab for three weeks in June and July, and reflects on her experience in this post.

 

LANDLAB

LandLab is a unique artist residency program that operates on multiple platforms: artistic creation, ecological restoration and education. A joint project of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab offers resources and space on our 340-acre wooded property for visual artists to engage audiences in the processes of ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation.

The Art of Wood Bending

By Carolyn Hesse

Carolyn Hesse is a resident artist part of our summer gallery, Wet Lab, a space for artists and Schuylkill Center visitors to explore and reflect on water in a dynamic environment.

 

For most artists, success is predicated on having enough time to work creatively.

This is true for me as well. Having time to make mistakes—and grow from them—is what drives every endeavor and can be what makes or breaks the spirit. So, to be given the gift of time at the Schuylkill Center was like a jewel that emits light at every angle; a non-objective based chunk of creative time immersed in a woodland setting. Wet Lab was consciously, and generously, set up as an open-ended concept. As result, it became a breath of fresh air in my artistic practice.

I used the time to make pieces for a current body of work that deals with wave and water imagery, titled: (i kept your sea ( i kept it safe)).  Springhouse Pond is down the hill behind the Discovery Center and I used it to soak strips of cedar of different lengths and widths for different amounts of time. I then brought the wood up to the gallery to bend and clamp them around forms where they would dry into the curves of those forms. Or break.

 

Either way, the experience was useful. These are some images of my process.

 

 

If you enjoy them, feel free to check on my website (carolynhessestudio.com) in the near future to see what they become after they’ve been cleaned up, sanded down, and incorporated into new sculptural pieces. My gratitude and appreciation for everyone I came into contact with at SCEE couldn’t be more heartfelt, thank you!

About the Author

Carolyn Hesse is one of our Wet Lab artists whose work is influenced by her time spent working for a wooden boat builder for 11 years. Her work is influenced by traditional wooden boat building techniques and she likes to engage in the idea of suspension, in the literal spatial, chemical sense, and the ephemeral sense related to time. Her pieces explore these concepts through visual repetition as well as reference to the straight line and the horizon. More recently she has been creating pieces that are less formal and more narrative.

 

Wet Lab is the current project in the Schuylkill Center’s gallery, on view until August 18, and is a space for artists and Schuylkill Center visitors to explore and reflect on water in a dynamic environment.  Over the course of the summer, twenty artists are responding to water in a variety of media, and presenting their work and process in our gallery for two to three week periods. Artists display completed works along with works in progress, at times using the gallery as their studio to work through a new idea or test creative hypotheses. Artist Carolyn Hesse participated in Wet Lab for three weeks in June and July, and reflects on her experience in this post.

Thinking Like A Butterfly

By Mike Weilbacher

It’s high summer, which brings with it erratic weather patterns, fierce storms, rising tides, raging stormwater pouring through our communities, and other climate change concerns. As someone who worries about climate change, I have stumbled upon a powerful way to change the world.

We need to think like butterflies.

Consider the butterfly–born as a humble, often ugly caterpillar. A living weed-whacker, caterpillars plow through living plants, mercilessly devouring leaves, hell-bent on defoliation. Tent caterpillars ravage the Schuylkill Center’s cherry trees every spring; gypsy moths ravage whole landscapes. Last year, I planted a stand of dill to attract black swallowtail caterpillars, since that’s one of its host plants. The plan worked: the dill raised about 15 caterpillars, but was a skeleton when the caterpillars were done. Not one living leaf remained.

The caterpillars crawled away, hung upside down, and transformed into chrysalises–their body parts magically melting inside their shells to rearrange as completely different body parts. And a wickedly different creature emerged, the adult.

 


2018_Butterfly Count

 Monarch butterflies are exquisite botanists, the females laying their eggs only on members of the milkweed family. Caterpillars ingest the leaves, using toxic chemicals in the leaf’s milk to make them taste terrible—their protection from predatory birds.  

 

While the caterpillar devoured everything, the butterfly has no mouthparts whatsoever for eating solid food. As if making penance for the sins of its youth, a butterfly drinks its world, using its coiled straw of a mouth to sip nectar. When the butterfly flits from flower to flower, it pollinates each in turn, allowing it to make seeds. That’s the key: while the caterpillar takes from the world the resources it needs for survival, the butterfly gives back, turning flowers into seeds that grow the next generation of flowers. Caterpillars devour, but butterflies pollinate.

And they don’t just pollinate the zinnias in your backyard. They pollinate the native plants that sustain entire ecosystems; there would be no milkweeds without the pollinating work of butterflies. More importantly, pollinating insects like bees and butterflies enable so many flower trees to make fruit. Oranges, cherries, grapefruit, grapes (and therefore raisins and wine), apples, lemons, limes: all are produced by pollinating insects like butterflies.

For millennia, humans have been caterpillars, taking from the world the stuff we need to live: food to eat, water to drink, lumber to build homes, coal and oil to power our lives. Living on a finite planet on limited resources, we’re running out of stuff to devour. For us to live sustainably, it’s time we grew up. Metamorphosed. Transformed into butterflies, giving back to the resources that sustain us, metaphorically pollinating the world and making seeds.

Thinking like a butterfly means conserving water, switching to renewables, buying electric cars, radically recycling everything, growing our own organic food, protecting biological diversity, cooling the climate, consuming less stuff, ceasing suburban sprawl across whole landscapes, and so on.

Protecting biological diversity means inviting your nonhuman neighbors into your yard: growing milkweed plants to nurture populations of monarch butterflies, installing bat boxes to support troubled bat populations, keeping your cat inside so it doesn’t kill birds, planting native plants everywhere you can, and more.

Thinking like a butterfly also means getting to know butterflies. They are remarkable, delightfully colorful creatures, extraordinarily adapted—and vanishing. We’ve got a butterfly event happening soon at the Schuylkill Center—come help us count them. And we’ll continue the conversation about thinking like a butterfly.  

 

Annual Butterfly Count

Thursday, July 5, 1 pm, $3/person

Help our staff count the butterflies in our forests and meadows in an annual effort orchestrated by the North American Butterfly Association. To register, call 215-482-7300 ext. 110 or email scee@schuylkillcenter.org.

Family Camping

While spending time in nature helps us to unplug and rejuvenate, finding the time to do so while surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city can often be a challenge. If you’re looking to get away, there are great spots around Philadelphia to relax and refresh with the family. In addition to checking out these great spots, make sure to join us June 23–24 for the 14th annual Great American Backyard Campout, which is held in collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation. Spend the night under the stars, hike through the forest, and tell stories around the campfire… all while within city limits. Call 215-482-7300 x 137 to register. Check out these amazing spots within a short drive of city limits.

French Creek State Park (1 hour 10 minutes)
Located in Berks and Chester counties, French Creek State Park is the largest block of continuous forest located between New York City and Washington, D.C. Its options for sleeping arrangementseverything from cabins to cottages to yurts to traditional tentsmake it a great spot for both experienced and beginning campers alike.

Ricketts Glen State Park (2 hours 30 minutes)

Ricketts Glen is home to the Glens Natural Areaa National Natural Landmark. The park has 26 miles of trails. The most popular is the Falls Trail (a 7.2 mile loop), where visitors can view 21 waterfalls. There are shorter trail options with waterfall vistas as well.

Cape Henlopen State Park (2 hours 15 minutes)

Cape Henlopen offers a variety of recreational options. Climb to the top of the World War II observation tower, take the Seaside or Pinelands nature trails to explore coastal habitats, enjoy a game of disc golf, or spend the day relaxing on the beach.

Wharton State Forest (45 minutes)
Nestled within the Pine Barrens, the Atsion Recreation Area is at the heart of the forest. Named after the Atsion Mansion, the recreation area is situated on a 100-acre lake perfect for kayaking and canoeing.

 

 

 

An Invitation to the Nesting Bird Census

By Mike Weilbacher

Join us on June 16th for coffee, donuts, and peak birding! The annual Nesting Bird Census is one of the many opportunities to engage in citizen science at the Schuylkill Center. 

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker, by Chris Petrak

In early May, a small group of us spent a morning walking the Grey Fox loop, the long trail that ventures through diverse habitats meadows—Pine Grove, farms, a stream, and Wind Dance Pondsearching for birds that were then migrating through the Schuylkill Center’s extensive forest. There is a narrow window of opportunity to see themand our group jumped through that window in style.

In a highly organized effort, birdwatchers fanned out across Pennsylvania to count migrating birds. For the first time in a few years, this effort included Philadelphia. While Roxborough was well represented in the count (other teams counted along River Road and the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve), our group looked for which birds were using the Schuylkill Center as a migration stop.

Four hours and almost 300 birds and 52 species later, we submitted our census.

We counted plenty of year-round residents that you’d see if in December, or if you had bird feeders in your yard: the robin, cardinal, crow, and blue jay.

In addition, we saw two predatory birds. A red-tailed hawk rested in a large tree only a stone’s throw from Hagy’s Mill Road, oblivious to the traffic right below. Its rust-colored tail is a easy giveaway, but it also is the most common hawk in Pennsylvania. We also glimpsed a black vulture flying overhead. This soaring, thick-winged bird is a specialist in eating already-dead animals; call them nature’s garbage collectors.

What we were all secretly after were warblers, small jewel-like birds, most of whom migrate through Pennsylvania on their way to northern nesting grounds. Obsessive birdwatchers are out a lot this time of year, bending backwards staring high into trees, fighting off “warbler neck” to get a good view. For me, the Holy Grail is the Blackburnian warbler, its head a complicated and stunning helmet of orange-and-black striping. I have only seen a handful in a lifetime of birding, and none showed Saturday. Still, we did great in the warbler department.

Then there was the catch of the day: a large pileated woodpecker, the crow-sized songbird upon which Woody Woodpecker was modeled, a blackish bird with startling red crest, armed with a chisel-like beak that breaks off huge chunks of dead wood. Not seen easily or often, this one was focused like a laser beam on the ground around a dead tree trunkpossibly a colony of ants was warranting its attention. Two of the group were skilled photographers, and we made sure they got good shots.

There is a higher conservation purpose to all this. Between climate change and habitat loss, outdoor house cats prowling and too many shiny windows to fly into, bird populations are reeling. While Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring worried that pesticides like the now-banned DDT would remove birdsong from our experience of spring, other issues have arisen to take its place. As noted here last week, migrating birds like those warblers heading between nest sites in Canada and overwintering grounds in South America need protected habitats both in the north and in the south, not to mention in migration corridors along the way. 

The Schuylkill Center was proud to participate in a conservation effort to document which migrating birds were passing through the region when. Over time, and with years of data, conservation scientists will be able to monitor trends.

While we were doing important science, we had the pleasure and honor to be in the presence of some pretty amazing creatures.

On June 16th, at the ungodly but very bird-appropriate hour of 6:30 a.m., fueled by coffee and donuts, we’ll fan out across the Schuylkill Center again, this time looking for nesting birds, as the migrants have moved on. We’ve been counting nesting birds for almost 50 years. Come help us continue this crucial citizen science effort and we’ll introduce you to some pretty cool creatures.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

 

Naturepalooza Blog

Beautiful weather, hands-on activities, and plenty of exploration marked this year’s annual Earth Day celebration at the Schuylkill Center. Every year, Naturepalooza is held as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival’s Science in the Park event. This year those that came to Naturepalooza enjoyed everything from fort building in our pine tree forest, to interactive environmental science and art activities provided by partner organizations and artists, to hikes and pond explorations. Thanks our many partners that made it such a successful day! If you came to Naturepalooza, we also want to thank you for choosing to celebrate Earth Day with us and hope you left with a smile, new knowledge, and some nature-inspired memories. Comment below with your favorite moments.

Here at the Center, we celebrate Earth Day throughout the year with our education programs, land stewardship efforts, and through the environmental art department. With the start of our busy season right around the corner, there are many opportunities for you to continue to celebrate Earth Day with us as well—whether it be through our summer camp programs, by helping out at our Community Gardens Day on June 16, or by visiting our summer gallery exhibition, Wet Lab. We hope to see you soon.

Children Need Nature: Tiny Worlds Terrarium

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

When children have access to natural spaces and time to explore these spaces beautiful things happen. With nature’s diverse textures, scents, tastes, sounds, colors, and shapes, young children find playtime in natural settings compelling and aesthetically inviting. As mindful adventure seekers propelled by innate curiosity, children eagerly seek nature’s loose parts (the leaves, the flowers, the pinecones, the shells, etc.) and use them in their play. In this way, young people build an intimate understanding of the natural world, one element at a time.children_need_nature

From fairy houses in the woods to shelters in the brush, children love creating tiny worlds.IMG_3583

Creating a Tiny World Terrarium is a fun project to do with young children. They can build a tiny world in a jar with soil and plants sourced in familiar places and add special treasures to the mini-landscapes, too. As tiny worlds are constructed, questions spark discussions about nature and children are inspired as storytellers, imagining what life would be like living in the tiny world.

Our Nature Preschool Sugar Maples (afternoon program) created Tiny World Terrariums with layers of stone, charcoal, soil, moss, and tiny plants. We brought our terrariums to life with special eye-catching treasures such as tiny clay butterflies and snails, coins, shells, and marbles. A sprinkle of glitter keeps it glittering all year! * Biodegradable glitter is best.

Materials:
-Extra large jar with snug-fitting lid
-Terrarium charcoal
-Small rocksIMG_3632
-Soil
-Tiny/young plants, moss
-Spray bottle with water
-Natural materials (bark, shells)
-Children’s “treasures”
-Glitter (if desired) * Biodegradable glitter is best.

 

Steps: 
-Gather materials you need for the project…
-Layer small rocks on the bottom of the jar.
-Create a layer of charcoal above the rocks…IMG_3573
-Add a generous layer of soil above the charcoal.
-Add tiny plants to the layer of soil. Spray gently with water.
-Add moss.
-Decorate the tiny world with treasures.
-Spray again until top layer of soil is wet and soft.
-Whisper a special message to the tiny world, add some glitter (* biodegradable glitter is best.), and seal with lid.
-Set your tiny world in a sunny place where you and your child can observe change over time.   (P.S.You do not need to add water unless you cannot achieve the humidity that your plants need; condensation should form on the inside of the jar and effectively “rain” on the plants when sealed and set by a sunny window. If your plants look dry and condensation is not visible, open your terrarium and spray with water before sealing for a second time).

 

 

About the author: Ann WardAnn Ward is a teacher with Nature Preschool. As a compassionate early childhood educator and passionate advocate for children and nature, Ann has over thirty years experience in early childhood education and a Masters of Education in Early Childhood Education degree from West Chester University, where she graduated summa cum laude after completing action research in early learning and loose parts nature play. Ann is also the founder and lead educator of Winged Wonders Education, a live monarch butterfly educational program reconnecting people with the natural world one butterfly at a time.

 

 

Moving Field Guides: Learning through Dance at Naturepalooza

“The Moving Field Guide  relies on discovery and observation, which are important skills across all disciplines. It allows nearly all age groups to participate, it promotes critical thinking, it encourages participants to engage their environment, and allows for creative expression.” Jessie L Scott III, Boston Urban Connections Coordinator, USDA Forest Service

 

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Cassie Meador is thrilled to be returning to Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education as part of Naturepalooza, the Center’s Family Earth Day Celebration. As part the festivities, families will get outdoors to learn about local ecology and the ways in which water shapes our lives through a series of movement activities in Cassie Meador’s Moving Field Guide program. Cassie will partner with the Schuylkill Center’s very own environmental educator Eduardo Duenas on two Moving Field Guides during the celebrationat 11am and 12:30 pm. Join them on these interactive nature walk to learn, move, and make new connections to the outdoors and each other through dance.

Cassie, Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange, and a creative team from Dance Exchange will return to the Schuylkill Center this June as part of the LandLab artist residency program. The residency will culminate in September 2018 with an invitation to families and other local folks in the region to join in the creation of a performance and an environmental art installation, reflecting on the ways water shapes, moves, and sustains our lives.

Through the LandLab residency, Cassie Meador will collaborate with Jame McCray, an interdisciplinary ecologist, and Zeke Leonard, an artist who mobilizes community-based sustainability efforts through interactive musical objects and installations. The creative team will use interdisciplinary artmaking approaches to move people from a place of observation to participation to active stewardship.

 

Image credits: Jori Ketton and Schuylkill Center LandLab collection.

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DANCE EXCHANGE

Founded in 1976 by Liz Lerman and under the artistic direction of Cassie Meador since 2011, Dance Exchange is a non-profit dance organization based in Takoma Park, Maryland. Dance Exchange’s innovative local, national, and international performance projects engage communities and partners across a wide range of disciplines. Dance Exchange ignites inquiry, inspires change, and connects people of all ages more deeply to the questions at the heart of our lives through dancemaking and creative practices by collaborating across generations, disciplines and communities to channel the power of performance as a means for dialogue, a source of critical reflection, and a creative engine for thought and action.Blog image 5

LANDLAB

LandLab is a unique artist residency program that operates on multiple platforms: artistic creation, ecological restoration and education. A joint project of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab offers resources and space on our 340-acre wooded property for visual artists to engage audiences in the processes of ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation.

 

Naturalist’s Notebook: Native Plants, Harbingers of Spring

Skunk Cabbage2
The end is near! The world? No, just the winter season. And what bears such glad tidings you wonder? Our native plant friends. In February, the Schuylkill Center staff took its monthly nature walk down Ravine Loop hunting for the first tell of spring, skunk cabbage (above). I’m happy to report that we found it on February 9th in a particularly wet area just above Smith Run where the little stone bridge crosses a semi-perennial tributary. Just barely visible was its little purplish hood, the forbearer of the true flower. The first source of pollen in late winter, skunk cabbage attracts bees and other hungry pollinators looking for their first taste of spring.
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Ridge Ave Tree Pruning_Giving Tuesday 2017_RDC (3)

Field Guide: Post-Storm Tree Assessment

By Steve Goin, Director of Land and Facilities

See other Field Guide posts here.

As Director of Land and Facilities at the Schuylkill Center, the care of our trees rests on my shoulders. With 340 mostly forested acres, our tree population is large and diverse in both species and maturity. The recent nor’easters brought heavy, wet snow and a barrage of winds, impacting our trees and in some cases causing damage. The damage is as varied as the trees themselves. Some trees barely lost a twig, others had major limbs break, and some even blew completely over, known as windthrow. As a tree lover, I know the value of the services these trees providesequestering carbon, providing habitat for wildlife, and managing our property’s stormwateris well worth the effort required to maintain them. Continue reading