Jill Pelto climate change indicator data in Philadelphia

Climate Change: Making the Global Personal Through Art

 By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

What does climate change mean for Philadelphia?  As a large, complex, global process, it’s not an easy concept to wrap our minds around.

As you might expect, climate models project pretty clearly that Philly will face a future that is hotter and wetter.

According to CUSP – the Climate & Urban Systems Partnership , scientists predict that in our region we could experience as many as three additional weeks of days over 90° by the 2020s. All that heat not only is unpleasant, but can also lead to serious health risks.  CUSP also found that the Northeastern US has been experiencing more frequent extreme precipitation events than any other region in the country. Not only will we get more total rain, projections say that climate change will cause heavy downpours to become even more common and intense.  Philly’s tidal rivers are also impacted by projections of sea level rise, and the combination of more rain and rising sea levels is concerning for low-lying homes and infrastructure, like the airport.

It definitely helps to have localized data about climate change to understand the impacts, but even so, we can still not fully understand the implications of climate change, or worse, feel powerless to do anything about it. Art about climate change has a unique potential to make these problems personal and relevant – just what the Schuylkill Center’s latest gallery show strives to do.  As part of the Center’s Year of Climate Change in 2016 and our ongoing effort to talk about climate change in new, relevant ways, our gallery show this fall unpacks what climate change means for our region.  Continue reading

Native Pollinator Garden art installation changes over time

Art + Time at the Schuylkill Center: a 2017 wall calendar

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

One of the most important aspects of environmental art is leaving time for nature to respond to an art work.  Change is a constant in the natural world, and when artists venture outside the controlled setting of the studio or gallery, art must be responsive to change, time, and seasons.

Indeed, many environmental art works are not complete until nature has had time to respond and artists have had time to understand and reconcile change in the work.  Stacy Levy’s Rain Yard needs rain to fall for the collaboration with water to happen; Jake Beckman’s Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise needs fungus and other soil organisms to grow, and the piece won’t truly be complete until it becomes soil, many years from now.

Many environmental art works are invitations to nature, which nature will respond to in its own time.  WE THE WEEDS, for instance, installed their woven tapestry of invasive vines in a vine-filled meadow, hoping that the living vines would contribute to the artwork by growing and weaving themselves onto and into the work, that the vines heartily accepted this invitation.

Environmental art can itself even become a calendar of sorts, revealing the change in seasons and cycles. I know spring has sprung when the columbine sprouts in our Native Pollinator Garden, and that fall has arrived when the asters bloom in Welcome Home.

We present environmental art on various timescales – some is temporary, disappearing from our forests after a just few weeks’ time, while other works are with us indefinitely.

So, this year we decided to put together a 2017 wall calendar, celebrating cutting edge, contemporary environmental art in our fields and forests. Founded in 2000 as an opportunity for artists and audiences to explore and interpret the natural world and current ecological issues, our program has brought 277 artists to our site. This calendar highlights works here from across 17 years; three of the works are still with us today, continuing to evolve with our site and with time.

We hope this calendar is more than a time marking tool, but something that activates your imagination throughout this year, perhaps inspiring you to notice time and change in your own environment.

So, take a look, support our art program, and order your 2017 calendar today!

tree trunk

Reading Under the Bark

dead treeBy guest contributor Jim Frazer

I’ve been trying to remember what led me to photograph the engraved tracks of bark beetles. I believe that really it was just curiosity about looking for lines and patterns in nature which first drew my attention to the etched pathways of the beetle larvae. Once I became aware of them, they seemed to be everywhere in the woods. In an effort to understand what I was looking at, I did some research, and found out that the beetles’ increased range and activity was due to warming.

Since climate change seemed to come on us slowly at first, it was easy for many people to not notice. We may ask ourselves, what was the first thing that we personally noticed that could be attributed to climate change? Not a prediction from scientists, but something we personally saw or experienced. Not a cause, but a result. For me, the beetle tracks were like this. Of course, we all experience unusual weather, but since, like many people, I’m not living in the place where I grew up, I don’t have a feel for what is really normal for the area. Having someone tell you that last summer was the hottest ever doesn’t mean much if you don’t have memories to compare it to. Seeing something concrete right in front of you is different.

Part of what artists do is to call attention to things that have been overlooked, and do so in a way that causes people to start noticing on their own. We hear many debates in which the opinions of experts are hurled back and forth, but in order for change to happen, people need to be convinced through their personal experience. So I would like to encourage people looking at my work to notice small things they see around them and investigate how they relate to the larger world. I see the beetle tracks as calligraphic characters from an unknown language, hence the title Glyphs. Of course, they don’t have individual, specific meanings, like, say, a Chinese character might have. They are meant to suggest the idea that if we notice our surroundings – our environment – it will speak to us and tell us important things. In this case, the message is the awareness that climate change is causing a different relationship between these insects and the forest, to the detriment of the trees.

Here are both the original picture of a tree trunk and the finished artwork for one of my works in the exhibit. Like a scientist exploring ancient inscriptions, I trace the patterns, first manually, then digitally. The resulting outlines are printed on very thin tissue. Then, just as the beetle larva takes many small bites, I use a paper drill to create a repetitive lace pattern of holes surrounding the outlines. Finally, metallic mica powder is applied inside the outlines, adhered with gilding sizing.

head shotJim Frazer was, in 1981, the first photographer to have a solo exhibit at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, and his hand-colored photographs of Southern landscapes were widely collected and exhibited both regionally and nationally. In 1999, he moved with his family to Salt Lake City and branched out from photography to a diverse practice that focused on mixed media works and collaborative installations. His newest work, though not appearing photographic at first glance, is nevertheless photo based, deriving from images of details taken from the natural world.

2016_4_23, kgronostajski@gmail.com, USA LBI NJ

Education, climate change, and the “fierce urgency of now”

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

When a child graduates high school, the environmental education movement strives to make sure that student is environmentally literate—she understands how the world works, maybe even takes actions to improve environmental systems.

As the climate quickly changes, those graduates need to know about global warming.  Martin Luther King, Jr., in a completely different context, referred to “the fierce urgency of now,” and environmental educators feel that urgency, as weather is warming, seasons are shifting, oceans are rising, glaciers are shrinking, the icecaps are melting, wildfires are raging, and species are disappearing at rates faster than many models once predicted.

But hold on. Continue reading

cook forest moss (1)

Bryophilia: A Moss Love Story

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

I’ve had a moss fascination as long as I can remember. Friends find me difficult to hike with, as I’m often hanging back crouched down over a mossy growth. I have taken more photos of moss than most people would probably find reasonable. In college, I did a research project on the ‘moss line’ in a montane stream – the bright line I observed where moss stopped growing on the creekside rocks. I own more than one piece of moss jewelry.

Moss on stones of river, Puerto Rico

Why moss? I think I’m fascinated by how often overlooked these life forms are, and the unique niche they occupy. I love their scale – tiny, yet complex. I relish encountering patches of moss that feel like entire, tiny little worlds in themselves.

Moss on stone in Cook Forest, photo by Christina Catanese Forest floor moss in Cook Forest, photo by Christina Catanese Moss between rocks in the Great Smoky Mountains, photo by Christina Catanese

Emboldened with a newly acquired moss field guide, last fall I started gathering my own samples and trying to get into the identification. I’ll tell you, it isn’t easy to do as a wannabe bryologist. Pleurocarp or acrocarp – are they large or small? (They are all small). Leaves – are they hair-like, lance, ovate, sickle or tongue shaped? (You call those tiny things leaves?). Do the leaves have a midrib? (Yikes). Growing on a rock, log, or bare soil? (Shoot…where did this specimen come from again?).

Examining moss in the Great Smoky Mountains

Our summer gallery show, Bryophilia, has given me a wonderful excuse to immerse myself even more in the world of moss.   We’re thrilled to present a gallery show of artist Marion Wilson’s stunning photographs of microscopically enlarged mosses. Wilson prints intricate and lush photographs of tiny sprigs of moss on treated mylar sheets, hundreds of times the normal size. From afar, these magnificently scaled up prints appear to be alien forms; they invite a closer look to interpret their curious shapes and structures. We’ll even have some real, live moss growing in the gallery.

Moss on rock photograph by Marion Wilson

I’ve also been reading Gathering Moss, by renowned bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer, professor of environmental biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and collaborator of Wilson’s. It’s a beautiful natural history read even for those not involved in a mossy love affair. Kimmerer blends botanical, scientific knowledge with her indigenous heritage, encouraging discussion of diverse ways of knowing; this is on full display in a recent podcast through On Being, a terrific listen.

Having my moss antennae up, I’ve started to see moss everywhere: cracks in the city sidewalk become an opportunity to notice nature thriving in unexpected contexts. What most would call unkempt roof shingles become a de facto green roof, with moss left to do its own, slow thing.  As I tell friends about our upcoming gallery show, closet moss lovers are coming out of the woodwork, sharing their own cherished moss facts.

When you look small, the world gets large.

Heart shaped by moss, photo by Christina Catanese

Bryophilia opens at the Schuylkill Center in the gallery with a reception on Saturday, June 11 from 4-6 pm.


Art in a Changing Climate

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Bill McKibben wrote, in a 2005 essay on climate change and art, “But oddly, though we know about it, we don’t know about it. It hasn’t registered in our gut; it isn’t part of our culture. Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?”

Climate change is abstract, cognitively complex, with no clear single villain; dialogue around climate change often induces self-defensiveness, the steps needed to respond require long time horizons, and many of the victims are distant, in either space or time.  More so than many other environmental issues, climate change is a social as well as scientific challenge, making it even harder to wrap our minds around. For decades, climate scientists have tried to make their work resonate, but too often, the result is either data overload, or fear and warning of dire and disastrous consequences, which people tune out. Mounting evidence shows that our brains are simply not wired for this kind of abstraction – we respond subconsciously based on emotion, not data.

Luckily, artists are good at appealing to these parts of ourselves, with the ability to activate our imaginations, catalyze mindshifts, motivate change and action, and develop outside-the-box solutions. Continue reading

Image 3 Late June 2015 (1)

Time + Art, Part 2: As an Anniversary Approaches

By Catalina Lassen, Art + PR Intern

As spring bounds in again, another year has come and gone, and almost a year has passed since our LandLab artists in residence installed a variety of exciting environmentally minded artworks last April. This cycle of a year signifies not only an anniversary, but is also a reminder of the changes that have occurred during the time in-between. As far as the art of LandLab goes, the works have been activated by nature, shifting as the seasons do. Back in November we took a look at the progress of one of these installations, but it’s now time to turn our attention to Interwoven, a project created by artist-botanist duo WE THE WEEDS. Woven from invasive vines, this installation is an exploration of invasive plants, examining the history, perception, and impact of such species on local environments, while working to remove and recycle this flora. As the year has passed, there has been exciting movement among Interwoven, as the natural cycles of the earth activate the framework of this large sculptural work.

(Before Photographs): If you’re interested in more discussion of this project, or of the ecological and cultural roles of native and non-native plants, please join us on April 14th for a Botanical Cocktail Hour with artist Zya S. Levy.


Featured Image, The Foragers

The Foragers: A World of Enchantment and Intimacy

By Catalina Lassen, Environmental Art & PR Intern

The Schuylkill Center is proud to present Melissa Maddonni Haims and Josh Haims’ latest venture, The Foragers, a whimsical exhibition featuring photographs and delicate yarn sculptures of regional fungal life. In my time helping prepare and install this exhibition, what has stood out to me the most has been the enchantment and intimacy of the world the Haims’ create. As I step into the gallery now, the show completely set and ready to go, I sense myself stepping into the deep of the forest. Quiet, but flourishing, The Foragers takes the viewer on a charming adventure through a magical wood grown from the investigation and imagination of this wife-husband duo.

1st Image

Although sporing from a place of academia, scientific curiosity, and a fascination with fungal forms, the exhibition is artistic and romantic. While Josh’s photographs create immersive expanses of forest imagery, Melissa’s sculptures work as an anchor between image and space, completing the illusion and bringing the forest to us.

2nd Image

As can be seen in Melissa’s Shelving Tooth sculptures, there is an exciting fusion of gentility and action occurring within each form.

3rd Image

Even Melissa’s more subtle, soft pieces—which allow you a quiet moment to reflect—are vibrant and alive, rich in color and texture.

On the other hand, Josh’s photographs work to set the scene and create an overarching tone. One of my personal favorites lies at the entrance of the show. Depicting a small toadstool in a large, green wood, this image is welcoming—it happily invites viewers into the world of The Foragers, a world mimicking and so closely related to our own beautiful earth.

4th Image

Please join us January 28th at 6:00 pm to unearth for yourself the fascinating fungi-filled forest brought to you by Melissa Maddonni Haims and Josh Haims, The Foragers.

About the Author: Catalina, the Schuylkill Center’s Environmental Art and Public Relations Intern, is a recent West Chester University graduate, having finally earned her BFA in December 2015. Her passions (beyond art, of course) are numerous, but often include writing, nature, concert-going, and, most importantly, eating burritos.

Sassafrass alternate

Hackensack Dreaming: Big & Small

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Nancy Cohen’s Hackensack Dreaming has transformed our gallery space into an immersive experience evoking the complex wetlands of the Hackensack River.  One of my favorite parts of this installation is how it is big and small at the same time.  I feel enveloped in the space, and at the same time there are seemingly infinite details to discover the longer I look – in a similar way to being in nature itself.

There are upwards of 120 individual pieces in Cohen’s installation, all handmade glass and paper.  I asked a few staff and students of the Schuylkill Center to tell me about their favorite piece, and why it speaks to them.  Don’t miss the installation, on view until December 19th, and tell us about your favorite.


Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager
I love this piece because each time I approach it it’s become something new.  Because it hangs, it rotates slowly, showing me perspectives.  When I first saw it the profile was boney, spine-like, rising from the ethereal blue surrounding it.  The next time I looked, I was peering into a pale cavern within it.

Donna and Mike

Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director
Walking through Hackensack Dreaming, my eyes keep coming back to one of the organically shaped  structures, one of the many jellyfish-like pieces that are actually not jellyfish, but inspired by ice forming on the marsh in winter.  What catches my eye is its deep cobalt blue color unique among all the shapes in the installation, and one of my favorite colors all time.  The cracks and lines in the shape give it the appearance of a turtle dragging itself slowly across the meadowlands.  Who doesn’t love a turtle, especially a deep blue one?

Donna Struck, Director of Finance & Administration
My favorite piece is a beautiful shiny, corally blue piece that is magical to look at.  (It’s on the right side as you enter the gallery, on the floor.)  It is my favorite because it caught my eye and held it with its beauty and shine.  It almost looks like sunlight is reflecting off of it.  The whole exhibit speaks to me because I love the ocean so much and while I know it’s not an ocean being represented, the blues and objects remind me of such.  Or perhaps it’s my overall love of water.


Elisabeth Zafiris, Manager of Public Programs
This is an almost overwhelming exhibition. The different stimulants grab at you upon entering. I spent my time in the gallery walking slowly, taking everything in. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until I reached one of the last objects that my attention was fully on the object itself. It made me question what I was looking at. Are those spoons? Trash? It’s something that was once something else, that much is for sure. This attention to detail,  intricacy, and demand for closer looking echoes what I love about being in nature. It gives you pause, slows you down, a focuses your attention. It’s a sensory experience.


Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art
While the suspended objects and forms on the floor immerse the viewer in the space, the large paper drawing on the back wall takes the eye away into the horizon.  Looking deceptively like paint, carefully placed paper pulp on handmade paper has an incredibly rich texture, and the rich red color stands out starkly among the bluegreengray of most of the rest of the space.  Shimmering portions evoke for me light in the landscape that might reflect off of water or human infrastructure, contrasting with the organic forms.


Rebecca Dhondt, Nature Preschool Lead Teacher
When I look at the show there is so much to see and process. One thing, however, really stayed with me after I left the gallery.  I just kept picturing the tiny spots of blue that were on the black paper next to the larger lakes of paper pulp. These little spheres were obviously splashed there when the ocean was being created.   Some might even say these dots were a mistake, but imperfections are what make things real.  Nature is not perfect, and neither is the best art.

Nature Preschool

The Sassafrass Preschool Classroom made a visit to the gallery.

“These look like fairy flowers. Look, they are floating!”

“I like the mushrooms on the walls because they remind me of mushrooms outside.”

“I like those hanging things… they are like butterflies!”

“I like the hanging things too!  They are like flying palaces… for, like, a good community”

“It’s so beautiful!” (several times)

In the Bird-seed Shelter

Environmental Art at Nature Preschool

Children Need NatureBy Rebecca Dhondt, Sassafras Lead Teacher

When people think of a preschool experience, art almost always comes to mind.  Children need art, not only for the development of their creativity, but as a support for growing cognitive, social, and motor abilities.

children at picnic tableAll high quality preschool programs incorporate art daily. Walking into a typical classroom, parents will see evidence of painting, gluing and sculpture.  Hopefully there will be a well-developed art center with various supplies that are easily accessible to the children.   Also, completed works of art will be clearly labeled and prominently displayed around the room and in the halls.

Our Nature Preschool is no different, except for this: from first inspiration to finished project art always involves nature. Continue reading