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

Diane Burko

Dear 2040: Diane Burko on art, the earth, and 2040

By Diane Burko


What our global environment in general and Philadelphia in particular will look like all depends on how and IF the public heeds the dire warnings about Climate Change all around us now in 2015. Today’s global temperature data keep 2015 as hottest year to date. When surface temperatures are combined with ocean heat content, scientists chart warming continuing at a rapid rate. On Tuesday, March 24, the temperature in Antarctica rose to 63.5°F – a record for the polar continent. More glaciers than ever are retreating throughout the world. Storms and droughts are more severe and sea levels are rising, threatening many coastal cites here in the US and around the world.

As someone who (incredulously) will be celebrating her 70th birthday this year I can’t help but wonder if I will be around to see that capsule opened… and if all my efforts and those of so many others will have made a difference to the survival of our planet.

I have to believe in the affirmative – that my artistic practice – creating meaningful compelling imagery at the intersection of Art and Science will succeed as an antidote to doubt. My expeditions to the Polar Regions to bear witness to the melting of glaciers in our world serve to inform my practice as well as to communicate the scientific facts to a range of audiences. I bring my ideas to whomever calls, whether it be  4th grade classroom at Friends Central, The Russell Byers Charter School, the Nature Conservancy in Lake George or the Atlantic Council think tank in DC.

My message is clear and compelling.  I try to make my images as powerful. When speaking about my work I relate it to my own personal journey of how, as a lifelong landscape artist I realized about ten years ago that I had to do more than just present beautiful images of monumental geological phenomena throughout the world.  Global warming was already in the public consciousness with Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and Elizabeth Kolbert’s Notebook on a Catastrophe. I was moved to join that conversation.  I developed visual strategies to make my work relevant to the cause. With that decision has come a more purposeful existence and hope for the future.

I want the future to hold promise for my grandchildren and their grandchildren.  I want them to grow up on planet earth which is no longer on the brink of extinction due to increasing levels of CO2 and methane in our atmosphere.

I have to believe that the sleeping public will finally be aroused to change course and abandon the fossil fuel dependency that is sending us into the abyss.

Diane Burko,

August 12, 2015

Editor’s Note: Dear 2040 is a series of blog posts containing some of the letters included in our 50th anniversary time capsule, buried in October 2015.  Throughout the rest of 2015 we’ll be posting some of those letters, sharing what our leaders, thinkers, artists, and Schuylkill Center staff are thinking about the year 2040.  You can read all the posts here.

Time + Art: A sculpture Changes with the Forest

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art, and Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

Since it was installed in April 2015, Jake Beckman’s installation Future Non-object #1 has been changing with the forest around it.  Created through the LandLab environmental art residency program, the sculpture was designed to address a local ecological problem.  In this case, a lack of woodland fungi.  The installation, involving over 1,000 small pieces of wood inoculated with fungi, will slowly decompose into the forest, providing habitat for the fungi.

By the way, Jake Beckman’s going to be leading a walk and lecture Saturday, November 14, titled Permanence/Impermanence: States of Flux in Art and Nature

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It’s not about the bees, it’s about the we

By Marguerita Hagan 2014 – 2015 LandLab Resident Artist, for the Native Pollinator Garden Residency with Maggie Mills and Ben Mills

Bee foraging Purple Hyssop: Native Pollinator Garden

Bee foraging Purple Hyssop: Native Pollinator Garden

“In the village, a sage should go about like a bee, which, not harming flower, color scent, flies off with the nectar.”  – Anonymous, Dhammapada

Native Pollinator Garden: blue mistflower zinc etched plate by Maggie Mills, handcrafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills & pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

Native Pollinator Garden: blue mistflower zinc etched plate by Maggie Mills, handcrafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills & pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

One year has circled around completing our complex LandLab residency.  We launched out of the gate enthusiastically to address Colony Collapse Disorder, the devastating loss of 1/3 of our honey bees with the Native Pollinator Garden.  Our discoveries informed our process while simultaneously bringing to light simple truths, more questions, our collective opportunity, and the gravity of our choices.

Thank you to our guide, the Bee and to you for following our journey.

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“We stand now where two roads diverge.  But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair.  The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster.  The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”  – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Maggie Mills & Ben Mills as we start the Native Pollinator Garden along the Widener Trail

Maggie Mills & Ben Mills as we start the Native Pollinator Garden along the Widener Trail

What’s Essential?

Monoculture, tilling, GMOs/genetically modified organisms and chemical methods are standard conventional farming practices in the U.S. today and the belief is that chemicals are essential to growing food.  The conventional systems often means that farmers need to buy and use only modified seeds, rather than saving seeds from their crops – in fact, farmers growing GMO seeds are legally prohibited from saving and planting any seeds from those plants.  With the prevalence of GMO seeds, many wild plants are being pushed out of even the narrow margins alongside fields.  Healthy forage is essential to bees, all pollinators, and to us.

Bee gathering pollen.

Bee gathering pollen.

Finding Our Way Home

When bees and other pollinators come into contact with chemically treated flowering plants, their finely tuned nervous system and brain suffers dramatically.  The chemicals destroy the bees’ GPS system, a lethal move for a bee who cannot survive outside the hive over 24 hours.  This is just one piece of the complex issue.

Honeybees are something of an ambassador for other pollinators and their environment as they are the ones most intrinsically linked to humans through pollination of essential crops and wild plants.  For the bees, their life mission is mutual benefit for the hive community.

This puts them in a powerful position to get our much-needed attention.  And people are taking notice of the plight of the bees; and it’s about time since bees provide every 3rd bite we take.  Farming that is dependent on honeybee pollination sees bees as a source of profit or loss, rather than a living part of the ecosystem.  For example, almonds, California’s largest export are 100% pollinated by honeybees.  Without bees to naturally pollinate crops to meet industry demands, a new tier of stress has been put into motion.  To meet that demand, 90% of the bees in the U.S. are used as pollinating migrant workers, trucked from crop to crop around the country.  Consider the fuel and costs required to keep this unhealthy cycle rolling.


One of the first articles addressing the concern for our own health in regards to CCD: Our Bees, Ourselves- What Colony collapse says about chemicals and disease, New York Times, Tues, July 15, 2014, by Mark Winston.

One of the first articles addressing the concern for our own health in regards to CCD: Our Bees, Ourselves- What Colony collapse says about chemicals and disease, New York Times, Tues, July 15, 2014, by Mark Winston.

Genetic seed modifying began in the U.S. in the early sixties, over 50 years ago.  Since then it’s grown exponentially.  Today, it is often considered one of the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder.  Our tiny eco ambassadors seem to be the Ghost of Christmas Future shaking us to wake up.  The resilient honeybee has thrived for over 40 million years, until now.

The widespread collapse presents a clear message.  In the long run, how will it affect us?  We have Rachel Carson to thank for her decades of perseverance in making DDT illegal.  The insecticide sprayed openly from trucks through neighborhoods with children playing in the fumigated fog was originally developed for chemical warfare in WWII.

As Rachel Carson put it, “How could intelligent beings seek to control few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”

Positive Shifts under our Feet

Native Pollinator Garden: Purple Hyssop zinc etched plates by Maggie Mills, hand crafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills, and Pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

Native Pollinator Garden: Purple Hyssop zinc etched plates by Maggie Mills, hand crafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills, and Pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

Good News!

We are in an Agrarian Renaissance and holistic practices are on the rise with no till, chemical-free, and organic farming.  These principles are alive in our own practices.  Innovative farmers have stepped off the chemical wagon of conventional practices to weather the transition and investment in sustainable farming.  I’ve recently come across a few examples to share:

The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlsen is an exciting work sharing the journey of those listening and responding to our environment successfully.  It is a thrilling return.  Organic farmers working this way for decades are producing even during drought.  Their reciprocal-minded process is enriching crops with carbon rich soil.

The Farm to Table concept is being delivered to more tables both at home and commercially.  My LandLab teammates Ben and Maggie Mills have a year-round organic chemical-free garden- yes, even foraging in winter.  As a master craftsman, one aspect of Ben Mills’ practice includes custom built chemical free raised beds.

Gotham Greens in Brooklyn is the world’s largest urban farm and expanding.  Produce is harvested and served in restaurants within a few hours.  Nell Thorn Restaurant in La Conner, WA has held the torch for years and is joined by sprouting conscious restauranteurs.  The present Hand-Crafted Movement is in step with its Agrarian Partner utilizing a material from earth to fire to table: CLAY.  It is my main means for sculpture and my line of Farm to Tableware.  Chefs classically have sous chefs and now some have personal ceramicists creating works for their original cuisine.

Farm to Tableware by Margueritaworks with Harvest Scene Petroglyph (Canyonlands National Park) - planting & watering seeds

Farm to Tableware by Margueritaworks with Harvest Scene Petroglyph (Canyonlands National Park) – planting & watering seeds

Forward Movement

Our immediate focus on the bees grew with the Native Pollinator Garden.  The problem is complex but solutions are often simple and best ones start at home.  The honeybee showed us it is not about the bees – it’s about the we.  We are a part of the bee’s lives and they are a part of ours.

The mini messengers that brought us to this residency speak loud and clear: We are in this together.

Our Native Pollinator Garden provided forage and food for thought- starting with healthy seeds, native plants, and organic soil in chemical-free Douglas fir raised beds.  As we wrap up our residency, we ceremoniously handed off the watering can to the Schuylkill Center.  Like ongoing adventures, it’s a beginning. As the Native Pollinator Garden embarks on a new season, we leave you with an invitation to pollinate awareness.


Thank you!

Marguerita Hagan

For the Native Pollinator Garden:

Maggie Mills, Ben Mills, and Marguerita Hagan


#StormSnakes – The Experiment Continues

By Leslie Birch, 2014-2015 LandLab Resident Artist

My LandLab project started with the idea of examining water quality and morphed into understanding and mitigating stormwater run-off, the primary water quality concern facing the Schuylkill Center’s streams. It’s been interesting to see the changes along the way, much like a meandering stream. There’s been discovery in understanding how storms are affecting the land at the Center, brainstorming around ideas to deter the run-off, and definitely a period of inventing. Last we left off, I had been in discussion with Steve at Stroud Water Research Center about the sensors for my stream monitor. I learned that Steve was going to pay a visit to a canal community in Delaware for a monitor installation, and knowing it would involve boats, I was all in!


This community was going to experiment with oyster colonies to reduce the amount of algae in the water. As you can imagine, algae can build up and make it difficult for boats, so they were looking for a solution. They would need to test the water before and during the experiment in order to see if the oysters were successful. So, monitoring devices that could detect oxygen levels would be just the thing. Of course, the monitors would have to be installed in canals which were filled with saltwater–unlike the freshwater at our Center. It was interesting to see how the monitors were placed using a pole driver, which caused a bit of clanging. One family was particularly curious about the project, so I actually went ashore to explain it to them. They were so amazed and happy to hear about this possible sustainable solution for their community. All was going well with the monitors until we started testing. We got a negative read on conductivity–what??. Apparently the briny water caused a different affect on the sensor and had to be accounted for in the programming. It was a great lesson in coding, and Steve was able to tweak it to get the correct reading.


Back home, it was time to make some decisions on parts for my monitor. Steve knew I needed a water depth sensor to measure the amount of stormwater coming in, as well as something to do temperature and conductivity.  For water depth, a specific ultrasonic sensor did well upon testing at Stroud, so Steve was excited about using it. Also, a new combination sensor for temperature and conductivity had come to market, and based on past sensors from the company, there was a sense that it would work well for my application. So, surrounded by some fun parts, I got started soldering.


I started with the main boards that would be used for the monitoring device. Since one little mistake in solder can cause a short circuit, I had Steve inspect each connection. Two opinions are better than one–especially late at night! Later I worked on soldering the parts for the XBee communication, which would allow the monitor to talk to another unit which would transmit the data to the internet. Besides soldering, there were also the project boxes that needed holes to be drilled. The drill will always be my favorite tool on the workbench :). It was a happy moment to be finished the assembly, but it was short lived when I moved onto testing. The ultrasonic sensor was definitely getting a reading, but the information was not transmitting properly. The data is supposed to get stored on an SD card on the unit and also transmitted to a website where it is formatted into a table. After double checking the hardware, Steve figured out that there was an issue with the Arduino code that had been uploaded. So, by tweaking one line, it was quickly repaired and we were back to testing. It’s so darn exciting when things work!


While Steve and I awaited a good-weather installation date for the monitor, I got together with Brenna to continue work on the larger Storm Snakes made of burlap. I remembered that the proportions had looked off on our small version, so I googled the dimensions of one of the largest snakes in the world for the new version. It seemed like each snake worked well with five coffee bean bags for length. Then, it was just a matter of trimming off the sides to create a skinnier snake. After I was finished stitching, I worked on stuffing the long casings of burlap with the mixture of coir, wood chips and stones. It took so long to shovel the materials into those casings, so my husband helped design a funnel out of a plastic plant pot to make the job easier.  I successfully filled three large snakes, and they were looking quite plump. For decoration, you may recall I was interested in having plant material growing on the outside of the snakes. Well, I learned about moss graffiti and talked to a moss supplier in the Poconos, Moss Acres, to be sure this would be viable. A few days later I received a box of moss and after getting some large containers of yogurt, I was ready to roll.


On the day of installation, it took a team of us on a utility vehicle to place each of the three snakes–they were heavy! Christina Catanese (the Schuylkill Center’s Director of Environmental Art) had surveyed the team at the Center to determine the areas of the path that were most in need of stormwater protection. One ended up in the meadow to deal with parking lot run-off, another was located on a steep curve of a popular path where water often gathered and the final was placed on a path near Wind Dance Pond to slow down the water coming off Port Royal Ave– the inspiration point for the entire project. The next step was decorating the snakes. I mixed a moss yogurt slurry and attempted to paint it. It was tricky to apply, and in the end, I gave up on a brush and just used my bare fingers. It was fun creating the patterns, and I found that simple shapes worked best, as the mixture would easily crumble with intricate lines. The families passing by on the trail found them quite interesting.


As for the monitor installation, Steve and I finally found a good day to get it situated. I helped to hold parts as Steve hammered a mounting pole in the stream bottom. Now that things are in place, it is time for my favorite part–gathering data. So far the stream monitor seems to be collecting data fine. In its first week or so, it transmitted to the spreadsheet sporadically. This was due to the fact that the receiving station is set up in a metal building, and having problems getting a signal. Steve is currently testing different antennas that might be more suitable for this location. For now, we fetch the SD card and periodically upload, so there is some historical data currently on Stroud’s site to view, if you click on the table. Right now it is not transmitting at all, so Steve is also checking the code as it might have something to do with the way the system resets. No matter what, the data is still going to the SD card, so we will definitely have it.

One of the interesting things I’ve already learned from the data is that the conductivity is almost identical to a stream behind Stroud. I would have thought that our stream would have been more polluted as it stands near the bottom of the chain of watersheds leading to the Delaware River. Also, I thought that when a storm would come that there would be a big change in depth for quite a while, but apparently with urban streams, storm water comes in rapidly, but also dissipates quickly. So, you really have to look at each day’s numbers in order to view a difference. My hope is that these figures will be used as evidence of stormwater run-off so that future funding can be obtained to really mitigate the water coming off Port Royal Ave.


It has certainly bStreamMonitoreen an interesting adventure and I’ve learned so much about stormwater run-off. I’ve also had an opportunity to get more involved with science, and use my electronic skills for sustainability. I don’t think I could have found a better match for my interests, and I’m so thankful that our Center makes environmental art a priority. Getting to meet other like-minded artists has also given me hope that there is still the possibility of change in this world. It’s not going to be from corporations or governments, it’s going to have to come from people like you and me. My next step will be to create a tutorial that will be posted on Stroud’s website for creating the storm monitor. Thanks to open source solutions and the web, we can all share information and build our own solutions for environmental problems. This all ties into the idea of being a citizen scientist, which organizations like Public Lab and NASA are embracing. So, don’t be scared to be the scientist or the innovator. At the end of the day it isn’t necessarily who has the degree, it’s who is doing the work. There’s a place for all of us here on this planet, so be bold.


Natural Dyeing: from plant to fabric

By Guest Contributors Elissa Meyers and Mira Adornetto

After pulling out green cotton fabric from a naturally fermenting indigo vat, our workshop group watches excitedly as the green transitions into a dark indigo blue. This incredible process, which occurs as the indigo dye oxidizes has been used for thousands of years in numerous places and cultures. Throughout human history, color has been applied to fibers on every continent, starting as far back as 2,600 BCE. Plants, shellfish, and insects: wildflowers, trees, mollusks and bugs, have been used to dye fibers.

Since the industrial revolution dyeing went from natural colorants like plants and insects to synthesized petroleum based dyes, which are fairly damaging to the environment. The argument that modern “low-impact” dyes are less harmful to the environment than natural dyes has become a highly debated topic in the textile industry. Millions of tons of synthetic dye are still being dumped annually into waterways leaving textiles as one of the top ten worst polluted industries.  Natural dyes, however, offer an alternative.

marigoldssteepingNatural dyeing usually includes the use of a metallic salt, known as a “mordant,” from the French word “mordre” meaning “to bite.”  Mordants include alum, iron, tin, chrome, copper, and also tannic acid. Tannins are readily available in the environment: they’re in black tea, as well as in oak trees and many other plants.  Alum (sometimes used in food and cosmetics, though less often these days) is the most prevalent metal in the earth’s crust, followed by iron. These mordants can be used and disposed of safely. Although some of the other metals, tin and chrome for example, can produce more intense colors, they have a larger safety risk and environmental impact. These metals tend to give natural dyes a bad reputation as they are toxic to the environment. In fact, at BLUEREDYELLOW, we don’t even consider using them in our work.

Our society’s awareness of global environmental issues has increased substantially since the 60s. In today’s DIY culture more people want to use accessible and sustainable materials. People now are more concerned with where manufactured goods come from and what to use them for. When synthetic dyes hit the textile industry during the Industrial Revolution, natural dyes became nearly obsolete. However, craftspeople like William Morris, (known for his textile patterns) continued to work using the older, more craft-based, processes including natural dyeing. With today’s advancements in science and technology, we have a better understanding of the world around us.  Yet there is still so much to learn in the world of natural dyes. Philadelphia was once a powerhouse of the textile industry. Currently, it is a region with an active and abundant arts community, with an emphasis on craftsmanship.

Aside from the arts, Philadelphia is abundant with urban gardens and is a region where a long list of dye plants can be grown and found. Some of these include mugwort, goldenrod, sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, mint, dock, and sorrel. There are several tannin bearing plants including black walnut and sumac. It is also possible to grow historical dye plants such as the Japanese variety of indigo dye (vibrant blue) as well as madder root (alizarin red). It is incredible how many options there are to produce color in this area and we hope the craft will continue to be explored in a local, as well as global, way.

About the Authors
Elissa Meyers and Mira Adornetto founded BLUEREDYELLOW, a design and natural dye house producing comfortable, chemical free textiles.  BLUEREDYELLOW was founded with support from The Corzo Center for the Creative Economy. Currently, they work with businesses offering an alternative dye service and do piece dyeing as well as dyeing by the yard.  Elissa and Mira also lead natural dyeing workshops around the Philadelphia area.  They will be leading a two-day workshop at the Schuylkill Center on July 17 and 18.



Interview with Deenah Loeb: Art in the Open

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Editor’s note: Deenah Loeb is a Schuylkill Center trustee who also serves as the Executive Director of the City Parks Association and was on the founding creative team for Art in the Open, a citywide event in which artists create their work outdoors on the Schuylkill Banks for three days in May. This summer, nine artists from Art in the Open 2014 will present their work in the Schuylkill Center gallery and on the trails this summer in the show Open SpacesDirector of Environmental Art Christina Catanese recently sat down with Loeb to get her insights about Art in the Open, and its extension to the Schuylkill Center context. Open Spaces features work by Nancy Agati, Harry Bower, Ellen Brooks, Josh Harris, Aaron Lish, Pazia Mannella, Sandy Sorlien, Susan Wilson, and Wendy Wolf.

Christina Catanese: When and how did Art in the Open (AiO) get its start?  How did the idea come about?
Deenah Loeb: The original idea came from local artist Ed Bronstein, who wanted to create a plein air festival in Philadelphia.  He reached out to Mary Salvante [EN: Schuylkill Center Environmental Art program founder], who brought me into the process.  We began to think beyond only painters’ engagement to a program that created an outdoor studio space for artists working in all mediums.  It was also important that the program be integrally linked with the environment– it was an interesting opportunity for artists to work with the river within the public realm, as a source of inspiration, recognizing the power of the urban river and urban context, and enhancing public access to the river. Continue reading


Has it really been 15 years?

By Mary Salvante

Editor’s note: 2015 marks the Schuylkill Center’s 50th anniversary along with the 15th anniversary of the art program. As part of our ongoing celebration of this milestone, we invited Mary Salvante, the founder of the art program, to write a reflection on the past 15 years. 

Where does the time go? Seems like just recently I was visiting the Center for the first time.  My first impression then was the notion that it would be a perfect location for an art program, and more specifically, an installation at the front entrance.

In 1999, the Schuylkill Center had just completed its first 10-year master plan and included in it was the recommendation that the Center diversify its programming to bring in new audiences. With that goal in mind, I approached the director at the time, Tracy Kay, and proposed an art program as one strategy for attracting new visitors. We began slowly with exhibitions in the front gallery while putting together grant applications for funding of larger initiatives such as the artists in residence program and outdoor temporary art exhibitions.

From the beginning I felt it important that the art program be mission-driven and relate to the education mission of the Center. The premise was that the art program would address the same issues being taught in science curriculum as an extension of the classroom, while the outdoor exhibitions provided an opportunity for personal introspection. It was the artist in residence program though where the intersecting of art and education was the most apparent, since it required an instructional component for students from area schools. Continue reading

Nature in the City Photography Contest Winners

This winter we had a blast with the Nature in the City photo contest.  Dozens of pictures were submitted, from Philadelphia’s skyline, framed by dried coneflowers in a field, and the glory of those late-seasons now storms.  It was quite a challenge to choose the winners.  Thank you to everyone who submitted a photo.


Hard & Soft, Richele C. Dillard


Taken in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, Richele Dillard’s photograph captures the intimate level at which winter can interact with the world around us. Not even these fuzzy, spent wildflower heads could escape the clutches of winter’s icy grip, remaining frozen in time until warmer temperatures could release them. The plump drip of melted water exposes the flower once more and gives hope that new life and growth will emerge soon.  Richele notes,  I find “ice melting around spent flower heads to be both beautiful & challenging.”

Emily Soloby

Emily Soloby

Emily wrote of this photo, “Sometimes, deep in South Philly, the only place to find nature is to look up.”  Even in seemingly the most constructed environments, there is always nature to be  found, and even the most commonplace sighting of birds on a power line and street trees presents an opportunity to connect with nature.  The composition of this photo is impeccable – from the symmetry of the geometric playground, powerlines, and streets; to the richness of color and the balance between the reds of the sweater, car, and awning; to the sense of having captured an everyday moment made extraordinary.

Kathleen Elizabeth Stull


Taken at the Reading Viaduct Project, this photograph remarkably captures the intersection of city and nature.  The bright white of the graffiti is beautifully complements the gold of the grass.  The organic shapes of the grass are in turn, contrasted by the sharp lines of both bricks and graffiti behind them.  We were particularly drawn to how the photograph shows nature emerging within the city.