What does the toad say?

By Claire Morgan, Volunteer and Garden Coordinator, Gift Shop Manager

Pretty soon, we’ll be hearing a lot of what the toad says!  In early to mid- March we will start to hear the sound of the American Toad, Bufo Americanus, with its high pitched trill calling for a mate, as they do each spring.  Here in Roxborough, at the Schuylkill Center, we’ll be watching and listening during those early spring evenings.  When the evening temperature rises to 50 degrees and the ground is moist, the American Toads start to make their journey out of the woods of the Center and towards the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve.

It’s almost magical to see all these toads emerging from the woods.  They don’t usually travel until after the sun sets, when there may be fewer predators, and mostly on damp and rainy nights.  But when the toads do start to move, there are usually hundreds at a time.

What is it the toads see in this old abandoned reservoir, built in the late 1800’s?  Now known as the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve, the site served for many years as a holding basin for drinking water for Philadelphia.  As times changed and engineering improved, the reservoir outlived its usefulness, at least as a storage area for drinking water.  It serves another very important function: a habitat for wildlife.  The shallowness of the basin is the perfect place for toads to come to find a mate and produce offspring!  After courtship, the adult toads return to the woods.  The steep, brick-lined walls of the reservoir are not an easy path for these small, but determined toads, but their instincts tell them that they must make this journey in order to survive.

It is a difficult journey from the woods across the street, dodging cars and moving up the steep slope to the reservoir, and then down the other side of the reservoir.  All this to reach the shallow waters where they will lay their eggs for the next generation of toads.

It will be 6 weeks or so before the tiny “toadlets”, as we affectionately call these creatures the size of your thumbnail, make their way across the road to a permanent home in the woods.  In the woods, they serve a very special function in keeping mosquitoes under control for humans!

The Toad Detour project started six years ago when a citizen noted that toads were getting squashed as they crossed back and forth via Port Royal Avenue and Eva Street on their way to and from the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve.  This group of dedicated citizens applied for a permit from the Department of Streets to close the roads on evenings when there was significant movement of the toads.  The Schuylkill Center has taken over this volunteer project for the past three years.  On evenings from March through June, children and adults come out with flashlights to count toads and watch this phenomenon.   We place barricades so motorists will take a short detour around the other side of the reservoir, protecting this special toad population

So, what does the toad say?  Thank you very much for saving my life!

Below is the information about our upcoming conference, a large part of this planning project. Online registration is available here!

Beyond the Surface: Environmental Art in Action

Hosted by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

May 31, 2013

Stacy Levy, Pier 53

Join us for a day of ideas and innovative thinking, investigating relationships between art and nature.

 

 

Conference Description

How can environmental art engage the environment and the individual, activate awareness, and integrate perspectives that result in unexpected and innovative approaches to environmental literacy?

While the natural world has captured the imagination of artists for centuries, more and more of today’s artists are thinking beyond the studio, blending art, science and social practice with a fresh sense of immediacy, connecting art to nature and environmental issues.  No longer content with scratching the surface of environmental problems, these artists want to move beyond the surface, engaging audiences to become part of the solution.

This conference brings a team of cutting-edge environmental artists and arts professionals to Philadelphia to share this work with you, to discuss ways art can create environmental awareness while restoring ecological systems.

Jenny Sabin, Greenhouse and Cabinet of Future Fossils

The artists presenting at the conference have been working with these ideas for much of their careers. To call attention to climate change, for example, Eve Mosher painted a high-water line across Manhattan, showing people where the water would rise to if sea-level projections occur. Stacy Levy’s artwork in the Schuylkill Center’s Sensory Garden remediates our building’s stormwater, which had been compromising our own forest.  Lillian Ball projected a shifting, multicolored map of the Arctic circle onto a sphere of ice, the ice melting even as the projected image showed a vanishing Arctic.

The Schuylkill Center’s Art Department has brought artists to its 340 acre site since 2001. This year, the Center has gone further, examining how art intersects with other disciplines –education, ecology, architecture, engineering and planning, to name a few, to create fresh innovations and exciting experiences for the public. Our project has brought together an Advisory Team of the artists and curators who work in the field of environmental art.  (Please visit www.schuylkillcenter.org/art for more information about this project, the team and to read their blogs).

We believe art can help to repair a broken relationship between humans and nature and simultaneously transform audiences from passive observers of art to active participants in ecosystems.

Lillian Ball, WATERWASH® ABC

We are re-thinking how art exists at nature centers, and are eager to share these findings with our colleagues in the art and environmental communities.   We welcome artists, educators, environmentalists, scientists, designers, landscape architects, teachers and students of all ages to this groundbreaking event.

 

 

Conference Schedule 

Morning Session: 9 am – 12 pm

1. Welcome by Schuylkill Center Executive Director Mike Weilbacher

2. Introduction by Jenny Laden, the Schuylkill Center’s Director of Environmental Art, and Deenah Loeb, SCEE trustee and chair of the Environmental Art Committee

3. Environmental Art Advisory Team Presentations:

Lillian Ball

Sam Bower

Amy Lipton

Eve Mosher

Stacy Levy

Frances Whitehead

 

Lunch: 1 – 2 pm

Optional site visit:  Take aninformal walk throughout SCEE lands with SCEE staff to the pine grove or Penn’s Native Acres

Afternoon:

1. Breakout Groups: 2 – 3:30 pm

Afternoon Breakout groups will delve more deeply (guided by members of Environmental  Art Advisory Team)

I. Engage              Eve Mosher/Amy Lipton

II. Integrate        Frances Whitehead/Stacy Levy

III. Activate         Lillian Ball/ Sam Bower

2. RainYard presentation by Stacy Levy:  4 – 4:45 pm

Levy discusses rainwater, and creating a permanent ecovention at SCEE.

3. Closing: 4:45 pm

4. Outdoor reception:  5 – 6 pm

Celebrate Levy’s new installation with refreshments in the Sensory Garden.

 

 

 

Conference Registration

Conference admission fee $80
Schuylkill Center member discounted admission $60
Students, artists, educators discounted admission $40

Early Registration Special: Until March 31, a 20% discount will be applied at checkout

Register online HERE

For more information, call our art department 215 482 7300 x 113  or visit our website: www.schuylkillcenter.org/art

Or email artprogram@schuylkillcenter.org

This even is funded in part by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and The National Endowment of the Arts.

Time Frames

by Sam Bower 2013


Standing in the woods near the pond at the Schuylkill Center, we can look out and see a range of time scales. The brown and golden leaves under our feet from the Fall- the leftovers of a year’s work by the trees above us. Perhaps there’s snow still on the ground from a recent storm, itself the result of the vast cycles of evaporation off the ground and from lakes and oceans into the atmosphere and clouds and back down again. Some of the trees around us are decades, maybe hundreds of years old. Frogs and fish and insects hidden underground or inside vegetation, birds in their nests chirping and flitting about, grasses, flowers each have their lifespans and carefully timed cycles to support, prey on or evade each other – evolved over thousands, even millions of years.


Changing urban land use patterns offer opportunities for shifts in paradigm, innovation and art: (http://www.takebackthetract.com/)

When we think of culture and public art, we have an opportunity to think along similar time scales. Humans also have their cycles of productivity, lifespans and fleeting passions. These interests also evolve over time to reflect our knowledge, context and the resources at hand.

Sometimes an artwork arrives with a bang and loud trumpets and just as quickly fades into the day or week or month only to live on in memory and documentation. Like sighting a rare Blue-winged Warbler in the forest, or waking up to an overnight dusting of snow that makes the line of every tree suddenly visible, or the miracle of a drop of dew on a leaf in the Summer that reflects a world upside down, these brief events delight and remind us of the preciousness of the present moment. Some things are simply best communicated ephemerally. A song. A performance. A rain shadow.

On the medium scale, we have most plants and animals and planted crops and, alas, most human projects. We tend to think in terms of months or years or at best decades. A hundred years without regular maintenance is long for a built structure, long for most outdoor sculptures, too, even those meant to be “permanent”. It’s the lifespan of an exhibition, a person, a raven, a grove of Sassafrass (albidum) and it serves to ground us in the familiar. We can see it and know it because it’s us. Within a century, with the strategic accumulation of such medium scale projects, we can make major improvements or changes to a place and set things in motion that can last a lot longer.

It’s the larger time frame that gets the least attention and is often more difficult to wrap our heads around. The scope of generations. Climate change. Geological time. Too often, these big shifts elude us. We claim not to know. A sudden revolution or a storm or an accident can thwart the best laid plans. Ultimately, we know that a focus on the specific is often too limiting a scale for something long lived and significant.

At the Schuylkill Center, the increasing flow of voracious and unmanaged deer over and across the land, and the invasive Asian earthworms (Amythas hilgendorfi and agrestis) under it, are regional and even continental challenges. To encourage specific changes here, we would need to plan and coordinate with those working within much larger areas to be effective. To set in motion a resilient set of processes that truly begin to nudge us and the natural areas under our trust towards a future that can address a world in flux is an enormous challenge. At a time of massive species extinction and global changes in climate, we need a flexible and directed multi-timescale approach to culture and ecological stewardship.

The environmental art advisory team at the Schuylkill Center in 2012.

This is the challenge ahead for the Schuylkill Center. Most art, even ecological art is a flash in the pan, a tasty snack. They generate attractive catalogs and press releases and perhaps valuable discussion, but will the worms and watersheds really notice? We have large institutions for pickling great paintings and sculptures, but outdoor work designed to heal the earth and support our communities is a different animal. While a project can have representative images and installations at these museums (usually as part of a temporary exhibition), the real work gets done on the ground and in context.

Like in an ecosystem, we need the dew drops and temporary projects to delight and attract. We also require specific medium term artful initiatives to control erosion, channel rainwater, educate people longer term and connect current and future generations to the land. It falls to the long term, multi-generational projects, however, to provide a long term vision that considers the implications and resilience needed to cope with, say, a 2-6 degree rise in global temperatures over the next few hundred years. It seems we’d want to look at rising water levels – how would this affect the Schuylkill River? What local conditions will we need to ensure maximum biodiversity and habitat support for migrating species seeking more favorable habitats?

In nature, we can see the extraordinary interplay of finely tuned life cycles working together to support the system as a whole. As these delicately synchronized dances grow increasingly out of synch with pollution, temperature and weather changes, what we know and have studied over the past hundreds of years will require new interpretation. It will become less about restoration of past conditions and more about our capacity to surf these changes. Our notion of what art is will also need to change.

For ecological art to be effective, we will need to think along multiple time scales and beyond the individual artwork, towards a future-oriented cultural system as a whole. How can the brief delightful moments support the larger arc of history? Can we begin to layer and combine artworks to support each other, much like the shift from unicellular to multi-cellular life? I’m looking forward to the role the Schuylkill Center can play in this civilizational shift. It is a precious opportunity to contribute to our times and help develop new cultural patterns for generations to come.

©Sam Bower 2013

 

‘Facts and Fables: Stories of the Natural World’ Art Exhibit Explores Our Experiences with Nature

Opening Reception: June 25th 4pm-7pm

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught. ” – Baba Dioum   

Stories normalize the strange and explain the confounding. Our relationship with the environment is in a state of constant flux, and as an environmental education center, we are always updating how and what we teach about the natural world.  As our ways of seeing the world develop, the stories we believe in evolve and expand. Our relationship to our stories is tenuous, however, since they can sometimes oversimplify the reality of nature’s complexities. Historically, we relied on scientific facts until they become obsolete, transforming themselves into fables. What was once believed without question now sounds laughable (the Earth as flat, the medicinal use of leeches, to name a few ). Regardless, we will always need stories because they help make sense of the world we inhabit.

This exhibition, “Facts and Fables: Stories of the Natural World,” asks important questions about the human experience of the environment: How do stories affect our understanding of nature? What is true nature and what is fabricated, and how can we tell the difference? Is our experience of nature limited by our ability to sense the world around us? 

“Mother Nature” by Chad Curtis

The seven artists in “Facts and Fables” use diverse methods to address such questions: memorials, guidebooks, faux landscapes, fairy tale crime scenes, live video feeds, visual perception tracking, distortion of scale, predictions and invitations. Some artists tell stories, while others examine the ways stories are created, or retell old stories to unearth new ideas. These artists combine out-dated methods with innovative technology, offering the viewer a range of experience and ways to interact with the natural world.

For example,  Chad Curtis incorporates green technology into his installation, “Mother Nature” (pictured), through the use of a solar-powered video camera that generates a 24/7 live stream, available online here: http://chaddcurtis.com/schuylkill/.

-Jenny Laden, Director of The Environmental Art Department at The Schuylkill Center

“Facts and Fables: Stories of the Natural World” (June 25- Oct. 29) is an environmentally-focused, large-scale outdoor installation exhibit featuring seven artists: Jeremy Beaudry, Brian Collier, Chad Curtis, Blane de St. Croix, David Dempewolf, Susan Hagen, and Jeanne Jaffe.
 
Please join us for the opening reception and an exclusive tour of the installations with the curator and artists on Saturday, June 25th 4pm-7pm.
215-482-7300 | scee@schuylkillcenter.org  | 8480 Hagy’s Mill Rd. Phila, PA 19128