Art and nature show ways back into the world
Spring flies north in droves
Ice floes crunch down the river
The stiff grip of a winter in the St. Croix Valley is broken by the sun each year as rivers flow, life grows and a new season of creation begins. The world is being reshaped by frozen forces, and people are finding new things to see and new things to say.
This year, the artists and naturalists of the St. Croix Valley are waking up from a particularly long winter. After what seemed like a hibernation since 2020, the world is different now, and so is she. But two things are still a solid base for living and working: art and nature. These reminders of resilience were important before the COVID-19 pandemic and essential in its darkest days; You will be crucial to what comes next.
“Art and nature have saved my mental and emotional well-being,” said painter Emily Anderson of surviving the pandemic. She spoke at the start of a recent virtual gathering about Navigate, a movement in the St. Croix Valley to bring art and nature together in new ways.
In the difficult days of the past two years, art and nature helped give hope. To do something was a defiant act. To be in awe of the world is the opposite of fear.
hidden frogs sing
in shallow forest puddles
the sirens of spring
When Spring 2020 returned, it was the start of a bad time. In the traditional time of birth and growth, uncertainty overwhelmed the world. Nature offered peace and tranquility and beauty that nurtured malnourished souls. Art was an outlet, a distraction, and a means of making sense of it all. The St. Croix Valley was a good place for both reasons.
Artists and naturalists were affected, but in many different ways, both negatively and positively.
“Performing artists have been completely shut down, no audiences, no groups,” pointed out Syndie Sorensen, ArtReach program coordinator. “But if you were a printmaker or a potter or a solo solo artist, maybe you’ve had more time to delve into your art.”
The assembled had seen everything. Some participants lost the chance to pursue their passions and make a living, while others found they could finally focus on their work.
the sun paints the scene
in changing colors and light
his own audience
The Navigate initiative began in 2015-2016 with a series of retreats and workshops. Participants explored what it means to combine art and nature, how the work is already happening and how both can thrive in harmony and create positive change. It made its way through the intervening years in the work of numerous artists, conservation organizations, and others.
The region has “artistic and natural resources in abundance,” said Heather Rutledge, executive director of ArtReach St. Croix, organizer of the workshop. These resources have long influenced the people of the region. Five years ago, Navigate’s original participants agreed that art and nature are core values for the St. Croix Valley—like the sandstone cliffs or the basalt Dalles, these resources and beliefs help people ground themselves. In the face of constant change, art and nature are the solid foundation for creation.
“Despite all the changes in recent years, the values of art and nature have prevailed,” says Stillwater painter Charlotte Schuld. “Art and nature are guardians of cultures.”
Navigate’s ideas fed into the efforts of ArtReach St. Croix, which launched its Mobile Art Gallery after Navigate to bring art outdoors, into parks and other natural spaces. The towable trailer proved particularly helpful during the pandemic, when parks were at their all-time peaks and indoor events were limited.
This year, multiple arts and nature organizations in the region are joining forces in 4Ground: Midwest Land Art Biennial, a project that will feature new artworks in three outdoor locations throughout the St. Croix Valley and throughout the Midwest.
Led by Navigate participants at Franconia Sculpture Park, Arts Midwest, The Acreage and Belwin Conservancy, the Land Art Biennial will “ask what it means to be stewards and stewards of the land we all share”. explained Michael Johnson of Arts Midwest. It will learn lessons from nature and bring together artists and environmentalists to celebrate a tradition of land-based art that stretches back thousands of years.
crumbling sandstone rocks
Water and plants fill cracks
break and build
Navigate has new meaning after two years of pandemic, climate change, racial justice, civil unrest, war, economic upheaval and more.
Because of this, Rutledge said it’s also become more urgent. People were confronted with isolation, injustice and mortality. It makes it impossible to ignore the questions Navigate is trying to answer. It shows the power of art and nature and the power they become when combined.
“Whenever something important happens in the world, art appears,” said one participant.
Participants shared how they felt called to help get more people moving, modeling the adaptability and healing power of nature.
A lot has changed in the last two years. Some were good for some people, some were bad for all people. With vaccines available and cases declining, the pandemic potentially abating, many of the Navigate attendees said they wanted to be cautious about returning to “normal”. They got to know new ways of living and working, learned to appreciate art and nature anew and refuse to return to normal everyday life.
Speaking openly about the issues and connecting with others who feel similar offers hope that something new can be created together.
“I’m happy when I look at the cracks that have formed,” says textile artist Barbara Bend. “Cracks are opportunities.”
Just as a dry cedar might grow from a narrow crevice in a sandstone cliff, fractures in society allow for new life and fresh ideas.
Spring cannot be stopped. It marches in unpredictably, sun one day and snow the next. Change may be invisible at times, but it never really slows down. The arts are not much different, patient but persistent, creative while associated with perpetual cycles. Together they create space for life and meaning.
Buds not blooming yet
Flowers first grow underground
soon burst at the top