Discovering their name – The Keepers

I was looking for a title for my sculpture project. My mind pushed at the limits of both French and English in the hope that its name would come effortlessly but it wasn’t happening.  Even after hours and hours in the studio, getting to know the work and listening to what it had to say, it wasn’t yet answering my question. “Who are you?  Tell me your name?”

Each day, through those many quiet hours in the KOAC studio, I realized this silence when it came to the title of the work had to do with the fact that the project is more to me than a series of sculptures. It is a wish.

Working through the endless lonely months of lockdown and isolation, listening to news broadcasting the bizarre state of American politics, and the struggle to control a deadly virus running rampant throughout the world was a lot to process.  So, I kept my focus on this sculpture project.  It became my refuge. In the serenity of the sunny studio, with no internet, no visitors, and nowhere else to go because of all the Covid restrictions, I had a very quiet winter – a peaceful winter I will always cherish.

And it’s not because I don’t care. I do care. I care very much. It’s not because I didn’t feel the anxiety of the world as it seemed to became more and more divided, angry and scared. Of course, I felt it. But that is the part of me that worries. The other part, the half of me that insists on standing beside those fears, wants to feel the love we humans are capable of. I want to look at my fellow humans and see care, compassion, calm, joy and patience. Each day throughout the winter I constructed that world in the quiet peace of that studio. I made a community of gentle creatures.

Those gentle tree creatures I was constructing slowly came to life, with personalities of their own, as I moulded layer upon layer of cardboard.  I got to know each one of them. My mind is filled with little moments of cardboard and glue and cutting blades and saws, mingled with sunlight, wind, dust, and quiet lunches with my lovely dog in the studio.  In all those moments, I could quiet my thoughts and breathe deeply. I knew I had something important to do.  

In the end, when I saw them standing together in the studio, when I could walk amongst them and feel their strong yet gentle presence, the sculptures finally whispered their names to me. They are The Keepers.  They are a community of tree-like beings that hold secrets we have yet to uncover about our world. Secrets we might never be fully equipped to understand but that we should respect and cherish. Like our earthly forests, it feels like my sculptures are keepers of ancient knowledge and infinite potential for life. It feels like they know things we don’t.  They are The Keepers.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Connecting Children With Nature Through Art

Laurent, doing what ever boys do!

As my kids were growing up, I encouraged them to roam free close to our home, where they had access to 600 acres of untouched nature full of treasures waiting to be discovered. Birds defending their nesting territory high in the trees, frogs basking in the pounds, and creeping bugs scurrying through the long grasses endlessly fascinated those little boys. They collected wasps’ nests, mushrooms, sticks and stones, and played in the mud pit knowing they would have to be washed in cold water with the garden hose once they got back home.

At the time, I did realize that most of my neighbours’ children weren’t permitted to ‘free range’. Many young parents collectively decided that outdoors was out-of-bounds. They had become convinced that nature was a risky place. But because my most precious childhood memories have to do with being in nature without adult supervision, I know deep in my soul that this generation of children is being deprived of one of childhood’s greatest pleasures. And that is just a shame.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder, meaning, according to Wikipedia, “…that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioural problems.” 

Joshua, always climbing!

Louv affirms, “Today’s children now know more about the wildlife of the Amazon rainforest than they do about their own backyard.” He argues that “… sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally scared children straight out of the woods and fields, while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favours ‘safe’ regimented sports over imaginative play.”

Statistics show that children now spend, on average, less than 30 minutes outdoors after their school days. This even though spending more time outside, ideally in nature, improves kids’ physical and psychological health, and makes them more environmentally conscientious. In a world where humankind is endangering more and more species with its lack of care for the environment and its constant pressure on natural resources, I believe we all have a responsibility to introduce children to what we are at risk of losing. How can we protect and care for nature if we have no idea what lives around us? If we never feel the joy and wonder of interacting with nature, won’t we forget that we’re an integral part of nature, not separate from it, not superior to it? Our specie, as all others, is dependant upon the natural world, so it’s imperative that we respect it and develop a deeper love for it.

My boys are all grown up now but, sadly, many of my teenage art students are still not permitted to walk by themselves on the paths by the creek in my community, let alone to wonder around in the forest.

When several of those students asked whether I’d organise a summer art camp for them, I resisted the idea at first.   Why? Well, I suppose I have to admit that I jealously guard those precious summer weeks. We have so few of them here in Canada and I cherish the time I spend outside, creating my art and connecting with nature. But then, three years ago, I finally got excited about its potential.

Photo credit Jean Wallace

The idea of a Summer Nature Art Camp made me happy! I could take kids out into those 600 acres and encourage them to explore and daydream and create art. It was an idea definitely worth a couple of precious summer weeks. I’d still get to be outside and do art. But for those two weeks I could share the experience with kids who, for the most part, have never had an opportunity to spend that many hours in nature all at once.

Making clay faces during summer nature art camp.

Last year, on the first day of Camp, as we settled down for lunch under the welcome shade of magnificent spruce trees, an eight-year-old burst into tears. I asked her what was wrong and she said “My mom told me this camp was in your back yard, but now we’re lost in the forest!” I hugged her, trying to stifle my giggle because we were barely 15 minutes from my studio, and I reassured her that we weren’t lost at all. “This is where Cisco takes me for a walk every day and we’re perfectly safe.” By the end of the week, this little girl had survived ant bites and learned to pee in the woods. Plus, she had discovered the wonderful gifts that nature offered her and had used them to create her own works of art.  

Although the Camp is adult supervised, those who know me are aware that I am far from being a controlling person. Of course I make sure the kids are safe. But I also give them lots of choice about where we explore each day, and at what pace we do it. And I’m certainly not opposed to a few bug bites and stinging nettles along the way. It’s all part of the experience and it gives the kids more stories to tell when they get home to exhibit their artistic creations.