Tag Archives: eco-art

Wetlands in Murals

When I came across a press release for the newly-revealed Oaks Bottom Preserve Wetlands mural in Portland, Oregon, I started to think about wetlands and murals throughout history.

Murals are among the oldest art forms, dating back to prehistoric cave paintings and ancient hieroglyphs. Ancient Egyptians depicted images of life on the Nile, which included fishing, mingling with crocodiles, harvesting papyrus, rice and waterfowl, as seen in relief murals at Mastaba of Ptahhotep. Murals of ancient Rome, Greece, India, Mesopotamia date back 30,000 years. North American native art, also called rock painting, or petroglyphs, may have recorded spiritual rites or personal experiences, such as salmon fishing. For example, see Eel River petroglyphs (California State Parks): http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=23165

During the Great Depression, the federal government commissioned artists to paint murals in public places such as post offices and libraries as a way of improving morale as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA); images of working waterfronts or loggers, for example, were meant to inspire people to go back to work in the 1930s. At the post office in Kennebunkport, Maine, for example, artist Elizabeth Tracey painted a mural of nude women bathing at a beach in 1941; another Maine artist, Mildred G. Burrage, among other Maine residents, protested and had the mural removed. It was painted over replaced in 1944 with a mural of the waterfronthttp://www.wpamurals.com/Kennebun.htm In Wisconsin, James Watrous painted the “Lumberjack Fight on the Flambeau River” (1938)http://www.wpamurals.com/parkfall.htm At the Grants Pass, Oregon Post Office, two murals depicted life along the Rogue River (1938)http://www.wpamurals.com/GrantsPs.htm

Flash forward to murals of today, graffiti art on buildings in urban areas has been used by artists to promote certain ideas—political, local, social, propaganda. Murals in aquariums are often used to illustrate and educate visitors about marine, estuarine and other kinds of wetland habitats. In recent years elementary, middle and high schools have begun to encourage students to participate in painting murals in order to teach kids about wetlands and the environment. For example, Tulane University art students painted a wetland mural at an elementary school in Louisiana:http://tulane.edu/news/newwave/032609_mural.cfm These kids asked for it!

The Oaks Bottom Preserve Wetlands mural, a project of the Urban Greenspaces Institute, spans 50,000 square feet of the mausoleum’s west and south facing walls, making it the largest hand painted building mural in the U. S.. It was created by father/son team Mark and Shane Bennett in collaboration with local fine artist Dan Cohen. To see a time lapse video of the mural go to the Urban Greenspaces Institue website: http://www.urbangreenspaces.org/

Many artists throughout the world are commissioned to paint murals for private homes and art museums. Florida artist Sandra L. Priest (aka San) paints murals on many themes, with many that have an underwater, botanical and wetland motif, including Sandhill cranes:http://www.artbysan.com/murals/murals_
 Sandy Litchfield’s wetland-themed wall installations can be seen here: http://www.sandylitchfield.com/  Massachusetts-based Barbara Harmon paints saltmarsh-themed murals and recently did work for the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Visitor Center in Florida: http://www.harmon-murals.blogspot.com/ The Smithsonian also has several permanent wetland exhibitions with murals.http://www.si.edu/


Eco-art is a fresh movement led by artists seeking to explore humans’ relationship with nature. It has an agenda. Some contemporary artists are working on projects that deal with timely environmental issues like climate change. Chris Drury, who is most known for his fantastic woven tree installations, is doing research to make climate change models in art form in conjunction with The Center for Analysis of Time Series in the U.K.. Learn more about his work at http://www.chrisdrury.co.uk/home.htm New Hampshire based eco-artist Tim Gaudreau shares his view that “it is the responsibility of the artist to communicate a relevant vision about our world and society.” His work includes “Lost & Found” type posters that show trash found in wildlife preserves. Gaudreau posted a good definition of eco-art on his website here: http://www.wake-up.ws/eco-art.html

Patricia Johanson’s eco-art is concerned with “impacted ecosystems” in large-scale projects, including some that look like restored wetlands. The Island Institute published a book dedicated to Johanson’s work called, Art and Survival in 2006. Find out more here: http://www.patriciajohanson.com/artandsurvival/index.html For a video of an interview with the artist talking about ecology and a wetlands park, go here. 

On my bulletin board, I have a postcard from a Sandy Litchfield installation called “Captive” that invokes the spirit of Swampthing. With installations titled, “Fill,” “Streamlines,” “Freshwater,” “Around the Lake,” and another called “Plenty of Particulars” that resembles the Cowardin classification system in full color, I wondered if she paid particular attention to wetlands. So I asked her. She told me that her husband is a geo-scientist who works on projects related to climate change, and although conservation issues are important to her, Litchfield is “less inclined to paint about humans as destroyers or polluters of place.” She added, “I’m more interested in how and when humans have felt or expressed intimacy, fondness and love of place. It’s this deep affection that inspires most of my work. Mostly, I want to include the human element in landscape not as an adversary, but as a lover.” See examples of her work at http://www.sandylitchfield.com/

My friend and fellow human ecologist, Josie Rassat, donated some of her wetland-themed art to ASWM last year. Josie says, “Cycles, balances of life, death and reproduction are central themes in my illustrations. I create art like compost: a complex mixture of old growth with organic materials becomes stimulating, earthy substance.” Her saltmarsh series is here: http://www.mixedgreensstudio.com/pages/

Many artists have been creating art in the aftermath of Katrina events. Claire Fenton is a fiber artist working in Louisiana. Some of her pieces are called, “Katrina,” “Riverscape,” “Winter Swamp.” Find samples of her work, e.g. http://www.clairefenton.com/mixed-media-gallery.asp Edward Richards’ photographs document Katrina’s impact:http://www.epr-art.com/katrina/

Check out this blog all about wetlands featured in art:http://artinwetlands.wordpress.com/

Meanwhile these art museums look more like alien ships that have landed in a wetland:http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/9/view/6939/studio-pei-zhu-xixi-wetland-art-museum.html

Or this “elevated wetland” art installation in Toronto (2006)http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/12/elevated_wetlan_1.php

Wetland poster art can be found here: http://www.zazzle.com/wetland+posters

Bolsa Chica Wetlands art photos by Eddie Meeks http://good-times.webshots.com/album/568237015qPNEEX

Eco Art by Debbie Mathew (Discovery Pond: Wetland Art) based in Wyoming with illustrations by 6th graders learning about a local wetlandhttp://www.debbiemathew.biz/CommunityWorks_WebPub/CommunityWork_Discovery.htm

For more information about eco-art and to find eco-artists, visit:http://www.greenmuseum.org/