What’s growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens – Outdoor Art

What’s growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens – Outdoor Art
By Melanie Priesnitz, Conservation Horticulturist

Nature can be a splendid source of inspiration for both arts and crafts. Children and adults alike find joy in gathering natural items from the great outdoors to use in art projects. I love making gnome houses out of sticks and twigs for others to discover in the forest and I’ve been known to collect the odd stone or two (hundred) to use for future creations.

If you’re a regular walker of Acadia’s Woodland Trails you may have stumbled upon some of the outdoor art pieces created annually by Acadia students in Judith Leidl’s Art and the Environment classes. After studying works by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, the students plan and create their own pieces of ephemeral outdoor art for hikers to find.

Students are given the assignment to create an ‘earthwork’ out of found natural objects on the Woodland Trails. The pieces are built in such a way that they will deteriorate over time, causing little if any environmental impact. Professional artist and Instructor Judith Leidl explains that the projects eventually go back to the earth: “It’s a living/dying exhibition of nature based art pieces. In a way, by the act of being formed, existing, then decomposing, these works could be a metaphor for the life-death-life cycle.” Students write a synopsis of intent, submit sketches, and document the creation and the decomposition of their earthwork. Judith further explains “the works are about their ideas of nature and the environment, on both a personal and universal basis and our human impact. Their work also embodies what they hope to see happen in the future. Thought often begets movement and the course can be seen as a possible catalyst for environmental action.”

Thanks to Judith and her creative students, new batches of environmental art appear on the Woodland Trails each year. Some of the installations are as subtle as rocks piled mindfully in the stream while others are more immediately visible such as a twig picture frame hanging in a tree. If you’d like to try your hand at outdoor ephemeral art, please do not gather anything still living. Only borrow from the forest what is already on the ground and be mindful not to drastically change natural waterways or disturb wildlife habitat.

For inspiration, visit the online media archive Melt to view some of the great works of Andy Goldsworthy: visualmelt.com/Andy-Goldsworthy. If you’re an Acadia student looking for an arts elective, consider taking this fun and education art class. Art and the Environment will be running again in the fall of 2018. We love it when students and faculty use the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens and Woodland Trails as an outdoor classroom!

Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens
Acadia University

Photo Captions:
Photography by Judith J. Leidl
Wings of the dead tree by Olive Luo
Embracing the balance of Earth by Crystal Smith