Recently, one of our younger (20 month old) grandsons decided that writing on the cardboard boxes and paper-filled easels might be fun for others, he wanted to tackle a different canvas. The walls of the playroom (no longer needed bedroom) became his target. With non-erasable marker in hand, orange lines and circles covered a small section of wall. Upon discovery of this new art, an idea started to germinate. Why not let the kids write all over the full wall? From that concept, we thought about painting the wall with chalkboard paint, but then soon realized the chalk dust would fill the air and everything else in the room.
Shortly thereafter, the writing on the wall transitioned to painting on the wall. And not just any painting, something that would inspire the grand kids and adults alike, at the same time being an outdoor nature scene. Hiring a local artist, the first idea was to take this 16 foot wall and paint a Wisconsin landscape with deer, turkeys, butterflies, etc. - much the same we often see out our windows. This changed immediately to an African plains scene with a giraffe, elephant, lions, zebras and cranes after sharing the idea with other grand kids. (Fortunately, the artist hadn’t started).
Within four days of starting, the artist had transformed this ex-bedroom wall into a great African wall mural, complete with the plains, mountains, trees, and animals. The detail and the depth is most remarkable. The grand kids — even the youngest ones — no longer look at the wall as something to write on, but rather are inspired. Can young children respect artwork? I’m not sure, but I do know they respect this wall mural. Regardless of age, they each have their own descriptive words of awe. Adults too, are amazed at what this artist has done. And when they ask how did we ever think of doing this, we simply respond, “it all started with the writing on the wall”.
Winter descended upon us quickly late last week. Courtesy of a strong “Panhandle Hook”, we received a heavy snowfall of between 15-18″. Temperatures during this storm shifted from below freezing (which brought the first wave of snow), to above freezing (which brought slush and rain), back to below freezing (bringing with it the bulk of the snow). As you can imagine, it was difficult shoveling. Wet, heavy snow, requiring multiple shoveling/snow blowing of the driveway to keep up. It was one of those snowfalls that regardless of how the plow driver moved the snow, it was all coming back into the driveway just cleared. It was a great day for exercise!
As the wet snow accumulated on the trees and power lines, it didn’t take long for our power to go out. Twice during the storm, once in the early morning until mid-morning the first day, and then again that night until noon the following day we lost power. Like others in our neighborhood, when the power goes out, we no longer have water or heat. Our fireplace performed as expected with heating our house. As the temperatures dropped outside, we just “threw another log on the fire”. Water was a different story. Once the power was initially restored the first morning, we filled a few buckets and the dog’s water dish – just in case we lost power again – which did occur later that night. The iPad and reading lights were put to use.
Following the storm and the return of electricity, I took a few pictures of the area. Cloudy and overcast, trees were completely covered. Later, the late afternoon the sky opened briefly in the far west, allowing the afternoon sunshine to illuminate the trees in the picnic area and along the roadway of the Pike Lake Unit, Kettle Moraine State Forest. Life for us, was back to normal. For the most part, the roads were cleared, the hiking trails, though littered with numerous fallen tress, were all passable. Snow sport enthusiasts were starting to emerge. Winter, with it’s own natural beauty, has returned to Wisconsin.
Imagine for a minute, that you are watching kids play at the local park’s playground. It’s a great mix of kids of different ages, talent, and ability. Some can climb over, under and through things with ease. Others struggle to get near the slide. You wonder. If a playground is to allow kids of all abilities to play, why are some so physically restrictive? Now imagine for a moment a whole community joining together with one common goal, to create a playground that all kids can enjoy, one of inclusion. Could such a thing be possible? Look no further than Port Washington, Wisconsin to see where possibility became reality.
High on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, in the center of a beautiful city park, you’ll find “Possibility Playground”, a playground designed for all children. Initially conceived in the mind of a special education teacher, teaming with a student’s mother, the two, with their hurricane-force passion, captured the support of the community. It wasn’t long before the project was catapulted from concept to fruition. Financial donations soon topped expectations. During the early part of September 2008, with over 3,000 people donating their time, talents and energy, supported by equally donated materials and tools, the nautical-themed “Possibility Playground” arose from the bluff like the Phoenix from the ashes, bringing new meaning to the word “playground”. (You can read the full story on Possibility Playground website). As stated on their website, it is a playground “where children of all abilities are able to play together”.
Now you may ask why would a landscape nature photographer take pictures of this playground? For one, it is part of the landscape (albeit urban landscape). It is also nature (even if its’ only a mural). And it is also inspiring. The playground is as much an inspiration to me as it is fun for the kids. It all started because one person had an idea, and stayed with it. A line from the movie, “Tin Cup”, seems appropriate. “First it’s impossible, then probable, then possible, and finally reality”. Overlooking Lake Michigan in Port Washington, Wisconsin, there now exists “Possibility Playground”, a testament that anything is possible, and in this case, providing an enjoyable playground for all children.
Have you ever had someone come up behind you while taking a picture and ask: “What do you see?” I’ve had it happen a few times, though admittedly it doesn’t happen often. Most encounters have occurred when kneeling close to the ground, alongside a hiking trail, shooting wildflowers. On our latest trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, I was alone on a shooting mission. A late afternoon thunder shower had just washed through that area of the park, leaving an overcast sky and wet plants in its wake. Though I’ve been to RMNP a number of times, due to extensive road construction, my favorite locations were all but closed. This year I sought out areas that previously interested me, but had not spent much time. One such location was Horseshoe Park. I’ve taken numerous elk images in this area and this time wanted to spend more time “close-up”, getting aquainted with the vegetation. I parked at the turn-out and hiked back perhaps a 1/4 mile in among the aspens.
Other than the slight breeze, the aspen grove was silent. As I walked through the aspens, bordered on one side by ponderosa pines, one image after another came into view. Between the off-white elk-chewed bark of the aspens, the red, wet bark of the ponderosas, and the green of the spruce trees or the ground vegetation, almost every angle presented a great image. I suddenly became “one with the trees” as I critically observed each perspective through the viewfinder.
With the camera locked to the tripod, my mind focused only on what was before me. As the camera timer counted down to expose the next image, my concentration was broken by teh sound of breathing just over my right shoulder. Before turning around, my mind quickly reviewed possible scenarios: I’m well off the road and pretty far into the aspen grove for anyone to be here; although I’d seen a black bear in Estes Park, I hadn’t seen any bear signs where I was; earlier in the morning I had seen a mother elk protect her newborn calf, though that too was in Estes Park along the lake, and again, I had not seen any elk activity in this area. What possibly could be the breathing down my neck?
As I turned around, an older man stood, camera in hand, looking inquisitively at me, and then in a whispering voice asked, ”What do you see”? I was amazed that a person would walk out as far as I was, through the wet vegetation, just to find out what I was shooting. Realizing scenario one was the correct selection, I simply answered “Just the trees”. It was now his turn to be amazed. Who takes pictures of “just the trees”. I’m sure he was hoping the answer to be “an elk”, or “a black bear”, something to write home about. Just the trees wasn’t the answer he was seeking. Since he did not seek additional explanation, none was given.
He then proceeded to move to a different part of the grove and was rewarded as a couple of woodpeckers appeared briefly. Just as quickly as the woodpeckers departed, so did he. But for me, I remained long after that encounter, capturing images of ”just the trees”.
While we may own art for what it is, (and that is important), I believe the one great reason to own art is how it makes us feel. Regardless of what we consider art, and I’m including the broad spectrum from photographic prints, paintings, writings, music, concerts, plays, dance, wood carvings, glass blowing – just to name a few, wouldn’t you agree that surrounding yourself with the art form that you enjoy simply makes you feel good?
The therapeutic benefit of art in health care and work environments has been well documented. Art, regardless of form, allows us to mentally be someplace other than where we are, for even a few minutes. We can see ourselves within the photo on the wall. We can be lifted to new heights by the music from our favorite artist. Each art form provides a new space for us to enjoy.
I will admit I have no formal training in art appreciation other than through personal observation. As people review my prints that I display at art shows, they may admire the work, the scenery, the subject, the composition, the color, or some other technical aspect. Then they’ll almost always suggest the print reminds them of some positive experience. Imagine living without pictures or paintings on the walls, without music in the air, without attending a play, concert, or movie, without reading a novel or historical book. It could be a most depressing environment.
We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to select the type of art we most enjoy, helping to keep us positive and healthy. It’s one great reason to own art!
It’s early June in Door County. Some schools have just let out, others will follow within days. Being in the middle of the week summer tourism has just started appearing. Numbers will increase dramatically in the very near future. For those not familiar with Door County, it is one of many great tourist locations in Wisconsin. Located north of Green Bay, Door County is the peninsula of Wisconsin that juts northeastward into Lake Michigan on the east, and Green Bay (the body of water, not the city) on the west. Much longer than wider, it is home to many artists, wineries, cherry and apple orchards, as well as a number of small, attractive communities, and plays host to four main state parks. The eastern terminus of the National Ice Age Trail is in Potawatomi State Park.
On this June morning, the clouds were selectively filtering the morning sun as I stood on the sedge marsh shoreline within Peninsula State Park. Looking west over Green Bay, Adventure Island lies offshore at the near horizon. The shadows from the overhead clouds helped concentrate the unimpeded sunlight on the trees on the distant point while shading the nearby marsh. Although it was the trail to the water that first caught my eye, it was the brief instant of concentrated sunlight on the trees that captivated my attention. I was thankful for having been there at that snapshot of time when the light hit the trees, and I was also thankful this was a state park, that someone had committed so long ago to preserve the open space for outdoor recreational pursuits. And yes, the gentle morning breezes off the lake felt great.
Springtime. Mayapples have already blossomed, the wild geraniums are at peak, and the overhead leaves of the maple forest canopy have shaded the morning sunshine. Turtles have returned to the pond’s floating logs while frogs enjoy the shallow waters of its shoreline. If available, take a moment to look closely at each item you come upon along your walk. The perspective gained from this annual education, for me, is always remarkable. What new things are available to see, what new angles appear? Looking from under a mayapple leaf, suddenly a sunstar appears – one I could have easily missed.
After driving 5 hours recently to northern Wisconsin, the blue skies over our home tuned into heavy overcast enroute to ’up north’. No longer were the morning shadows available to give depth to the picture. Yet coming around a corner of a rural lakeside road, one I’ve taken numerous times, I was suddenly struck by a small maple growing among three red pines, the trunks of which created a contrasting backdrop of such simplicity I could have never created. Had the sun been out from beneath the thick overcast, the shadows would have sliced through the three pines obscuring this particular scene. Seeing this with a new perspective transformed what appeared to have been a long drive into a rare moment of opportunity. Although I had originally intended to take lake scenes, capturing this one image made the entire trip worthwhile.
And then there is the Silverweed, just starting to appear along the Lake Michigan shoreline beach. Walking along the beach one recent early afternoon, after having shot many water scenes, I came upon the new growth of Silverweed starting to stretch out and migrate across the sand. The diagonal lines of the plants with its shadows captured my immediate attention. Once again, I was pleased to be bringing home this image. Though I will be on the rural lakeside road, or walking the beach many times this year, it is the springtime re-emergence of the trees, animals and wildflowers, that provides the annual re-education into what lies “just around the corner”.