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Bridging Nature and the Man-Made - "Reverie of the Natural & Found" Combines Assemblage and Environmental Art at WhittemoreCCC


By Sara Catherine Lichon

originally published: 03/29/2024

Bridging Nature and the Man-Made - "Reverie of the Natural & Found" Combines Assemblage and Environmental Art at WhittemoreCCC

Photo by Carl Klemme

On a sunny spring evening, you enter a small and unassuming art gallery nestled in the forest. It's buzzing with excitement. Classical guitar weaves through the rooms, filling the space between conversations and observations. On a table near the door lies a gigantic, custom-made charcuterie board of upcycled wood, filled with marinated feta, sun dried tomatoes, pickled mushrooms and green strawberries, crostini's, smoked salmon, whipped ricotta spread, and cheeses locally sourced from local farms and food purveyors.* After grabbing a snack, you move from room to room, greeted by a variety of unique and intricate pieces.

By the doorway, you’re greeted by an almost-flower-like sculpture, its pale green petals pointing towards two canvases above it, which hold ghost-like silhouettes of leaves and flowers. Moving through the room, you next come across whimsical and abstract sculptures, their colorful bends and curves beckoning you closer. Around the perimeter of the room, more printed canvases of leaves, yellow and tan silhouettes in frames. A larger, fabric canvas hangs on the wall like a deer pelt, with metallic blue leaves raining down like the forest on a fall day after a rain storm. Also on the wall, different sized wooden boxes, housing moss in tiny homes made of champagne bottle toppers, the bright green popping out from the dark wooden walls. Next to them, a collection of tiny earth-colored dresses.

You move to the next room, where a life-size heron made of plastered leaves immediately catches your eye. Faces made out of worn wood and metal stare at you from the corners, as do several stick-like figures made of bent wire, fashionably wearing dresses made of fabric and string. Resting on the floor are tiny ceramic houses, floating by on clouds of yarn, twine, and crumpled up wrappers, rooted to the earth by poles mounted into lichen-covered stumps. The most imposing piece in the room: a large, heavy gourd held by a chain against the backdrop of a large leather tapestry.

 

Bridging Nature and the Man-Made - "Reverie of the Natural & Found" Combines Assemblage and Environmental Art at WhittemoreCCC

Photos by Carl Klemme

This was the scene at the recent opening reception for “Reverie of the Natural & Found,” Whittemore: Community, Culture and Conservation’s first environmental group show. On display during the lead-up to Earth Day, “Reverie” showcases the art of seven well-renowned eco-artists who all share a focus on bringing viewers closer to nature: Karin Abromaitis, CT Bray, Linda Dujack, Ruth Jourjine, Lisa Madson, Laura Trisiano, and Suki Dewey. Each of these artists invite viewers to enter a dreamlike world where the natural and the man-made live in harmony, bridging together these two seemingly distant worlds, through a perfect blend of assemblage and environmental art.



 
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Tucked away in the woods of Hunterdon County, WhittemoreCCC is both a rugged nature preserve and an upscale art gallery. With a mission of building an appreciation for the arts, nature, and wellness, it’s only natural that WhittemoreCCC would celebrate Earth Day/Earth Month with an art exhibit centered around how man-made objects interact with nature. While all the artwork featured in “Reverie” appear to be, on the surface, drastically different from each other, there is one strong element that unites them all – drawing attention to the impact that we, as humans, have on our natural environments.

In our waking world, it’s common, though unfortunate, to come across litter – at parks, in forests, in rivers and streams. It’s a consequence of New Jersey’s density. But, there can be a silver lining to some of these found objects, which several of the artists featured in “Reverie” use to generate a conversation around the relationship between humanity and nature. Though these objects may be litter, the artists turn them into something beautiful, into pieces that center around nature and highlight nature’s magnificence.

Bridging Nature and the Man-Made - "Reverie of the Natural & Found" Combines Assemblage and Environmental Art at WhittemoreCCC

Photo by Carl Klemme

Several other artists in “Reverie” continue the conversation through working directly with nature herself, pulling together leaves, flowers, stones, and more to create their pieces. What results is a delightful combination of the found and assemblage movement – taking everyday objects and creating an unexpected art piece with them, while still maintaining their recognizable appearance – and the environmental art movement – creating art inspired by nature and using natural materials.

“Each artist's work is imbued with a distinct presence of hand, a captivating rawness, rich storytelling, and a profound engagement with process,” says Terri Fraser, “Reverie’s” masterful curator. “One of the most enchanting aspects of this group lies in their collective revelry in the wonders of the natural and found, creating an artistic tapestry that celebrates the beauty of discovery and the essence of nature.”

While “Reverie” is united by this unique combination of found and natural materials, the process and outcome is different for each artist. Jourjine’s ceramic sculptures play off Bray’s assembled, welded and mixed ones. Madson’s cyanotype and eco-printed canvases display the environment’s fragility through color, while Trisiano’s moss shrines feel literally fragile and dainty, asking to be admired with care. Dujack displays a variety of work, from printing on crushed cans to dresses hanging flat to 3D sculptures with pinecone heads and wire arms. Meanwhile, Abromaitis’s mix of sculpture, assemblage and metal work create the dreamiest feeling, evoking images of home and havens.

 

Bridging Nature and the Man-Made - "Reverie of the Natural & Found" Combines Assemblage and Environmental Art at WhittemoreCCC

Photo by Carl Klemme

And Suki Dewey, most famously known for her political word art in fields bordering Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, will be closing out the exhibit with an interactive piece/demonstration during the closing reception/Earth Day event on April 20. Her piece will be a continuation of her TerraVision series, incorporating gutted TVs into the natural landscape.



 
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Most of the artists do share one step of their processes in common: their materials are gathered during walks through nature. Dujack gathers pinecones, acorns, leaves, flowers, seaweed, and sea shells. Madson picks leaves, walnuts and branches from the ground, while Trisiano collects moss, wood and stones. Abromaitis’s works incorporate whole roots and tree stumps. The practice of taking time to collect these materials, to meander in a meditative state and notice the tiny details in a leaf or a certain stone, deepens each artist’s relationship with nature. “‘Reverie of the Natural & Found’ is the perfect title for this show. It’s the contemplation we bring with us when exploring the ocean or hiking in the woods, admiring the natural world,” said Madson.

“The main quest in my relationship with humanity and nature is to create a sense of wonder through the use of form and color,” Jourjine added. “Beauty is a concept that is always available to us, even in a blade of grass. It's a complex relationship, but most of all, respect nature and bring no harm.”

Bridging Nature and the Man-Made - "Reverie of the Natural & Found" Combines Assemblage and Environmental Art at WhittemoreCCC

Photo by Carl Klemme

Meanwhile, the found objects are also foraged in nature, in a fashion almost resembling a clean-up. Dujack finds rusty nails, discarded wood, fish netting, and crushed cans to use in her pieces. Bray uses materials that have washed up in the Delaware River, some of which are unexpected, like unraveled rubber from a tire. Scraps of fabric and rusty gears make up part of Abromaitis’s sculptures. Finding and repurposing what would otherwise be “litter” is an important piece of the puzzle. “In my assemblage practice, I am forever in pursuit of revelations and surprises. Breathing new vigor, new realities into old, worn discarded forms,” explains Bray.

Trisiano shares a similar sentiment: “Attracted to time-worn objects, I gather things on my walks along roads and in forests, and from salvage, antique and flea markets to use in my art. I appreciate how each thing I collect embodies different qualities of the five natural elements.”

All the pieces in “Reverie” draw attention to the need to care for our home planet. And in the process, we can dream of unconventional ways to repurpose and recycle our man-made objects, ways that respect and honor our Earth and all that Mother Nature provides. By joining these objects with nature’s gifts, the artists in “Reverie” demonstrate that humanity can in fact coexist with nature peacefully. We’re a part of nature and meant to live with it in harmony. With some creativity, we can achieve that balance.

Bridging Nature and the Man-Made - "Reverie of the Natural & Found" Combines Assemblage and Environmental Art at WhittemoreCCC

Photo by Carl Klemme

“This exhibit, a testament to the boundless creativity of seven distinguished artists, transcends boundaries, seamlessly intertwining the natural and man-made,” says WhittemoreCCC’s Executive Director, Carolyn Thow. “'Reverie' is not merely an exhibit; it is a celebration of nature's resilience and the transformative power of art. I couldn't be happier to share this enchanting journey with our audience, inviting them to explore the beauty that unfolds when creativity meets environmental consciousness.”

“Reverie of the Natural & Found” will be on display from March 21 to April 20, 2024. There will be a closing reception on April 20 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm, which will include artist talks and a performance piece by Suki Dewey. All art will be available for sale and proceeds to benefit Friends of Whittemore. You can visit the gallery either by making an appointment or by visiting during the hours listed below. Learn more at https://www.whittemoreccc.org/

* Opening Reception Music by Nick Malishchak; Food made by Chef Adam Press; Upcycled Charcuterie Board by Hart Fine Furniture

WhittemoreCCC is located at 7 Rockaway Road in Oldwick, New Jersey.

Gallery Hours: Saturday, March 30th, 11:00am-2:00pm; Saturday, April 6th 11:00am-2:00pm; Sunday, April 7th 12:00pm-3:00pm; Saturday, April 13 11:00am-2:00pm; Sunday, April 14 12:00pm-3:00pm

Bridging Nature and the Man-Made - "Reverie of the Natural & Found" Combines Assemblage and Environmental Art at WhittemoreCCC

Photo by Carl Klemme



Read more by Sara Catherine Lichon at her blog, Sincerely SC. In 2019, I started Sincerely SC as a personal blog, itching for a writing outlet in my post-college life. This project quickly evolved into a full-on freelance writing venture as I discovered my passion for hearing and sharing the stories of the world. Life is a journey, filled with many stories, just waiting to be told – and I love telling them!


 
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