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Art at Grant`s Woods: “Art is Where You Find It”

Bewabon Shilling's sculpture currently at Grant`s Woods

The Couchiching Conservancy has many properties to look after, and several of them have established walking trails. These trails are to let people into ‘the heart’ of the landscape to experience the solace and inspiration that Nature provides to those who seek it. For century upon century, artists have known this rewarding aspect of immersing themselves in a natural setting.

            As we are all individuals, the experiences we become aware of will be the result of our openness to see the marvels that Nature provides, from the truly dazzling displays of wildflowers to the subtle palette of colour to be observed within the bark of a tree. Artists know about shape, colour, texture, and form… all shared elements of both nature and art. And artists tend to share their visions and their experiences, in whatever medium they craft, thus becoming interpreters for others to appreciate the hidden messages of the forest.

The Painted Grove – Liz Schamehorn

            The Couchiching Conservancy land trust has partnered with the Orillia Museum of Art and History to present a special event of installation artworks along the trails of the Grant’s Woods Nature Reserve. Funding for this project was generously provided by the Ontario 150 program.

            Henri Matisse, famous European painter, once quipped, “Creativity takes courage.” I interpret this to mean that a person has to recognize and embrace their inner desire to create something that manifests from their experiences, and then comes the ‘deep breath and next step’ to share that openly with others.

            There are seven such expressions to be encountered on the Grant’s Woods trails, each created by insightful, expressive, talented, and (in the above context) courageous people. Within the medicine wheel teachings these are people of the East Direction… the intuitive and expressive souls. Their works range from found objects (twigs and branches on-site) to metal-and-fabric creations.

            Heather Driver Kerslake and Luci Dilkus joined their creative energies, yet each came up with a very different presentation. Heater scoured the diaries of the Grant family and utilized the remains of a huge white pine, affectionately called the Grandfather Pine, to walk viewers through time itself. Luci has created a giant stethoscope, which symbolically measures the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

            Liz Schamehorn salvaged saplings that were being cut down for a development project elsewhere, and painted them in bright pastel colours, thus creating a visual bridge from the usual vibrant screen images we’ve become used to, to lead viewers into the subtle shades of a natural forest.

The Sun Catcher- Tanya Cunnington and Samantha Vessios

            Tanya Cunnington and Samantha Vessios teamed up to find a way to accent the sunbeams that grace the trailsides. A large sun-catcher, composed of a variety of glass shards and baubles, takes those errant evening sunbeams and breaks them into a prismatic display that literally catches your eye. Like morning dew, these sparking artifacts brings you to notice the pattern of light as it breaks through the overhead leaves of the forest.

            Sarah Csekey is known for her whimsical ‘little people’ and she has installed a village of forest folks who may be overlooked by those in a hurry. But for those who slow down, look all around, look up and down, there will be a reward of discovering a magical element. Nearby there is a memorial bench dedicated to Luke Irwin, who happens to be Sarah’s grandfather. Nice family circle.

            David Giannunzio and Erin Damery found a damaged tree and rather than simply chopping it up for firewood, they salvaged some of the precious wood and created a Phoenix, the mythical bird of resurrection.  Appropriately installed on The Three Sisters Trail, this marvelous bird flies ever upwards towards the sunlight that filters through the forest canopy.

            And then there’s Bewabon Shilling’s sculpture of found objects. He and family members gathered fallen branches and brought them to a special place on the Trillium Trail, a sharing circle. Established a few years ago, this site felt unfinished, in need of attention. Now a woven fence of natural branches creates a defined space, a place to truly pause along your trek, feel comforted, and become grounded with the land.

            The trails of Grant’s Woods, and other properties,  have been created for members, supporters, and the general public to have free access to the natural world. Please use these trails with respect, and perhaps seek your inner muse.

David J. Hawke is the Stewardship Program Manager at The Couchiching Conservancy, a non-profit land trust dedicated to protecting the special natural places throughout the region. To learn about where we work, visit our website: www.couchichingconserv.ca.