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Artist connects people to the natural world

Jeff Miller and Eleanor Reed at Elliott Woods

Jeff Miller doesn’t think we spend enough time seeing nature.

The local artist is at it pretty regularly. This is prime time to enjoy the scarlets, oranges, yellows and rusts that surround us in this part of the world. One of the great natural shows of Ontario is will under way, and no doubt we will all take at least a passing glance at the fall colours as we scurry from appointment to appointment.

But Jeff is going for deeper. He wants us to take time to really see what we’re looking at; to feel it in our gut and let it nuture us. This is heady stuff for our conversation over morning coffee at a restaurant in Washago. But it’s teh sort of thing Jeff has spent a lifetime thinking about. In his eighth decade, he’s starting to feel a little weary, but his passion for awakening our creativity by connecting us to nature hasn’t waned.

He’s convinced that the act of loving nature hols the key to much of what ails us.

We’re meeting to discuss a recent Sunday afternoon spent at Elliott Woods, where Jeff led a group of 10 on a painting adventure with the help of Eleanor Reed. Through a program called Look, See, Paint, Jeff shows non-artists that they can access the deep experience of sitting in a quiet place, looking deeply at a scene, and putting some record of it down on paper. The event at Elliot Woods, the last of the season, is a Couchiching Conservancy program called Passport to Nature, designed to introduce people to the beautiful landscapes under the protection of the Conservancy. It is also a fundraiser, and thanks to generous sponsors, including this publication, the public can attend the events free of charge. The Passport series was so well-received, plans are underway to hold it again next year.

Jeff showed the group how to frame a scene and apply a few dabs of paint. But what he really did best is give them permission. Whether or not the end product is good doesn’t enter into his equation (although he has a surprise for them at the end)! He scoffs at the usual standards by which art is judged. “To hell with that,” he told them. “There are no rules, just you and your experience.”

He has offered them liberty.

It’s a kind of mindfulness, applying paint to paper. For the lucky ones who take Jeff’s instruction to heart, the cares of the world momentarily drop away and their universe consists of the shapes and colours in front of them, the light in the tree canopy, perhaps the sound of the wind.

When they are done, Jeff gathers the group to show them a bit of magic. He takes the small paintings and places a mat around the outside to frame the work. There are gasps. The painters are delighted, seeing their work suddenly come into focus, given the credibility of a structured setting.

It’s a gift, as only Jeff Miller can deliver it.

Written by Mark Bisset, Executive Director.

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