Winning While Not Winning

Back in September I applied for an artist’s residency at Big Bend National Park, an opportunity to live and work for a month in one of our largest and most remote wilderness areas, right on the Mexican border (image above.)

As I worked on the application, I gained a new understanding of why I paint the way I do:

My painting is both objective and reverent observation, a deep, active appreciation of the natural world.  My aim is to inspire others to look more deeply and develop a more profound appreciation for our world.

tulippoplarblossomsw

I wrote quite a bit about why painting on the Border would be important to me, and I’ll explore that in a later post.

I didn’t get selected for the residency. When I got the email I was mildly surprised, as if I really believed I would. In the email from the National Parks Art Foundation was a personal note that I was one of the finalists. Which felt really good.

Last year’s Artist in Residence at Big Bend was painter Dawn Waters Baker. I fell in love with her work instantly. I feel it beautifully captures what I had imagined creating at Big Bend.

Please go look at Dawn’s beautiful paintings and leave her comments if you can.

Dawn talks about ‘the emotional landscape’ –  not what is there but how we experience it, what we feel. That really comes through in her luminous paintings. They are filled with awe and a deep respect for the space. And she called the final show Reverence.

I’ve never been one who takes rejection particularly well. But this was a whole other experience. I got to know myself better by applying. I looked forward to bigger, more spacious paintings and the magic of a desert landscape. I enjoyed dreaming about how I would fulfill the residency requirements. And then I fell in love with Dawn’s paintings.

I feel complete, or pau as my Hawaiian healer friend Carol Burbank would say. It’s all good.

My Heart Flow with the Waters

I live on a lovely little bay off the Potomac River, downstream from Washington, DC. It’s alive with turtles and catfish and migrating water birds. Bald eagles nest in the woods nearby, along with osprey, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks and many other birds.

it blocks the light, killing plants below, rotting makes a stinking black mess

But my bay, and the larger Chesapeake, is choked with foul rotting algae much of the year, the result of excess ‘nutrients’ from farms, sewage, run-off and lawn fertilizers. The sewage plant has recently had to absorb the waste outflow from a gigantic new development over 12 miles away, with more than 5,000 residents and 13 million  visitors annually.

While National Harbor has brought jobs and tourist dollars to Prince Georges County, which has never benefited as much as surrounding counties from DC’s economic growth, this overwhelms the sewage treatment facilities resulting in more filth in my bay.

Few people consider how their toilet flushing, lawn chemicals, street run-off or local farm waste are affecting our natural environment.

And yet our river is quite healthy for an urban river, as the birds and  the fish who still live here will testify. In many places the situation is much, much worse.

The voracious habits of the developed world, now exported to China and India’s millions of aspiring workers, are only accelerating the pace. In my lifetime we’ve destroyed most of the ancient forests on the planet, and killed half of the wild creatures that roamed the earth.

Consider this, from Joanna Macy & Jennifer Berezan:

Please be thoughtful in your choices that impact our world. Consider what you can do and give to help reverse the damage our people do to the world.

Alice Ferguson Foundation
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Indigenous Environmental Network