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Nurturing Art in the Wetlands

To my mind, beauty is the connection between our bodily senses, from which come all our perception ... and the heart, which feels value. And art is how we express that connection.

When we lived in France, I experienced a culture which honored that connection. But here, art is often considered nonessential, and we grow up unsure of ourselves as artists: unawake to — and inarticulate about — the relationship between the physical world around us, and our deepest concerns.

I look for ways to nourish the artist in all of us. A garden goes a long way to remedy residual Puritanism, seducing the gardener into the childlike joys of really being aware of the world. But I worry about the children in budget-cutting, “back-to-basics” schools, who actually learn those so-called “basics” less well without the artistic connection.

For fifteen years, Edith Pucci Couchman has been teaching both science and art, together. Children need an education, she feels, that helps them relate to the world, to care for it.

In March, April and May she’ll be teaching a series of workshops in drawing and painting the wetlands, for youngsters in grades three through six, at the Nashua River Watershed Association in Pepperell, Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, and Beaver Brook Association in Hollis, NH. In three sessions at each site, children will study native subjects — such as birches, willows, and cattails; beavers, otters, and deer; insects and red-spotted newts — as well as principles of composition and color; and technique for each medium.

Couchman also offers works to study by earlier artists — especially traditional Chinese and Japanese painters, whose method was particularly suited, she thinks, to wildlife. They emphasized capturing the forms of natural objects in a way that would show their “life spirit.”

Art requires both freedom and discipline. Certain frameworks actually make creativity easier. The key and the beat carry a jazz improvisation. Knowing what a brush can do, or how an accomplished artist showed the fluid dive of an otter ... gives a painter a repertoire from which to explore new effects. The soil and water requirements of a plant, what color I want in a particular bed ... all these limits are like the rules of a game, giving opportunity for unique enjoyment.

A grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust partially subsidizes these workshops, leaving a remaining cost of $12.50 per session for members, or $15 for others. For details call the NRWA at (978) 448-0299.

© Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 25 February 2005

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