Green Art: Eco-Artists Inspire by Giving Back to Nature
Sep 01, 2009 03:00AM
By Janina Birtolo
Art and nature have always been the closest of companions. Since the earliest cave paintings, artists have looked to the world around them for inspiration, subject matter and the tools of their craft—pigments, brushes, shapers and stories. With the growth of the green art movement in the last several decades, the relationship between art and nature has become even more symbiotic. Today’s eco-artists go beyond taking inspiration from their surroundings; they give back substance that helps nature thrive.
“Eco-art is currently getting more attention,” observes Lynne Hull, a Colorado-based artist who has been crafting sculptures that also create wildlife habitat. “A number of people are working in different ways, interacting with environmental systems on behalf of conservation.”
She notes that the eco-art movement began in the late 1960s, as awareness of the environment was just starting to break the surface of our collective consciousness and the first Earth Day was being conceived. Hull, who now creates what she calls trans-species art, turned “green” beginning in the 1980s, while living in Wyoming.
“There was not much audience in Wyoming for contemporary art then,” she recalls. “I was making art about our relationship with other species and I found I had to ship it out to find an audience. I thought I might as well make art for the animals—and I created a niche. The art world became a lot more interested.”
In 1983, Hull carved her first water-collecting hydroglyph in Albany County, Wyoming. These works resemble ancient petroglyphs (stone drawings) laid horizontal, but also serve as artistic catch basins for rain, providing precious water for wildlife. By the 1990s, the artist was constructing raptor roosts, to provide nesting sites for eagles and hawks. She has also created floating islands, owl houses, canoe trails and “Migration Mileposts” to link communities that share migratory birds. At this point, she has crafted works in 14 states and eight countries (more at Eco-art.org).
“Mostly, I create structures that can replace damaged nature,” she explains. “The best time to put them in is when restoration is going on, so that nature can take over as the art disintegrates.”
Her work, Hull says, represents eco-atonement, a phrase she conceived to convey the importance of art—and humanity—working in conjunction with nature. “It’s the idea of trying to make up, to make amends for what humans have done. It should be the responsibility of our whole society.”
Hull is far from alone in her belief that art can not only raise environmental awareness, but also lead to resolutions. On Vinalhaven Island, Maine, eco-artist Aviva Rahmani has painted rocks along the causeway blue as a means of prompting islanders to correct the tidal blockage that was degrading the surrounding waters (using a mixture of ultramarine pigment and buttermilk to encourage lichen growth).
Vincent Smythe, a New York artist, creates sculptures from fallen tree branches (see Freewebs.com/vincentfinedesigns/allaboutecoart.htm). He also offers Go Green Eco-Art workshops to schoolchildren, teaching them about recyclable materials and the importance of conservation.
Similarly, Gulfshore Playhouse, a regional theater in Naples, Florida, conducts an elementary school workshop that teaches youngsters to make theater props from recycled materials and then helps them write skits incorporating those props ().
Because the eco-art movement has no geographical center, Hull and her like-minded colleagues have created a virtual center on the Internet. Their online Eco-Art Network connects about 70 member artists who use the site to discuss ideas and opportunities. The movement also has led to the establishment of a cyber-museum at, a website that provides information about eco-artists, the movement’s history and its future.
Hull adds that people intrigued by the concept of eco-art can involve themselves on a small and immediate scale by making natural backyard “sculptures” that invite in wildlife. Her website offers ideas for hibernation shelters for butterflies, birdhouses and even a buglog.
“I’m on the board of the Fort Collins Audubon Society and am an advocate for habitat gardens,” Hull says. “They’re not difficult to put in. Environmental art is something you can go out and play with. Anything you’re doing outdoors you can make attractive and use it to have a positive impact.”
Janina Birtolo, a freelance writer in Naples, FL, focuses on art, the environment and developing one-woman performances based on historical characters. Learn more at .