FRUITFUL: A New Exhibition at Tree Pittsburgh

Ashley Cecil announces her exhibition, Fruitful

Since the new year I have been blissed out learning about the power and benefit of urban forests while serving as an artist in residence at Tree Pittsburgh. By burying my nose in books, following maintenance crews caring for street trees, and studying the contents the organization’s tree nursery, I have gained a reverence for these mighty stewards of our shared environment.

The data I geeked out on suggests a green landscape can protect and heal our bodies and reduce inner city crime. Trees specifically are credited with mitigating floods, cleaning air and water, capturing carbon, reducing energy consumption, increasing home values, supporting an astounding variety of flora and fauna, and more. It seems trees are the cure to so many of our troubles, and a relatively affordable one at that. Why then do we often feel indifferent to trees and regard them as disposable?

The aim of the work I’ve made during this residency is to shed light on what we stand to gain by protecting and expanding urban forests – easing childhood asthma, putting money in our wallets, preventing crime, taming storms. The work also repeats a theme of reciprocal service – when we plant and care for trees, they generously give back to us. And because I want loving trees to become a widespread household philosophy, this exhibition is full of pieces you might categorize as “decorative art” – prints of wallpaper, dinnerware, paintings more that bring my visual narrative of cherishing trees into everyday use.

Come see the work and celebrate our vulnerable urban forest at the exhibition opening reception on Thursday, June 27, 2019, 6-8 PM at Tree Pittsburgh‘s new and sustainably-designed building along the Allegheny River. Enjoy drinks and refreshments as well as print-making with fresh leaves (a kid-friendly activity). The event is free but registration is required.

RSVP for the opening reception here.

While you’re on the registration page, pre-order a signed and limited edition silk-screened print of “Reciprocal Service.” This print of a toile-style pattern includes two scenes of people caring for trees and two of people benefitting from them. All pre-orders will include the handwritten value of a tree of your choosing based on calculations by i-Tree Design. Learn more here.

 

25% of all proceeds from the exhibition will support Tree Pittsburgh programs.

Thank you to The Fine Foundation and the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Fund for their support of this residency collaboration.


Exhibition at Phipps will highlight our bonds to the botanical world

My habit of embedding myself where you wouldn’t expect to find an artist has most recently led me to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where I’ve been serving as an artist in residence since July. I’ve taken a deep dive into learning about human relationships with plants, and that is the very subject of my upcoming exhibition of residency artworks at Phipps opening on January 11, 2019 (and save the date for the closing reception and artist talk on March 7).

I’ve spent hours in the greenhouses asking questions about the ways plants serve people. The scientists, horticulturists, educators and more were happy to indulge my inquiries, since they love any opportunity to gab about nature.

Photos from Ashley Cecil's artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Photos from Ashley Cecil's artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Photos from Ashley Cecil's artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Photos from Ashley Cecil's artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

With my sketchbook in hand, I jotted notes about the intricate ways plants provide for us, protect us and delight us. These powerful gifts often go unnoticed, although examples of their vast contributions to human welfare are everywhere – from the clothes on your back to the wood forming your home. And so I started making paintings of the best examples. I translated those paintings into the repeating patterns below and now I’m in the process of adding the human element.

Surface pattern of pitcher plants by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of golden rod by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of collard greens by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of cacao leaves and pods by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of brake ferns by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of beech tree leaves by artist Ashley Cecil

This week I’m overlaying each of the six botanical patterns with the silhouette of someone from southwestern PA whose work embodies the human/plant connection, from a food security advocate to a nature-inspired material scientist. Each painting is a celebration of plants that serve our human interests and an individual harnessing that botanical benefit. I hope, come January, it will inspire or deepen your biophilia, or love of nature.

Stay tuned for more!


Ready or not, the holiday shopping season is here

Although it seems entirely impossible, it’s time for holiday shopping and I’m ready for you! Scarves and prints of my paintings of flora and fauna are bursting out of boxes ready to be packed in my car for the two upcoming shows I’ll be vending at this holiday season.

Wings & Wildlife Art Show 2017The first event is the Wings and Wildlife Art Show this weekend (November 4th and 5th) at the National Aviary. It’s fitting this show comes first since the latest addition to my line of products highlights the National Aviary’s own pair of Guam Kingfishers. Come shop and I’ll tell you all about this bird’s conservation story in person and see the rare birds yourself.

 

Handmade Arcade 2017And then, my friends, is the beloved Handmade Arcade on December 2nd. This shopping bonanza actually scares me a little – Handmade Arcade folks don’t joke around about making their purchases. Last year, I don’t think I made it to the bathroom the entire day because of the steady stream of shoppers, and someone actually insisted on buying the scarf I was wearing because I had sold out of that pattern. I’ve been practicing swiping credit cards and am ready for y’all!

Whether you’re in Pittsburgh to shop in person, or using the interwebs to get the job done, get your 15% off for subscribing to my updates – I really do appreciate that you follow my work. If we see each other in person, just remind me to apply your discount; if you’re shopping online…[only subscribers got the coupon code – sign yourself up to get on board].


Welcoming 40+ art patrons for a studio visit

Not that long ago, I occupied a studio so cramped that I could almost touch opposing walls simultaneously by merely by extending my arms. Whenever I scheduled studio visits, I had to ask my guest if they were bringing anyone with them because, if they were, I had to rearrange furniture to accommodate. Not anymore.

Artist Ashley Cecil in her studioMy studio now calls to me to do cartwheels in it, just because I can. One of the best perks of so many square feet is the ability to host events and large groups in the space. Case in point, 40+ members of the Mattress Factory’s patrons group, Factory 500, recently made a visit.

Artist Ashley Cecil in her studioIt was lovely having such an engaged group peruse my space and ask about my process and reference materials (such as the museum bird specimens shown above), and make some purchases. The gathering was just in the nick of time – this was my last scheduled commitment before the arrival of my second bambino (I may have cracked a few jokes about watering breaking or inquiring who knew how to deliver a baby). Thank you to the Mattress Factory for coordinating! 


Four exhibitions in five months

From Pittsburgh to Austin to Baltimore, my work is finding its way to new galleries.

2017 has been a nonstop blur of activity, including participation in several group shows around the US. Each exhibition booked thus far is listed below, but I have the most to say about Wall Paintings: Storytellers because, well, I spent eight hours making my piece on the actual gallery wall. The group show of local artists was curated by Robert Raczka, a gentleman I met while installing a drawing on the taxidermy cases in Bird Hall of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Getting the obvious sense that I enjoy making art on non-traditional surfaces, Robert asked if I would be interested in contributing to this show, which is up at SPACE in downtown Pittsburgh through September 3.

For this exhibition, I wanted to stay with the same theme that Robert first associated with me – birds and natural history. I was fortunate to get a spot in the gallery close to the front window, which was perfect for my painted illustration of the problem of bird-window collisions. Here’s a sequence of progress shots as the painting unfolded:

 

As gallery visitors rolled in, it was encouraging to hear people ask about solutions to the problem and taking photos of the artwork to save the BirdSafe Pittsburgh website for reference. I explained some of the volunteer opportunities with BirdSafe Pittsburgh and directed them to websites where they find a list of products available for installation on their own windows to prevent the problem as well as my own bird-safe window films.

And for kicks, this is me early on in the process before I was sweating profusely in the summer heat with swollen ankles. As it turns out, being seven months pregnant is not a comfortable time to be on your feet all day. Being that the event was such an enormous success, it was all well worth it.

But Wall Paintings was only one of four shows for me this year. Here are the others I have/had the honor of contributing one or more of my BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired paintings on paper:

Life as We Knew It at Art.Science.Gallery

Life As We Knew It, Art.Science.Gallery, Austin, TX, May 2017

Artist Ashley Cecil participates in Art of Facts, an exhibition at the Heinz History Center

Art of Facts: Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories, Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA, July 22, 2017 – January 18, 2018

Birdland and the Anthropocene at the Peale Center

Birdland and the Anthropocene, the Peale Center, Baltimore, MD, October 6- 29, 2017


20 images x 20 seconds to explain art unfolding in a science museum

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil sums up her work at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with 20 images in under 7 mins at PechaKucha Pittsburgh

My mother loves to tell people that I’ve been dominating and belaboring conversations since 1983. Apparently, as a young child, my preferred style of communication was to be the only person participating in a “discussion.” It’s true, I can be long-winded. But I love a good challenge, which is why I enthusiastically accepted the invitation to explain my six-month artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with a mere 20 images each displayed for 20 seconds to the loyal following of PechaKucha Pittsburgh-goers. That’s over 500 hours of work summed up in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. No big deal. I can do this.

If you’re interested in witnessing this small miracle of oral precision, please join us:

PechaKucha Night Pittsburgh Vol 26
Thursday, March 2 at 6 PM
Alloy 26, 100 S Commons, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15212
$10 Members* / $15 General Admission
*Members include all members of AIA Pittsburgh, AIGA Pittsburgh, and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council

More event details are available on the PechaKucha website and their Facebook page.


Art for the birds

Wood Thrush painting
Original artwork used to develop a textile pattern.

 

No really, this is about art that supports bird conservation.

About two months into my artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH), ideas for artwork that I would translate into a new infinity scarf AND a coloring poster got my wheels turning about other Pittsburgh artists who also might like to make natural science-inspired products. After all, why should I have all the fun?

bird conservation inspired textile pattern
The finished textile pattern being printed on fabric for scarves.

 

Thank goodness it wasn’t one of those ideas that only makes sense in my head, validated by the fact that FOUR fantastic makers enthusiastically raised their hands to make new products visually related to a bird conservation program closely connected to CMNH – BirdSafe Pittsburgh.

In partnership with several local organizations, BirdSafe Pittsburgh is “working to research and reduce bird mortality in the Steel City.” What’s the problem? It’s estimated that up to one billion birds die each year in the US from colliding with windows, which is one of the leading causes of human-induced deaths among birds.

Yes, that’s utterly depressing, but I’m getting to the warm-fuzzy part. Between now and this year’s Handmade Arcade, the boss ladies listed below and I are in production mode making our goods, which will be launched at Handmade Arcade. These items, varying from blown-glass jewelry to a silk-screen print, will be available individually and as a complete set (if you can’t make it to Handmade Arcade, you will be able to order the individual products on our respective websites).

BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired coloring mural
My BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired coloring poster.

 

Our put-a-bird-on-it-collaboration will help birds in two ways:

1) A portion of our sales will be donated to support the aforementioned conservation efforts. For example, our contribution will help pay to fly wild birds through a flight tunnel that tests the effectiveness of bird-friend window prototypes, and rehabilitation of stunned birds at a local wildlife center.

2) We’ll be signing interested shoppers up for the BirdSafe Pittsburgh citizen science program, which entails monitoring your home for window collisions and reporting your findings, and/or walking designated routes throughout Pittsburgh looking for birds that have collided with windows (dead birds are brought to the museum to be added to their collection; captured live birds can be taken to the Animal Rescue League’s wildlife center to be rehabilitated and released). If you’re so inclined, go ahead and sign up now. Here’s a national program and the Pittsburgh-specific one.

And with that, I’d like to introduce my creative cohorts making art for the birds with me (and tagging the process via #artforthebirds on the social interwebs):

WorkerBirdKim Fox of WorkerBird

 

strawberrylunaAllison Glancey of strawberryluna

 

KLoRebelKirsten Lowe-Rebel of KLoRebel

 

Broken PlatesGillan Preston of Broken Plates

 

It’s such an honor to work with these talented women and the BirdSafe Pittsburgh program coordinator, Matt Webb. There’s hardly a more blissful combination of things I love than art and ornithology. Ahhh!

Now, onto sewing scarves…


A marathon of painting birds, bugs and botany

Ashley Cecil painting flowers

Maybe you’ve seen my elusive Instagram or Facebook posts about my “top secret” summer project of 2015. If the suspense is killing you, don’t fret because this blog post is the grand project announcement.  The secret is that I’m partnering with Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the National Aviary, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and four Pittsburgh florists to undertake a self-directed artist residency during all of July and August. In plain English, that means I’ll be on-site for those two months at these seven organizations feverishly creating new paintings from their respective specimens, exhibits and floral arrangements.

"Blue Jays on Gray" painting with Blue Jay specimens

Why? Well, it’s twofold. Firstly, because I have a young child, I’m not a fit for most formal residency programs where an artist packs up to spend weeks or months of uninterrupted time producing new work at a purpose-specific facility (it turns out, people don’t like toddlers throwing tantrums nearby while they’re making art). Secondly, because I find painting my paintings and selling my paintings to be two full-time jobs, I need to find a ways to get myself in front of new audiences while not compromising on my production time. So, this residency is my solution to staying close to home while creating new work while also meeting new people equally interested in birds, bugs and botany.

Ashley Cecil with beetle specimen

I’ve spent six months planning the unique residency in coordination with over a dozen individuals at the seven institutions and businesses. After many emails, phone calls and meetings, we’ve ironed out a schedule for the public to watch me work. I’ll spend one day per week in my studio getting the paintings to the stage where I’m ready to paint the objects in the foreground (birds, insects and plants). On the following three days, I’ll work from live and taxidermied specimens of birds, insects and plants at the participating venues (admission fees apply at the three institutions). On top of the regular painting sessions, social events are scheduled at two florists for you to sip cocktails while enjoying the art and my fragrant floral subjects.

Like all things I plan, this schedule will likely change. So, get the latest updates on my whereabouts from day-to-day on social media (I’m on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook), or email me (ashley(at)ashleycecil.com). I’ll also be using the hashtags #ashleycecil, #byobirds, #byobugs and #byobotany. Hmmm, this sort of feels like a spinoff of “Where’s Waldo” in the making.

Week 1
Wed, July 1 – National Aviary
Thurs, July 2 – Phipps

Week 2
Mon, July 6 – Studio
Tues, July 7 – CMNH (insects)

Week 3
Mon, July 13 – Studio
Tues, July 14 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, July 15 – National Aviary
Thurs, July 16 – Blue Daisy Floral: Painting followed by a happy hour from 5:30 – 7:30 PM. RSVP required.

Week 4
Mon, July 20 – Studio
Tues, July 21 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, July 22 – CMNH (birds)
Thurs, July 23 – Phipps

Week 5
Mon, July 27 – Studio
Tues, July 28 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, July 29 – National Aviary

Week 6
Mon, Aug 3 – Studio
Tues, Aug 4 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, Aug 5 – National Aviary
Thurs, Aug 6 – Phipps

Week 7
Wed, Aug 12 – CMNH (birds)
Thurs, Aug 13 – Cuttings Flower & Garden Market: Painting and open house with drinks and refreshments from 2- 6 PM. Event details are here.

Week 8
Mon, Aug 17 – Studio
Tues, Aug 18 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, Aug 19 – CMNH (birds)
Thurs, Aug 20 – Phipps

Week 9
Mon, Aug 24 – Studio
Tues, Aug 25 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, Aug 26 – National Aviary
Thurs, Aug 27 – 4121 Main

Come solo, bring a friend, bring your kids – all are welcome. And, since I do have to eat everyday, I would also love to get lunch with you at CMNH, Phipps or the Aviary. Let’s make a date!