DEEPENING ROOTS: A new exhibition at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Artist Ashley Cecil Highlights Our Bonds to the Botanical World in New Exhibition at Phipps Conservatory

Now through March 17 at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, artworks from my latest artist residency are on display. The exhibition, Deepening Roots: Our Growing Connections to the Botanical World, highlights the essential roles plants play in the lives of all humans, from the clothes on our backs, the frames of our homes, the food on our plates and much more.

This exhibition explores six of these deep bonds we share with the botanical world, some familiar and some unexpected. These “plant profiles” are the result of my six months at Phipps, which allowed me to explore ways plants support and enhance human well-being. The most profound examples became the subjects of my paintings, which I translated into patterns and then overlaid with silhouettes of inspiring individuals whose work embodies that connection, from a food security advocate to a nature-inspired material scientist.

The exhibition catalogue details each painting and highlights the entrepreneurs, scientists, land stewards and more who are harnessing the plants’ botanical benefit.

Mark your calendar for March 7 to celebrate nature with me and the painting subjects during an artist talk and closing reception for the exhibit:

Thursday, March 7, 2019
5:30 PM, Artist Talk at the Biophilia: Pittsburgh meeting
Café Phipps (at the main entrance)

7-9 PM, Closing Reception
Phipps’ Welcome Center Gallery (at the main entrance)

Attendance is free, although reservations are required — to register for one or both portions of the evening, please email biophilia@phipps.conservatory.org.


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!


Six month artist residency at a herpetology lab summed up in two minutes

It’s such an honor to be warmly welcomed into a science lab to share their findings about our impact on this world through my visual interpretation. Here’s six months of work as an artist in residence at The Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab summed up in under two minutes.

Thank you to everyone at the lab, Pitt Bio OutreachThe Maker’s ClubhousePittsburgh Parks ConservancyFrick Environmental Center and Presented by Jeffrey Jarzynka for making this project a success! And thank you to Elizabeth Craig Photography for capturing the adventure in this video.


Artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Artist Ashley Cecil starts an artist residency at Phipps

Today I start my next nature and science-based artist residency, this time at the beloved Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. This six-month immersive project comes on the heels of my residency at the Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab, which only technically ended a few days ago (although stay tuned for a few more exciting events and updates about that project). But there’s no time to waste – research projects are underway and sustainability events are coming up at Phipps that I want to incorporate into my work.

Artist Ashley Cecil start a new residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Just this morning,

  • I brainstormed with Dr. Ryan Gott, Associate Director of Integrated Pest Management, about potential themes of plant ecology (think invasive species management and protecting pollinators).
  • Dr. Sarah States, Director of Research and Science Education, filled me in on Phipps’ Botany in Action Fellowship program – a gold mine of scientific research I might tap into.
  • Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas, Research and Science Education Outreach Manager, and I shared ideas for teaching the public about plants through art workshops.

That was just the beginning – additional conversations were had about exhibiting my work at Phipps, interacting with daily visitors to the conservatory and much more. Suffice it say you’re in for a treat!

If you’re on the social interwebs, follow the daily goings on via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I tag my residency posts with #sciartpgh.


Artist residency at the Richards-Zawacki Lab

Ashley Cecil's sketchbook paintings of frogsApparently, once you start making artwork inspired by biological sciences, there’s no going back. Since embarking on one artist residency after another at science, natural history, and conservation-based organizations in Pittsburgh, I can’t imagine doing anything else. The swelling pressure to reconcile our strain on nature matched with the awe-inspiring aesthetic of life on this planet has me addicted to hanging out in science labs and closed-off museum collections. 2018 will be no exception.

Frogs studied by the Richards-Zawacki LabToday, I start a six-month residency at the Richards-Zawacki Lab (RZL) of the University of Pittsburgh. RZL studies “many aspects of the ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation of amphibians.” I’m particularly interested in their research on whether climate change “shape[s] present day patterns of biodiversity” among amphibians.

I’ll draw inspiration for new artwork from the frogs RZL scientists study, such as leopard frogs and strawberry poison frogs (the latter are found in the Bocas del Toro archipelago of Panama, where PhD student Yusan Yang is pictured above). I have a hunch these vibrant amphibians will translate rather well into my patterned paintings of flora and fauna.

Wish me luck and stay tuned for news about an exhibition of this work, educational art and science workshops, and more.


Inspiration during my Lacawac artist residency

This summer, I had the great honor of spending a week at the Lacawac Sanctuary and Biological Field Station as an artist in residence (with my toddler and mother-in-law in tow since they host parent artists and their families for a portion of their residency season). 

Artist Ashley Cecil at LacawacWhat I found most fascinating about Lacawac was that it boasts a now rare “sky lake,” or a lake purely filled by rain or other natural sources free from human contamination (such as chemicals from agricultural runoff, fuel from motorized boats, etc.). This, I learned, makes the lake very sought after by limnologists (folks who study inland waters). And so I got to tag along on some field research and learn about related topics such as lake browning.

Artist Ashley Cecil at LacawacMy own very non-scientific understanding of lake browning is that rising global temperatures equals more rain, which means more soil runoff, which clouds lakes and wreaks ecological havoc (someone much smarter than I can explain it like a pro). This was a sobering bit of knowledge to learn in parallel to taking in and sketching the natural beauty surrounding me.

Artist Ashley Cecil at LacawacThis trip was a lovely reprieve from the rush of my typical residencies where I need to make completed artwork while I’m there. It was an appreciated opportunity to read, research, think, document, sketch, and take in nature. I highly recommend it.


New artist residency in science scheduled at Lacawac Sanctuary

My adventure of artist residencies in science is gaining momentum. Just a few days ago, I was accepted into Lacawac Sanctuary’s Parent Residency Program. That means I’ll be spending a week this summer at the nature preserve and biological field station making new artwork inspired by their “natural living laboratory for field-based research and education.”

Lacawac Sanctuary lake and woodsThe parent track of their artist residency program will allow my toddler and mother-in-law to come with me (a rare and greatly appreciated accommodation for an artist with a young family). While they enjoy the 545 acres along the shore of Lake Wallenpaupack, I will be focusing on new nature and science-inspired artwork.

Lacawac Sanctuary educational programmingWhat will make this an exceptional opportunity is meeting with scientists at Lacawac conducting research on topics including climate change. In particular, I look forward to learning about Lacawac’s multiple environmental monitoring systems that collect data on long-term changes in the lake’s water temperature, dissolved oxygen and algae levels, and more.

All of this data is shared worldwide, making Lacawac part of a Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network. The data has been used for tangible applications such as analyzing lake ecosystems following increasingly frequent hurricanes AND as inspiration for artists.

Lacawac lodging and weather stationAlthough I’m very much looking forward to the residency, my son might possibly be more excited about our week in this Northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. The kid loves all that nature has to offer – especially bugs and anything water-related. The experience will surely get Lacawac one step closer to its goal of “shaping the next generation of scientists and earth stewards.”


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.


Upcoming events, art and handmade goods from an artist residency in natural history

The election week was tough, to say the least. What’s an artist to do? Keep making work that connects people to nature and to science that demonstrates the need for environmental stewardship, because there’s never been a more pressing time to give our attention to findings that institutions such as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History are revealing about the health of our planet.

Since July, I’ve been making original artwork and related products inspired by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where I’m working as an artist-in-residence. At two upcoming events, that work will be on public view and available for purchase. If you’re in Pittsburgh, I’ve got my fingers crossed that you can join me at both. If you’re elsewhere, links are included to connect you remotely.

And with that, here are the details…


boxheartshow-headerEXHIBITION OPENING: EMERGENT PATTERNS
Nov. 19, 5 – 8PM, Boxheart Gallery (4523 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224)
Join me for this public reception featuring original artworks resulting from my residency. My work will be exhibited alongside paintings by fellow nature artists Augustina Droze and Deirdre Murphy. Not in Pittsburgh? Send an email to request images and details of the artworks.

 

ha-header-v2HANDMADE ARCADE
Dec. 3, 11AM – 7PM, David Lawrence Convention Center
At this internationally renowned arts and craft show of 150+ makers, four local artists and I will be launching our BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired products, varying from an infinity scarf to blown glass jewelry. Purchasing these products helps us to financially support the museum’s bird conservation efforts. Buy your favorite individual items from each artist, or buy the entire set of seven products prior to Handmade Arcade and pick them up at the event. Not in Pittsburgh? My products are available online now. The other artists will also be selling their creations directly on their websites in the coming weeks. Visit Broken Plates, KloRebel, Strawberryluna and WorkerBird.

The grand idea of all of this that the artwork will:

  1. Endear people to creatures impacted by urbanization,
  2. Financially support conservation research, and
  3. Get folks directly involved in citizen science programs (like NestWatch and BirdSafe Pittsburgh).

And because this is just the beginning, I would love to hear your thoughts on how art can enhance and support science. How am I doing and how could this be better?


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…


Three days to cast your vote on which mammals to include in a new toile pattern

IMG_2267
Pattern concept sketch

My artist residency at at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is going well, very well. Scientists have lunched with me, summer camp students have made art with me, and I’ve come up with far more viable ideas for great paintings about natural history than there’s time for. Fortunately, a handful of those ideas are clear standouts, including a series of six paintings of nursing mammals that will be used to make a toile-like pattern to be installed as wallpaper in the museum’s award-winning dedicated breastfeeding room. FullSizeRender FullSizeRender (2) FullSizeRender (1) The trouble is, I can’t decide which mammals to include in the pattern. Of course I blame my indecisiveness on the museum because taking stock of the mammals in the second floor dioramas induced an overload of inspiration. So, you get to decide. Between now and midnight on Sunday, August 28, you can cast your vote for the six nursing mammals you think would be best suited for this pattern. It’s hard, but I know you can muster the strength to choose between a zebra and a jaguar. Thank you for weighing in.

Ps – I’m dedicating this pattern to the all the moms out there who have trudged into a public bathroom to nurse in a restroom stall, or pump while trying to avoid eye contact with strangers reaching for a paper towel because the only outlet at your disposal is directly next to the paper towel dispenser. There soon will be an especially swanky place for you to feed your little one(s) that will be the envy of all non-lactating persons.

Voting for this poll has closed.