Community Studio is a free art program for all ages led by SOIL SERIES artists. Our Community Studios provide a dedicated time and place for creativity, inviting participants to broaden their definitions of art and follow new pathways of thinking and making.
Community Studio: Drawing / Monday, August 7th
Our fourth and final Community Studio: Drawing session started a bit differently than usual. Instead of looking at the work of a particular artist, we focused on an exhibition recently mounted at The Drawing Center in New York.
Located in Manhattan’s SoHo district, the Drawing Center “explores the medium of drawing as primary, dynamic, and relevant to contemporary culture, the future of art, and creative thought.”
The exhibition in question, Exploratory Works: Drawings from the Department of Tropical Research Field Expeditions, examined the role of artists in popularizing and making accessible scientific research at the turn of the 20th century. As the museum describes:
This exhibition brings to light for the first time an archive of images that illustrate the formation of our modern definition of nature. William Beebe (1877–1962) was one of America’s greatest popularizers of ecological thinking and biological science. Beebe literally took the lab into the jungle, rather than the jungle to the lab. The Department of Tropical Research was pioneering in that, under Beebe’s direction, women were hired as lead scientists and field artists. […] The structure of The Drawing Center’s exhibition mirrors the two salient stages of the Department of Tropical Research’s investigations: jungle field station work and floating laboratories for marine biology — revealing that artists and scientists worked closely and productively in the near past and that scientists once understood art as a valuable tool for promoting ecological thinking to a broad public.
In addition to an impressive collection of field drawings from the Department of Tropical Research (DTR), the exhibition also featured two installations by artist and exhibition co-curator Mark Dion inspired by the interiors of DTR research facilities.
The curators argue that the drawings themselves are mediated and directed artifacts of research rather than direct representations. The drawings served as a link between the scientists and a reading, viewing, funding public, who accessed these spaces of research through popular magazine articles and Beebe’s bestselling books. Equally important, the images were often produced through second-hand descriptions of the phenomena, although this would have been less apparent to the public. For example, William Beebe descended to the deep sea, but the artists who drew the deep sea did not. Instead Beebe described the underwater world to the artist, who then drew it. These drawings relied entirely on Beebe’s textual cues. They are, in many ways, pure products of the artist’s imagination.
Though DTR-related artists produced beautiful drawings, the DTR was far from a perfect institution. The success of Beebe and his team relied on the system of colonial control at work in what was then British Guiana (now independent Guyana). The DTR regularly turned to prisoners and local people for their labor and knowledge, only to quietly bury their contributions.
During our session, the Community Studio artists looked closely at field drawings from the DTR, studying the artists’ techniques and methods. Many of the drawings include large swaths of negative space, making the subjects feel small and isolated on the page. Others were dark and immersive, their subjects often rendered emerging from the depths of the ocean. In some drawings, the artists’ initial pencil marks are present; others are even unfinished.
We talked about the fact that many of the artists never witnessed their subjects firsthand, relying on careful descriptions furnished by the scientists to make their drawings. As an exercise, we tried this method ourselves. One artist at a time chose an object from a pile of ranch-finds and described their object to the rest of us. The rest of us tried drawing what was described, not knowing what the object might be.
This exercise prepared us for the day’s project: making detailed field drawings of objects collected from around the ranch. These drawings will be displayed at our upcoming exhibition. Stay tuned!
Community Studio: Sculpture / Wednesday, August 9th
Clermont County is famous for its “Clermont clay,” which exists in large concentrations in the soil of the area. The clay bears heavily on how everyone from the average resident to the farmer lives on and interacts with the land. Hillary recalls finding clay deposits while exploring the creek near her childhood home and using the clay to make small pinch pots. We felt getting to know this abundant natural material would be a fitting way to end the summer. We began our Community Studio: Sculpture class by discussing Clermont County’s rich historical past.
A number of indigenous peoples called this area home, including the Shawnee, Miami, Lenape, Delaware, Mingo, Ottawa, Cherokee, and Wyandot. The last Native American village in the county was located two miles south of Marathon in Jackson Township, along the mouth of Grassy Run on the East Fork of the Little Miami River. The Wyandot lived there until 1811.
For the sake of our lesson, we focused on the Hopewell culture, which flourished between roughly A.D. 1 to A.D. 500.
According to Ohio History Central:
[Hopewell Culture] doesn’t refer to a specific tribe; instead, the designation refers to an artifactually observed culture and way of life that seems to have developed simultaneous across the great Midwest – from Nebraska to Mississippi, Indiana to Minnesota, and from Virginia to the Hopewell culture’s epicenter in Ohio. In Ohio, Hopewell cultural forms and influences were strongest in the Southeastern region of the state, including the Ohio Valley, the Scioto Valley, and the Miami Valley. They were a maize-based agricultural society who lived in sedentary villages and built ceremonial platform mounds. Typically, tribes identified as being a part of the Hopewell culture tended to reside near major waterways and abundantly resourced rivers to support their agricultural lifestyle and expand the complex trading system they were cultivating.
We looked at some examples of Hopewell art, which was often made of materials imported from distant locations in North America. Their works often had religious significance, and their graves were filled with necklaces, ornate carvings made from bone or wood, decorated ceremonial pottery, and pendants.
In addition, the Hopewell are well known for their pottery. We observed that most of the Hopewell vessels appear squat and globular. They often featured rounded bottoms, broad mouths, and slightly flared rims.
The Hopewell used pottery for a variety of purposes, from storage and cooking to holding offerings during burial ceremonies. They most likely used a method called “coiling” to produce their pottery. After making the initial form of the vessel, Hopewell potters would use a paddle and anvil to further shape and smooth the pot.
For decoration, Hopewell pottery was often incised or stamped. In a process called “zone-stamping,” different “zones” of the pot were delineated and stamped, leaving the surrounding areas smooth for contrast.
Following our discussion of Hopewell artifacts, we viewed a video demonstrating the paddle and anvil technique used by the Hopewell culture.
Once we had considered the history of the clay and the ways it has been used by the people who have lived in this area, we headed down to the creek bed to find some ourselves.
Hillary taught the artists how to find deposits, and after a while, they were finding clay all on their own.
We emerged from the creek with two full buckets of shining, wet clay and returned to the Barn Studio to begin forming our pots.
We rolled out coils, wound them, patted them, and smoothed them out, creating our own coiling methods inspired by the Hopewell culture and developing a tactile understanding of this material and its history. To view these pots in their final forms, please attend our upcoming exhibition this fall on the Empower Youth Ranch. Details to be announced soon!