Welcome to WAM Updates

WAM Updates are short, informal posts that put the spotlight on small, but exciting, Museum-related projects, such as the addition of a new painting or sculpture to a gallery. They also serve as updates on staff, new services or programs, and other WAM news.

We hope you like reading the Updates! If you are interested in learning about something specific, or have a suggestion for a WAM Update, please update us at wamupdates@worcesterart.org

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Express Yourself!

I grew up in Santa Barbara, where beautiful beaches were within walking distance and where half my childhood, it seemed, took place on a beach towel or in the surf. If my mother was with me, she sat on a towel and sketched — tidepools, shore birds, couples walking hand-in-hand, driftwood, even me, when I wasn’t looking. She had a degree in fine arts, but I never heard her say the words en plein air.

For her, sketching while outdoors was how she expressed her love of nature. Her father, trained as a cabinetmaker in Switzerland, “whittled” or carved little animals and tiny cages in which to hold his diminutive sculptures. In that way he preserved what caught his fancy when in the Sierras, camping. Meanwhile I glommed onto the John Muir model — ecstatic written expression. My sketchbook had lines and strings of words. A multi-media family, you might say, with much to express.

With spring finally here, students of all ages taking studio art classes at the Worcester Art Museum may be moved to step outside and linger for a while. You may think you are in search of a broader view than winter’s confines may have provided. You may simply want some deep breaths of sun-infused air or the thrilling song of mating birds. Or you might just want to take your senses out for some long overdue exercise. But, surprise, you might be moved to make some art outdoors as your senses rejuvenate.

Adult Studio Classes, Photo Credit Worcester Art Museum.

            As the naturalist John Muir wrote, “The snow is melting into music.” 

            All his senses were fully engaged at the river’s edge.

 Adult Studio Classes, Photo Credit Worcester Art Museum.

We have plenty of evidence that human beings have long turned to nature to seek meaning and derive
inspiration. I recall hikes to the Painted Caves in the Santa Barbara foothills where the Chumash tribe first began making paintings in the 1600s. It felt like a sacred place and the caves in that region drew the Chumash over generations, layering image on top of image. Those paintings convey spiritual ideas, communicated through stylized forms found in nature.

During the Industrial Revolution, many Romantic and Impressionist artists chose to depict nature in reaction to society’s encroachment on wild spaces. As time passed, artists turned their attention to issues such as urbanization, technology and moral concerns.

Claude Monet, Waterlilies, 1908, oil on canvas, 94.8 x 89.9 cm (37 5/16
x 35 3/8 in.), Worcester Art Museum, 1910.26
Artists’ preoccupation with nature, as climate change and development further deplete our natural resources, is still a prevalent theme. In the small town of Rockport, Massachusetts, where I live, depictions of nature are seen in many galleries. The annual Cape Ann Plein Air Festival draws artists from around the country.

Until the mid-19th century, however, painters had to mix ground pigment to make their colors. They sketched outside but painted indoors where they could mix their colors. They painted color and light from memory, never entirely sure of their accuracy. With the invention of tin tubes of paint in the mid-1800s, artists saw possibilities for greater freedom of expression.

En plein air really caught hold in the early 1880s. Monet was the impetus. He brought several canvases outdoors and painted the same landscape at different times of the day to see the effects of light on a landscape’s colors. He then returned to his subject, day after day, to complete each of the paintings in succession.

We have weathered another winter. We feel the tug for change, for emergence. Some of us are like the tulips we now see pushing through the softening soil. We, too, slowly unfurl in spring as the sun pulls us up and out. There’s so much to see and feel and say. It’s a perfect time to grab a sketchbook or a camera. Join others like you who want to explore art in nature. WAM’s studio art program offers classes in outdoor photography, art in nature and many other related courses this spring. As Muir said, there’s so much to find in a single tiny nook or hollow. Let WAM be your guide.


For further exploration:

Art in Nature, taught by David White at WAM

Outdoor photography one-day workshop with Richard Hoyer at WAM

Drawing with color with Susmita Bando at WAM

All about plein air painting

Some of John Muir’s writing

Cape Ann Plein Air

Rae Padilla Francoeur is a journalist who has contributed articles to access magazine and the studio class program.

Recent WAM Updates