Great Maine Outdoor Weekend

Art is for the BIRDS!!

The Great Maine Outdoors Weekend encourages people to get outside! This year, the Blue Hill Heritage Trust is working with Lee Lee of the SEED Barn on a participatory sculpture that will be woven directly into the landscape in the Kingdom Woods Conservation Area. Part of the Open Air Arts Initiative, this arts workshop invites community members to collaborate on a sculpture that will provide winter shelter for birds, aesthetically integrating material from young oak trees that were recently cleared to preserve the heirloom blueberry field. Extending the flow of existing natural forms which stand prominently in the landscape, participants will weave the branches together, keeping in mind the space needed by bunnies to burrow and birds to flutter. In the process, contributors can explore ways we may integrate organic detritus offer winter protection for resident species in a way that piques visual interest. The Open-Air Arts Initiative is a collaboration between the SEED Barn, Blue Hill Heritage Trust and Cynthia Winings Gallery. Its mission is to use nature to ignite creativity in the young people who live on or visit the Blue Hill Peninsula.

Drawing inspiration from the land immersed arts movement of the west, Lee Lee has been bringing a new kind of community arts practice to the Blue Hill Peninsula. Working with only materials found on site, she has invited the public to work together in weaving sculptures through the landscapes around the Blue Hill Peninsula. Through the spring, she collaborated with local students to build sculptural pollinator homes. As the season transitions into fall, she is working with the wider community on ways we may increase habitat for birds through the series birdSEED.

Sculpting branches that we trim out of the garden challenges the popular but somewhat misplaced notion that tidy yards are superior. In fact, tangles of woody brush are essential habitat for birds, small mammals as well as pollinators. Downeast Audubon director, Leslie Clapp describes ways we may creatively incorporate winter protection for resident birds into our domestic spheres at home; “Building brush piles is fun and you can be as creative as you wish.  Some look like tepees, some porcupines, others bee hives. You can plant vines which cover them for more interest.  Sometimes I put a base of logs (in log cabin style) and then weave the sticks in through the logs so they stand upright. The major thing is not to pack them too tightly so the critters can’t get in.  I keep adding to some year after year because they do break down.”

Complementing the weaving of thicket style shelter for the birds, ongoing seasonal workshops hosted by the SEED barn demonstrate how to ferment and sow fresh native stone fruit seeds. Native species like wild cherries, elderberry, mountain ash and an array of viburnum and dogwoods not only feed the birds but provide important nectar sources for pollinators in the early spring.  Because fruit is an inhibitor to seed germination, it needs to be cleaned off thoroughly; as if it has passed through the gut of a bird, bear or moose. The process of mimicking bird digestion is easily replicated at home by smashing a bunch of fruit to a pulp in a Ziploc bag. Over the course of about ten days, mashing the bag daily, the bubbles of fermentation form in the macerated fruit then settle. At this point, the seeds may be cleaned by immersing them in fresh water, massaging any remaining fruit off the seed, swirling the pulp in a bowl of water and pouring off the macerated fruit. Viable seeds will sink in the vortex of the swirl, while the fruit will be picked up by the current and easily poured off. These seeds cannot dry out, so need to be planted fresh. They may be stored immersed in vermiculite in the same plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator until the season shifts; then planted right before the ground freezes. 

Supported in part by a project grant from the Maine Arts Commission, birdSEED will continue the following week with a public workshop on taming invasive bittersweet and barberry at the Blue Hill Consolidated School on September 29th.

birdSEED: Explore! Outdoors

Image courtesy of Explore Outdoors!

Following the ecological rhythm of the seasons, SEED programs engage a network of schools and land stewards at the intersection of art and ecology to promote long term restoration. Building habitat for birds and pollinators through providing accessible platforms for community participation develops a sense of our relationships with the natural world, which we feel is essential to the effectiveness of conservation work. Drawing inspiration from the ancient art of weaving practiced in the area, we will gather in August to weave winter homes for birds and weave together native plant communities cultivated in the SEED network of steward gardens. In so doing, we weave together communities of people in the act of ecocultural restoration. In collaboration with Explore! Outdoors and the Blue Hill Public Library, we intend to create a woven sculpture immersed in the landscape of the SEED Barn meadow, using only materials found on site so that the works may disintegrate back into the landscape. The act of creating these woven structures allows us to think about traditional relationships with the land while exploring the animal species who could potentially use the shelter while overwintering nearby. Summer visitors are particularly encouraged to attend so they may return home to apply this method in more urban areas.

SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
Participants fill the moist meadow of the SEED Barn to gather materials to integrate into our habitat sculpture.
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
The structure echoes the perpendicular lines between the fallen trunk, branches and ground, creating a framework into which were inserted small scale, nest like sculptures.
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED nest
Nest inspired sculpture made of natural materials during the workshop.
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
Nest forms woven on a larger scale in the meadow.
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED winter
The nest inspired sculpture settles into the landscape over the winter.

¡Pollinate! Artsweek at GSA

Pollinator sculpture hung from the trees

Broadening perceptions of HOME to include outdoor spaces beyond our walls helps cultivate an understanding of the interrelationships between humans and pollinators. As for humans, good homes for pollinators include plenty of food, safe access to water and shelter, and enough space to raise the next generation. Developing the awareness of what is available beyond our fencelines, we may fill in the gaps to support movement of pollinators through our own spheres. The movement of pollinators like bees, butterflies, beetles & moths is highly localized. During the spring we think about the ways that pollinators navigate our gardens, filling in gaps in bloom time with native flowers and ensure there is enough tufting grass to provide protection. In this workshop, students from the George Stevens Academy constructed pollinator homes out of hollow stems, drilled holes in dead wood and sculpted stacks of branches in the staghorn sumac grove above Wardwell Pasture during their Artsweek creative workshops. We used material from a tree that had needed to be cleared because of the proximity to the road by which it had fallen because we don’t like to disrupt in-tact ecologies by taking out materials that make up existing systems. Our tools included a drill, hacksaw, twine, hammer and a single nail. The sculptures persisted through the seasons, slowly melting back into the landscape over time.

Katie Woodall

Katie Woodall sculpture

Dedicated Altar

After our hive was destroyed by a bear, sections lay on the ground. I found this propolis and wax section intact just under the hive where I guess the mice had been living, eating plum seeds and honey. A complex habitat.

They say that “bees are the legs of the plant”…delivering the pollen from flower to flower. They are actually the essential connectors that make it possible for us to survive by way of the fruit of the vine.

In many places around the world, bees have been disappearing. There are chemicals in GMO corn and soy, etc. that take away the memory of how to get back to the hive. For monoculture crops – like almonds in California – big farming uses millions of bees to pollinate but doesn’t provide enough diverse forage, and so they die. This is just one example. The agricultural pesticides we use destroy immune systems. Whole communities of bees are broken apart continuously in industrial harvesting. These ways can change.

Humans and bees have been working together for 10,000 years. They are our allies. Come back, bees! This altar is dedicated to their return, we are a community together. It works as a tool for anyone to use as many times as needed. Just light the candle and replace with a new one.

Katie Woodall Shrine for Bees
Katie Woodall portrait of Vandana Shiva