I spoke to Dr. Sherry Buckberrough, Chair of the Deptartment of Art History at the Hartford Art School about the intersection between HAS, Park River Watershed Association and the arts.
SH Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship to the Park River and many art and science projects that you and Mary Rickel Pelletier produce around the Park River watershed?
SB I have lived near the river, in the west end of Hartford for many years and so naturally, care about the condition of the river. I had met Mary Rickel Pelletier socially, as we both live in the West End and found her work with the river included some very interesting projects-not necessarily art projects.
SH I am interested in the history of some of the many courses and exhibitions that were designed around the river and the history of how that developed.
SB In spring 2009 I developed and presented the Eco Arts class (Environmental and Ecological Art), as you know. As part of that class, I brought Mary Pelletier in to talk to the class about her work around the river. That stimulated lots of interest and discussion from the students and in the nascent Environmental Studies program. We began plans for a year long series of events on and off campus that would take place the following year, 1910-11. I taught a year-long interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar entitled Art for the Earth. The seminar sponsored a spring serious of public lectures by University of Hartford faculty and faculty from other universities. I also taught a First Year Seminar (with freshmen from the College of Arts and Sciences), called Art for the Earth, that was supported by a $2000 grant from the Provost’s Office. We had the students clean up trash from the river, (something they were not so keen about doing….) and making art from that trash that was then presented in an exhibition in the Mortensen library. In that seminar, they also did an ‘Andy Goldsworthy’ inspired piece using found natural objects, such as stones, leaves and flowers, that they really enjoyed making.
Working with Bin Zhu and Katharine Owens (University of Hartford Environmental Studies faculty), and Natacha Poggio of the Visual Communication Design program, we organized several curricular events that engaged issues having to do with the Park River. Mary Pelletier was a vital presence in most of these courses and events.
I also developed a series of events around the river, called the “Park Water Arts” campaign. For that project, I focused on organizing inspiring and coordinating ecological events at the arts organizations within the watershed area including the Wadsworth Atheneum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Joseloff Gallery, Real Art Ways, the Ct. Historical Society. We coordinated several events with the CCSU Gallery, where Elizabeth Langhorne was also offering an eco-art course and curating related exhibitions. (There may be a couple of additional organizations, but I’ll get you that information See brochure texts for more.)
Programming for Park Water Arts included a full day conference, held in the Wilde auditorium on campus, entitled Water on Our Doorstep. that It was very well attended, with over 150 people. Mary Pelletier was instrumental in bringing brought in presenters for the conference from the MDC, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and a number of outside scholars. I raised funds for this event ($10,000) from various programs across the University.
The conference was one of two major events that concluded the year. The second was an exhibition of the work of Mary Miss in the Joseloff Gallery. For this she produced an exterior installation of markers for places of ecological interest on campus and a large map (22’ x 30’) of the North Branch of the Park River that was installed on the floor of the gallery. The map is still exhibited today in sites throughout the watershed. She also exhibited enlarged documentary photographs of past work, many of which are also still in our possession, and were brought out, along with the map, for her return visit to campus last fall (Sept., 2016).
There was a lot of energy around that year, but it couldn’t More than could be sustained on an annual basis. We needed to give it a break for a couple of years. There was media piece developed by Gene Gort and Ken Steen where Ken taped sounds from different parts of the river to become the music for a video Gene added. The piece was shown at the Ct. Historical Society in a closet. Yes, you had to go sit in a closet to see the work. (Susan—see if you can find that on the Park Water Arts calendars). It probably was created in spring 2011.
Last year, part of the university’s new strategic plan stressed the need for partnerships. I talked with the Environmental Studies faculty and HAS faculty and proposed that we partner with the Park River Watershed. Katharine Owens, Bin Zhu, Cat Balco, Carol Padberg and, of course, Mary Pelletier were the prime organizers of the project, for which we obtained a Goal 2 grant of nearly $20,000. The focus of the partnership was to create a cohort of students, staff and faculty dedicated to the care of the Park River. It was called River Ambassadors.
We used this grant to revisit Mary Miss’ piece, CaLL-City as Living Laboratory, developing an exhibition, several classes, bringing Mary Miss back to campus, sponsoring a number of field trips for the students. Among the trips, students went to Carl Andre’s Stone Field Sculpture, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, the Hartford Waste Water plant. All classes enjoyed a river walk with Mary Pelletier and a formal lecture by her about the watershed. Participating classes grew as the year advanced and in the end included: Katharine Owens’ Introduction to Environmental Studies, my Environmental and Ecological Art, Bin Zhu’s Intro to Environmental Science, Cat Balco’s Freshman Foundations: in Drawing, Colin McMullan’s Public Sculpture, Mike Scricco’s Civic Design, and Seth Holmes’ architecture class. Holmes class worked on rethinking Parking Lot B; Michael Scricco’s class designed the posters; Colin McMullan’s class worked with clearing the phragmites from the pond on campus and working with the phragmites sculpturally; Katharine Owens’ class created woodcut prints of invasive species in the Park River watershed, later made into postcards by Scricco’s class. All of these, plus poster projects from my class and Bin Zhu’s class and large charcoal drawings from Cat Balco’s class were exhibited at River Day, a half day, multi-disciplinary program held in Regents Commons on April 6 of this year. Complete with live birds of prey, sweet tree juice and cookies made from cricket flour, it exposed a good part of the university to the work done by River Ambassadors. I think River Day was a big success! It kicked off a lot of events.
Part of the grant was also used to create documentary videos. The videos will be used for education-both by the university and by Park Watershed. Most of them are still in production, but one is pretty close to being done (although Mary Pelletier would like to do a little more editing to it…). I think I can share that with you. I’ll send it to you with a ‘we share’ link.
SH Do you think would be possible for me to write to Mary Miss and speak with her about the “CALL-City as Living Laboratory” project she did around the Park River Watershed with you and Mary Pelletier?
SB Mary Miss is so busy with various projects, she is very difficult to reach, but, I can share her email address and you can write to her to see if she has time to speak with you. I’ll you that information and some more material with dates and details of what we did around “River Day”.
I have to say, Mary Pelletier and I were at the core of it. I feel good knowing there’s enough interest that other people will pick it up after I’m gone. You may want to reach out to Katharine Owens and Bin Zhu. They also worked closely on this project.
SH Thank you Sherry!