It’s SVMA camp time and I’m rethinking the triptych Nick Brandt SONOMAWOOD recycling project. It’s three one foot square panels of luan plywood cut from last year’s letters of the SONOMAWOOD sign and hinged together. Students paint a local habitat with one of the many local endangered species.
The kids enjoyed it but it didn’t land with the Apollo 11 impact I was hoping for. Here’s a simple question to debate at home, in the 50 years since we landed on the moon have we evolved into a leisure species or a make-the-world-a-better-place species? Contemplate and discuss and please write your comments below.
Have you seen the Nick Brandt exhibit? (Free on Wednesdays or come to Art Night on August 10!) In case you haven’t, I’ve included my favorite piece above called “Underpass with Elephant (Lean Back Your Life Is On Track)” We start camp with a VTS deep dive into the art, asking kids to do a quick write of what the baby is thinking as she stares at the elephant. Nick puts large pictures of endangered species in various African environments that were once natural but now look like the one above. Nick is much more than a photographer, he is a celebrity in Africa and has created an environmental organization called, “Big Life” with a goal of envisioning a world in which conservation supports the people and people support conservation.
I asked Nick how he would create a camp around the images and he suggested studying kids like Greta Thunberg the 16 year-old Swedish girl who proves that one kid can make a difference (I’m also using Boyan Slat, creator of The Ocean Project).
The world is currently like my Comcast email which, because it is summer and I am off my normal routine, currently has 467 messages with titles like “Walt hates Barack Obama” “Signature Missing” “LAST CHANCE” “Important information!” “Immediate response needed” and any number of shocking titles which are meant to generate clicks. I delete 465 and return 2. Are we dealing with what is truly important or are we swimming in the growing excrement pool? Are we working on solving problems or staring at shiny objects?
One of the projects for the week is about species. Indicator and Threatened and Endangered and Extinct. Students make stencils of various animals and spray paint them on to canvas bags along with the number left in the world. Northern Spotted Owl, 1500 left, they are an indicator species for old growth forests threatened because of logging and forest development (loss of habitat), climate change and various human related activities. The final product varies (I promote the Bob Ross mantra of “Happy Accidents”) but the idea is if kids are carrying around a bag with an owl stencil and the number 1500 on it, it starts conversations.
I tell the story of the Narwhal (Threatened, estimated 80,000 left which is a much higher number than one would think) and how they are my school’s unofficial mascot. I’ve never had a bucket list but if I did, swimming with the Narwhals would be on the top of it. I just love that the Narwhal exists, that diversity makes the world cool, that the horn is actually a tooth (according to 9 year-old Lilli who is super excited to tell me this fact) and that the entire group at camp is able to sing the Narwhal song.
And that’s the big goal: awareness. How to save the elephant and the cheetah and the rhino and the northern spotted owl and the Narwhal. Nick Brandt was once a wildlife photographer until he decided that just taking beautiful pictures of animals is only part of his life mission. He wants to save those animals from extinction and if he can help using amazing art then all the better.
I change the triptych painting project to a 5’x10’ mural depicting a local habitat and local endangered animals. Students now are working together and I don’t have to sand, paint and prepare 36 luan panels, which is nice.