An intrepid group of adults and families with children headed out of Featherstone for a nature walk of the Land Bank Commission’s Southern Woodlands, despite the nippy, slushy weather last Sunday morning. Our fearless leader was the Vineyard Conservation Society’s board member John Best, whom we all followed out of one of Featherstone’s warm art studio buildings.
Director of development for Featherstone Posie Haeger explained the history behind the walk to me in an email before we went: “The idea for this collaboration came about three years ago, with VCS recognizing the unique location of Featherstone’s campus and the surrounding Featherstone Farm and Southern Woodlands conservation trails, to bring art and nature together. VCS and Featherstone enjoy collaborating on this winter daytime event to offer our community a healthy, creative option on a cold winter day to learn about the Island’s natural beauty through creative exploration.”
The kids ran ahead of us with boundless energy, observing leaves, pinecones, and branches with the rest of us looking around as we walked along. One of the children scampering around was Amy Heil’s son, 7-year-old first grader Demyen. Although a frequenter of Featherstone offerings, this was their first time on the walk. Amy wanted to come because “it’s the time of year where kids want to do play dates and get outside and see each other. This is a nice thing to do in our community that’s not in one person’s house. It’s free, and getting them outside and some exercise, and then the art included; it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
On the trail I also caught up with 14-year-old Mya O’Neill, who is in eighth grade. Mya said she had gone on the walk last year and came again. “It’s fun with the kids around because you can see what they like to do and explore,” Mya said. “And the art is fun at the end, because I’m pretty artistic and it’s fun to have the walk combined like that.”
When the weather started to turn worse, we headed back a bit early to Featherstone’s comfy Pebble Gallery to express our inner artist, which was hopefully inspired by the outing. The Featherstone children’s art instructor and coordinator of the Children’s Art Program, Coral Shockey, who also happens to be a Chamber of Commerce Martha’s Vineyard 40 Under 40 honoree for her creative arts and education, welcomed us back inside. Art supplies were already laid out for us, and there were all sorts of delicious snacks too.
Shockey explained that for our nature-inspired painting project, we were to recall something that we observed during our walk. Turning to the children, she said that everyone sees the world differently and it’s important to hear what others see. One young man said snow, woods, and trees, while another mentioned sticks, branches, tree trunks, and leaves. Each of our personal visions would become the fodder for our art project. “You need to think from your mind’s eye what you saw. So, close your eyes and think about what you want to paint, and once you have it, open your eyes,” Shockey instructed. We then chose canvases, acrylic paints, and brushes.
For the next hour or so, everyone worked away, focusing on the canvas in front of them. Jeremy Houser, ecologist and head of communications at VCS, and Emily, his 6-year-old daughter, were painting side by side. They too had done the walk previously, enjoying the addition of an art aspect to the typical winter hike with more land use history and ecological history. Emily explained that both she and her dad were painting their own version of pine needles, “which we saw on the trees a lot.”
I wandered over to Alexis Holden, who was leaning back on her chair at the table and just observing the scene. “I’m here to support the Vineyard Conservation Society and Featherstone and to have some fun on a snowy Sunday morning. It’s been really wonderful, a really relaxing couple of hours, and easy to do.”
As folks were finishing up their work, Shockey said, “Art and the natural world go together. Conservation is near and dear to my heart personally, and this collaborative event is magical for Islanders of any age. In fact, I think it’s been a magical day, even with the weather. The commitment everyone has to conservation and art … it’s wonderful.”
Look for next year’s Winter Walk series annual collaboration. In addition, Featherstone supports VCS’s annual “The Art of Conservation” high school art contest, helping hang the student art show at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center each spring.