Winging it with Birds and Bees

The mission of the D&R Greenway is preserving land, plain and simple. But it is the way in which watershed lands and large-scale landscapes are saved from development that makes all the difference. Since its founding in 1989, the Princeton-based nonprofit has saved 234 properties, or 14,781 acres valued at $325,086,854.

One of the ways the organization has found to communicate this mission is through bringing poetry and art together. That is why, in fall 2010, the Greenway opened the Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail in Greenway Meadows Park (read more here).

The Marie L. Matthews Gallery, begun in 2007, exhibits artwork that complements telling the story of land preservation, and is now in the hands of an adept new curator, Diana Moore.

Beauty of Biodiversity: Birds, Bees, and Butterflies, on view at the Greenway’s Johnson Education Center through March 25, is Ms. Moore’s first exhibit, in which she demonstrates her ability to understand the mission and convey it through new media and contemporary artists.

Having mentored under founding curator Jack Koeppel, she says, “Jack balanced understanding the business, mechanics, organizing and selection of artists, but he also added a poetic quality. He thinks deeply, and put shows together in a metaphoric way.”

For Beauty of Biodiversity, “I wanted to show that birds, bees and butterflies are all about the health of the land,” she says. “If you don’t have food for birds, they can’t make their journey.”

The show is divided among three themes, each in its own room: grasslands, meadows and forests. Greenway Naturalist Bill Rawlyk has prepared informational panels on the themes, providing an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with such creatures as the Spring Azure, Hummingbird Clearwing, Dogbane Tiger Moth and Great Spangled Fritillary. There’s even poetry in the text panels, such as this one by Emily Dickinson:

“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,/ One clover, and a bee/ And reverie./ The reverie alone will do/ If bees are few.”

Or the philosophy of Charles Lindbergh:

“I realized that if I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”

And some wisdom from Robert Louis Stevenson:

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”

Indeed, a weary spirit finds renewal here at the Johnson Education Center, where so many dedicated people are working in so many ways to maintain native plant species to support biodiversity.

Work by such artists familiar to Princeton audiences as Beatrice Bork, Jo-Ann Osnoe, Madelaine Shellaby, Brenda Jones and Annelies van Dommelen is on view in the 100-year-old barn, as well as some new artists Ms. Moore has brought in: Steven Ferrari, James Fiorentino, Minako Ota, William Vandever, Michael Schweigart, Laurinda Stockwell, Jessi Reel, Kristin Haraldsdottir and the Triple 8 Dance Company of Princeton University. And in the Olivia Rainbow Children’s Gallery, Heather Barros’ students have made their own birds and butterflies.

All told there are 82 works of art on view, which Ms. Moore, who also works as a business analyst for her father’s biotech firm, hosts a hip-hop show on radio station WPRB and is the volunteer coordinator for Artwork’s Art All Night, put together in three months.

Mr. Ferrari restores historic barns and comes across stones that inspire him to sculpt abstract forms. In the lobby is a very large work, “Solstice,” made from highly polished diabase. It is impregnated with a metal groove, and has an opening that offers a view to the landscape outdoors.

“Everyone in the office was involved in the placement of this work,” says Ms. Moore, who visits the artists’ studios to select the works. And it took five men to bring it in the very heavy stone work.

As snow fell heavily outside, Ms. Moore spoke of how she worked to make this a winter show, with dark frames and themes such as owls or boughs in snow.

Ms. Moore, who studied medieval art history at Princeton University and earned a master’s degree in contemporary art from the University of Manchester through Sotheby’s Institute of Art, first moved to Princeton when she was 13. She lived in Tusculum, the one-time summer home and farm of Declaration of Independence signer John Witherspoon. Her parents, Tom and Avril Moore, are major philanthropists, and have both served on the Greenway board, among others.

Growing up in an important historic property, “you become entrenched in the history of the area and become a steward as well,” says Ms. Moore. “It made me a part of the community in a way I found meaningful.”

She attended the Pennington School where she learned Latin and Greek and developed an interest in Byzantium. At Princeton she discovered she preferred to look at how these ideals and customs were expressed through art. During her junior year she lived in Northern Greece and studied the remains of a chapel near a medieval monastery.

After college, she volunteered at the Greenway, doing everything from stuffing envelopes, planning galas (she co-chaired a gala with her mother) and lining with logs the driveway to the preserved St. Michael’s property in Hopewell.

Her master’s thesis was on biotechnological art: artists who grow cell cultures and make artwork in the lab. “It’s not such a jump from medieval art,” she says. “One is religious and one is science, but both are working with living cultures, and both are literal. They express something similar.”

In the front hallway are prints by Ms. Haraldsdottir, a native of Iceland (the name literally translates to Harald’s daughter). She is also a Princeton University rowing coach who spends her days surrounded by nature, and creates small linocuts of bees and owls using a tiny printing press. In multiple editions, they are affordably priced at $75 each.

Jessi Reel, 24, is another rower. She rows for the U.S. Rowing Team, and in her statement writes: “It is early sunrise. The air is crisp, cool. The

morning is still. I am in action. Stroke, Stroke,

Stroke. Each stroke is passion: powerful, connected,

yet sensitive. Each stroke is my oar in the water

propelling our sleek boat forward, in rhythm with

my teammates. Each stroke is my brush on my

canvas, singing in a dance between the thick oil

paint and the thoughts prancing in my head. Each

stroke is my muscles exploding and relaxing,

pumping, pumping lifeblood throughout my body

with every breath. I am an athlete, I am an artist.”

At the opening, Ms. Moore was surprised to find that some of the younger viewers were drawn to some of the more realistic work, where some of the older viewers were more interested in some of the edgier work. “I never know what people will like best, so it is important to mix different styles and stay true to the mission of the Greenway,” she says.

Just about everyone has been entranced by the video of the Triple 8 Dance Company. The name comes from the term for good luck, and the troupe performs traditional and East Asian dance. The five-minute loop shows the dancers using fans to evoke winged creatures.

Beatrice Bork creates crisp lifelike watercolors of birds such as male and female violaceous Euphonia, whereas Ms. Van Dommelen creates abstract landscapes. “Strange Bloom” reminded Ms. Moore of grasses.

Ms. Moore also wanted to create a show that naturalists would be interested in seeing. “When he was mentoring me, Jack taught that we need to make clear to the artists that they are not just hanging work in a gallery but are part of the D&R community, and are supporting the mission,” she says.

Beauty of Biodiversity: Birds, Bees, and Butterflies is on view at the D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place, Princeton, through March 25. Gallery hours: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

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