Cultural Connections to the Land

Hetty Baiz tears up bits of paper from all over the world to create her series of animal collages.

In less than a quarter century, D&R Greenway Land Trust of Princeton has preserved more than 50,000 acres in the heart of the most densely populated state. To put this in perspective, all of Manhattan Island is just under 15,000 acres.

The Greenway fulfills its mission in many ways – the recipe is complex – but one of the ways is hosting art exhibits at the Johnson Education Center. The exhibits bring new visitors to the center to learn about the importance of saving land, and a portion of the sale of artwork goes toward the Greenway.

The current exhibit, Crossing Cultures, on view through July 27, looks at how different cultures value land through the  work of more than a dozen artists.

Perhaps the artist who does this most comprehensively is  Hetty Baiz, bringing together many cultures on one canvas. Using teeny bits of paper from such exotic lands as Tibet and Japan, as well as photographs from her travels to Asia and Africa, Baiz reassembles them to create large-scale canvases of elephants, rhinoceros, iguana and other animals. “This series was inspired by my love of nature and my concern for the future of our fragile environment,” she says. “I have created each piece by building up the canvas surface from hundreds of pieces of torn paper. The only paint on the canvas may be in the splattered background. After layers and layers of paper are applied, I sometimes scrape, incise or burn the surface with a blowtorch until a certain texture is achieved.”

Fay Sciarra may get her materials from local flea markets and antiques stores – in fact she runs an antiques store, Umbrella at the Tomato Factory in Hopewell – but her influences come from all around the world. Each summer she trades her home in Lawrenceville for one in some far-off locale such as Morocco, Belgium, Barcelona, the south of France or Venice, allowing her to live there for an extended time and get to know the culture. Bucolic farm animals grazing on hillsides catch her eye, rendered in a storybook style. “Other cultures seep into my consciousness: the gray-blue of Provence, the deep terracotta orange of Marrakesh, the brilliant cobalt blue of Chefchouen.”

Bisa Butler grew up on South Orange, the daughter of a French teacher and college president. With an art degree from Howard University and master’s degree from Montclair State, Butler describes herself as “full-time wife, mother, artist and art teacher.” She makes quilts, she says, because the fabrics allow her to tell stories. “I started quilting while losing my grandmother and have been doing it ever since. Quilts are comforting, they keep us warm and make our beds. When we are wrapped in them we are protected from the cold.”

The quilts exhibited here are of the wall-hanging variety, intended to tell the stories of the people who wore the fabrics. If the edges are frayed, it may tell of a life of struggle.  “While the cloth may be ragged the faces are strong and express resilience, strength and character.”

In addition to the art, there are extensive text panels about connections of a particular culture to the land. Viewers are asked to interact and guess the culture.

To supplement the exhibit, Princeton University Professor and architect Mario Gandelsonas will give a lecture on the effect of culture on environmental decisions, comparing Shanghai, Paris and the U.S., and unveil a greenway plan for New Jersey June 28, 7 p.m.

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This entry was posted in Central NJ Art, Collage, Environment, fiber art. Bookmark the permalink.

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