Arboretum Paths: Earth Colors art workshop this weekend

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, October 11, 2017

By Pat Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum, MSU Extension Service

Have you ever created art that came directly from nature? It may have been a long time ago, as a child, but perhaps not. Have you ever drawn with mud, stacked rocks, or built a frame of sticks?

After seeing a potter create “something from nothing” at a craftsmen’s fair in the Smoky Mountains at the wee age of six, I still remember the motivation to build an off-kilter sculpture out of bright orange Tennessee clay and some cow bones once I arrived home. Ah, the innocence of youth!

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The point is, I had great fun while working, and someone else’s skill had inspired me. A perfect opportunity is coming to the Arboretum this weekend to have great fun exploring creating art with natural materials.

The best part is that absolutely no experience is necessary! The program is equally suited to both beginners and seasoned artists.

In February of this year, the Garden Clubs of Mississippi held an Environmental Studies Course at the Arboretum. Their schedule listed topics such as ecology, native plants, water and wetlands, environmental ethics and science, earth stewardship, endangered plants and wildlife, and nature discovery.

At one point during the sessions, I peeked into the classroom expecting to find the students listening to a lecture but instead found Grenada artist Robin Whitfield working with the group. They were having what can only be described as “unbridled fun” as they explored color, pattern, and texture with a variety of free-form techniques.

Robin works on location in rivers, swamps and forests near her downtown studio and around the state, and her art explores the poetic relationships of form and color found in nature. Discovering and sharing the beauty of ecology, natural habitats and biodiversity is a driving force in her creative life.

Later, I joined her group on a walk through the Arboretum grounds, watching in fascination as they created “Earth Color” palettes from leaves, soil, and other natural sources.

Years ago, I had attended an art workshop led by Robin at the annual conference of the Mississippi Environmental Education Alliance, so knew just how much fun this group was having! We enjoyed creating fall leaf prints at my workshop, and had worked together to create a group project of a huge leaf wreath.

Robin’s “Earth Colors” refers to pigments found in nature. They may come from soil, leaves, bark, berries, flowers, mushrooms or mineral deposits. Participants in her workshop will learn to identify, collect and experiment with plant and mineral materials as artistic media. Natural materials will be observed, gathered and sketched for visual ideas and elements that reflect a sense of place.

She will demonstrate ways to extract color and texture from a variety of materials, and supplement what is gathered with other natural colors. Students will experiment with materials collected on the Arboretum grounds, and learn processes of extraction and development of a color and texture palette.

If you need some additional inspiration, visit Robin’s website at She works on paper with traditional watercolors and pigments gathered from the earth. A graduate of Delta State University, she holds a BFA in Painting, and travels the south painting on public land, teaching creative workshops and giving presentations that connect people to nature. Her artworks and illustrations have been featured in numerous publications.

Search the Internet for artists working with natural materials such as British sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy.

Workshop cost is $25 for members and $30 for non-members. The fee cost includes a bag lunch. Space is limited to 20 persons, and we are currently well over half full. Please call 601-799-2311 now to sign up and reserve your place, bring a friend, and come have fun on Saturday!

Our Fall Native Plant Sale will be held October 21 and 22 (Saturday and Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Select from an outstanding great selection of hard-to-find native trees, shrubs, and perennials. Knowledgeable staff and volunteers will be on hand to assist you with plant questions and offer advice on plant selections for your property. Site admission is FREE. Sale will be held in Greenhouse area; use our Service Road entrance.

Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for programs. The Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 AM to 5 PM. See www.crosbyarboretum.msstate for more information.