From Discovery to Wellbeing: Brushwood Center in 2016

A Look Back at 2016 and a Window Forward for Brushwood Center

The past twelve-months have been a time of reflection at Brushwood Center—and reflection is an easy feat here considering the beautiful natural setting we have in which to meditate. With a new mission statement and new direction, Brushwood Center is ready to begin anew in 2017. Brushwood Center values the basic human need for spending time in nature as it relates to a healthy and happy life, as well as the great role it plays in inspiring creativity, learning, and promoting a sense of wellbeing. Over the years, we have witnessed the positive impact nature has had on the many people who have engaged with Brushwood Center.

In 2016, nature inspired and influenced us–whether in the creative process through the many art programs and exhibits, in education and learning by way of lectures, book talks and community discussions, or through wellbeing as it relates to time in nature and at Brushwood Center. Regardless, Brushwood serves as an intimate and inviting place to retreat to when the world is too busy and quiet time in nature is needed to nourish and refresh. As we considered what Brushwood Center has meant since it was first built as a escape to nature for the Ryerson family in 1942, we felt that wellbeing would represent Brushwood Center’s future. We feel ever more confident that this new focus will honor, even better, the wonderful history of Brushwood Center and all who have walked its wide-plank, reclaimed wood floors. 

Before we look into the future, however, we’d like to take a moment to look back on the good times we had in 2016 and thank all those who made Brushwood Center a happy home in those 12-months.

Art on Our Walls

More than 3,500 art and nature lovers visited Brushwood Center in 2016 to see the eight different art exhibits and the dozens of incredible artists that graced the walls of Brushwood Center:pictureyes

  • Doug Fogelson’s On Climate, a 3-part photographic commentary on
    human action and climate change.
  • Tobin Fraley’s 36 Acres, a photographic exhibit documenting the Reed-Turner Woodland.
  • Donna Hapac’s Constructing Nature, abstract sculptures constructed using materials such as reed and waxed linen.
  • Dave La Forge’s Bird Sanctuaries, unique bird homes constructed using recycled materials.
  • Moments in Nature, an exhibition of photos from the Lake County Audubon Society’s 2015 photo competition.
  • Invasive Species in the Natural Landscape by the Reed-Turner Woodland Botanical Artists.
  • The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Great Lakes Chapter’s The World of Birds, an exhibit of scientific illustrations of birds.
  • Foliage and Feathers, featuring Tammy Kordik’s 3-d mixed-media                                      foliage paintings and Francis Vail’s watercolor bird-wing studies.

Youth at Brushwood Center

Trail Tales®:                                                   
Brushwood Center’s Trail Tales celebrated the installation of a ttnew storybook, Winter is Coming by Tony Johnston, on October 19th.Trail Tales, in partnership with Lake County Forest Preserves and the generosity of several funders. Trail Tales/Caminando con Cuentos® was first introduced at Ryerson Woods in 2014 and has expanded to Lake County Forest Preserves. A bilingual program that combines exercise and literature to connect children and families to nature, Trail Tales takes nature-themed storybooks and places them on large panels along hiking trails. The panels are in English and Spanish and include “trail time activities,” developed by LCFPD educators, that offer ways to engage with the nature around you while relating to the storybook. Read Winter is Coming at Ryerson Woods and Little Miss Maple Seeds at Greenbelt today and Nippersink Forest Preserve in Spring 2017. Trail Tales is free and open to the public during Forest Preserve operating hours. 

Art and Nature Field Trips at Brushwood Center
High school youth from both Evanston High School and Science First/College First Summer Researchers with Chicago Botanic Garden visited Brushwood Center for field trips in Spring and Summer 2016. These Botanical Photography and Sketching workshops served to inspire the students research and provided them with an opportunity to learn about the history and study of botanical art. Students walked the trails at Ryerson Woods, explored and identified the unique flora and fauna, and captured their subjects on cameras to later use their images as models during the sketching workshop. “This is the first time I feel I actually enjoyed being outside!” stated one of the students from Chicago Public Schools. Brushwood Center is developing more programs like these and are available to any group or school looking to experience nature in a new and creative way.

Utilizing Trail Tales, Brushwood Center developed a two-part nature journaling program in Fall and Winter 2016 with 1st-5th graders from Nuestro Center Afterschool Homework Club in Highwood. The children hiked Ryerson Woods trails, enjoyed the Trail Tales story and trail time activities—trying very hard, as youngft2 children generally must, to develop their quiet observation skills—and sketched natural objects they observed around them along with native animal skins, skeletons, and other specimens provided by LCFPD. Local botanical artists, Heeyoung Kim, Jane Sturgeon, and Dolores Diaz kindly volunteered their time to the program, sharing their expertise, their own drawings and nature journals, and stories of their artistic outdoor adventures. After lessons in science and developing observation skills, dozens of children captured subjects along the trail, and back in the warmth of Brushwood Center, sketching animal specimens they hoped to run into the next time they visit the trail. Through the generosity of the Lumpkin Family Foundation, these children will now have a chance to return in Spring and Summer 2017 to experience all of the seasons at Ryerson Woods.

4-H Art and Nature Spin Club                                                                                          Brushwood Center hosted two 4-H Clubs in 2016. During Summer, a group of 8-12 year-olds met to study photography along the trails of Ryerson Woods. These students were joined by a naturalist as well as expert photographer, Emma England, to learn camera use and techniques. This pilot 4hprogram was such a success that Brushwood Center launched their own 4-H Art and Nature Spin Club, October.  The youth voted to focus on both visual arts and photography. Their visual arts creations relied on found natural objects and, under the instruction of artist and Brushwood Center Director of Arts, Julia Kemerer, created both individual and collective ephemeral art. The youth also took to beautifying dry, crunchy leaves with bright paints, evoking their glory days of color in Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Going into 2017, the club will begin photography projects, using beautiful Ryerson Woods and its natural treasures as their subjects. We look forward to seeing the incredible work these talented youth will continue to produce.


Smith Nature Symposium                                                                                                    On May 14th, 2016, Brushwood Center hosted the 33rd Annual Smith Nature Symposium. The keynote speaker, Dr. J. Drew Lanham—an academic, naturalist, writer, and birder—presented to a large group, gathered at Ryerson Woods.  Dr. Lanham share a poignant message on the journey of examining and broadening our own personal Range Mapping, a concept that discusses the far-reaching social and scientific implications of the shared habitats snsof birds and humans. The Symposium began with Dr. Lanham leading a morning bird walk with 30 Science First/College First students and their families at The Magic Hedge at Montrose Beach. The Symposium’s dinner and keynote address that evening was well-attended by more than 200 guests, including the family and friends of Edward and Nora Ryerson (founding members of Brushwood Center), volunteers and representatives from the Lake County Forest Preserves, a wonderful contingency of Abbott representatives (our principal sponsor), and many friends and partners including: Chicago Botanic Garden, Center for Humans and Nature, Environmentalists of Color, Faith in Place, The Field Museum, Liberty Prairie Foundation, Openlands, and Outdoor Afro, among others.

Illinois Young Birders Symposium                                                                                    In August 2016, Brushwood Center and the Lake County Forest Preserves hosted the Illinois Young Birder’s Symposium. More than 30 birding youth and their families, from all throughout the United States, gathered to discuss and img_3815present their involvement, passion, and techniques. Following youth presentations, a panel of birding experts—Brushwood Center’s own board member and acclaimed author, Joel Greenberg, aspiring professor, Sulli Gibson, Field Museum artist-in residence, Peggy Macnama, and zookeeper, Vickie Igleski—had an open dialogue with the attending youth, sharing their career path, experiences and practiced advice. A keynote address by Field Museum research assistant and tropical bird expert, Josh Engel, inspired youth to “pursue childhood passions,” as he had with birding, turning them into joyful careers.  Keeping things light, Engel reminded the youth that Illinois Young Birders was founded to give kids a chance to share their interests with other “bird nerds.” Engel’s talk was followed by a tour of Brushwood Center’s art gallery, filled with beautiful work from Illinois Young Birders.  Brushwood Center will host the second Annual Illinois Young Birders Symposium in August 2017.

Nature and Wellbeing

Serving Veterans at Brushwood Center                                                             Partnering with Thresholds—a mental health support agency —Brushwood Center hosted a nature photography workshop for military service members. The service members involved in the workshop came from Threshold’s Veterans Project, a program that provides therapeutic opportunities and activities for veterans with post-traumatic vetsstress and other traumas. The 8-month program, beginning in September 2015, brought veterans to Brushwood Center each month to learn foundational skills in art, photography, as well as observing and experiencing nature. Led by photographer Tobin Fraley and arborist and educator John Eskandari, the photography workshop was designed to allow veterans with PTSD, a chance to experience the healing qualities of being in nature as well as participating in the creative process. Veterans studied technical instruction, artistic reflection, and nature exploration in the safe and inspirational outdoor setting of Brushwood Center to much success. Brushwood Center will continue to offer groups like Thresholds workshops that encourage people to find their creative side through the inspiration of nature.

Brushwood Center thanks the following for the success of the veteran’s photography workshop: Chicago Community Trust; John Eskandari from Urban Plantsman LLC; Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market; Ted Jung and Nancy Fitzsimmons from Gemini Moulding, Inc., in Elgin, Illinois; Barbara Kreski, Director of Horticultural Therapy Services at the Chicago Botanic Garden; and the National Veterans Art Museum.  Special recognition must be given to Tobin Fraley, the photographer whose vision and mentorship inspired everyone involved with this program. 

Soundwalks                                                                                                                      swAcclaimed audio artist and professor, Eric Leonardson, led two soundwalks— drawing 40 people—around Brushwood Center in 2016. Each walk was an entirely unique experience that allowed attendees to practice being in nature in a new, special way. Under Eric’s guidance, every sound becomes significant and connected to an orchestra of natural and man-made utterances. Further than just hearing, we learned of the positive and negative consequences of sound—or a lackthereof—in nature.

Field Museum Lecture Series                                                                                 Partnering with the Keller Science Action Center (KSAC) of The Field Museum, 2016 saw the start of a new set of quarterly presentations on KSAC environmental field work and research around the world and in the Chicago Region. The presentations, attended by more than 100 people, provided a great opportunity for the public to engage with the scientific community on how to locally and personally work to mediate the effects of climate change. So far, Brushwood Center has hosted four brilliant KSAC folks, all on the front lines of hands-on environmental action, conservation, and education:

  • fmlsDr. Nora Bynum presented recent conservation efforts locally and internationally
  • Dr. Mark Bouman spoke on “The Field Museum and the Changing Landscape of the Chicago Region”
  • Dr. Diana (Tita) Alvira discussed “Community Well-Being and Conservation in South America”
  • Dr. Nigel Pitman shared “The Chicago 40: Forty iconic species that every Chicagoan should know.”

We are thrilled to begin hosting 2017’s set of KSAC talks beginning in March!


Bbhilingual Hikes                                                                               Brushwood Center’s Community Engagement Specialist, Marcela Alva, and Lake County Forest Preserves, partnered to lead hikes for 364 Spanish-speaking residents of Lake County in 2016. The guided hikes gave attendees detailed facts and information about local flora and fauna in both Spanish and English, giving everyone an enhanced opportunity to connect to the nature around them in a hands-on way. This family-friendly program will begin again in Summer 2017.



Ryerson Reads and Author Talks                                                                                      For 13 years, Professor of English and expert in American literature at Lake Forest College, Dr. Benjamin Goluboff, has led captivating discussions on environmental literature at Brushwood Center’s Ryerson Reads. Dozens of books have been covered and the topics span multi-faceted aspects and eras of the environmental literature movement. Ryerson Reads is an opportunity to gather with other book and nature fans to learn through scholarly discussion and debate while enjoying the historic and natural setting that Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods provides. In the 2016-2017 series, Ryeson Reads covered H is for Hawk, Man and Nature, The Seed Underground, and Half-Earth. The 2017-2018 series begins this Spring! Click here to register!

In April 2016, Brushwood Center hosted Helen Macdonald—author
of best-selling novel, H is for Hawk—in partnership with Lake Forest Book Store. 
Macdonald spoke to a crowd of 100 on her development as a writer in conjunction with her experiences in life and how she weaved her experiences and growing talents together to create an award winning book. Many thanks to all who attended, the volunteers who helped, and Lake County Forest Preserves for partnering with us on this great literary event!

Brushwood Center is working on a set of new author talks for 2017, stay tuned for authors and books to be announced!


Film Festival in the Woods                                                                                            Partnering with Lake County Forest Preserves and Heller Nature Center, Brushwood Center hosted its 5th Annual Film Festival in the Woods on the Lawn at Brushwood. The festival featured short, nature-inspired films. The festival’s tffheme, Impact: People and Nature, examined the impact humans have on nature, as well as the impact nature has had on people, inspiring art and expression, and much more. Featured was award-winning film: Moving the Giants as well as Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, How Wolves Change RiversNaturalists and environmental organizations were on hand at the festival, giving attendees opportunities to supplement the films, answering questions and providing hands-on educational activities.  An exciting new line-up of films is planned for August 2017.

Holiday Open House and Carol Sing                                                                                 15492478_10154834574277002_7080452858393129370_nOn December 10th, Brushwood Center joyfully opened its doors to celebrate the holiday season, inviting the public in to enjoy an extensive selection of holiday treats, caroling, and a fun craft. Attendees started the event at dusk with a snowy luminary-lit hike along the trails. This beautiful walk was followed by cocoa, cookies, and crafts inside historic Brushwood Center, where the halls were fully decked with holiday decor and historic photos of family holidays from a time when Brushwood was Ryerson family’s home. After gathering for caroling, led by the great-grandchild of the Ryerson’s and Board Chair, Ellie Ranney, guests wandered the halls of Brushwood Center, enjoying the art exhibit, Foliage and Feathers by Tammy Kordik and Francis Vail.

We had a great time in 2016 and are so grateful to all who made the year a wonderful success. We look forward to continuing the fun in 2017! 

Check out our 2017 program line-up here!

May nature be with you! 

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