Energy Leaders Discussed the Promise of Renewable Energy in Illinois at Brushwood Center’s Smith Nature Symposium

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods welcomed speakers Craig Sieben, Kelly Shelton, Jen Walling, and moderator John Wasik to Renewable Energy Surges, the fourth panel in this year’s Smith Nature Symposium.

This roundtable, part of a seven-part live-streamed series on critical environmental issues, explored the future of renewable energy in Illinois and the positive impact a clean energy transition would have on climate change and existing environmental inequities linked to fossil fuel pollution. These top energy consultants, policy leaders, and government officials shared their perspectives on the state of the private and public energy sector, current incentives to transition to renewables, and policy needs as we aim to build a cleaner future for our communities and the planet.

“We are excited about the current enthusiasm and political will behind a renewable energy transition in Illinois. It’s crucial to improve the health of our environment, maintain a robust economy, and ensure all people’s well-being,” expressed Catherine Game, Executive Director of Brushwood Center.

Over his 35-year career in energy efficiency, Craig Sieben has witnessed a significant transformation of the industry to one that increasingly values clean power. Since founding Sieben Energy Associates in 1990, Sieben has guided individuals and organizations in energy resource optimization and now uses his expertise to direct energy strategies at AECOM during this continued period of rapid industry change.

Kelly Shelton, President of Shelton Solutions, Inc., also witnessed this important shift in the sector over her more than 25-year-long career providing energy consulting services to Chicagoland. Shelton Solutions currently provides energy audits and energy modeling on behalf of the State of Illinois, and Shelton’s previous clients include the City of Chicago, Chicago Transit

Authority, Chicago Public Schools, and Cook Country. In guiding one of the largest cities, public school networks, and counties in the United States to greater energy efficiency, Shelton demonstrated that simple restructuring of energy portfolios provides a significant return on investment in energy and cost savings for even the most complex of organizations.


Consultants’ work is key to restructuring the energy portfolios of organizations, governments, and businesses from within, but applying external pressure to government is also necessary to push society towards a future powered by renewables. This is precisely what Jen Walling, Executive Director for The Illinois Environmental Council, does as she lobbies government decision makers on environmental issues. Jen has directed The Illinois Environmental Council since 2011 and drafted, negotiated, lobbied, and passed hundreds of bills in Springfield while working to build the power, expertise and relationships of the region’s entire environmental community. Recently, as a steering committee member of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, Walling pushed hard for Illinois to ratify the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which aims to put Illinois on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2050, lower energy costs for consumers, and create new job opportunities. This would improve people’s livelihoods across the state and would be particularly positive for communities of color that are often more closely located to coal-fired electricity plants than other portions of the population.

Moderator John Wasik, Commissioner of the Lake County Board, also has a direct role in local government and uses his position as a public servant to advocate for a smaller county carbon footprint and the careful stewardship of community resources. Wasik pushes for greater energy efficiency as Chair of the Forest Preserve’s Planning Committee and Vice Chair of the Lake County Energy and Environment Committee. For Wasik, greening Lake County means preserving it for future generations by protecting the environment, creating good-paying jobs, and lowering government operating expenses. He has authored 18 books, spoken all across North America and contributed to The New York Times, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and other national publications.

This year’s Smith Nature Symposium is virtual for the first time, which presents an exciting opportunity for Brushwood Center to reach as many people as possible with these timely discussions. Ticket prices are “give what you can” with a free option available for students and those who are unable to donate. The series began on August 13th and culminates in the Smith Nature Symposium Awards Ceremony on Friday, October 9th, with honorees Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern and Masters of Ceremonies Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra.

All funds raised from the Symposium directly supported Thrive Together, Brushwood Center’s COVID-19 crisis response for a more just and sustainable future. All presentations were available in English and Spanish.

To learn more about the series visit  www.smithnaturesymposium.org.

How to Reduce Floods, Heal Ecosystems, and Protect Human Health through Natural Solutions: A Conversation at Brushwood Center’s Smith Nature Symposium

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods welcomed speakers Elena Grossman, Vidya Venkataramanan, Aaron Feggestad, and moderator Ted Haffner to It’s Raining, It’s Pouring during the Smith Nature Symposium.

This roundtable, part of a seven-part live-streamed series on critical environmental issues, examined the local implications of climate change in the form of altered ecosystems, more frequent and intense floods, and increased public health threats. These researchers, designers, and strategic planners shared their perspectives and solutions for this defining crisis of our time.

The coronavirus pandemic exposed how economies, health, and futures are inextricably intertwined. The climate crisis – also an all-encompassing, but less tangible threat – will likewise worsen human and environmental health and deepen existing inequalities.

“This year’s Smith Nature Symposium is all about exploring a more just and sustainable future amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, two of the greatest global challenges facing our world. These speakers illuminated why nature, health, climate change, and racial equity are all critical parts of the solution,” expressed Catherine Game, Executive Director of Brushwood Center.

Panelist Elena Grossman is the Program Director for BRACE-Illinois (Building Resilience Against Climate Effects), a partnership between the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and the Illinois Department of Public Health. This program, which Grossman develops and designs, is formulated to prepare Illinois for the health effects of climate change. In leading this program, Grossman researches the relationships between climate change and health, creates education and training tools, and facilitates the strategic process for local health departments to address climate change. She also collaborates in developing and writing state reports to share possible solutions to these problems and increase awareness that climate change will disproportionally affect disadvantaged communities.

While Grossman focuses on designing strategic processes that mitigate the effects of climate change on public health, Vidya Venkataramanan (a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University) is interested in understanding the flipside of the equation: how communities perceive these interventions and value environmental sustainability programs. Venkataramanan’s research is specifically focused on water sanitation and hygiene programs, and she uses her findings on community engagement and participation to understand how to set sustainability initiatives up for success. She uses qualitative and quantitative methods, particularly drawing on tools from policy and implementation research. Her current research goals are two-fold: understanding community perceptions and impacts of green stormwater management interventions to prevent flooding in Chicago and understanding perceived value of urban green spaces to inform education and outreach for conservation programs.

Green spaces are crucial to mitigating the impacts of climate change, because they provide habitat for local flora and fauna and reduce surrounding temperatures for human and non-human residents in urban areas. Green spaces also provide a connection to nature that people need for good mental and physical health in a rapidly urbanizing world.

Aaron Feggestad, a restoration ecologist at the design and consulting firm, Stantec, has deep knowledge of how restoring natural areas mitigates the effects of change by creating a buffer for plant, wildlife, and human communities. Working from his base in Madison, Wisconsin, he uses his understanding of ecology and project management experience to restore the health of degraded ecosystems, making land hospitable to native flora and fauna and bringing beauty to communities. He sees projects through all phases from planning and design and on-the-ground implementation to natural resource assessments and monitoring. He works with clients to promote resiliency in natural systems and is currently managing several large restoration projects in the Great Lakes Region.

Moderator Ted Haffner, a Climate Fellow and Landscape Architect at Openlands, also approaches climate challenges from a land-based background. Prior to Openlands, Ted served as Senior Associate and Project Manager with Terry Guen Design Associates, a landscape architecture firm specializing in public and institutional landscape design. His deep technical knowledge and project leadership helps Openlands design spaces that are refuges for wildlife and people. When realizing urban green infrastructure projects, Ted takes existing community contexts into account and works innovatively to connect the natural world to the built. As climate change makes the future more uncertain, ecological restoration and landscape design are an increasingly important part of the solution in protecting the health of natural and human communities.

This year’s Smith Nature Symposium is virtual for the first time, which presents an exciting opportunity for Brushwood Center to reach as many people as possible with these timely discussions. Ticket prices are “give what you can” with a free option available for students and those who are unable to donate. The series began on August 13th and culminates in the Smith Nature Symposium Awards Ceremony on Friday, October 9th, with honorees Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern and Masters of Ceremonies Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra.

To learn more about the series visit www.smithnaturesymposium.org.

Artist and Biochemist Explored the Beauty of Water and Danger of Pollutants at Brushwood Center’s Smith Nature Symposium

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods welcomed two global advocates for the oceans, artist Arica Hilton and biochemist Dr. Janet Angel Welch, to the 37th Annual Smith Nature Symposium.

The panel, part of a seven-part live-streamed series exploring current environmental issues, was moderated by Gail Sturm (Chair of Brushwood Center’s Board of Directors) and dove into threats facing the world’s oceans and water sources. This program also featured a special musical performance, “Reflections on Earth – Oceans,” created by Sibylle Szaggars Redford, The Way of the Rain Artistic Director, with music by Tim Janis, and spoken word by Robert Redford.

From ubiquitous plastic pollution to devastating oil spills, Hilton and Dr. Welch told their underwater stories, shared thoughts on the current state of aquatic environments, and illuminated solutions to today’s marine challenges. Though these advocates took very different approaches to preserving the world of water, they share the same ambition for restoring it and work to inspire people to be better stewards of this precious resource.

“If we can inform and educate people, and convince them to modify their harmful behaviors, that would be a great step toward protecting the co-inhabitants of our earth,” said Hilton.

Hilton, a Mediterranean-born artist, uses fine art to capture the beauty and vulnerability of the watery world. She feels moving people to the plight of the oceans is something art is uniquely equipped to do.  Some of her most touching pieces are works from I Flow Like Water, a series of paintings incorporating recycled plastics. She was invited to participate in a scientific expedition with Ocean Geographic Magazine to Raja Ampat, an Indonesian archipelago and part of the Coral Triangle. This hot-spot for biodiversity is endangered by illegal fishing, climate change, and most visibly – plastic pollution.

Upon her return, she created a series of multi-media paintings incorporating microplastics – small fragments of plastic that float in the ocean, leach toxins, are eaten by marine life, and ultimately, end up in our bodies when we consume marine food. These works of art are whimsical and calming, with fairy-tale colors revealing a sunrise, waterfall, or drops of rain rippling a pool of water. Upon closer examination, the shimmering layers embedded in the paintings turn out to be thousands of pieces of plastic, some, recycled, and some of which were pulled directly from Raja Ampat’s waters. Hilton’s works are a reminder that even the waters of paradise cannot escape the effects of human carelessness and they will continue to be degraded unless we take action.

Dr. Janet Angel Welch has responded to marine degradation with a scientific approach: EcoBioClean®, her revolutionary green technology that rapidly removes oil contaminants from the environment. She was inspired to develop EcoBioClean® after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest oil spill in the history of marine oil drilling operations, which emptied four million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“As I considered what happened to the ocean following the Deepwater spill, I thought, ‘why not remove toxins from the ocean the way microorganisms and enzymes break down substances in nature?’” explained Welch.

EcoBioClean® works by breaking down crude oil into tiny particles in seconds, which allows indigenous microbes to more easily biodegrade them. It is safe for use on water, land, vegetation, and around wildlife. EcoBioClean® was nominated for the prestigious 2017 United States Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge award and was approved by the EPA in 2019. It is now listed on the National Contingency Plan as an effective and safe method to remediate crude oil spills if a disaster should occur in USA navigable waters. Additionally, EcoBioClean® was one of just three US Companies chosen from around the globe to present to the United Nations Environmental Program alongside dozens of internationally known chemists and Nobel Prize Laureates. Dr. Welch was also the only US company executive and inventor invited to represent the US at a similar conference in Vienna, Austria, and her company was the only bioremediation company chosen to participate in the Canadian Government’s new Environmental Lakes Area freshwater research project.

“Hilton and Welch are global leaders for their work in preserving the marine world and inspiring others to take responsibility for its care. We were honored to welcome these two advocates at the Smith Nature Symposium and appreciated the opportunity to learn how we can better steward precious aquatic ecosystems,” said Gail Sturm, Chair of the Board of Brushwood Center.

This year’s Smith Nature Symposium is virtual for the first time, which presents an exciting opportunity for Brushwood Center to reach as many people as possible with these timely discussions. Ticket prices are “give what you can” with a free option available for students and those who are unable to donate. The series began on August 13th and culminates in the Smith Nature Symposium Awards Ceremony on Friday, October 9th, with honorees Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern and Masters of Ceremonies Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra.

All funds raised from the Symposium directly support Thrive Together, Brushwood Center’s COVID-19 crisis response for a more just and sustainable future. All presentations are available in English and Spanish.

To learn more about the series, visit www.smithnaturesymposium.org.

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods Opened Smith Nature Symposium with Our Future Speaks, Featuring Local Young Leaders

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods welcomed youth of the distinguished nature and community-based program, Cool Learning Experience (CLE), for the opening of this year’s Smith Nature Symposium.

Brushwood Center believes it was important to start the Symposium, a seven-part live-streamed series exploring current environmental issues, with these voices of the future. CLE (partner of Brushwood Center) is based in Waukegan, IL and nurtures children’s well-being through innovative learning programs that foster healthy relationships between families, the community, and the natural world. These talented nature buddies collaborated both virtually and live to create structural art and spoken word that reflected their life experiences. Their collective presentation, titled Black, Brown, and Green, explored their visions and actions for a more just and sustainable future.

“CLE was honored to be the first to bring youth voices to a Smith Nature Symposium. Their thoughtful art and powerful poetry spoke to the realities of our changing world. We know those who joined us were inspired by their bravery, creativity, joy, and resilience!” shared CLE Executive Director Barbara “Coyote” Waller.

For over a decade, CLE has helped students grow a love of the outdoors through eco-excursions to local treasures like Lake Michigan. While CLE youth typically create work connected to outdoor experiences and environmental stewardship, these expressions spoke to the challenges of connecting to themselves, one another, and the natural word amidst a landscape marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The innovative instructional strategies of their coaches, Jackie “Frog” Lopez, Angye “Bumble Bee” Zamudio, and Deeksha “Flourite” Pagar were on full display as the youth showed how they brought the “Outdoors, Indoors.” The students also revealed their secrets to building community, celebrating nature, and inspiring well-being through a digital platform. For this special event, the 6th through 9th grade students joined forces to bring Smith Nature Symposium attendees a peek into their inquisitive minds and a deeper understanding of how CLE serves families, educates children, and cares for the world around us.

The 6th and 7th grade Planet Protectors earned their moniker from their serious study of environmental, food, and social justice issues that cross national and international borders. This summer’s deep dive into the life cycle of plastics empowered students to be vocal environmental stewards at home and in their community. Although digital, students connected to nature through experiments with local water sources, independent time outdoors, and growing plants. Their online blog was a safe space to exchange ideas, share feelings, and give tips on everything from recipes for food scraps to how to reduce landfill waste. When not posting on their blog, these budding activists were learning healthy ways to communicate across cultures about the tough topics in today’s headlines.

CLE’s eldest group, the Future Champions, was made up of 8th and 9th graders poised to make their mark on the world. Like their namesake says, these nature buddies engaged in forward-thinking activities related to future career choices. Along with designing their own websites, they led an ongoing oral history project, Talking the Wauk, that centers on the Waukegan lakefront and its surrounding community. Through interviews and research, these students amplified a diverse cadre of voices that re-imagined their city and their place within it. The Future Champions truly became ambassadors for nature and are ready to continue their journeys exploring the world and diverse career pathways with confidence, creativity, and critical thinking. 

“Brushwood Center was proud to partner with these future leaders and share their visions. We know that CLE’s work is life-changing and inspires the next generation of environmental stewards,” said Catherine Game, Executive Director of Brushwood Center.

CLE has been positively impacting lives since 2008 when two First Baptist pastors hosted the first CLE summer learning program to link children and their families to nature with the belief that what one cares about, one cares for through actions and words.  Brushwood could not have seen a more fitting group to commence the Smith Nature Symposium, which was created to celebrate nature, the arts, and individuals who have connected their communities to the environment and deepened understanding of the natural world. 

This year’s Smith Nature Symposium is virtual for the first time, which presents an exciting opportunity for Brushwood Center to reach as many people as possible with these timely discussions. Ticket prices are “give what you can” with a free option available for students and those who are unable to donate. The series began on August 13th and culminates in the Smith Nature Symposium Awards Ceremony on Friday, October 9th, with honorees Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern and Masters of Ceremonies Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra.

All funds raised from the Symposium directly support Thrive Together, Brushwood Center’s COVID-19 crisis response for a more just and sustainable future. All presentations are available in English and Spanish.

To learn more about the series visit www.smithnaturesymposium.org.

Natural Approaches to Bountiful Health

A Guest Article from Dr. Stephen Devries
Why would a successful cardiologist at a university medical center with a 9 month wait-list for patients leave his practice to start a nonprofit? That’s the question we put to Dr. Stephen Devries. Dr. Devries is the director of the Deerfield-based nonprofit Gaples Institute, and our upcoming speaker at our Brushwood Healthy Happy Hour scheduled for May 26th.

In over 25 years of practice I’ve seen too many patients with serious heart conditions that could have been avoided with greater attention to nutrition and lifestyle. The problem is that physicians just don’t receive the training they need to effectively guide patients toward healthier lifestyles. Unfortunately, the emphasis is on high tech procedures and medication — that was true when I was in training and it’s still the case today.

That’s why I left the practice that I loved to make an even bigger difference in my work as director of nonprofit Gaples Institute (named after our co-founder). The mission of the Gaples Institute is to advance the role of nutrition and lifestyle through education and advocacy. We are supported in our mission by our Gaples Institute Advisory Board that consists of nationally recognized leaders in education, science, and policy, including Adele Simmons.

The Gaples Institute has two target audiences:

 1) Health professionals: the Gaples Institute developed an award-winning nutrition continuing medical education course, now with more than 1200 registrants, that recently became a required course in its first major medical school;

2) Community members: we developed another award-winning nutrition learning program provided as a service by the Gaples Institute, used by adults as well as secondary schools, and soon to be released in Spanish.

My work focuses extensively on community education to help promote awareness of the untapped power that individuals have over their health, which is the theme of my upcoming talk for the Happy Hour Brushwood presentation on May 26, “Natural Approaches to Bountiful Health.

You can learn more about Dr. Devries, as well as the mission and activities of the nonprofit Gaples Institute here.

Featured Artist: Stephanie Bird

At Brushwood Center, we are responding to the COVID-19 crisis by doing what we strive to do year round: build a community around nature and the arts. To help lift up the struggling arts community during this difficult time, we are highlighting a different nature-inspired artist each week and sharing their story with you. We encourage you to reflect on the impact of art in your life, and look for ways to support artists in our community.

This week, we are featuring Stephanie Rose Bird – an award winning artist, arts educator and author with a passion for the natural world and plants in particular. With a bold cacophony of colors, Stephanie captures the life force she sees emanating from her garden in her art. Her work is a vibrant celebration of the power of plants to feed our bodies and heal our souls. We love its boundless expression of joy as the shapes dance and leap off the page.

Stephanie Rose Bird on her work:

“As a child, I moved from an urban environment to a rural one and it changed my life forever. Growing up in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, living in a wetland, among forest creatures and lush vegetation continues to inspire and inform my work. I began working as an artist utilizing the landscape. Many of those early paintings where of the lake on which I grew up. Later, I went further afield and painted the local fields and barns of Salem County. Then I turned inward to still life. Utilizing the tomatoes and eggplants that give New Jersey its name, the Garden State, I found a subject matter that continues to stimulate my imagination.

I went on to become an author, again sharing my passion for nature, while hopefully inspiring others to engage. My books center on herbalism, aromatherapy, healing and plant life. I was brought into the realm of herbalism from my interest in art and craft. I make soap, paper from plants, and my own paint, at times, derived from sea creatures, roots, herbs and minerals. Now I live in the Midwest and have found fresh material from which to work. My recent art has returned to my favorite topics: flowers, fruits, vegetables and landscape specific to this area. I never paint from photographs, preferring instead to work using direction observation from life. I enjoy my daily struggles which capture the specific light conditions of the day, wondering if it will be windy, warm or too cold for work outside.

I utilize a variety of different materials to explore my subjects including sumi-ink, India ink, oil pastels, chalk pastels, conte crayons, aquarelle pencils, oil and acrylic paint. What intrigues me so about plants and the land, is the energy and power they have over us all. They shape and mold us, whether we are aware of this power of not. I make a deliberate attempt to convey the power and wonder of nature in my paintings and drawings, inviting you as a viewer to take a closer look.”

“Nature surrounds us and has an enormous effect on our psyche, outlook and daily life. I like the heliotropic nature of plants, which shows clearly that they are alive and on the move. I am inspired by the various abilities of plants, flowers and trees historically, in folklore and in our contemporary lives. I believe in the healing power of plants and like to try to capture some of that energy and magic in my paintings.”

An Interview with Stephanie Bird

View Stephanie and fellow artist, Gabriella Boros discussing “The Healing Power of Plants” at their 2019 Dear Earth talk.

Follow Stephanie Rose Bird Online

You can learn more about Stephanie’s artwork and books on her website. You can also keep up with her by following her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Featured Artist: Peggy Macnamara

At Brushwood Center, we are responding to the COVID-19 crisis by doing what we strive to do year round: build a community around nature and the arts. To help lift up the struggling arts community during this difficult time, we are highlighting a different nature-inspired artist each week and sharing their story with you. We encourage you to reflect on the impact of art in your life, and look for ways to support artists in our community.

This week, we are featuring Peggy Macnamara – an artist who combines a loose, vibrant watercolor style with a scientific study of insects and animals. Serving as the Artist-in-Residence at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History since 1990, Peggy has traveled with scientists all over the world to paint nature and illustrate conservation efforts. Through this work, she has published 4 books in collaboration with museum scientists through University of Chicago Press. Recently, her eye has turned to creatures living under the water, resulting in gorgeous depictions of sea dragons and fish. When the world reopens, you can enjoy Peggy’s paintings at the Field Museum, where they are on display as part of the permanent collection. For now, we are delighted to bring them to you here.

Peggy Macnamara on her work:

“My work is about the study of nature. I hesitate putting myself in such a grand tradition, but there it is. I admire those that have gone before and find myself studying old techniques while pushing in new directions. Like the scientist, who builds on the knowledge discovered before him, artists seem to emulate and eventually grow into the concerns of their time. I believe that by looking carefully at the entirety of nature I will learn to see better and gather an understanding of how things work. And hopefully pass on this wonder in my work.”

“Thirty years ago, I went to the Field Museum in Chicago to draw the Hoffmann Sculptures in order to improve my drawing skills. There I found endless subject matter, a community, and a purpose for my work. I moved from Oriental artifacts, to birds, mammals, reptiles and insects, drawing daily from the exhibit areas. I wandered through hidden areas of the museum painting oddities like tiny Tibetan statuary and the South American Shrunken heads. I eventually moved behind the scenes into the collection areas where I did the “Illinois Insects” and “Architecture by Birds and Insects”, “Migration” and “Peregrine Return” books with University of Chicago press. This adventure carried me outside the museum to collaborate with scientists in Madagascar, Africa, Central and South America, Alaska and other places enabling me to contribute to conservation efforts.”


Get Peggy’s COVID Coloring Book

Peggy created a Complimentary Coloring Book to help you get through this difficult time. Paint while you stay at home. Art is Meditation. You can download it here.

Watch Peggy in action as she paints “Three Owls”


Follow Peggy Macnamara Online

You can learn more about Peggy’s artwork and books on her website or watch her draw and paint on her amazing YouTube channel. You can also keep up with her by following her on Facebook or Instagram.


Featured Artist: José Guadalupe Adonis González Rosales

At Brushwood Center, we are responding to the COVID-19 crisis by doing what we strive to do year round: build a community around nature and the arts. To help lift up the struggling arts community during this difficult time, we are highlighting a different nature-inspired artist each week and sharing their story with you. We encourage you to reflect on the impact of art in your life, and look for ways to support artists in our community.

This week, we are featuring José Guadalupe Adonis González Rosales – an educator, environmental leader and artist who explores the connection between nature and his Latinx culture. Jose’s passion for this work led him to found Latino Outdoors, a unique national Latinx-led organization, working to create and support a network of ambicultural leaders in the outdoor, conservation, and nature movement. His artwork combines traditional and modern styles and themes of nature and plants to explore his identity as a “Conservationist/Environmentalist, Chicano, and Educator.”


José González on his work:

I would like my art to serve as a tool to convey, deliver, frame, and engage with narrative in mind, combining my love for culture, environmental issues, and education. I am influenced by a range that includes the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) aesthetic as well as manga, cartooning, and children’s book design. Each piece tells a story in regards to a mestizo identity, whether the fullness of being Latinx, the the intersection of Latinx culture and nature, the outdoors, and conservation.

Nature inspires me because it provides abundant opportunities, invitations, and challenges for creative work with its models, metaphors, and response. My creative work is an expression and reflection of Nature as muse.

Check out José’s collaboration with Patagonia about how nature can connect us to our roots.


Follow José Online:

You can learn more about José’s work by visiting his website or keep up with him online by following him on Twitter or Instagram.


Featured Artist: Shilin Hora

At Brushwood Center, we are responding to the COVID-19 crisis by doing what we strive to do year round: build a community around nature and the arts. To help lift up the struggling arts community during this difficult time, we are highlighting a different nature-inspired artist each week and sharing their story with you. We encourage you to reflect on the impact of art in your life, and look for ways to support artists in our community.

This week, we are featuring Shilin Hora – an artist that not only makes art about nature, she makes art WITH nature.

A mixed-media collage artist, Shilin’s work revolves around seeds she finds in nature – the small, often overlooked kernels of life all around us that hold the potential and future of all plant life on earth. Through her work, she puts the spotlight on these tiny treasures, creating what she calls “Botanical Boxes” – a unique blend between natural history specimen collections and fine art museum displays that celebrate and showcase the “need for the seed” as objects, and emphasize the historical, scientific, artistic, and cultural importance of each seed.

In these boxes, she suspends individual seeds on a grid of thin filament in an arrangement of color, texture and shape that gives each seed it’s moment while also creating vibrant, visual relationships between the different seeds. Shilin takes care to make sure the viability of each seed is kept intact by using reversible and eco-conscious glues and mounting methods. Because of this, the seeds never lose their potency or potential for new life.

“The natural world and the environment inspires me because it is ascetically so beautiful, curious and mysterious. There is so much to discover, learn from and share still! Did you know that each rose of Sharon tree seed has over 50 small hairs on it?! Also, nature is super inspiring to me because it is the Great Giver, always giving and providing never asking for a thing in return. Much like a parent that gives and gives out of love, the earth gives and gives freely every day; water, wood, minerals, plants for food, air, warm sun…the list goes on.

As humans we receive most of or all of our wealth from nature and we don’t think twice about it. It’s crazy that we each have a choice to protect our natural world and give back but some of us choose not too; It’s the Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein syndrome I guess. With my work I hope to showcase the aesthetic beauty of seeds and botanical litter-fall in hopes to to convince folks to preserve, conserve and fall in love with our beautiful, ever giving, natural world.”

Shilin Hora on her work:

My childhood was spent navigating between the neighboring peach orchard, grape vineyard, and corn field in St. Joseph, Michigan. As a teen I worked for my grandfather as a hired-hand on his blackberry farm and Christmas tree farm. I remember then being drawn to the magnificent micro world of botany that I still know and love today.

Undergraduate fine art studies took me inside the sculpture and printmaking studio at Grand Valley State University (B.F.A. 2001), where I developed my craft for collecting and illustrating nature. I learned to observe with intention and perfect the art of “seeing nature” through extensive botany collections and botanical illustrations. Here is where I learned the significance of the seed and learned to “hear” the voice of nature.

I care about the environment and its direction. I add value to the world by leading folks back to an appreciation and reverence for nature through beautiful botanical artworks. My dedication to craft and curating content that speaks about nature’s value is what makes me most proud and it’s what sets me apart from others.

Follow Shilin Hora Online

Join Shilin on a virtual tour of her incredible work here.

You can learn more about Shilin’s work and purchase her prints by visiting her website or learn about her workshops and community engagement with Grow Studio here.  You can also keep up with her by following her on Facebook or Instagram.


Earth Day Video Contest

Congratulations to our Video Contest Winner: Braden Wallenkamp

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Brushwood Center invited our community to share their gratitude for nature during COVID-19 through our Earth Day Video contest.  Our team was delighted by the submissions we received, and are so excited to share the winning submission “Earth Day Gratuity” by Braden Wallenkamp.

Braden is an Environmental Studies student at Lake Forest College. Her video includes footage from her family’s travels abroad in Ireland, Scotland, and Ecuador mixed with views from the woods near her family home in Wisconsin. This creative project was a way for Braden to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day with her family and share those joys with everyone who loves the outdoors. 

Special thanks to the runner-up submissions from Hannah Matthews and Jessamyn Lopez, both of whom created wonderful videos exploring the peace and joy we can find in spending time outside in nature during quarantine.   You can view Braden, Hannah, and Jessamyn’s beautiful tributes to Mother Earth through our YouTube playlist below:

Watch the Earth Day Video Finalists

Thank you to our contest sponsor: