For 10 years, book lovers with an interest in ecology have enjoyed lively discourse at a unique book club held at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. The 11th season starts this fall.
Longtime participant Dick Ettlinger of Highland Park said the leader Ben Goluboff guides the group in a thought-provoking way that stimulates fascinating discussions. Goluboff is a professor of English at Lake Forest College.
“He asks questions and invites responses,” Ettlinger said. “He gets the discussion going. He doesn’t want to make a lecture out of it.”
Goluboff said that’s his intent: To invite comments and encourage readers to delve into issues and themselves.
“I really try to make it a dialogue, like a good literature class,” he said.
One of Goluboff’s selections this season is Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison.
“This is a powerful book, a delightful, challenging wonderful book, “Goluboff said. Participants will likely discuss whether the author is truly talking about gardens or something else, he said.
Over the years, Goluboff has been fascinated and excited about what participants say and observe about themselves and the environment.
“One book, The Creation by E.O. Wilson, elicited a wide-ranging discussion,” he said. “One participant talked about how Wilson’s writing caused her to re-examine her faith,” he said.
“I thought that was extraordinary. It makes people around the table recognize the power of the writer. It’s been one of the many experiences in my life that reminds me how literature can make a big difference in peoples’ lives.”
Brushwood Center Executive Director Sophie Twichell said, “We are thrilled Ryerson Reads has thrived for 10 years. This is a truly wonderful way to discuss literature in a beautiful setting with a thoughtful, knowledgeable and well-read leader.”
Copies of the books chosen for the 2014/15 season of Ryerson Reads will be set aside and available at the Deerfield Public Library, 920 Waukegan Road as well as the Vernon Area Public Library, 300 Olde Half Day Road, Lincolnshire. Books are also available for purchase at the Lake Forest Book Store. Limited copies are on hand at Brushwood Center. The fee is $15 per session, $10 for Brushwood Center members. The entire series is $45 or $30 for members. Discussions are held from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. on the dates below.
Sept. 10, 2014: When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle
Nov. 12, 2014: The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
Jan. 14, 2015: The Last Animal by Abby Geni
Mar. 11, 2015: Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison
The Birds of America: The Bien Chromolithographic Edition
When Joel Oppenheimer recognizes a bird, it’s not because he’s a birder, but rather because the renowned art dealer has been intimately acquainted with the quintessential avian paintings of John James Audubon for decades.
Now, Oppenheimer, one of the country’s foremost authorities on Audubon, has produced and written “The Birds of America: The Bien Chromolithographic Edition.” Oppenheimer has written text to complement the first complete reproduction of the Bien chromolithographs: 150 full-color illustrations in facsimile form of “The Birds of America,” which Audubon painted more than 150 years ago.
Oppenheimer, a Chicago-based art dealer and art conservator, will give a free talk about this seminal project at 7:30 p.m., June 18 at Brushwood Center, 21850 Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods, Illinois.
Through his seven years of research and working with publisher, W.W. Norton and Co., Oppenheimer discovered some intriguing information, not so much about John James Audubon himself, but about his wife, Lucy, and their son, John Woodhouse Audubon.
After Audubon’s death, his son commissioned Julius Bien in 1858 to produce a new edition of his father’s works with a revolutionary chromolithographic process that omitted the painstaking steps of hand coloring each piece as had been done previously.
The family still owned the original paintings and all the original copper plates.
“The family put everything into this,” Oppenheimer said. “Lucy Audubon mortgaged their estate to finance the project. When the Civil War came, however, the project could not be completed and the family suffered a devastating bankruptcy.” Audubon’s original watercolors were sold to the New-York Historical Society in 1863.
Only 150 plates were produced in the Bien collection. They are among the rarest and most sought-after Audubon prints. When Oppenheimer secured a complete folio of the Bien collection about eight years ago, he was inspired to produce the new book.
“There was something about the quality of this printing that captured my imagination,” he said. “In previous writings, the Bien edition had been cast aside and much maligned as being a poor quality reproduction. I bought this set and it was an exquisite example of chromolithography and Audubon’s work.”
Oppenheimer said his new book “is a very specific treatment of one particular edition of Audubon’s work that had never been examined in depth at a scholarly level. There’s a lot of new information in the book, a lot of discovery from original research.”
The June 18 event is presented through a partnership between Brushwood Center and Lake County Forest Preserves. A limited number of books will be available for purchase ($350) and signing. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Brushwood Center. To reserve your copy in advance, call 847.968.3308. Registration is required. To register, call 847.968.3321.
WHEN: 7:30pm, Wednesday, June 18
WHERE: Brushwood Center, 21850 N. Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods, IL
Registration required. To register, call 847.968.3321.
Although it may seem that winter will never let go of its tight grip, the forests and fields of Lake County are about to bloom with force. Spring is here despite the dusting of snow and below freezing nights. Over the next month, many wildflowers will poke out of the leaf litter and continue their cycle of life. Many of these flowers have very short adult lives, often only living for a brief amount of time. These spring ephemerals are an exciting part of our local ecology, but we are not the first generation to take note of their beauty and usefulness. Native american tribes, as well as the first European settlers, used the flowers both medicinally and spiritually. Although you may recognize the spring beauty or bleeding heart, there is a storied past behind each spring flower.
One of the first flowers to show itself after the snow melts is spring beauty (Claytonia virginica). The flower of each plant is open for an average of three days, and within that time it is pollinated by a plethora of insects. It is the perhaps the most abundant flower seen during the spring as it grows in a variety of habitats. Many woodland Indians used spring beauty as an immediate food source after long winters. The root is a tuber and is said to have a nutty flavor. The leaves were also eaten.
Perhaps one of the most commonly seen spring flowers is the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). It is a weed, growing in backyards, along roads and everywhere in between. The flower is actually made of hundreds of florets, each being pollinated during the dandelion’s life. The dandelion has a fascinating history and has been associated with humans as early as 300 BC. Both the Europeans as well as many American Indian tribes, including the Potawatomi and Ojibwa, have used the dandelion for myriad medicinal purposes. The leaves of the plant have diuretic properties and can be used in salads or tea. Native Americans used the plant in order to help ailments such as kidney disease and swelling. Today, specialty winery’s still make dandelion wine from the flowers.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) may already be up in the forests, as they are also one of the early bloomers. The plant gets its name from the “sap” it expels when the rhizome, or root section, is sliced. It is in fact not sap, but a form of latex. This plant, like many spring ephemerals, follows the Doctrine of Signatures, which states that plants were most useful through association. Because the plant secretes this red liquid, it was thought that it could cure blood related illness. The reddish liquid that comes out of the plant, in fact, had many uses by both settlers and Indians. Due to its strong color, it was used for dyes, both in painting one’s body as well as for coloring baskets and decoration. Bloodroot also has many medicinal properties. It was used to stop bleeding, treat the symptoms of fever and cure a sore throat. The Winnebago tribe used Bloodroot as a digestive aid and a way to sooth a toothache.
These are just some of the early spring flowers that will be showing up at Ryerson Woods and other local woodlands. Please remember that you cannot extract anything from the woods, so just enjoy the intrinsic beauty of the flowers. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, which will feature flowers during the later portion of the bloom. Spring is here, go enjoy it!
This blog post was written by Luke Buckardt, who assists Brushwood Center with social media. Luke graduated from Northland College in 2012 with a degree in biology. He grew up in Riverwoods and has roamed Ryerson Woods since he was young, knowing the preserve intimately.
Sophie Twichell was kind enough to invite me to submit a blog post for Brushwood Center, and to share, in anticipation of Earth Day, some thoughts on Environmental Literature. Even though this means tearing myself away from Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, a book I find extraordinarily compelling, I am more than happy to do so.
Yesterday, in the company of a room full of students who were polite enough to act interested, I indulged myself in a medium-long digression on the environmental writing of John McPhee, whose The Founding Fish (2002) veterans of Ryerson Reads will remember as a natural and cultural history of the American Shad. McPhee, I wanted my students to understand, is the environmentally-inclined member of a group of writers remembered now as Sixties New Journalists. These writers, in response among other things to the Vietnam-era distrust of government and media, produced non-fiction prose that abandoned traditional journalistic objectivity, in favor of a subjective, sometimes novelistic reportage in which strict fidelity to fact was abandoned. In his Encounters with the Archdruid(1971), for example, McPhee joins David Brower, then president of the Sierra Club, and Floyd Dominy, then Comissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in a rubber raft on the Colorado River not long after the completion of the controversial Glen Canyon Dam. The dialogue McPhee reports between the conservationist and the dam builder was certainly invented or adapted (the three of them were in the middle of a deafening rapids after all) but nicely dramatizes the clash of two opposing philosophies about the natural word.
Elsewhere, as in his The Control of Nature (1989) and Annals of the Former Word (1998), a collection of his writings on geology, McPhee writes with a more traditional objectivity. My favorite of his books, and the one I am most interested in re-reading is The Pine Barrens (1968), a survey of the landscape, ecology, history and folkways of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a wilderness of more than a million acres in one of the most populated corners of the nation. McPhee writes:
The Pine Barrens are so close to New York that on a very
clear night a bright light in the pines would be visible from
the Empire State Building. A line ruled on a map from Boston
to Richmond goes straight through the Pine Barrens.
The halfway point between Boston and Richmond — the
geographical epicenter of the developing megalopolis —
— is in the northern part of the woods, about twenty
miles from Bear Swamp Hill.
I am nostalgic about the New Jersey Pine Barrens. As a kid growing up in the seventies, first as a camper then as a counselor at a Quaker-Hippy summer camp in Jersey, I became confirmed as a nature nut on a series of excursions into the pines.
Another book on my mind right now is an anthology of very current environmental poetry edited, with G.C. Waldrep, by my wonderful colleague in Lake Forest College’s English Department, Joshua Corey. The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (2012) is a collection of challenging poems that repurpose the ancient mode of pastoral writing for a moment when not only is the environment in crisis, but when, to the artistic and philosophical imagination, the line between the natural and the man-made has been decisively breached. Corey writes:
Postmodern pastoral retains certain allegiances to the
lyric and individual subjectivity while insisting on the
reality of a world whose objects are all equally natural
and therefore equally unnatural. Celebrity websites
and abandoned factories and telenovelas and the New
Jersey Turnpike are all eligible objects of postmodern
pastoral’s dialectical nostalgia, sites in which the human
and the unhuman mix and collide, as much as in any
One of the environmental titles that I am looking forward to reading in the near future we will take up as a group next year at Ryerson Reads. Robert Pogue Harrison, a scholar of Italian literature at Stanford, was first known to me for his powerful work of environmental history, Forests:The Shadow of Civilization (1992). In his new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (2008) Harrison offers, as I understand it, not a survey of garden history, but a series of philosophical reflections on what gardens – from Eden to Versailles – reveal about being human both today, in the shadow of environmental collapse, and throughout the long history in which our species has sought beauty, calm, even enlightenment from the artistic manipulation of natural materials.
Let me close by offering Brushwood Center’s readers a small specimen of my own writing – a poem on an environmental theme that is set in a landscape Brushwoood regulars will find familiar.
Ben Goluboff is a professor of English at Lake Forest College. He has led vibrant discussions for our RYERSON READS book group for 10 wonderful years. Here are the selections for the 2014-2015 season. Hope you’ll join us!
Sept. 10, 2014: When the Killings Done by T.C. Boyle
Nov. 12, 2014: The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
Jan. 14, 2015: The Last Animal by Abby Geni
Mar. 11, 2015: Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison
The art and design exhibition Genius Loci: Learning from Nature’s Muse opened Sunday, July 8 at Brushwood, the historic home at Ryerson Woods. We had a great turn-out: over 130 people viewed works by 12 artists, designers, and architects.
Each work selected for the show captures the spirit of a particular natural environment. The concept was to find artists and designers whose work is not only inspired by these places—prairie, woods, and lakefront—but seems to be born of these landscapes.
Topo House by the Milwaukee architecture firm Johnsen Schmaling is a great example. This private residence blurs the line between what is landscape and what is architecture. Located in the “driftless region” of Wisconsin, it’s green roofs seem to spring up from the earth’s natural topography. The building is represented in the exhibition through scale models, architectural renderings, and photographs of the (nearly) completed structure.
Another architect, Jessica Calek, presented designs for a Studio in the Woods. The branch-like framework of the building’s structural system pays homage to its wooded surroundings, but also recalls the “primitive hut” of Vitruvius and Laugier, a metaphor for architecture’s roots in the natural world.
Cynthia Winter (also an architect) displayed a series of watercolors titled Roadtrip: The Seasons at Ryerson Woods. Seen together, these near-abstract, small-scale images—painted on postcard-sized paper—read as stills from a film, capturing a sense of movement through time and through the landscape.
Jennifer Hines displayed a very different series of works. The simplicity of her individual ink drawings, Untitled Abstractions, is deceptive. But viewed collectively, her images capture an entire ecosystem: seemingly separate organisms which together create a holistic environment. Another series, displayed with the mini-dioramas in the Library, takes a more psychological approach. Forest Photos are imaginary arboreal landscapes where trees serve as metaphors for human existence. Here, Hines’ depicts states of being, rather than actual physical places.
Also in the Library is a conceptual work by artist Rachel Kauff. Her series Field Books documents three distinct ecosystems: prairie, woods, and wetlands. By leaving the hand-bound wordless books for 20 days in each landscape—open to the elements—Kauff allowed Nature to record her own stories in her own language.
Also charting conceptual territory is Doug DeWitt. The long horizontal lines of his constructions, made from found materials, recall the flat Illinois prairie. These psychological landscapes capture the essence of the rural Rustbelt: its faded wooden architecture, rusted steel equipment, and overgrown vegetation—nature reclaiming the land.
Also working in a horizontal format is photographer Michael McGuire. His images reflect a kind of surreal or dreamlike remembrance of Lake Michigan. By reproducing one section of the lakefront over and over, he captures an illusion of the lake’s vastness. The particular location represented in each photo might remain ambiguous, but the subject matter—and spirit of the place—is unmistakable.
Another photographer, Barry Phipps, photographs trees in different seasons while subtlely addressing the relationships between humans and nature. In his photo Cahokia (Winter) the long shadows of giant trees reach toward earthen mounds made by humans nearly 1,000 years ago. The scene captures the mystery and monumentality of this ancient site, as well as the quality of light on a typical Midwestern winter’s day.
Anne Kauff (Rachel Kauff’s mother) captures light and color in her masterful oil paintings of northern Illinois prairies and woods. She paints outdoors which brings an immediacy to the images—a freshness and vitality that is difficult to achieve within the confines of the artist’s studio. Her approach is perhaps the most traditional of the group, but allows her to effectively capture the spirit of prairie, woods, and sky.
Looking to the Des Plaines River for inspiration, conceptual artist Meaghan Burritt created a site specific installation for the show. Project In Situ: Des Plaines River Specimen 1 (PI:DPS1) reconstructs a fragment of the landscape inside of Brushwood, shifting its context and challenging us to reconsider an overlooked part of the natural environment: a “debris pocket” on the river. The installation—including found objects collected from the river banks—is a meditation on time, movement, and the interconnectedness between humans and nature.
Finally, furniture designer Jacob Wener of Modern Industry displays three of his designs in the Great Room: a coffee table, a console, and several benches. Horizontal lines reflect the city’s flat terrain. Reclaimed wood recalls Chicago’s motto Urbs in Horto—a city of parks and tree-lined boulevards. The recycled steel framework references Chicago’s legacy of architectural innovation and structural engineering feats. The final synthesis of form and materials captures the spirit of the City of Broad Shoulders.
When organizing the show, I purposely chose this diversity of artists and range of approaches to the shows themes. Each individual artist, in his or her own way, is listening to the genius loci and creating pieces that are in harmony with the natural environments that inspired them.
—Franck Mercurio, Curator
Franck Mercurio is an independent arts consultant, curator, and writer based in Chicago. Before starting his own consultancy business, Franck served for eight years as an exhibition developer for the Field Museum. Last year he curated the Art of Green (10 July 2011 – 31 August 2011) for Friends of Ryerson Woods, an exhibition that featured the work of twelve regional artists and designers who are creating art and designing objects in sustainable ways.
Genius Loci: Listening to Nature’s Muse is on exhibition in the Brushwood Gallery at Ryerson Woods in Deerfield, Illinois until August 31, 2012. Brushwood is open to the public: Tuesday – Friday, 10am-2pm; Sunday 1-3pm; or by appointment. For more information, contact Friends of Ryerson Woods at 847.968.3343 or visit www.ryersonwoods.org/Programs/Art/ArtExhibitions.html.
After his wonderful presentation at our most recent Nature in the Classics concert with the Music Institute of Chicago Academy, we asked Jim Setapan if he would share a few more words about the relationship between nature and the great classical canon. Jim is Director of the Academy and Conductor-in-Residence at the Music Institute of Chicago. Don’t forget, our last Nature in the Classics concert is coming up on Sunday, March 18! For more information, please see our Events listing.
It is clear that love of nature was of paramount interest to many of the great composers. A brief list of some of those for whom a daily communication with nature was a necessity would include Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Elgar, Richard Strauss, Sibelius, and Mahler.
The list of works inspired by nature shows that many, many composers drew their inspiration from all matters outdoors. A short group would include:
Vivaldi- The Four Seasons
Respighi – The Birds
Messiaen – many pieces inspired by bird calls
Prokofiev – A Summer Day
Joan Tower – Sequoia
Ferde Grofe – Grand Canyon Suite
Samuel Joners – Palo Duro Canyon Symphony
Frederick Delius – On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Borodin – In the Steppes of Central Asia
Many German Lieder (songs) speak of the beauty of nature
Beethoven – Symphony #6 (Pastorale)
A list of musical pieces inspired specifically by water would include:
Debussy – La Mer (The Sea)
Johann Strauss jr. – Thunder and Lightning Polka
Benjamin Britten – Four Sea Interludes from the Opera “Peter Grimes”
Wagner – Flying Dutchman Overture
Smetana – The Moldau (a river running through Prague)
Handel – The Water Music
Schumann – Symphony #3 (Rheinish)
The inspiration continues today; the Chicago Symphony’s 2012-13 season includes a section called Rivers, with music based on this feature of nature.
Nature informs not only the content of classical compositions, but their form as well. Take for example the Golden Section – a sense of perfect proportion ( a division of a length so that the ration of the smaller part to the larger is the same as that of the larger part to the whole; approximately 0.618) which occurs widely in nature, and also in architecture, the visual arts…and music. Some composers used this perfect sense of proportion of form, pitch, rhythm, and tempo instinctively – Bach, Mozart, Brahms; and others, such as Bela Bartok, used it consciously.
A similar relationship has often been at work in the creation of a musical motive, such as the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: its development and growth throughout a piece of music parallels nature’s life cycle.
What a wonderful giftt nature has given us musicians!
Director of the Academy
Music Institute of Chicago