January 16, 2013
Jack and Denise Gallagher went out for a winter walk, and ended up at an art opening.
After a hike at Ryerson Woods near Deerfield they stopped for a drink of water at Brushwood, the headquarters and arts center hub of Friends of Ryerson Woods. And there, they happened on the opening reception for its new show of landscape paintings.
Artists Susan Kraut and Richard Deutsch were talking with visitors about painting, landscape and light. People wandered, gazing at Deutsch's paintings of pilings in the Chicago River and Kraut's of storm-clouded skies. A table was laden with cheese, crackers, fruit and cookies.
Hiking boots on their feet and glasses of lemonade in their hands, the Gallaghers celebrated their good fortune.
"It's perfect," Denise Gallagher, of Evanston, said. "We walked for an hour, and we came in here and it's just wonderful."
As can be any adventure that combines the art of nature and nature itself. Especially in winter, when it can be particularly pleasant to experience the outdoors, indoors.
There are a number of opportunities to do so. Brushwood, the Greek Revival-style building that was once the summer home of the Edward L. Ryerson family, has art shows year-round. The Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Garden frequently hold nature-themed art exhibits. At the Botanic Garden this Saturday is the opening of the new show "Woodcut," featuring handmade prints of cross-sections of salvaged wood by artist Bryan Nash Gill.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is showing an exhibit called "A Meticulous Beauty," in which Jennifer Angus has arranged a collection of sustainably farmed insects into a wallpaperlike pattern.
And the museum recently unveiled "Owls of Illinois," an exhibit by wildlife photographer and owl aficionado Jerry Goldner, of Evanston.
All are in a setting that offers the opportunity to see art, and then experience it by walking outside.
Goldner's pictures are dramatic, large-scale images of owls he has seen in the Chicago area. They range from the snowy owl that drew crowds to the lakefront in 2011 and 2012 to the rare burrowing owl that Goldner has seen only once, when he took the picture that is in the exhibit.
The pictures are beautiful, but Goldner's aim is also to inform the public about owls. "People don't realize there are so many different species in Illinois," he said.
"Owls are the most elusive, the most difficult to photograph, the most sought after in the birding world, and the most beautiful to me," he said. "I just love their look."
At Brushwood, the focus on fine arts, which includes a book group and art classes, has enabled it to reach more people, said Sophia Twichell, executive director of Friends of Ryerson Woods.
"Environmental education in some regards can be sort of exclusive. Not everyone wants to know the migration pattern of a certain species or the Latin name of a flower," she said. "But they still really respond to and love nature.
"In order to engage that broader community, we started to focus on the intersection of art and nature."
It is a natural intersection, said Deutsch, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
"Nature and art have always been very entwined together," he said. "The Art Institute probably has more landscapes than any other subject."
Which makes sense, he said: "The landscape is the place where we all have very strong visual, emotional, psychological responses."
Kraut, also a longtime teacher at SAIC, paints still lifes and landscapes as seen over windowsills. She uses aging, spotted fruits and vegetables in her still lifes, she said, as a way of capturing a moment in time.
"It's sort of freezing something while it's still there," she said.
And the sky is an important, brooding presence in a number of her paintings, appropriately for a show titled "Sky/Place."
"It's the feeling of the light, for me, when it's cloudy and dusky, when the light is disappearing, but you can still feel it in there," she said. "I think I've been trying to paint clouds most of my career, because they're so impossible."
She and Deutsch were delighted to be showing their works at Brushwood.
"It's such a great place for an exhibition," Deutsch said. "I can look right out there and see the light itself."
"It's very sweet, very intimate — definitely not intimidating the way some galleries are," Kraut said. "In a way, shows like this are the most gratifying. People aren't thinking about it as art."
But after seeing it, they might think differently about nature. Outside the exhibit, the late afternoon sky over Ryerson Woods was a windblown patchwork of blue sky, dark-bellied clouds, white puffs so soft edged that you couldn't see where they ended, and a long band of clouds that formed a horizontal line above the trees.
It looked like a painting. At least it did now.
IF YOU GO
Brushwood is within the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area, or Ryerson Woods, at 21950 N. Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods. Admission is free. More information at ryersonwoods.org or 847-968-3343.
For the outdoors part of your visit, the 561-acre preserve has 6.5 miles of trails through forest and along the Des Plaines River and a small farm. Also worth a visit is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified Edward L. Ryerson Welcome Center. For more information, call 847-968-3320.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is at 2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago. Admission is $9 for adults with discounts for students, seniors and children and suggested donations days for Illinois residents on Thursdays. More information is at http://www.chias.org or 773-755-5100.
For your outdoor segment, the museum has a rooftop bird observation walk with great views, and is located just east of North Pond, a prime spot for a walk.
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