The Art of Nature Show (Environmental Education Center building at Lord Stirling Park)

Relaxing with a book in an outdoor classroom in front of the Environmental Education Center.

The Art of Nature Show held at the Environmental Education Center at Lord Stirling Park (part of the Somerset County Park Commission) was brought to my attention by friends who know I’m always interested in learning about local artists.  Not being familiar with any of the artists featured, or the facility itself, I was eager to take a trip to see the show.

The Environmental Education Center is situated next to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge on 950 acres of land, that in the 1600s had been the home of the Lenni-Lenapes, and in the late 1700s had been the home of Revolutionary War major-general, William Alexander (Lord Stirling).  Within walking distance from the Environmental Education building, you can find a myriad of wildlife living in the midst of forests, open fields and meadows, swamps, rivers, streams, and ponds.  For those interested in exploring the surrounding area, there are 8.5 miles to hike, and maps can be picked up in the Environmental Education building.

The Environmental Education Center building.

Inside the building, there is a gift shop with trinkets commemorating both the fun and beauty of nature, a library, and the gallery where I found the Art of Nature Show that I had been looking for.  The show is on display in a large room with high, slanted ceilings, and features the impressive work of about twenty local artists.  As I began to walk around the space, the word that immediately came to mind was “respect.”  It is evident that the artists have a great respect for their subjects and through their work, that respect was transferred to me (someone who doesn’t stop to smell the roses or appreciate the beauty of the bald eagle as often as I should).  I felt humble and human as I quietly walked around with my notebook and pen in hand, focusing on each raindrop, each feather, each moment captured by either a painting or photograph.

Unique among the watercolors and photography were the scratchboards of the talented Basking Ridge native, Colby Krolak.  Krolak has always had a deep appreciation for nature and when studying at the duCret School of Art, her subjects were often wildlife, animals in particular.  While classmates enjoyed working with media like acrylics and charcoal, Krolak found a strong connection between her primary subjects of owls, raptors, and other birds of prey, with the scratchboard drawing technique.  Scratchboards have been around since the 19th century when people would use sharp tools to etch drawings into a surface of white clay or chalk covered in black ink because it was less expensive than the wax and metal or wood materials that had been used previously as templates for printing.  The practice was not used as much once photography presented another way to accomplish printing goals, but in the 20th Century, scratchboards as finished pieces of art themselves became popular.

Scratchboards by Colby Krolak on display at the Art of Nature Show.

When talking about why she chose to use scratchboards, Krolak says, “I fell in love with it from the first piece.”  She enthusiastically speaks about how through her favorite medium, she is able to uncover the story hiding within each board.  And with her masterful technique, each whisker or claw or curve of a beak is brought out of the ink and into life.

Krolak loves domesticated animals as well as the wild ones and is also available for pet portrait commissions.  Information about the portraits can be found on her website:  http://www.colbykrolak.com/.  The Art of Nature Show will run until April 26, 2010.  Afterwards, you can find Krolak’s work during July and August at the Bernardsville Audubon Center.

My favorite of Krolak's scratchboards in the Art of Nature Show.

Reminding you to stop and appreciate the nature around us,
~Melissa 🙂
The Jersey Girl

Related links and sources:
http://www.somersetcountyparks.org/
http://www.colbykrolak.com/
http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=18231
http://www.nanticoke-lenape.org/
http://www.scratchboard-art.com/about.html

(You can read a related post about my trip to Colonial Park, part of the Somerset County Park Commission, here.)

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