Grenada artist Robin Whitfield brought to life the relationship between art and nature for an audience at this Union County Heritage Museum this past week.
Although trained as an artist initially working with oils, she inadvertently became a water colorist and a conservationist.
After she moved to Grenada, part of her inspiration for her work was coming from a 300-acre cypress knob swamp and wetland just outside the city.
Then she learned that the city planned to destroy the area and cut the trees. “I asked around and when I found out they would be selling trees for about $40 each, I said let me sell them through my art,” she said.
The board tentatively agreed but told her she would have to be the high bidder at auction to get the land.
“A guy came out of nowhere and allowed us to be the high bidder,” she said.
With dogged persistence and help from others she was eventually able to create a 501(c)3 organization called “Friends of Chachiuma Swamp” with a 100-year lease on the property, which has been designated the Lee Tartt Nature Preserve. That was the only condition the financial benefactor asked for, to memorialize the Grenada Bureau of Narcotics officer who had been killed in the line of duty in 2016.
So now the area is a premier draw at the entrance to the city and available for study, recreation and, of course, art.
For Whitfield, color, nature and art are all intertwined.
“First, color is a language,” she said. “It’s something we all take for granted but it’s a huge part of everyday life.”
Painting is a translation of color and light and that forced her to take up watercolor, which is better suited to portray subtleties of light and shadow.
“Color is all of our first language,” she said. “And the relationship of one color next to another can evoke so much.”
Whitfield says she also sees color as a billboard.
It can tell one something and convey a message, she said. Much of nature is a living piece of art. Everything had a pigment, and she uses many of those pigments from nature in her work.
For thousands of years humans have worked with pigments from plant, animal and mineral sources found in the wild. The search and discovery of unique colors in nature have shaped human history, Whitfield said.
“My mission as an artist and human is to spend as much time as possible in natural systems, particularly on public land. I hope to inspire others to go outside and explore these wild places.”
In fact, after the program, she taught a workshop on how to uses pigments from nature in art.
Whitfield takes her nature art very seriously in the sense of its importance and value in inspiring others to look around them at the beauty of nature, but not otherwise.
“I need to remember to play so when I go to paint I don’t take it so seriously,” she said.
Her partnership with the City of Grenada has resulted in the city winning the municipal League City Spirit Award, and a new awareness of the value of conserving wild places for many of Grenada’s inhabitants.
Much of Whitfield’s artwork created in and inspired by the swamp is sold in galleries throughout the state of Mississippi. Much of it is created using pigments she has harvested from nature. Pokeberries, red ocher clay, Yazoo River silt, burned meadow grass, red clay hills, flower petals are some of the substances she uses in her work.