By April Folle, Central Mountain Times
“We hear all the time of people going into nature and finding inspiration, but what is inspiring the wildlife?” Erica Marks, director of the Yew Mountain Center an educational nonprofit organization in Hillsboro, WV, couldn’t get that question out of her head. Each trip into the forest revealed another reason to believe that inspiration was lacking among the residents of the natural world. “It’s a crisis no one is talking about. People speak of ‘happy little trees,’ but what if they aren’t? What if each ‘cheerful’ peep of a spring peeper is really an existential cry for help?”
After dwelling on this sad thought for months, she realized what was missing in the “red in tooth and claw” existences of wild creatures: art supplies. “If you think about it, wild animals and plants have extremely limited resources with which to express themselves. This is an underserved population,” Marks said. “We give our children markers, glitter glue, crayons…What do the animals have? Rocks and mud?”
Inquiries led her to Dr. Art Zeefardzi, professor of Bioart at the University of Dummköpfe in Frankfurt, Germany. Zeefardzi has been studying the effects an environment rich in art supplies on the wellbeing of blue foxes Vulpes gulpes. His research indicates that foxes who have access to tools with which to express themselves have a measurably greater sense of wellbeing as indicated by the bushiness and carriage of their tails, among other things. “Blue foxes raised with an inexhaustible supply of oil pastels were the most well-adjusted foxes in our studies,” writes Zeefardzi in a 2018 publication of the journal Natur.
Motivated to improve the condition of local wildlife, Marks set out to find funding for art supplies to meet the needs of the living things on the 500 acres at the Yew Mountain Center. She wrote letters, applied for grants, and eventually struck up partnership with an anonymous patron of both the arts and nature who donated $1.5 million to start a pilot program. “It’s a dream come true,” Marks said. “We are going big and seeding the forests, creeks, and meadows with a wide variety of expressive tools.” Beyond typical art supplies such as paint, polymer clay, and crayons, they will also be able to put musical instruments into the paws, fins, talons, of the wildlife.
“I’m so excited to see what they will create,” said Marks. “But more than that, I am thrilled that wildlife will now have an outlet for their emotions and ideas.” Marks said the natural works of art will not be for sale. “This isn’t like the elephants painting for tourists in Thailand. This project is about unleashing the innate creativity that we know is flowing through the veins and xylem of wild beings.”
For more information and to support the Wildlife Art Supply Project (WASP,) please contact the Yew Mountain Center. firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo caption: Bongos and watercolors await use at the Yew Mountain Center. Credit: April Folle