The students in Maureen O’Neill’s art appreciation class at Edgecombe Community College (ECC) go beyond acrylics and the traditional painting on the wall. Their canvas is nature and their materials are unlikely objects such as tree limbs and pinecones.
“The whole concept is to do an Earthwork with the materials that are on site,” said O’Neill, an instructor at Edgecombe Community College. “Earthworks came around pretty much in the 1970’s. Earthworks, I think, are really unique. It’s accessible. It becomes something that’s exciting. You can use sticks and rocks…”
The students just completed their Earthworks projects on the nature trail on ECC’s campus. Before staking out the materials for their projects, the students watched a documentary on prominent Earthworks artist Andy Goldsworthy.
Goldsworthy’s arches were the inspiration for one of the first projects on the trail. A group of about a dozen students fashioned the arches from wood and natural vines. Adding to the project is the illustration of a window inside the arches.
Like Goldsworthy’s arches, the group’s Earth art blends into the natural environment.
“We didn’t cut anything that was already there. We just added to it,” said Jean Grimes, one of the students who worked on the project. “Nature’s really beautiful all by itself. It’s hard to think that you could make something that could add to it.”
The arches took the group of students six hours and four classes to complete. The project was a novel experience for Grimes, an artist who typically does oil paintings.
“It was fun,” Grimes said. “It gives you a chance to experiment with something brand new…It was a brand new awareness to me that people were doing art in the woods.”
Another project near the beginning of the trail is “The Forbidden Doorway,” a work of art created using pinecones, sticks and tree bark.
“It’s got a path to it and it’s sort of like a doorway, but it’s shut,” said Brittany Moore.
She and her twin sister, Courtney Moore, both seniors at Edgecombe Early College High School, designed the project along with Bernice Dixon, an ECC student in the computer technology program.
Another student in the class, Lee Cherry, worked independently on a project, “tree bark dome by the pond.” Cherry used tree bark, straw, pinecones and green leaves to serve as algae for his creation.
Further down the trail is a large-scale nature project, “Wall of Thorns,” created by a group of five students. The students, (Michael Christopher, Armando Gonzalez, Colby Cummings, Dyquan Cross and Collin Rhodes) chose a fallen tree as the base for their project and used mostly vertical sticks and thorns to fashion the seemingly impenetrable wall. “Like a castle wall,” said Gonzalez. The students said they spent about three hours creating the piece.
Geometrical shapes served as the inspiration for other projects on the trail, including the “Circle of Life” and a heart-shaped project fashioned out of tree limbs.
“I was impressed. These students are so willing to try things,” said O’Neill. “Most of these students really know about this land here, so they have a real connection (to it). They really love being out in nature. They aren’t a bunch of city slickers that are afraid of bugs.”
The Earthworks projects will remain on the trail as long as nature keeps them intact.
And the newest project on the trail is the construction of a wooden observation deck at the end of the trail.
“It gives the community a place to go to connect with nature and get away from their computer and cell phones. I’m so thankful to George Anderson for wanting this to be here as part of the campus,” said O’Neill.