Nature-inspired art has been a part of Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest since its inception in 1929, and is a lens through which the organization fulfills its mission of connecting people with nature. Bernheim’s founder, Isaac W. Bernheim, believed in the power of art and envisioned Bernheim as a venue for high-quality creative work. The sculpture collection found throughout the Arboretum began to take shape in the 1950s. After the Education Center was completed, interior space was available to celebrate artistic expression. During the 1960s and 1970s, this space provided an area for craft demonstrations and art shows.
Mr. Bernheim’s full vision took shape in 1980 after local sculptor, Paul Fields was awarded the opportunity to create a sculpture of great significance for the entryway of the Sun and Shade Loop. The concept of an Artist in Residence program was born shortly after Fields moved into an on-site lodging facility and worked for two years to complete the untitled sculpture fondly referred to by Bernheim staff as ‘The Snail,’ the first contemporary art to be placed at Bernheim.
2020 marks the 40th anniversary of this internationally renowned program that annually awards artists the time and space to live at Bernheim and create site-specific work inspired by their total immersion experience. The Artist in Residence program has hosted more than 50 regional, national, and international artists who seek to use the natural environment as their inspiration. This residency experience is an incubator of inspiration that fosters creative risk-taking and encourages the exploration of new concepts. Artists are exposed to educational programming, research studies, and the staff as a resource for the development of their work.
In turn, the artists are a resource to us. Artists think and approach the world differently, and the work created through the program allows our staff and visitors to be challenged, surprised, and engaged with art and nature in new and exciting ways. As part of their residency agreement, artists are asked to gift a finished piece inspired by their experience. They are also encouraged to engage the public with their work and process, which may include the creation of interactive works, lectures, workshops, or participation in one of Bernheim’s programs or annual events.
The last 40 years led the program through a decade of photography (prior to the digitalization of the medium), followed by a multitude of painters, printmakers, and interdisciplinary and installation artists. Recent years have highlighted more contemporary explorations of nature through science, sense, experimental media, and digital mediums. Nature has long inspired artists, and the inclusion of art, as part of the entire ecosystem of Bernheim sets us apart from organizations similar to ours. Bernheim believes that if people recognize and benefit from the many values found in nature, quality of life would be enhanced, hence motivating them to protect the natural world for both its practical and intrinsic value. Throughout 2020, we are celebrating the contributions of the program’s past and exploring exciting new concepts for the future as we continue to connect people with nature through art.