Creating Foraged Art

This is a guest post by Megan White, visitor services specialist at the Library. 

As we all try to find ways to get outdoors this winter, I thought I would offer a quick nature-based activity for families to do together outside, despite the cold.

Leaf and flower painting; Frances Benjamin Johnston, photographer; Prints & Photographs Division

If you look closely at the picture to the right, you can see students working on nature-based crafts at school. The photograph is was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, one of the first American women to achieve prominence as a photographer. She was well known for her architectural and landscape photography, and she was a proponent of the Garden Beautiful Movement, which sought to bring the beauty of nature back to cities and areas that had been heavily polluted as a result of industrialization while at the same time preserving American wilderness that was still intact. The Library holds a large portion of her work, including the lantern slides she took with her as she gave lectures about the Garden Beautiful Movement all over the country.

America’s fascination with and conflict with the natural world has continued since Johnston’s time and has been closely tied to some of its art movements. The activity below is inspired by land artists like Andy Goldsworthy, Nils Udo, and Patrick Dougherty, whose stickwork installation can be found outside the U.S. Botanical Gardens. Land art started in the 1960’s alongside early environmental activism. Artists from this movement generally work with materials found in nature like sticks, leaves, and stones and create art that is built into the environment instead of displayed in a gallery. Due to the materials and the setting, most land art is ephemeral and will relatively quickly blow away or float downstream. This adds an element of mindfulness to land art. It reminds us that we are connected to so many things in the natural world, while also creating a healthy relationship to change.

A kid-friendly way to try out Land Art is to start by making geometric patterns out of natural items.

Image courtesy of Megan White

  • Find a spot to work in that has a good variety of items: leaves, berries, petals, pine cones, sticks, and/or stones and a flat space to work on like a large stone or the top of a short wall. Using a surface that has a dark background can help your art stand out.
  • Gather materials from nearby that are of interest. Focus on items with a variety of colors, shapes, and textures, and make sure to get at least four of each material you choose to incorporate. You’ll be surprised how much color you can find even when the world looks mainly gray and brown.
  • Design your piece. Choose something to be the center then place contrasting objects in a pattern around the center. Continue to work your way outwards.
  • Use your creativity! You can leave a lot of space between the materials or you can fill in all the space. You can make several small pieces or keep adding until you have one very large piece. You can work alone or you can work together. Your project is done when it feels done!
  • Come back the next day and see what happened. Animals might have moved or eaten pieces. Or, if you made your piece in a park, someone might have added to your art. And if your art blew away, that’s okay! Now you can start a new piece.

To find more ideas for making art with kids using natural materials, explore these books in our collection: “Foraged Art,” “Land Art in Town,” and “The Organic Artist for Kids.”

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