Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Beauty All Around Us: The natural, the manmade become one as Art in the Wild returns.

Screenshot 2015-03-30 01.32.43Debbi Cowl remembers the first time she walked the trails of Wildwood Park in Dauphin County and stumbled upon the whimsical creatures and colorful creations left behind by artists.

As the director of Tender Years Child Development Center and an artist herself, Cowl desperately wanted to introduce her students to Wildwood Park’s annual Art in the Wild program.

“We really wanted to be committed to participating this year,” Cowl said.

Beginning its third year this month, “Art in the Wild” will turn Wildwood Park into an al fresco gallery for 17 artists who will display their work along the 3.1-mile trail loop.

Good to her word, Cowl and her students will be part of it. Along with kindergarten teacher Carol Lauver, Cowl will fill a tree with birdhouses created by about 20 students as a way to contribute to the park’s evolving program.

The theme for this year’s exhibit is “Reflections,” said Chris Rebert, manager at Wildwood Park and Olewine Nature Center. Artists can interpret that however they like, but all of the projects must be made from mostly natural materials, he said.

Winners for first through third place will be announced on opening day, April 11. Three top winners also will be selected for a people’s choice award, where visitors can vote on their favorite exhibits throughout the summer. Those winners will be announced Sept. 27 at Celebrate Wildwood.

The year’s late snow proved a challenge for artists who needed to start setting up as early as mid-March. By early April, depending on how warm it is, the poison ivy could be an issue for those who have to work in the brush. Despite these concerns, things were shaping up well for this year’s exhibit, Rebert said.

All from PA

Art in the Wild allows artists to bring in their own items, as long as they aren’t invasive plants, and create pieces using whatever inspiration nature might provide.

Sometimes, Rebert said, artists will even use dead materials or invasive vines already in the park, such as the oriental bittersweet vine, helping to benefit both the park and the artist.

While previous years have hosted artists from throughout the region, including three from out of state and one from Canada, each of the 17 artists represented this year are from Pennsylvania. When they submit applications to be considered for the exhibit, a panel of five jurors chooses from the ideas without knowing the names of the applicants, Rebert said.

This process allows everyone from professional artists to hobbyists and even school students to be included.

With more than 85,000 park visitors a year, mostly for walking, running or to participate in a park program, Art in the Wild gives Wildwood Park the chance to reach a larger group of people, Rebert said.

“We feel like Dauphin County Parks has pioneered an exciting format for the discovery of art in nature,” he said. “We want to show people that there is beauty throughout Pennsylvania’s landscape, and sometimes it can be intentional art.”

Inventive and Wonderful

Each year, Cowl and Lauver look forward to walking through Art in the Wild. Artists themselves, they admire the ingenuity that the program offers those with a creative spirit.

Their students will be creating birdhouses made from wood kits and coconut shells, and they’ve even started looking for natural items to decorate with, such as natural dyes from berries and carrots.

“Projects like these go beyond standardized testing that a lot of the public schools have to do,” Cowl said. “By working with the children on these projects, they have the chance to learn about habitats, natural resources and critical thinking when it comes to building something. These are the connections to learning we want to provide.”

Incorporating art with early childhood education has the power to leave a lasting impression, said Lauver, who has taught kindergarten at the school for 13 years. Growing up in New York, she remembers when an art teacher said her painting was good enough for an exhibit. From that moment on, Lauver said, she thought of herself as an artist.

Kathleen Swain of Susquehanna Township has also found inspiration. An avid knitter, she will use felting, the process of creating very dense fibers through knitting, to create more than 20 different animals to place in the exhibit.

In addition to birds and birdhouses, she will knit turtles, snakes and Canada geese that she’ll hang from the trees, place on logs and otherwise position in their natural habitats.

“I think Art in the Wild is one of the best things that park has done,” Swain said. “Some of the exhibits are just so inventive and wonderful.”

As a member of the Friends of Wildwood Park and an avid hiker, Swain waited until after her daughter’s wedding last year to get involved.

Now, she might spend up to 10 hours making a single bird to hang in her display. Working with the theme of reflection, Swain is making all of her creatures in pairs and posing them to look at each other, much like a parent and child.

Unlike the many sweaters, blankets and mittens she’s knitted in the past, a project of this size has taken much of her time since Thanksgiving, she said. But the experience is one she doesn’t regret.

“When you visit, just be prepared to walk the entire loop,” she said. “There are so many beautiful, unique exhibits, that you don’t want to miss any. Keep an open mind and be alert. You don’t know what beauty might surprise you.”

“Art in the Wild” will be on display April 11 to Oct. 31 at Wildwood Park, 100 Wildwood Park Way, Harrisburg. For more information, visit and search for “Art in the Wild.” A brochure featuring a map of the displays is available at the Olewine Nature Center.

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