Leah Wilson’s creative engagement with the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest began with her October 2012 residency. However her relationship with the forest began several years earlier in 2007. Not long after meeting river guide Tim Haley on the Rogue River, Leah traveled to Eugene from California so they could to get to know each other better before sharing a boat for 27 days on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. On a rainy October day, Tim took Leah to the Andrews Forest, a place he considered one of his “places.” Before heading to the Old-Growth trailhead, they stopped at the kiosk at the head of Road 1506 to read about Tim’s great grandfather, H. J. “Hoss” Andrews. The initial visit to the Andrews and the residency eventually opened a space to allow a convergence of several threads of Leah’s life.
Although already studying art, when Leah was 17, she moved to Oregon for the first time to attend Oregon State University to study ecology. She enrolled in a dendrology course and loved being outside and working with the plant taxonomy books to name the surrounding plants and trees. But she had little interest in the forest management, and not surprisingly, aside from the practicum she wasn’t doing very well in the course overall. Her professor called her into his office and asked why she was taking the class. She surprised herself by replying that she was an artist and wanted to know more about the trees so she could make better art: she wanted to be able to see them better. After a lengthy discussion he struck up a deal with her: he would help her pass the course if she continued to do well with the practicum, and if she continued to make art. The two plant taxonomy books from that class are the only ones that Leah still has from her one year at OSU before returning to California to study painting and drawing at the Art Institute of Southern California.
Although at the time, roads seemed to diverge when a choice was made to study art instead of science. That divergence was more of an illusion than a reality. A commonality between artistic and scientific processes is inherent in the questions that are asked. Interesting questions generate interesting work in both disciplines. The questions asked are the fundamental aspects that will shape the work. Prior knowledge, curiosity, and dialog with others and with the subject are the keys to asking interesting questions. Exploring relationships with scientist and place is at the heart of Leah’s work. This interdisciplinary approach increases the conceptual development of her work as well as her technical approach through interactions with a community that has similar values, yet has different goals and outcomes.
Several decades after her brief time as an ecology student, the Andrews offered a genuinely unique opportunity to revisit her early interest in ecology as an artist. While working on her project Ambient, she wanted to increase her engagement with the Andrews forest in a way that correlates with the long-term commitment of many of the research scientists she has met there. She will continue engaging with the Andrews Forest to create artwork over the span of her life, investigating how deeply she can develop a relationship with the place. She is interested in exploring the evolution of her work as her knowledge of the science increases, and as her personal journey of developing a strong sense-of-place with the forest matures.
Leah Wilson currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband Tim.
Leah Wilson’s Artwork from the Andrews
Images in this gallery may not be copied or otherwise used without express written consent of the artist.
Leah Wilson Contributed to the Following Andrews Special Projects
Exhibitions Featuring Leah Wilson’s HJ Andrews Projects
(upcoming) Leah Wilson: Patterns of Change, Roger W. Rogers Gallery, Willamette University, Salem, OR (Solo), 2017
Leah Wilson: Ambient, Umpqua Valley Arts Center, Roseburg, OR (Solo), 2015
Leah Wilson: Distillations of Place, Cascade Gallery, Portland, OR (Solo), 2013
About the Artist
Visual artist Leah Wilson creates place-based paintings that address changes within environmental ecosystems over time. Both process and finished paintings reflect an engagement with ecology and environmental engineering through observation and data. In addition to drawing attention to natural cyclical changes, many of her paintings tell stories of landscapes that have been exploited and manipulated for their natural resources, and reveal the results of ongoing habitat restoration projects.
After earning an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, Leah Wilson moved to California’s Gold Country in the Sierra Nevada foothills. While there, she created a pivotal project influenced by environmental decision-making process of scientists, resource managers, and special interest groups during the FERCrelicensing of her local watershed. This experience continues to inform her process.
Leah Wilson’s paintings have been exhibited at galleries throughout the West Coast including Cascade Gallery and Guardino Gallery in Portland, Oregon, the Arts Center in Corvallis, Oregon, and Julie Baker Fine Art in Nevada City, California. Her work is in the collections of Oregon State University, Adobe Systems Inc., eBay, Inc., and other corporate and private collections. She began her current project during an artist residency at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in the Oregon Cascades and she is currently working on a life-long project at the Andrews Forest. Leah now lives and makes art in Eugene, Oregon.
Find out more about Leah Wilson’s work: leahwilson.com
Header image: Recompose, 2016, Gouache on Paper Wall Installation, Approx. 16 in. x 69 in., Photo: [All images courtesy of the artist].