Call of the wild
August 17, 2012

Happy NSCAD campers: (front row) Jeremy Vaughan, Mary Spurr; (back row) Ian Funke-McKay, David Johnson, Jack Wong, Jesse Schilperoort, Liza Rader, Billy Hebb, Nicole Cooper, Jenn MacLatchy.

For four days, deep in Kejimukjik National Park, a group of 12 NSCAD students literally immersed themselves in art making and nature.

“It’s so satisfying. You go paint at the side of the lake and then afterwards you go swim in it,” said Nicole Cooper, as she sat with others around the campfire on a soggy Saturday morning. “You get to really experience the subject.”

By day, the students hiked, canoed and swam. At night, they gazed up at a brilliant black sky studded with stars, swapped stories over the campfire and heard the howls of coyotes. All the while, they sketched, painted, took photographs and made sound recordings—“drawing out ideas that would be more fully shaped upon our return to Halifax,” explained NSCAD student Mary Spurr, the main organizer.

“The biggest thing is that the days are so free that you have time to reflect on what you’re doing,” said Ian Funke-McKay, who planned to take his sketches back to his studio as the basis for large-scale paintings.

While the days were largely unstructured, there were a few organized activities for the students to take part in. Park interpreter and Mi’kmaq artist Ursula Johnson (BFA 2006), and her partner Angela Parsons, spoke to the students about their art practices. Painter Eliza Schurman (BFA 1992), whose nature-based images document her love of trees, did a demonstration of plein air painting.

The Dark Sky Festival at Keji coincided with the NSCAD trip. Astronomers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada gave talks about constellations and meteor activity and invited people to peer through the large telescopes they brought. The national park was designated as a Dark Sky Preserve in 2010.

Mary expects the trip will blossom into a more formal partnership between the university and Parks Canada. As well, a group exhibition of nature-inspired work started during the trip will go on display at the Anna Leonowens Gallery on October 9.

Student Jenn MacLatchy paints while NSCAD alumna Eliza Schurman looks on. Photo by Mary Spurr.