A publication of Appalachian Voices

A publication of Appalachian Voices

‘Environment At Risk’ Art Exhibit Connects Art, Activism and the Natural World

A man leans over to place a hand on a fallen tree trunk.

Paula Mann’s photograph “Weeping Over MVP Destruction” is part of the “Environment At Risk” art exhibit at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Photo Courtesy of Paula Mann

By Jen Lawhorne

For photographer Paula Mann, work is incredibly personal as she documents the destruction that comes from construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Her image “Weeping Over MVP Destruction” shows Mann’s husband laying his hand on the stump of a fallen tree on their land in Monroe County, West Virginia. Mann is a third-generation landowner living in the pipeline’s path, and capturing that moment brought back childhood memories for Mann of eating lunch among the trees with her mother.

“My mother would tell me the name of the trees, plants, flowers, and wildlife that called these woods and trees home,” Mann says. “ And seeing all of this destroyed was so heartbreaking. They had destroyed one of the places that held very fond memories of my mother and my childhood.”

Mann is one of 40 artists whose work is featured in the “Environment At Risk” show, organized by Appalachian Voices Virginia Field Coordinator Jessica Sims. An artist herself, Sims’ painting, “It Was A Cave (For Karolyn),” is included in the exhibit.

“Connecting with others about the environmental threats faced by the communities and places we love is so important,” Sims says. “I have a background in fine arts, and am excited for opportunities to use the visual arts to communicate environmental issues and to bring together artists, activists and the public.”

“Environment At Risk” artists confront environmental issues in deeply intimate and poetic ways through paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and fiber art. Among other issues depicted, the exhibit demonstrates what happens when artists examine the relationship between humans and nature and helping the audience feel the urgency of the climate crisis.

Sims’ painting references a cave on a farm in Giles County, Virginia, that was destroyed by construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Faint, smudged shapes mimic cave elements found after blasting. The white painted lines overlaid on a green, textured surface reference a seismic map, which shows the potential for earthquakes in the cave’s region.

A white-bearded man in a red and white plaid shirt and jeans leans over a canvas to work on a painting.

Artist Genesis Chapman works at his studio on one of his renderings of a pipeline explosion. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

Another striking piece in the show is “Controlled Burn,” an acrylic painting on canvas by Sharon Denmark, who is based out of Disputanta, a town in Eastern Virginia. Denmark’s painting was inspired by a visit to a nature preserve, which is also home to some of the last populations of red-cockaded woodpeckers in Virginia. Controlled burns are being used to return some balance to the local ecosystem.

“I was very struck by the hints of fire that marked the bark of the pine trees, and by the texture and patterns of the bark itself,” Denmark says. “I hope my work helps people notice the natural world, from the biggest skies to the smallest curves of bark.”

Genesis Chapman, another artist featured in the exhibit and whose home community is impacted by Mountain Valley Pipeline construction, depicts documented gas pipeline explosions through ink painted on paper that is then mounted on wood engraved with the logos of the pipeline corporation. Chapman has several works on display in “Environment At Risk” as part of his “See America Last” series that portrays gas pipeline explosions in all 50 U.S. states.

“So much of the work I’ve done is based on my observations from growing up in rural Appalachia and the natural forces that I have grown up around,” Genesis says. “In the past few years because of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, I’ve been more and more obsessed with the amount of destruction that we’ve done to the natural environment.”

Men and women mill around an art gallery looking at paintings and talking.

People gather at the “Environment At Risk” opening reception on Sept. 14. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

As art continues to play an important role in driving action on climate change by engaging and motivating people to get involved, Sims hopes the exhibit prompts people less familiar with environmental issues to want to learn more.

“[I want this exhibit] to encourage creativity for how to talk about and fight threats faced by visitors own communities,” she says.

“Environment At Risk” is on display at the Gumenick Family Gallery in The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen until Nov. 5., with some of the works available for purchase.

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2023 — Fall

2023 — Fall

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