“One could not imagine a more beautiful river, high banks covered with large hardwood, with scattering pine, mostly white pine. Islands, large and small without number and these also covered by big trees. A good many of these islands are high and rocky on the shoreline. No end of springs and spring creeks coming in mostly on the Wisconsin side…
This river, from Snake River up to the mouth of the Tamarack River, should be made a state park by Minnesota and Wisconsin and should forever be preserved in its present state for the people of both states.”
– J.W.G. Dunn, September 1931
The Pine Needles cabin is perched on a sandstone cliff just upstream of the village of Marine on St. Croix. It was built by John Warner Grigg Dunn, who fell in love with the St. Croix River and started photographing it in 1912.
Later, his son James Taylor Dunn would come to know and love the river. Serving as head librarian for the Minnesota Historical Society, he published the seminal St. Croix River history, “The St. Croix: Midwest Border River” in 1965.
In 1999, the cabin where his family made many memories was donated to the St. Croix Watershed Research Station. Since then, it has been used by artists every summer as a retreat for inspiration and focus while working on a broad spectrum of creative projects. Not only do the artists get a chance to pursue their craft, but also benefit from interaction with environmental scientists and the local community.
The research station has just announced the selection of the summer 2015 Artists at Pine Needles: Soyini Guyton, Seitu Jones and Joshua Cunningham of St. Paul, and Tara Shukla of Grinnell, Iowa. Below is information about what they will work on.
Soyini Guyton and Seitu Jones: Urban Nature
Guyton and Jones are collaborating on a project to develop a natural history field guide to the St. Paul community of Frogtown. Guyton is a writer and poet, Jones a photographer and sculptor, and they have previously collaborated on many public art projects in the Twin Cities.
In their application, Guyton wrote, “I want to document the ecological, environmental, and natural environmental and landscape of Frogtown, a culturally and economically diverse urban neighborhood that is the future home of the Frogtown Farm and Park.”
Explaining that Frogtown is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, with the least amount of tree canopy coverage and green space, and the lowest number of parks, they hope their project will “expand the perceptions of the natural world and increase the understandings of our connections to nature in a dense urban environment.”
The pair will use their time at the cabin researching the plants, animals, and people they want to include, and working on the text and illustrations.
Joshua Cunningham: St. Croix Portraits
Cunningham is a plein air landscape painter, meaning he paints outdoors, not in a studio. He intends to create several paintings each day, capturing the vistas and views of the St. Croix River Valley.
“The St. Croix has been a place of inspiration from my earliest outings as an artist and I truly look forward to the opportunity to deepen my connection through a protracted stay,” Cunningham said.
He says the scenery is important, but developing a deeper understanding of the area’s ecology is equally valuable.
“As my understanding of a place’s natural history deepens, so too does my appreciation for the time and forces that have conspired to form it. While the light, season and prevailing weather set the pallet, tone and mood in my work, my curiosity for the natural history of a place sets the subject of that pallet. I look forward to further educating myself about the natural history of the area by spending a bit of time with the dedicated scientists at the St. Croix Watershed Research Station,” he shared.
Cunningham expects to produce many paintings during his stay, and take a few of them back to the studio, where he will create larger pieces. Once his St. Croix River body of work is completed, he expects to present an exhibition showcasing the river and his art. He also expects to talk with people he encounters on the river while painting, so canoeists and others keep an eye out this summer.
Tara Shukla: Scientific Illustration
Tara Shukla of Grinnell, Iowa will spend her residency drawing and photographing endangered species of the St. Croix area. She creates charcoal drawings in the field, which serve as studies for larger studio works, in the tradition of scientific and botanical illustrations.
Shukla says she enjoys how science illustration combines “rigorous observation with wonder at the natural world.”
The artist is interested in turning her observations and wonder toward endangered species in the area. In particular, she says she has become “fascinated” by the St. Croix River’s mussels. She says she is both interested by their shapes and their important role in the ecosystem as filters and indicators of environmental health.
After spending two weeks along the St. Croix, Shukla plans to take her drawings back to the studio and complete detailed illustrations of what she sees.