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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Inspirations from the Forest Learning Guide

Finding Inspiration

Artists, writers, and poets throughout time have looked to the natural world for inspiration. Some have used their artwork to teach people about the natural world or to help protect the environment. Think about how an artist or writer can influence the public's perception of the outdoors. Art can be a lens through which we can view and "read" the past and present. What can we learn about people by studying the art they leave behind?

Activity: Explore More Art!
Visual Artists and the Natural Landscape

Go online to learn more about landscape artists and environmental artists. Select an artist from our list to research. Find out what that artist is best known for. Do you like the artist's work? Look at some of the other artists' work online. Which one is your favorite, and why? You can even create a work of art in the style of your favorite artist. Give it a try!

Activity: Writing Project
Note Card of Your Favorite Place

Poet Emma Lazarus is famous for penning the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. She also wrote "Long Island Sound," which is featured in this exhibition. The poem seems peaceful and relaxed; Lazarus seems to have happy memories of her time on Long Island Sound.

Long Island Sound
by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

I see it as it looked one afternoon
In August,—by a fresh soft breeze o'erblown
The swiftness of the tide, the light thereon.
A far-off sail, white as a crescent moon.
The shining waters with pale currents strewn,
The quiet fishing-smacks, the Eastern cove,
The semi-circle of its dark, green grove.
The luminous grasses, the merry sun
In the grave sky; the sparkle far and wide
Laughter of unseen children, cheerful chirp
Of crickets, and low lisp of rippling tide
Light summer clouds fantastical as sleep
Changing unnoted while I gazed thereon
All these fair sounds and sights I made my own.

Picture your favorite place outside. Find a blank 4" x 6" note card or fold a blank piece of paper in half. On one side, describe your favorite outdoor location with as much detail as possible. Is it near water? What color is the sky? Are there trees? Are there birds singing?

Trade your card with someone else. Now, try to draw THAT person's favorite place, using only the descriptions they wrote on the card, and they will try and draw YOURS.

How did the pictures turn out? Trade the cards back and see.

Activity: Poetry in Motion
Celebrating Nature in Poetry

Gary Snyder is a poet and advocate for the preservation of wild places. Many of his poems, like the one below, are inspired by experiences he has had hiking in the wilderness. Try and write a poem in the style of "For All."

For All
by Gary Snyder
Reprinted with permission from his book, No Nature: New and Selected Poems (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992).

Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
one ecosystem
in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.

Describe an experience you have had in nature (swimming in the ocean or a lake, hiking, looking at clouds, sunbathing, camping). Make a list of adjectives that describe your experience. Include descriptions of sounds, tastes, smells, temperature, textures, mood, as well as visual descriptions. Work from your list and create the first two stanzas of your short poem. Try to express an opinion or commentary in the third stanza that relates back to your nature experience. You may refer to "For All" as a guide, but make the poem your own!

Click here to see Gary Snyder featured in the Inspirations from the Forest exhibition.

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