Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods proudly welcomes back internationally renowned Botanical Artist Heeyoung Kim, accompanied by her students from the Botanical Art Academy, for the Seventh Annual Enriching Life Exhibition. This event showcases carefully crafted pieces spanning different stages of completion, allowing visitors to join in the celebration of an artist's progress and process. Through a dedication to detail, Heeyoung Kim guides her students into creating art with purpose extending beyond their obvious beauty, as they foster a deeper connection with the often overlooked elements of nature. Through this meticulous eye, their pieces highlight the intricacies of our local ecosystems and educate audiences on the importance of each individual species.
Heeyoung Kim, a now highly accomplished artist, displayed her first solo exhibition with the Brushwood Center after participating in one of their group shows in 2009. She reflects on her invitation, saying, “that was so exciting, and I was not even ready to have a solo exhibit at that time, but I said YES I’m going to do it, and I felt like that was such a humbling moment. I never even thought of having a solo show!”
These feelings of symbiosis are shared with the center’s leadership, as well. Director of Arts and Administration, Julia Kemerer, remarks, “Heeyoung has been a fixture at Brushwood Center since we first saw her work.” Brushwood’s goals to deepen the public’s connection with the environment and support the health of both people and the planet are actualized with the presence of Heeyoung’s Botanical Art Academy. “The Academy has been one of the cornerstones of Brushwood Center’s programming since it began in 2012,” says Kemerer.
Heeyoung’s class provides her students with the opportunity to learn drawing and painting techniques, so they can build a strong foundation as artists, but furthermore, helps them build the confidence necessary to pursue art seriously if they choose. As the majority of her students found their way to art later in their lives, the former business people, lawyers, and doctors may not have labeled themselves as artists prior to showcasing their work. Julia Kemerer says, “One of my favorite things to do as an Art Director is when I get the opportunity to help draw the artist out of someone who does not consider themselves to be an artist. I firmly believe that if the interest and desire to try is there, the artist is there. I know this is a belief that is shared by Heeyoung, and something that can absolutely be seen in her students - a group made up almost entirely of new artists.”
By lifting the veil of exclusivity that often comes when beginning to enter exhibitions, students of the Botanical Art Academy not only reap the mental health benefits that come from the creation process but also gain a rightful sense of pride in themselves and their work.
“Enjoying the learning process enriches their life already, but having an opportunity to exhibit at Brushwood Center helps them feel more accomplished and gives them a sense of confidence, too. Once their works are displayed on the wall, they are not 'shy students' anymore. They are ready to step forward in front of the public and share their new passion. That is probably the proudest moment for all teachers, including me,” Heeyoung says. This accomplishment is accompanied by a furthered sense of purpose, knowing that their art contributes to the education and conservation of our local ecosystems– exemplifying how focusing on the enrichment of an individual can directly impact our communities.
Nature reflects a similar notion– where the survival of an entire ecosystem could rely on the presence of a singular species. The significance of an individual’s success could ripple through the ecological community. Heeyoung recognizes that each plant has a story to tell, which is why she takes care to show every part of the plant in striking detail and with true accuracy. This defines her work as genuine botanical art, which she describes as, “the convergence of art and science.” While many artists focus on the beautiful parts of flowers, she makes sure to prioritize every leaf, seed, and bud of plants, both common and rare, for accurate scientific documentation.
Heeyoung’s role in conservation is a unique one. She commends traditional conservationists and volunteers as heroes; working hard, often behind the scenes to maintain our environments, but notes that their work is often disconnected from the general public. We frequently hear about habitat destruction and decreasing biodiversity in places like the Amazon Rainforest, but “ordinary people are not always aware of this hazardous situation here and now, in our own neighborhoods, so that was the beginning of my attempt to paint them to show people that there are endangered flowers and plants here too,” she says. Her art engages audiences with the intricacies and fragility of nature within our backyards, and by teaching others the techniques of botanical art, her impact grows exponentially as their art can begin to do the same.
“In addition to shining a light on the students’ inner artists, the Botanical Art Academy is also shining a light on nature, reminding us to take notice of each little piece of our ecosystem and celebrate it. It’s all there – we just have to look. It’s a beautiful reminder,” states Julia Kemerer. Taking the time to teach and uplift artists can undoubtedly impact individuals positively, and their communities consequently. Similarly, raising awareness for the importance of an individual species’ success can benefit an ecosystem as a whole.
Brushwood Center in and of itself mirrors a similar function. Separate from their Botanical Art Academy, Brushwood works to provide access to art and nature for those who belong to frequently disenfranchised groups and some who otherwise might not have the chance to experience our natural world at this scale. This opportunity creates room for immeasurable impacts on both that individual and subsequently, the impact they could have, fueled by their newfound passions for art and nature.
The Enriching Art Exhibit stands as an annual reminder to honor the progress one can make when they put energy into themselves and take care to notice the often overlooked things around them. Please join us in our celebration of art and nature now through April 24, 2022.
Written by Mackenzie Govett
Mackenzie is a graduate of LSU’s College of the Coast and Environment, contributing to climate responsibility through writing.
This blog is written by the staff and partners of Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods