Hampden-Sydney’s vast campus and bucolic setting has been hailed as an outdoorsman’s playground. But Emma Steinkraus proves that the College’s 1,300 acres are also an artist’s muse. As part of the inaugural semester of Compass, the College’s experiential learning program, Steinkraus’ Art and Ecology course utilized local spaces such as the Wilson Trail to inspire students to explore the intersection of art and science. The course was part seminar, part hands-on art class, with students using alternative processes such as cyanotypes and photography to create multi-media artwork. Steinkraus focused not on the students’ technical artistic skills, but rather on their ability to respond creatively to their surroundings.
Steinkraus says, “My students know I love wildlife and mushrooming, and they love being outdoors, so the students actually inspired me to teach a class outside.” Art and Ecology was a natural fit for a Compass course as it gave students the opportunity to think as artists while also acting as scientists by completing projects such as plant presses and plant identification guides.
This idea of exploring the natural world as artistic material is a natural extension of Steinkraus’ personal artistic repertoire. Growing up in the Arkansas Ozarks, Steinkraus found inspiration in the landscapes surrounding her home. She has since created exhibits celebrating the natural world while also highlighting what we are losing in an effort to bring awareness to current environmental issues.
Another important element of her work in both the classroom and the studio is the recognition of female contributions to natural history and illustration. Steinkraus notes that “women have always been present in these fields. It’s that their stories were often intentionally erased or undermined throughout history. Their socially constructed obstacles have been enormous.” She wants to ensure that their contributions are no longer overlooked.
For her latest exhibit, Steinkraus has created an immersive wallpaper that combines her work with that of over 100 other women who worked at the intersection of art and science before the 20th century. She spent the summer of 2019 at two artistic residencies which supported her work—the Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks and Good Hart in northern Michigan. “I feel fortunate this year because I have gotten to do a lot of things on my bucket list,” says Steinkraus. Indeed, Steinkraus traveled to Italy on a Hampden-Sydney faculty summer fellowship to study a female Italian artist and naturalist. She was also invited to speak at the University of Chicago this past fall where she presented her work in collaboration with the poet Imani Elizabeth.
If you would like to view her work in progress right here at Hampden-Sydney College, Emma Steinkraus’s Wall Garden—a work in progress will be open through February 11 in The Gallery in the Viar-Christ Center for the Arts located in Brinkley Hall. A reception will be held on January 21 from 6-8 pm. The exhibit is free and open to the public. www.emmasteinkraus.com