“Crunching leaves underfoot, winding trails, twittering wildlife, and blue sky reflected on the Gentian Lakes all make Wing Haven Preserve an alluring place to connect with nature. What makes Wing Haven truly unique though, is the story of the people who made Wing Haven accessible to the rest of us.
As I walked the property and began to piece together the history of Wing Haven, I was introduced to a collection of large-scale, simply-painted, Folk Art style birds tucked away in a storage shed. The birds were painted by Wing Haven’s inspirational and “indirect” land owner, Helen Swenson. Swenson grew up loving the arts and went to school at the Art Institute of Chicago to become a successful graphic artist and illustrator. Her love of arts and nature came together perfectly when she and her husband founded Wing Haven Resort in the 1950’s. Wing Haven Resort, which inspired the name for the preserve, lay adjacent to this land. Each building and cabin on the resort was named after an Indiana bird, and her artwork and signage adorned each one. After hiking and marveling at the natural beauty of Wing Haven, my mind kept creeping back to Helen’s birds, and their simple beauty. I was reminded of the inexplicable and ever present tie that I feel between art and nature.
As I began to create my paper piece, I let the birds be my guide, and channeled my inner Helen. I began by deconstructing some common Indiana birds into simple shape and color, reminiscent of Helen’s birds. I chose birds that I saw as I hiked: the Cardinal, the Robin, and the Fox Sparrow. I added a Red-headed Woodpecker to the piece. Perched near the water are the Belted-King Fisher (simply because I love them) and the Sandhill Crane, which nests at Wing Haven each year. The foreground is blanketed with leaves from maple, oak, and tulip trees. Some of my other favorite leaf forms from the Redbud and the Indiana Banana Trees are included. Red-osier Dogwood plants line the blues in the background, which represent the meeting of the blue, fall sky and the water line of Gentian Lake, as named by Helen (named Failing Lake on topographical maps). The Fungi in the foreground create additional color and texture. Although I took many artistic liberties while snipping away at the mushrooms and toadstools, I was lucky enough to see several species of Fungi growing around the Wing Haven trails in colors ranging from neutral grey to bright orange.
I was also lucky enough to relive my time spent at Wing Haven repeatedly with each leaf and bird I snipped, glued and stitched. Perhaps that is one reason I do not wish to experience nature without art or art without nature. Art allows me to experience nature in detail, over and over, but in new ways, each time I create. I am certain Helen felt the same way. “