Barbara Manger: Artist in Residence at Donges Bay Gorge Nature Preserve
10:02 am | Topics: featured artist
The Natural Realm presents Barbara Manger, who is one of 12 artists participating in a year-long residency program called ARTservancy, a collaboration between Gallery 224 in Port Washington and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, River Revitalization Foundation, Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy and the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory. The mission of ARTservancy is to promote the visionary work of both the artists and conservationists. Each artist has selected a preserve to spend time in and to engage with.
Artist Statement by Barbara Manger
On my first visit in September I was startled by a powerful buck crashing through the woods just in front of me. I took this as a sign that the Donges Bay Gorge property in Mequon would be my ARTservancy choice. I was also attracted to it because in 1940 the esteemed landscape architect, Jens Jensen, had designed this property on a high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. He extensively planted white pine, although he had a reputation for disliking evergreens, and included his more typical plantings—sumac, hawthorn, and viburnum. Maples, oaks, bass, and cedar grow here naturally.
A winding roadway, typical of Jensen’s designs, leads the visitor from the small visitor parking lot across a bridge over the deep gorge. Graceful curves through woods reveal nothing of what lies ahead but entice the visitor eastward toward the bluff. Rounding the last turn a view of Lake Michigan appears through slim trees and a grassy opening in front of a quaint slate-roofed pool house. I first construed this open area to be Jensen’s characteristic “clearing” but his plan for the property shows that there was once a pool here. Not designed by Jensen, it is now filled in and grown over. Gone as well are the birches he specified to surround it “because of their fine reflection in the water,” comparing them to “Ladies dancing in the breeze.” It is easy to imagine this scene. Another of Jensen’s signature features, the council ring—stone seats designed for contemplation, friendship, and reconciliation—is absent.
The house, likely quite grand, was also removed due to extensive erosion of the steep bluff. The once wild and natural land surrounding this property was sold and now the property is flanked by enormous houses. I imagine them like teeth along the edge of the lake and this beautiful spot is where one house has been extracted. Now it is a gap, opening like a clearing amongst them, protected forever for all by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust. A place where all can reconnect with nature. The Donges Bay Gorge is the clearing, similar to the open spaces among shadowy woods that Jensen created in all his landscapes. He designed these as comforting respites where one can isolate, removed from daily life, to find harmony with nature’s pulse.
I am intrigued by the rhythms of endless growth, bloom, death, and renewal I observe here. Besides the transformation caused by changing seasons, the ongoing return of this land to its natural state is occurring. There is an overwhelming sense of what was once here and is now gone. The fairy-tale pool houses remain, symbolic of man’s need to claim and own. The other traces of man’s ownership fade, circling the land back to what once was. It was owned for a time. Now it belongs to all of us. I am reminded that among Native peoples, the notion of ownership was an alien concept. They lived on the land, they cared for it and honored it, but it was not theirs.
I am happy to be a visitor here. In fall I gather armloads of leaves from the once living, dry profusion covering the ground. Most leaves drift to their resting place but the oak leaves are dancers. I remember as a child running zig zag to snag just one twirling oak leaf in its downward spin. I am most attracted to the low-growing largeleaf asters. Their broad leaves are crisp and delicate as they decay, barely retaining shape and structure as yellow-green fades to grey and brown. Handling them carefully I slip them between sheets of newspaper to press. Other leaves are not as fragile; I prepare them for printing, take them to my studio to stack on a big table. One layer of the pile is pine needles that formed a golden pathway on the road before the bridge, as though purposely arranged with a gentle touch. I also gather dry grass but have no exact plan for what I will do with any of this harvest.
My winter visits are bone chilling. Thin, lacy ice has formed over leaves and grass and snow delineate the downward angles of fallen trees in the deep gorge. Ice borders the stream but it still flows, as it has for centuries, cutting a winding path toward the lake.
On a day in mid-May, I am greeted by masses of Virginia blue bells, bright yellow cow slips, and tiny strawberry blooms. Planted at one time by the previous owners are daffodils gracing the rise above the bluff. The spring, so light and uplifting, nearly raises me up off the new grass toward the blue-grey sky. Except for an occasional tapping of a woodpecker and the skittering of a squirrel, silence prevails.
I am pleased to see signs of spring clean-up—black bags full of weeds, piles of gathered sticks, and small wire fences enclosing newly planted trees, evidence of friends caring for this place. I will come again in summer to witness new changes in the cycle of the seasons.
I have not seen the buck since last September but on each visit I see deer quietly grazing. They look at me with mild interest and little fear. This spot welcomes them as it does me with quiet and peace and a clearing of the mind.
My primary focus is on the forces and phenomena of nature—flowing, winding rivers, drifting and decaying leaves, and other phenomena both grand and tiny. I attempt to capture these things through the glowing beauty of layered oil inks in monotypes.
I have been included in individual and group exhibitions throughout Wisconsin and the U.S., as well as Lausanne, Switzerland, Haiti, Dominican Republic. My work is included in private and public collections in Wisconsin and the mid-west.
My publications include Mary Nohl: Inside & Outside, Mary Nohl: A Lifetime in Art and Riding Through Grief. Distinctions: 2001 Milwaukee Area Nonprofit Excellence Award for Young Organization for AWE, Inc.; 2002 Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts from the Wisconsin Foundation for the Arts for founding Artists Working in Education, Inc.; 2019 Friend of Art Award, City of Milwaukee.
I have taught drawing and printmaking at Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, NC; Alverno College, Cardinal Stritch University; Carroll College and for 26 seasons at The Clearing, Ellison Bay, WI.
Donges Bay Gorge Nature Preserve is owned and managed by Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which is also a partner organization to A Wealth of Nature. For more information about Donges Bay Gorge, click here.
This is the latest in our series of featured artists, which is intended to showcase the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. To see a list of previously featured artists, click here. The work of the current ARTservancy artists in residence will be exhibited monthly at Gallery 224 beginning in September 2020. To meet the other ARTservancy artists in residence, click here.
All images courtesy of the artist, except as noted.