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Gina Litherland: Artist in residence at Bratt Woods Preserve

May 23, 2019  |  Topics: featured artist

Gina Litherland 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. Each artist has selected an OWLT preserve to spend time in and to engage with. To read more about the artist in residency program, click here.

“Spotted Salamander,” ink and watercolor

Artist statement by Gina Litherland

When I was first invited to participate in the ARTservancy program, I was immediately interested.  I have noticed a few signs designating these preserved areas of land throughout Ozaukee County, and always felt happy to think that some parcels of wilderness were being saved from development.  As more and more open spaces are being sold and converted into strip malls and parking lots, and more wildlife is being crowded out of existence by human activity, these plots of land are becoming more precious than ever.

The artist observing the Milwaukee River in Bratt Woods. Photo: Eddee Daniel

The natural world has always been a major source of inspiration to me.  My paintings draw on sources such as folktales and literature, but also often reflect the vital connections between humans, animals, and the natural world.   Wild, uncultivated spaces are not only critical for the survival of the diversity of species in the world, but they are essential for the health and sanity of humanity.  There is not enough time spent quietly walking through natural spaces, time that allows the mind to relax and the imagination to take wing.

“Wandering,” ink and watercolor

My chosen site is Bratt Woods in Grafton, a 17-acre wooded area on the Milwaukee River that has old growth oak, maple, and beech trees.  Since last September I have taken many walks through the woods and have become very familiar with these towering, majestic trees.  Several with distinct features have become landmarks along the trail for me.  I have been working on a series of “notebook pages” in ink and watercolor as a way of keeping a visual journal of whatever catches my eye as I walk through the woods.  In addition to the notebook, I am developing four drypoint prints, one for each of the seasons. These mediums allow me to chronicle the shifting color and light, the birds and other wildlife, as well as some of the striking trees and other natural forms in the woods.

“Crows in Winter,” drypoint

When I first visited the woods in late September, it was lush and green, the colors were just beginning to shift, and the leafy branches formed a dense overhead canopy.  By mid-October, the dramatic shift in color took my breath away.  The entire woods was a bright golden glow, much of the overhead canopy had fallen to the ground in a thick carpet of brilliant, gold leaves, and the sky, now visible overhead, was a pale, airy blue.  I had been reading some of the essays of Thoreau, and thought of this quote, “A queen might be proud to walk where these gallant trees have spread their bright cloaks in the mud.” 

“Bratt Woods in Mid-October,” ink and watercolor

On another walk, in late October when the leaves were shifting in color to muted sienna and other shades of brown, I met a young boy with his grandfather.  They were looking underneath dead logs.  The boy showed me a blue-spotted salamander.  It was only a few inches long, pitch black with stunning blue spots that resembled the pattern on snowflake obsidian.

“Autumn (The Salamander),” drypoint

Returning to the woods in winter, the trees were stripped down to their skeletal beauty and a fine network of interweaving branches.  As the light diminished in December, the sky shifted from a leaden, thick grey to the returning blue and rosy, golden light of January.   The heavy, drifting snow filled the woods with blue shadows.  

“Arching Tree on the Milwaukee River,” ink, gouache and watercolor

The many hollow and decaying trees in Bratt Woods make it a haven for woodpeckers. I saw Northern Flickers in early October, in winter, Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, and Downy Woodpeckers.  I’m looking forward to spring and summer in the woods, the arrival of migrating birds, and the budding and blossoming wildflowers.  Wisconsin is a place where you can experience not only seasons, but micro-seasons of shifting plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife.  I feel fortunate to live here, and to be a part of this project of quietly observing, noting, and sharing my experience of this magical place.

“Pileated Woodpecker,” ink and watercolor

Tree root study with woodthrush, ink and watercolor


Gina Litherland has been active in the visual arts since the mid 1970s, exploring photography, performance, drawing and painting.  She received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her work has been exhibited in many museum exhibitions, including the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee, the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters in Madison, the Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Poland.  She is represented by Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery in Chicago and has had several solo exhibitions there, most recently in 2016.  Website:

The artist in Bratt Woods. Photo: Eddee Daniel

This is the latest is a series of featured artists in The Natural Realm, 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. An exhibit of the work of ARTservancy artists in residence is scheduled to open at Gallery 224 on September 13, 2019.

All images courtesy of the artist, except as noted. Feature photo of the artist walking in Bratt Woods by Eddee Daniel, curator of The Natural Realm.