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Artists in Residence Karen and Patrick Robison at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve

Karen and Patrick Robison: Artists in Residence at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve

October 26, 2021  |  Topics: featured artist

The Natural Realm presents Karen and Patrick Robison, who are among 17 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, Tall Pines 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’s Statement by Karen Robison                       

Science is a discipline, a way of thinking about and investigating the natural world, and a way of knowing. Science isn’t ever completed. It is constantly growing, changing, and responding to the current culture. Albert Einstein said, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination.” I have put my imagination to good use by observing the world around us—especially our local ecosystems—as a scientist would; asking and investigating important questions; and connecting scientific knowledge and inquiry to our own lives. 

Next, please substitute ‘art’ for science in all of the ideas presented above. It works!

I am interested in making mixed media and found object works that bring disparate materials into a balanced form. A little visual peace. Current projects include: sculptural books, clay box assemblages, and encaustic over clay and book covers to capture collage work.

Forest Book Window.
Forest Book Window.
Ecoprinting found leaves from Forest Beach. This coptic stitched window book explores the late winter color scheme.

ARTservancy 2020-21  

The objective of ARTservancy is to promote the visionary work of both the artists and the land conservation, culminating in an exhibition at Gallery 224. My husband, Patrick Robison, and I are exploring the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve during this year-long residency co-sponsored by Gallery 224 and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

Beginning in October of 2020, we hiked, nestled in to observe, took photographs, gathered ephemera like leaves and driftwood, and cataloged the plant and animal species that we encountered.

Winter Journal Page.
Winter Journal Page.

My sketchbook serves as a diary of visits, ideas, and journal pages that test images and methods. A ‘finished’ product is still illusive, but the ephemera and images are already living in collages, assemblages, and printed on paper and fabric. 

Thinking walks are my favorite way to introduce students to new concepts and ecosystems. As a botanist and educator, I dream of on-site public projects and walks based on ‘thinking’ from my experiences with Project Zero, Harvard University’s initiative on creative thinking and projects with a focus on understanding learning in and through the arts.

Gallery of Karen’s work

Collage Tile Dreams. Combining the ideas of nests, stay home!, and migration, this tiny clay boat carries egg-like pearls.
Dreams. Collage Tile. Combining the ideas of nests, stay home!, and migration, this tiny clay boat carries egg-like pearls.
Moon. Collage Tile.
Travel. Collage Tile.
Dark Garden.
Forest Book.

Artist’s Statement by Patrick Robison

I’ve painted, printed, woven, fused, fabricated and sculpted, but for the last 50 years I’ve mostly played with clay. I was enamored with its sensuality from the very first touch and drawn to a style of work that retains a visual softness even after the pieces are fired. Clay is one of earth’s most abundant and magical materials. Responsive when wet, fragile when dry, and then hardened by its unpredictable journey in the kiln. Vessels for daily use or sculpture to entertain and intrigue, the work is a visual journal of images, symbols, and the stories they tell. 

Inspired by assemblage artist Michael deMeng, my recent sculptural clayworks have come to include an ever-expanding supporting cast of metal, glass, wood, and found objects.

Current projects include: mixed media assemblage, painted terracotta forms, new vessel development, and sculptural works inspired by the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve ARTservancy Artist-in-Residence program. I am calling some of this new work “habitat arts”: Artwork to enhance and support the natural world in our gardens, neighborhoods, and public lands.

Patrick at Forest Beach with ceramic and mixed media ark.
Photo: Eddee Daniel

ARTservancy 2020-21

My wife Karen and I are exploring the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve just north of Port Washington. The preserve was formerly the site of Squires Golf Club, and I have memories of playing there in the 1980’s. I am amazed at the magical transformation that has resulted in the preserve today.

In addition to some sculptures already in progress, I’m creating, installing, and GPS mapping a collection of terracotta clay “nests,” which are intended to serve as foundations to encourage and facilitate more nest building. 

Natural Nest. This was the inspiration for the terra cotta nest fo
Natural Nest. This was the inspiration for the terra cotta nest forms.
Terra cotta nest in situ at Forest Beach.
Terra cotta nest in situ at Forest Beach. Ten of the terra cotta nest forms were placed at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve in the early spring to see if they would encourage birds to nest in protected places. Photo: Eddee Daniel.
Left: Nest Hole at Forest Beach. Right: Detail of ceramic bowl.
As we searched for natural homes and micro habitats, this ‘weaving’ led us to think about forms we could make.

Gallery of Patrick’s work

Nest with Egg.
Ark, side view.
Ark, detail.
Two Junks.


Patrick and Karen Robison at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve. Photo: Eddee Daniel

Karen Robison

Living in Wisconsin near Lake Michigan is a defining fact in my life. My education began with the UWM Professional Theater Training, early years, but quickly shifted to the natural sciences. There were few opportunities for women in the conservation field, despite heroines like Rachel Carson. Boots-on-the-ground jobs were limited. After working as a land and construction surveyor and running a landscape restoration company, I returned to school to complete botany and education degrees. I taught high school botany and ecology. ‘Big High School’ education was structured around testing, which limited creativity for both students and teachers. This led to founding a public charter school with colleagues. Etude High School for the Arts and Academics blended in-depth science classes with ideas from Harvard’s Project Zero. At the same time, Two Fish Gallery in Elkhart Lake opened its doors and gardens, but I will leave that story to Patrick’s bio! Currently retired from teaching, working part time on gallery pursuits and my own studio time: fine craft—ceramics, bookbinding, and mixed media assemblage. More time to learn.

Patrick Robison

A Milwaukee native, my fondest childhood memories are of gardening, canning, soap making and hand crafting projects with my Grandmother Margaret. I credit her with nurturing my creativity and building confidence in what I could make with my hands.  Fast forward to broad-based visual arts studies culminating with a graduate degree in ceramics at UW Milwaukee. Then it was on to a long tenure of teaching ceramics at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and Lakeland University in Sheboygan. It was during that time that my dream of having a gallery in a home setting was finally realized. The dream dates back to my days as a fledgling art student at UWM in 1968—making quick decisions is not my norm.  

In 1998, Karen and I opened Two Fish Gallery and Sculpture Garden, in a mission style bungalow in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. I continue to teach clay classes in the carriage house located behind the main gallery. Our focus is on fine craft, fine art and fair trade with our tagline “original art to enrich homes, gardens and lives.” We are open year-round, with more hours in the summer and during the holiday season. The sculpture garden is a recognized urban habitat—just ask the fox, opossum, and myriad of birds that hang out there! “Artist of the Month Club” is our latest project. It features a body of work by a single artist each month. Before COVID we had grand plans of “club meeting” style openings with a secret handshake and lots of snacks. We’re still working on that.

Two Fish Garden.
Our sculpture garden is a national wildlife habitat with nesting, natural food, water, and shelter available year round.

This residency is sponsored by Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

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 2019-2020 ARTservancy artists in residence is currently being exhibited monthly at Gallery 224. To meet the other ARTservancy artists in residence, click here.

All images courtesy of the artists, except as noted. OWLT is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.