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Marsha McDonald

Marsha McDonald: Artist in Residence in Milwaukee River Greenway

February 15, 2021  |  Topics: featured artist

The Natural Realm presents Marsha McDonald, who is one of 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 Statement by Marsha McDonald

As an artist and educator (with part of the year abroad teaching EFL—English as a Foreign Language), I have been able to walk and live among a variety of urban environments. I have been keenly aware of the edges and influences of nature found in or near, coexisting with, urban places. The Milwaukee Greenway has provided city residents—as well as animals and plants—with a corridor that sustains our well-being. I am creating visual and written work, documented through a blog, that honors those connections. I hope to create a chapbook and exhibit images. I’m also planning an event for late summer with the River Revitalization Foundation, which is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Greenway.

First Walking Season: Late Nov 13


November 13

Meditation on Autumn

It is time.

The rains come, colder, the hot days slip into cool nights, a first scant chill reminds us that sap will now flow inward, and roots reach out. Even in the day’s heat, we meet first exhaustion, then a longer sleep or even death. Birds go, crickets fall silent, the grasshopper thins. It begins again. Autumn returns at this latitude, a welcome rest, and it is fitting that we give thanks, draw the last harvests close. This season is a reminder to make changes, see changes, live changes.

Yesterday, on my walk, the brown river had slid into black. Its banks were clearer, sere, and seeded. We needed this – the open trees, the dry leaves, the change in air and light. Strange. The deep night shadows of green things have left us, though days shorten. Plants cast less shade on the dry or wet autumn ground. Their sounds have become brittle, and break, like a thin crust on water.

The steps I take on walks, if I let them, can be a kind of listening as well as movement. What is a wide-awake walk but a perception path, and a greenway trod through the seasons but a kind of pilgrimage?

Today is Dad’s birthday. He would have been 98.

Flowers: Dec 15 ambulando

December 15

Walking the River

On either side, punctured shores urge colder, colder.

Warmer water refuses,


under the quick quake submergence of crusts,


past frozen ledges,


Black and bottle green boil pale,

resist linear impulses,

stagger through

swag wash or

shrub carr.

Converging channels reach forward,

hover shelf ice,


Below thick river snow

a roar, disquieting,


Drey: Jan 18 ambulando

January 18


Squirrel’s nests fascinate me. This type, built in the fork of a tree, is called a drey. Dreys are constructed of green-leaved, living twigs and branches, supple, pliable. As they die, the wood and dried leaves become a sturdy sphere, its interior lined with soft, salvaged materials. I’ve seen grey squirrels gather dog wool. I once encountered a resourceful builder dragging an old battered mitten. I’ve observed dreys interwoven with multi-coloured plastic bags, topped with remnants of translucent tarps, tipped with tinsel, chinked with tangled string. Who knows what aesthetic flows through a squirrel’s need for home?


myéwés (trail): Nov 14 ambulando
mackerel sky
mackerel sky: Nov 20 ambulando
gméya (raining it is): Nov 24 ambulando
Vision Challenged 2: Nov 28
Vision Challenged 4: Nov 28 ambulando
Flowers: Dec 3 ambulando
Flowers: Dec 3 ambulando
prong: Dec 9 ambulando
bank: Dec 9 ambulando
willow: Dec 9 ambulando
Flowers: Dec 15 ambulando
wing: Dec 17 ambulando
Teasel: Dec 27 ambulando
roof (RRF): Jan 18 ambulando
cluster: Jan 27 ambulando


Marsha McDonald lives and works between the US, Asia, and Europe. She is the recipient of grants from the Pollock-Krasner, Puffin, and Mary Nohl (travel) Foundations; a New York Fellowship; and grants and residencies in Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Spain and Japan. She has recently contributed to platforms for art and poetry in Hong Kong, Paris, Liverpool, Venice, Hamburg, Budapest, New York, and Queensland, Australia. Recent regional exhibitions and installations include the Portrait Society Gallery, Lynden Sculpture garden, Art+Lit+Lab (Madison WI), MARN, the Watrous and Wisconsin Historical Society galleries. She is represented by galleries in San Francisco and New York.

Marsha McDonald, Milwaukee River Greenway. Photo by Eddee Daniel.

Website address: MAMCDONALD.  Videos will be available later this year.

Poems and images from the Greenway blog:

For more information about Milwaukee River Greenway, click here. This residency is sponsored by River Revitalization Foundation.

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.

River Revitalization Foundation is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.

All images courtesy of the artist, except as noted. The featured photo at the top of the artist in the Milwaukee River Greenway is by Eddee Daniel.