Michelle Fox, the executive director of TreeSong Nature Awareness and Retreat Center, is making tea for visitors at her Washougal River Road home and business.
“I live here,” Fox says, gesturing toward a rich canopy of trees overlooking the Washougal River outside TreeSong’s kitchen table. “So I get to take breaks every day and go on walks, and look around and just think about what a blessed woman I am.”
Six years after founding TreeSong, a nonprofit that, according to the center’s website, is “dedicated to fostering a deep connection to nature, community and self, while inspiring stewardship for the planet at-large,” Fox is expanding her center to offer more than its regular summer day camps, art classes and tracking programs for children and adults.
This month marks the first time TreeSong has offered its Artist in Residence program. A collaboration with the Washington State Arts Commission, the new program offers one lucky artist five days of unlimited peace and quiet, as well as ample opportunities to commune with nature. Fox hopes the program will continue to expand, but right now she’s concentrating on TreeSong’s first “artist in residence,” Vancouver-based artist Sam Marroquin.
“What I love about Sam’s work is that she is taking these romantic views of nature and then showing the dark underbelly of what is hidden underneath,” says Monica Vilhauer, program manager for TreeSong’s new Artist in Residence program. “Her work is eye-opening.”
Marroquin, who lives in Vancouver with her nearly 12-year-old twin boys and husband and teaches art classes through Clark College’s Community Education program, has shown her work throughout the Pacific Northwest, including at Vancouver City Hall.
“My artwork is all about uncovering the truth,” Marroquin says. “When people look at my art, I want them to go beyond what’s in front of them.”
On the TreeSong website, Vilhauer explains that Marroquin’s art “challenges popular perceptions of nature and our human relationship to it.”
“Environmental concerns surrounding the effects of our human habitat on the natural world, climate change, animal rights, power struggle, nuclear technology and social justice are central themes of her work,” Vilhauer states on the site. “Working primarily with acrylic paint, she incorporates images from everyday life, often times provocative or disturbing ones from post-industrial society, to start a conversation about the authenticity of our cultural perceptions.”
One example is a recent piece Marroquin titled, “Liberty,” which features an abstract image of the Statue of Liberty and inverted letters spelling “LIBERTY” mingling with news clippings from the New York Times highlighting events that lean more toward authoritarianism than freedom from oppression in a society, or “liberty”.
The artwork, Marroquin says, is meant to represent the “state of emergency the U.S. is in.”
During her five-day stint at TreeSong this month, Marroquin intends to get as much work done as possible while taking frequent breaks to breathe in the natural beauty engulfing the nonprofit art/nature retreat.
“I’m used to working in little short spurts, working when I can — in between things like running the kids to soccer practice,” Marroquin says. “This will let me concentrate on my art. I’m hoping to get a lot of artwork done.”
Fox and Vilhauer hope the new Artist in Residence program will allow artists like Marroquin to build a deeper connection to nature and, according to Vilhauer, “explore the ways in which artistic work can build nature awareness, connection to the Earth and a deeper understanding of our human relationship to the natural world.”
After completing her five-day residency at TreeSong, Marroquin will lead a family friendly art activity and speak at TreeSong’s fifth annual Run Wild! event at Fallen Leaf Lake Park in Camas on June 9.
“I love this event,” Fox says of the annual Run Wild! festivities. “We invite families to learn more about nature and nature awareness. There will be kids and families dressed up as ‘wild things.’ It’s just a really fun day and Fallen Leaf Lake Park is beautiful.”
The Run Wild! event will take place from 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday, June 9, at Fallen Leaf Lake Park, 2911 N.E. Everett St., Camas, and will feature educational, nature-based activities, live music, games, art activities, face painting, and a walk around the lakeside trail. The event costs $10 per child, with a maximum cost of $25 per family. Children ages 2 and younger get in free.