A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Natural Forms: Drawing from Direct Observation

Mixed-media artist Wennie Huang, a frequent teacher at Wave Hill art workshops, produces works that range from small drawings and limited-edition books and projects, to site-specific installations, including a permanent mural installation inspired by a tree in Inwood in upper Manhattan. She has created site-specific installations in both Glyndor and Wave Hill Houses and curated the exhibition Ornamental Instincts in 2008. Since then, she has led Wave Hill art workshops in pastel, watercolor and mixed media, and a book-making workshop for children.

Wennie-teachingThe drawing below of the Chalicotheres skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) was done the same day that I taught a workshop at Wave Hill. Prior to this visit to the AMNH, I had never noticed this particular skeleton in the museum’s Hall of Advanced Mammals: my recent visits were for the benefit of my students, so my focus centered on their choices and their drawings. Going there for myself, I realized that I was aware of skeletons I had not noticed before. I felt an easy familiarity with the halls, and yet some exhibits had shifted and changed. This is not unlike the experience of visiting Wave Hill, where every visit provides an alternative to the last, as the effects of weather and sunlight, the seasons, the changing gallery exhibits and the gardeners’ curation of the landscape result in an experience that is both familiar and new.Chalicotheres-for-blog

The occasion for making the drawing was an AMNH course—“Animal Drawing at the American Museum of Natural History.” There are 20 to 30 participants in this evening class, and we visit one hall as a group, each of us choosing what we want to draw. I first heard about the course through a student,  and she invited me to join her as a guest for a session last fall.

The museum is one of my favorite spaces. I have been a frequent visitor since my first year in college as an art student and, many years later, as a chaperone on trips with my son and with his classmates. And now on field trips each semester with college art students, as their professor. What makes this class special, however, is that it is led by museum staff while the museum is closed to visitors.

By the way, the Chalicotheres, one of whom was the subject of this drawing is “perhaps the most bizarre perissodactyls to have ever lived,” according to the AMNH website.

As a visual artist, I have a deep need to draw from direct observation, and to challenge my perception and my hand by drawing new and difficult subjects. I particularly enjoy drawing from nature due to the endless variety and complex combinations of natural forms, spaces and textures. Like Wave Hill, AMNH has a vast collection of natural forms and phenomena upon which artists, scientists and the general public can draw (no pun intended!) for inspiration and study, and achieve a deeper appreciation of our place in the history of our world.


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