While most UMW students completed final exams in classrooms this week, Art Professor Carole Garmon took her environmental art class outdoors.
Surrounded by foliage, students went to work at Downtown Greens, a community greenspace on Charles Street in Fredericksburg. They installed beneath a sweltering sun a wild rose trellis and a “tiny library” – a place children and adults can borrow books. They put in a sound wall made from old fence railing and pots and pans from Seacobeck Hall. And they installed a “moon gate,” an arched entranceway of sorts filled with recycled vines from Garmon’s home.
These were their final course projects, the culmination of a semester of work that began with a meeting between the environmental art class and Downtown Greens Director Sarah Perry ’07
Together, they came up with four projects to enhance the community garden born more than two decades ago out of a desire to maintain a shared greenspace downtown. Today, the nonprofit promotes environmental care by using sustainable gardening methods and hosting a weekly Garden Club for children. It also raises bees.
Garmon originally designed the unique course as a freshman seminar to take on an area of sculpture rarely addressed in the liberal arts. She hoped the class would demonstrate the importance of environmental art to communities.
“I believe it’s important to give our students all the information we can regarding our areas of expertise,” Garmon said.
Environmental art and social sculpture is not landscape painting or public art sculpture, Garmon said. “It calls attention to our precious resources and demonstrates the power of art as an avenue for social change.”
Through their work, Garmon said, students engage in the local community all while moving beyond a traditional gallery space.
Art major Emily Siegfried ’19 and studio art majors Jackie Williams and Jeff Powell took on the “Tiny Free Library,” designing it to look like the Downtown Greens office all the way down to its paint colors.
It will provide a free community library on a much smaller scale, Williams said.
The three students added a personal UMW touch to construction, building it entirely of reclaimed wood from Seacobek Hall.
Discarded pots and pants from the old dining facility were also used in the “Sound Wall,” a children’s play area where they can make sounds. Garmon worked alongside art majors Megan Falzarano ’18 and Crisa Young ’19, and studio art major Sarah Law ’18 hammering pots and pans once used to cook up meals for students onto an old fence railing.
Falzarano said the group was inspired to create an entertainment section for children visiting the youth garden.
“We went to a discarded trash pile and looked for things we thought would have nice acoustics and also not be too loud or be dangerous for the kids,” said Falzarano.
Down in the lower gardens, Sophie Brinkley ’18, Martha Keegan ’18 and Spencer Anderson ’18 installed their two wild rose trellises. Taking care to not hurt buds or damage leaves, Brinkley and Keegan fixed their handcrafted projects amongst the blossoming rose plants.
Keegan said they chose their project after talking to Perry about the needs of Downtown Greens – and considering what they could do well.
Not far from the blooming roses, studio art majors Rhett Teaster ’18 and Mason Radcliffe installed a “Garden Moon Gate” of their own design.
“We focused on using all-natural, found materials and keeping it as organic as possible,” Teaster said.
The gate now resides over a walkway in the lower garden, standing as a physical reminder of the imprint Garmon’s course made on the Fredericksburg community. And which will remain long past their UMW careers.
Said Garmon: “That’s a reward worth working hard for.”