Stepping Out

Everyone into the nest

Community art installation is a hoot at Heckscher Park

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Feathers will fly when environmental artist Tonito Valderrama leads a community art project at Heckscher Park on Sunday.

In recognition of World Environment Day (June 5), Valderrama will guide participants in the creation of a larger-than-life nest sculpture. Throughout the process, he’ll share his passion for our feathered friends, educating everyone involved about the importance of nurturing the environment.

“I’ve always had an affinity for birds,” says Valderrama, who is also an environmental educator at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, where he works with rescued birds of prey.

“I’ve been involved with birds my whole life,” he says, noting that he is especially fond of the bald eagle. “Birds symbolize flight and freedom. Bald eagles are a symbol of attaining higher goals in life and being a good leader.”

“In fact,” he jokes, “I’ve been known to turn into a bird, especially with kids.”

Valderrama has installed “nests” throughout Long Island, with the goal of creating tactile functional art that will enable the public to be in touch with nature.

“I’ve always wanted people to come and enjoy my work and connect with nature,” he says. “I create art in an interactive way so that we can view it and it can also become part of the world.”

The nest that Valderrama will construct in the park in front of Heckscher Museum of Art — which is presenting the program in conjunction with its current environment exhibits on view (“Thaddeus Holownia: Walden Revisited” and Earth Muse: Art and the Evironment”) — is his first large scale version of the nest installation to involve community participation.

“It’s not just aesthetic but collaborative,” he says. “I want people to get excited about birds and help build the installation, one branch at a time. It’s a community-centered project that can involve all ages. The goal is to create something that will get people excited about the environment and art. It will open up a whole new perspective on the natural environment. I hope this will be a catalyst to encourage people to protect the environment. I want everyone to love and appreciate and protect nature.”

To that end, Valderrama will start off the project with a brief discussion about local birds of prey, their history, habitat and diets. “Once I’ve gotten everyone exited about birds, then we’ll begin to build — one branch at a time.”

As with all of his projects, the nest will be created out of natural materials; in this case branches and twigs interwoven with hay. “My artwork, especially the installations I create,” he explains, “is constructed primarily from site-specific natural materials. These materials inspire themes in my work and encourage an intimate dialogue between nature and myself.”

“Each site chosen reveals itself over time and an environmental theme emerges. The beauty of nature and its misuse is always present in my work. Most of all, I hope that people will experience a connection to the earth when they view my work. I am intentionally trying to foster a sense of interconnectedness and interdependence with nature instead of detachment.”

The nest will be finished with an egg sculpture carved out of log, which the group will help Valderrama place inside. Then everyone can make their way inside to, as Valderrama put it, “relax and be little eaglets.”

When finished it will become part of nature’s cycle, according to Valderrama. “Once it’s up, it will stay up as long as it stands. I hope it will last at least a couple of years. The birds can use the nesting material for their own nests and animals can visit. It’s a gift back to nature.”

“I encourage everyone to come out and celebrate our fine feathered friends. Go ‘birdy’ with me for while.”

The program is presented in collaboration with Art League of Long Island’s “Art in the Park” Fine Art and Craft Fair in Heckscher Park on June 3 and 4.

Build a Nest

When: Sunday, June 4, 2-4 p.m. $2, members free.

Where: Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington. (631) 351-3250 or www.heckscher.org.