Art and nature lovers will have an opportunity to share their passions this weekend during a new urban outing that combines a nature walk along the Tennessee Riverwalk and a gallery walk discussing landscape paintings and the artists' roles in conservation at the Hunter Museum of American Art.
An Artfully Wild Urban Experience is being presented Saturday morning jointly by the museum and Tennessee Wild, a wilderness advocacy group dedicated to protecting the Cherokee National Forest and other wild places in Tennessee.
The day will begin with an easy, 5.5-mile round-trip walk along the Riverwalk to Curtain Pole Road, led by naturalists from The Wilderness Society and Tennessee Wild.
Jeffrey Hunter, director of the Tennessee Wilderness Campaign, will be one of the naturalists leading the walk and talk, which he said will be more of a conversation with participants about the abundant wildlife along the way.
"We don't know what we might see, what migratory birds might be in the area ... we could see bald eagles or any number of species of song birds. There is quite a bit of wildlife [along the Riverwalk]," Hunter said.
The idea for the walk, which is the first in a new series of three that will be offered this year, is to find new ways of connecting people to the local and regional landscape and the natural world.
"Art can do that. Our outings can do that, and we do all the time with backpack trips or short day trips. This partnership now allows us to explore connecting people to the landscape by having art and environment experts connecting people from different perspectives," he said.
After the walk, participants can continue on to the Hunter Museum for a short program with the museum's curator of education, Adera Causey.
The museum has a very rich and deep collection of 19th-century landscape paintings, according to Causey, who said most of these can be viewed on the top floor of the mansion.
For the talk, however, Causey will focus on three paintings, "View at Conway" from 1850 by John Frederick Kensett and a pairing of 1860 paintings by William Frerichs, "Storm in the Tennessee Valley" and "Summer in the Tennessee Valley."
"These will actually be group dialogues, as much about what the participants see in the pieces as what I share," Causey said.
Although none of the works to be discussed or the artists who created them were involved in any contemporary or historic conservation efforts, according to Causey, the discussion will talk about the artists' roles in American conservation campaigns.
"... I will explain the effect landscape paintings had on early land preservation and the way some artists' works were actually used deliberately in this effort," she said.
Landscape painters of the 1850s involved in the Hudson River School in New York, for example, are credited, along with Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as having a major role in establishing what is now contemporary environmentalism, according to the National Humanities Center's website.
"What is less obvious is the living legacy of the Hudson River School, Emerson and Thoreau. The American preservation movement, which has no equal in any nation, and much of contemporary environmentalism originates in these sources. The initial catalyst for the creation of America’s unparalleled system of national parks lies in their collective work," the site says.
Back before photography, the Internet and air travel, artists' depictions of faraway and different locations were the primary means many were able to experience and fall in love with natural places, according to Hunter, who grew up in the mid-Hudson Valley where the Hudson River School is located.
Taking another look at this intersection of art, the environment and conservation is the aim of the new series, one which Hunter said he hopes inspires and renews each participant's relationship with the natural world.