Visual artist, writer, and storyteller Leah Wilson makes her home in Eugene, Oregon. A 2012 artist residency at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in the Oregon Cascades introduced her to ecologists working on long-term studies and field research. Attracted by the enduring focus of inquiry into a specific place, she is now an episodic lifetime artist in residence at the Andrews Forest. Elements of her relationship with the Andrews Forest and its community are evident throughout each project including Listening to the Forest, a large-scale public art installation at Oregon State University’s George W. Peavy Forest Science Center.

As an embedded artist in a field research team, Wilson is currently partnering with scientists in a long-term placed-based study of the Klamath River, a river slated for the historic simultaneous removal of four dams in 2023. She regularly assists with annelid collection to monitor C. shasta infection rates by providing safety for ecologists from her whitewater kayak. This project will continue until the ecosystem stabilizes post-dam removal, possibly decades from now, and provides a sustained opportunity to explore, expand, and play with the possibilities of art-science partnerships that increase the scopes and audiences of traditional territories and communities of both disciplines. Wilson’s objective is not to explain or illustrate science but to ask stronger questions to deeply know the river, to experience it from different perspectives, and to create artwork coexisting alongside science.

Wilson’s creative journey began after earning an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute when she began interweaving her passion for whitewater kayaking into her artistic process in the Sierra Nevada foothills. While there, she created a pivotal project influenced by the environmental decision-making processes of scientists, resource managers, and special interest groups during the Federal Energy Relicensing Commission’s assessment of her local watershed for the Yuba-Bear Hydroelectric Project. This experience and decades of wilderness exploration form the backbone that continues to inform her creative process.

As a founding member of Gray Space, she joined a group of Oregon artists who came together to claim agency and circumvent institutional structures that require artists to ask permission and explores how art influences place and place influences art.

Wilson’s artwork has been exhibited at galleries throughout the West Coast and her work is in public and private collections including the Percent for Art Collection of the State of Oregon, Oregon State University, Umpqua Community College, Adobe Systems Inc., eBay, Inc., and others.

When she is not making art or collecting data in the field with an ecologist, Leah can often be found outside greeting the sun as it rises, running trails through a forest, bouncing down a rapid, or climbing a very old and tall tree. 

Artist Statement

Cultivating environmental empathy is critical at this juncture with our relationship to our planet. A fundamental underlying objective to create my place-specific artwork is to develop a sense of belonging and personal connection to the natural environment that evolves and deepens over time. I allow my art to be shaped by observing and responding to subtle environmental rhythms and oscillations. My creative practice evolves through a process of seeking around the edges where science drops its threads of inquiry, yielding, and opening a space for me to pick up threads to play with it. Both my process and finished artwork reflect an engagement with ecological relationships through imagination, observation, data, science, and physical interaction. Stories of connection, natural flow and rhythms, and awe and wonder are interwoven throughout my art.

I bear witness to environmental changes and honor what is present rather than prove my beliefs to be correct or to satisfy my expectations. I follow threads of inquiry presented to me when I am physically present in the place. My process requires a commitment of extended time with natural ecosystems and frequently includes places that are dedicated to the pursuit of increasing ecological scientific knowledge. Some of the threads of inquiry I continue to seek are:

By increasing my understanding of this place, can I also simultaneously see, utilize, and know it differently, in a way that my presence and process as an artist can initiate and eventually establish connections, knowing, and belonging? Can my development of a visual language, methods of discovery, and creative process fit alongside the language and methods of science in a meaningful way? What is the personal effect of consciously setting out to develop a deep connection and relationship with this place, and can it inspire others to ameliorate the disconnection they may feel from their own places and environments? How would that, in turn, affect the places that others have come to know?

Answers are revealed slowly, if at all, and most often searching for answers only leads to more questions. Connections are likely found within ephemeral experiences. Often my process of coming to know and building relationships with places can feel like attempting to collect the evanescence. However, continuing the seemingly futile attempt to collect what cannot be held focuses my attention and increases clarity. Continuing this process opens a space for a deeper investigation to notice what the environment reveals within its unfolding layers. Through an intentional persistent and cyclical process of asking, noticing, collecting, creating, and reflecting, connections are made, my relationship with the ecological communities deepens and shapes me, and my art evolves.

I have made the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in Blue River Watershed of the Oregon Cascade Mountains my primary place of inquiry, my art home.

I embrace the land acknowledgment specific to the place in which I continue to find creative energy, inspiration, inquiry, community, and meaning.

Indigenous peoples have been in relationship for thousands of years with the forests, streams, and meadows we now call the Blue River watershed. In the Kalapuya Treaty of 1855 (aka Treaty of Dayton, Willamette Valley Treaty), the Kalapuya were forced to cede this land to the US Government. We continue to learn about, recognize, and value the attributes of the Blue River watershed that reflect the enduring relationship between Indigenous people and the land. We strive to be mindful of this relationship and to integrate it in our research, our decision-making, and our actions.

Curriculum Vitae

  • MFA, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA
  • BFA, Art Institute of Southern California, Laguna Beach, CA
Solo, Two & Three Person Exhibitions
  • Seeing a River, Truckenbrod Gallery, Corvallis, OR (Three Person), 2023
  • Stories Told by Water, Red Door Gallery, Umpqua Valley Arts, Roseburg, OR (Solo), 2021
  • Time and Place: Ecological Works by Leah Wilson, At Liberty Arts, Bend, OR (Solo), 2019
  • Collecting Evanescence, Lane Community College, Main Gallery, Eugene, OR (Solo), 2019
  • Collecting Evanescence, Truckenbrod Gallery, Corvallis, OR (Solo), 2018
  • Solstices and Equinoxes: Paintings by Leah Wilson, Roger W. Rogers Gallery, Willamette University, Salem, OR (Solo), 2017
  • Leah Wilson: Ambient, Umpqua Valley Arts Center, Roseburg, OR (Solo), 2015
  • The Structure of Nature, The Arts Center, Corvallis, OR (Two Person), 2014
  • Leah Wilson: Distillations of Place, Cascade Gallery, Portland, OR (Solo), 2013
  • Guardino Gallery, Portland, OR (Two Person), 2010
  • Tropes, Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts, Eugene, OR (Solo), 2009
  • Shifting Landscapes, Los Medanos College, Pittsburg, CA (Two Person), 2006
  • Yuba Songs, Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival, Nevada City, CA (Solo), 2006
  • Love Poems to the Yuba, 560, Nevada City, CA (Solo), 2005 Internal, Howard Rice, San Francisco, CA (Solo), 2002
  • New Works, University of California, Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, CA (Solo), 2000
Collaborative & Public Art
  • Listening to the Forest, Percent for Art, Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon State University, George W. Peavy Forest Science Center, Corvallis, OR, 2020
  • Metanoia Catalyst, BRIDGE Exhibition, Hult Center Plaza, Eugene, OR (Leah Wilson & Kate Ali), 2018
  • Gray Space, Founding Member, Eugene, Corvallis & Roseburg, OR 2016 – Present
Selected Group Exhibitions
  • Roundhouse Foundation Presents: Featured Artists from the PMRCAA Residency Program, Pendleton Center for the Arts, Pendelton, OR, 2022
  • Embodied Forest, EcoArtSpace, 2021
  • Reflections: OPEN, Anti-Aesthetic Gallery, Eugene Contemporary Art & BRIDGE Exhibitions, Eugene, OR, 2020
  • Common Ground, Anti-Aesthetic Gallery, Eugene Contemporary Art, Eugene, OR, 2020
  • Divergence, At Liberty Arts, Bend, OR, 2019
  • Gray Space and Tailgate Party for Art, Eugene Contemporary Art, Eugene, OR, 2018
  • Rot: The Afterlife of Trees, The World Forestry Center, Portland, OR, 2016
  • Rot: The Afterlife of Trees, The Arts Center, Corvallis, OR, 2016
  • The Art of Plankton, The Arts Center, Corvallis, OR, 2012
  • Green, Green the Color of New, David Joyce Gallery, Lane Community College, Eugene, OR, 2012
  • Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival, Nevada City, CA, 2008
  • Below the Surface, Fly Trap Gallery, Sacramento, CA, 2005
  • Small Works, Julie Baker Fine Art, Grass Valley, CA, 2004
  • Small Works, Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, CA, 2004
  • River Lovers, Lotus Art Studio, Lotus, CA, 2004
  • Spring!, Julie Baker Fine Art, Grass Valley, CA, 2004
  • Close Calls, Headlands Center for the Arts, Project Space East/West, Sausalito, CA, 2004
  • San Francisco Art Institute Master of Fine Arts Exhibition, Fort Mason, Herbst Pavilion, San Francisco, CA, 2003
  • Continuing, Diego Rivera Gallery, San Francisco, CA, 2002 Slack Jaw, Studio Z, San Francisco, CA, 2002
  • Crossing Bridges, CBS MarketWatch, San Francisco, CA, 2002
  • Ambulatory Gambit, Sunnyside Conservatory, San Francisco, CA, 2002
  • Berührungsangst, 701 Chestnut, San Francisco, CA, 2001
  • Magnificent Seven, Café Roma, Davis, CA, 2001
  • Spring Show, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, 2001 Me We, Justice League, San Francisco, CA, 2001
  • Pigmentations, Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana, CA, 2001
  • Annual Alumni Exhibition, Art Institute of Southern California, Laguna Beach, CA, 2000
  • That Figures, Long Beach Arts, Long Beach, CA, 1998
  • Annual Alumni Exhibition, Art Institute of Southern California, Laguna Beach, CA, 1998
  • Unusual Perceptions, Hello Artichoke Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, 1997
  • Annual Alumni Exhibition, Art Institute of Southern California, Laguna Beach, CA, 1997
  • The Really Big Show, Long Beach Arts, Long Beach, CA, 1997
  • Southern California Open Juried Exhibition, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA, 1997
  • Centered on the Center, Huntington Beach Art Center, Huntington Beach, CA, 1996
  • Thirteen After Four, Artegeo, Orange, CA, 1994
  • State of Oregon Percent for Art Collection, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
  • PacificSource, Springfield, OR
  • Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, OR
  • Oregon State University, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, Blue River, OR
  • Adobe Systems, Inc., Frankfurt, Germany
  • Adobe Systems, Inc., San Jose, CA
  • eBay, Inc., San Jose, CA
  • Namco Hometek, Inc., Santa Clara, CA
  • Hinshaw & Culbertson, LLP, San Francisco, CA
  • Weintraub, Linda, “Post-Anthropocentric Creativity,” Center for Sustainable Practices Journal, Q38, 2023
  • Topozone (Raechel Root & Joseph Sussi), “Geo-graphing the Unseen: Writing, Reading, and Reimagining Landscapes” Eugene Contemporary Art, October 20, 2020
  • McInally, Mike, “’Evanescence’ at the Intersection of Art, Science” The Corvallis Gazette-Times, October 4, 2018
  • Fourie, Andries, “Solstices and Equinoxes: Paintings by Leah Wilson” Roger W. Rogers Gallery, January, 2017
  • Sherk, Christine, “Outside the Lines, Nature as Muse” The Register-Guard, April 4, 2012
  • Keefer, Bob, “Trash Runs Through It,” The Register-Guard, July 16, 2009
  • Steffen, Suzi, “Colored by Science,” Eugene Weekly, July 16, 2009
  • Chamberland, Celeste, “On the Cutting Edge,” The Davis Enterprise, August 16, 2001
Professional Presentations, Events & Community
  • Panelist, Seeing a River: Two Artists & a Scientist, Truckenbrod Gallery, Corvallis, OR, February 3, 2023
  • Panelist, Art-Sci at Long-Term Ecological Field Stations, Museum of the White Mountains, Plymouth, NH, January 26, 2023
  • Guest Speaker, Ten Years of Collecting Evanescence at HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, Integration of Art and Science at Long-Term Ecological Field Stations, Hubbard Brook LTER, North Woodstock, NH, January 25, 2023
  • Guest Speaker, Response, John Grade’s Emeritus Reception, Oregon State University, October 28, 2022
  • Guest Lecturer, Creative Coast, Oregon State University, Field Course, June, 2022
  • Visiting Reviewer, Mine/Seed Studio, School of Architecture & Environment, Department of Landscape Architecture University of Oregon, 2022
  • Artist Talk, Stories Told by Water, Umpqua Valley Arts, Roseburg, OR, August 5, 2021
  • Presenter: Tree Talk: Artists Speak for Trees, Moderated by Sant Khalsa, Co-Hosted by EcoArtSpace & the Joshua Tree Center for Photographic Arts, May 20, 2021
  • Webinar: Listening to the Forest, Moderated by Brooke Penaluna, Hosted by the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest Long-Term Ecological Research program, the OSU College of Forestry, and The Spring Creek Project for Nature and the Written Word, May 12, 2021
  • Panelist, Overlook Lecture Series: Recovery, Fuller Center for Productive Landscapes, University of Oregon, April 30, 2021
  • Lecturer, Collaborating with Time, a conversation with Steve Wondzell, What Will Nature Do? Lecture Series Part Two: Artists and Their Artistic Practices with Science: Lessons Learned During the Process, Co-Sponsored by the Corvallis Arts Center, Oregon State University Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering & OSU Art-Sci, April 20, 2021
  • Guest Lecturer, Dancing with Ignorance & Collecting Evanescence, Environmental Communication Theory, University of Oregon, November 25, 2020
  • Presenter, Listening to the Forest, Arts-Sci at OSU, Oregon State University, November 10, 2020
  • Guest Lecturer, Place as Collaborator, Corvallis Art Guild, November 2, 2020
  • Guest Lecturer, Art of the Microbiome, Oregon State University, February 6, 2020
  • Panelist, Time and Place: Ecological Works by Leah Wilson, Moderated by Andries Fourie with Dr. Brooke Penaluna (research fish biologist with Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S.D.A. Forest Service) Dr. Michael Nelson (a philosopher and economist who is Oregon State’s lead principal investigator at Andrews) and Louise Shirley (Curator of Natural History at the High Desert Museum). The discussion provided context for the artwork and explored the convergence of art and science as ways of investigating the natural world, At Liberty Gallery, November 16, 2019
  • Professional Presenter, Collecting Evanescence: Seven Years at the Andrews, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, November 1, 2019
  • Panelist, Divergence (Beauty), At Liberty Arts, Bend, OR, July 6, 2019
  • Panelist, Making Your Own Way: Strategies for Building Visibility, Lane Arts Council, Eugene, Oregon, 2019
  • Guest Lecturer, Imagining Ecosystems Over Time, Environmental Arts and Humanities Field Course, Oregon State University, September, 2016
  • Professional Presenter, Art-Science Convergences at OSU, Spring Creek Project, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, April 7, 2016
  • Professional Presenter, Science Pub, Corvallis, OR, November 9, 2015
  • Professional Presenter, Artists: Voices, Perceptions, & Motivations, Real Time Data Visualizations: A 21st Century Confluence of Art, Music and Science at Ecological Research Sites, Hubbard Brook LTER, NH, November 5, 2015
  • Professional Presenter, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, HJA Day, June 25, 2015 Invited Artist,
  • Honoring Our Rivers Anthology, 2015
  • Professional Presenter, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, HJA Day, June 26, 2014
  • Professional Presenter, Portland Community College, Cascade Campus, November 14, 2013
  • Guest Artist, Willamette Riverkeeper, Paddle Oregon, 2010
Featured Publications
  • CounterBound, September 2020
  • Terra, Spring 2019
  • Oregon Historical Quarterly, Winter 2018/2019 (Artwork featured on the front and back covers)
  • “Robert Varela offers a whimsical ascent into isolation”, Critical MAS, Eugene Contemporary Art, August, 2020
  • “Kathleen Caprario’s seductively beautiful painting lures into thorny landscapes”, Critical MAS, Eugene Contemporary Art, August, 2019
  • “Discovery Trail” ROT: The Afterlife of Trees, Exhibition Catalog, The Arts Center, January, 2016
Grants & Residencies
  • Episodic Permanent Resident Artist, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, OR, Ongoing
  • Oregon Sea Grant, 2023
  • Artist in Residence, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, NH, 2023
  • Artist in Residence, Pine Meadow Ranch, Sisters, OR, 2022
  • Artist in Residence, Pine Meadow Ranch, Sisters, OR, 2021
  • Oregon Opportunity Grant, Oregon Arts Commission & Ford Family Foundation, 2021
  • Artist in Residence, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, OR, 2012
  • Oregon State University, 2023 – present
  • Lane Community College, 2019 – 2022
Community Engagement
  • Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest ArtSci Workshop, NH, 2023
  • Advisor, Art-Sci Student Fellowship, Oregon State University, 2022 – 2023
  • Emeritus, John Grade Installation, Assistant Tree Climber, Oregon State University, 2022
  • Arts Advisory Committee, Roundhouse Foundation and Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Arts and Agriculture, 2021 – Present
  • Board Member, Eugene Contemporary Art, 2020 – 2022
  • Arts Residency Advisory Committee, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, 2019 – Present
  • Artist Member, Eugene Contemporary Art, 2019 – Present
  • Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest WaterViz Workshop, 2016

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