Stories Told by Water

Bones & Sinew

Stories Told By Water

Stories Told by Water is an ongoing project creating deep and evolving relationships with Oregon’s forests, rivers, and streams. Countless miles on the river and trail have shaped me. My decisions and actions are based on time spent interacting with the land and water. Devastating fires have made many of our rivers and forests almost unrecognizable, and dam removal and restoration projects are transforming the way we have experienced rivers for generations. Stories Told by Water is a reciprocal process between storyteller and listener to find new ways to construct an evolving relationship with the land’s rivers and streams.

Artist Talk: Stories Told by Water

This talk was given August 5, 2021 in conjunction with my solo exhibition at Umpqua Valley Arts. In this talk, I give context to Stories Told by Water and I introduce a project in progress in my studio, started at my July 2021 residency at Pine Meadow Ranch in Sisters, Oregon.

Stories Told by Water: Bones & Sinew

Bones & Sinew

Stories Told By Water: Bones & Sinew, 8 acrylic panels, 53 x 37 in., 2022, Leah Wilson

Water takes the form of its surroundings. It has no form independent of its environment. However, it has recognizable structural patterns. Water, unless completely stagnant and still, is in constant flux. One moment to the next its structure cannot be predicted. Its structural patterns are combinatorially explosive.

Each image from Whychus Creek captures an entirely new set of water molecules. The structure is never the same. The water is never the same.
Each image suggests our own bodily structure which, like water, is also always in constant flux. One image of any given part of our own bodies is also different from one moment to the next. An adult body, on average, is 60% water. It should come as no surprise that human bones and sinew are echoed in the structure of water.

In science and human perception, temporal patterns are revealed through reductionism. The spaces in between are always far greater than what can be revealed.

Stories Told by Water: Drawings

Stories Told by Water-McKenzie-Leah Wilson
Stories Told By Water: McKenzie, charcoal, pastel, ink, mica on paper, 22 x 30 in., 2021, Leah Wilson
Stories Told by Water - Lookout Creek - Leah Wilson
Stories Told By Water: Lookout Creek, charcoal, pastel, walnut ink, mica on paper, 22 x 30 in., 2021, Leah Wilson

A Guest in a House Made of Fire and Water

Monday, September 7, 2020 was a hot, windy day. On the evening of September 7th, the Holiday Farm Fire ignited and the McKenzie watershed burst into flames. The next morning was one of the darkest mornings that I have ever experienced. The black was so dense that it seemed to absorb all light. The fire burned 173,393 acres including 431 residences. The town of Blue River near the HJ Andrews Forest Experimental Forest is now gone. 

I started creating artwork from the Andrews Forest in the McKenzie River watershed in 2012, setting the intention of developing a strong, personal relationship with the place through art making that would progress through my lifetime. I have worked closely with ecologists conducting field research at the Andrews Forest, I gathered reference material from the forest, and I even climbed an old-growth Douglas-fir tree many times as I researched light and color for artwork. This place has been my collaborator for the creation of many projects.

Now eight years into my experiment, this devastating fire has shown me that my idea worked. I have succeeding in developing a strong, personal connection to that place. It was heartbreaking to know what was happening and that the Andrews and the surrounding area, including the McKenzie Watershed were endangered. I dreaded that my artwork would become a eulogy rather than the long-term relationship that I intended it to be.

Three watersheds that include stands of ancient forest in the Andrews have burned. I have worked with 2 of these watersheds for previous projects, most notably Solstices & Equinoxes. Now I am drawn back to engage with them once again, this time in a more deep and prolonged way. It will be some time before anyone is permitted back into these watersheds. I have started this new project with a prelude. I will continue create preludes until I can enter the burned watersheds to engage with them directly. 


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