Jen Jeffrey: The Landscapes Of My Mind

  • Monday, March 18, 2013
  • Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

On a most beautiful spring day, I was to meet the TN WILD hiking group on a combined hike that I had been looking forward to. It was an urban hike along the Riverwalk and then, after approximately seven miles, we would take in the Hunter Museum. The idea was to talk about landscapes and our perceptions with what we know and see versus how certain artists create beyond what we would expect.

My friend Hollie Berry was going; it would be fun to go on another outing together. I have passed the Hunter a bazillion times and have even photographed it from the Walnut Street Bridge, but I had never been. That’s right. I have lived here for 30 years and I still have not done everything in Chattanooga there is to do. A lot of that stems from revolving my life around others during the first half of my life who just were not involved in our community or what it offered. As I face different circumstances now, it’s my time to do those things I never had an opportunity to do.

Some people have said Chattanooga just doesn’t have a lot to do, but I don’t see how they can say that. If you work and do things for your family, chances are you only have a certain amount of free time anyway. It seems to me that there is more to do than I would even have time for. I could explore Chattanooga for the rest of my life and not see it all. Our city keeps changing and growing and is filled with the things that capture my attention. Nature and art are two of my biggest passions.

I knew where the museum was but not how to drive to it and pull into the lot. Hollie walked me through on my cell phone but I turned on a wrong street anyway because I saw the museum. But I was on Riverside Drive so I just parked across the street and trekked up the wide stairs up to the museum. When I found my group we headed out.

We came to this really neat wall of bamboo trees that were so pretty and then walked across a bridge that I had never seen before. It was small and old looking. The group would go as far as the Amnicola Marsh and turn around to be back at Hunter. After last weekend’s hike with the Lookout Hiking Club where we had hiked along an unmarked trail near Mountain Cove Farms - climbing over rocks and brush, I thought this urban hike would be pretty easy. It was actually harder… on my feet.

If you have never hiked but are interested in joining a hiking group, there are certain things to know. You can learn as you go or you can listen to tips from others. Tip from Jen… walking on a sidewalk for seven miles is more painful than stepping over sticks and rocks in a wooded area. I much more prefer natural areas over pavement. But, aside from aching feet, the scenery was gorgeous and I would do it again.

My favorite part was passing the marsh, seeing the broken trees spanning across the water. The ducks and geese would swim by and we even saw a blue heron. Jeff Hunter led the hike. He was good to point out several birds that I would never notice otherwise. He could spot them a mile away. He knew them from their call or song. I got tickled at one point when he spotted a song bird and asked us to stop and listen to its song. On cue, the bird sang sweetly for Jeff and then flew away. I nicknamed Jeff the “Nature Whisperer” because he has an acute awareness of nature and nature seems to respect him right back.

The outing combination was a bit much though. We began the hike at nine and didn’t get to the museum until about one o’ clock. By that time, I didn’t have much left in me. I had not stopped at the bathrooms along the walk and I didn’t bring a water bottle, so I was ready for a rest after the hiking section was completed. Going home was not an option when I was this close to finally seeing the museum and I had people to enjoy it with.

I decided to go ahead and pay for a museum ticket and stay with the group at least for a little while. Around the outside of the museum, I saw statue art that a few of my Facebook friends had photographed before. I had always wondered where those were. Now, I would be able to take my own photos from the angle I wanted.

Adera Causey would give a guided tour of some of the works in current temporary exhibitions - Exploring the Land - Landscapes from the Hunter Museum Collection and Beauty Beyond Nature - The Glass Art of Paul Stankard.

We first stopped at a large print of billowy, orange clouds. But they were at the bottom of the print with a vast blue sky on the top. Adera instructed us not to look at the label and just take 90 seconds to view the piece without talking.

She then asked us what we saw. Of course we said clouds. She was quiet and she let us continue with our interpretation. I tried to see beyond ‘clouds’, but I wasn’t sure what she was looking for in an interpretation. I saw the brilliant orange with dark feathery shadows and to me it looked like a forest on fire. Others saw different things. Adera asked us to read the small print in the middle (I had thought that small print was just a contrail from an airplane at first because for me it was too small to read).

The words were a self-critical voice from the artist stating that maybe it was “too much sky” and that maybe they “should have used more contrast”.

I disagreed. I liked the contrast of the gradient blue against the fiery orange cloud-like theme. Adera asked if the words changed anyone’s mind about the art. I just wanted to move my feet that felt as hot as the orange clouds looked! I knew I could really enjoy something like this a lot more if I hadn’t just walked seven miles on a hard pavement.

Once we moved away from the first piece, my eyes had time to adjust from being outside and I was learning how to observe art ‘with a group’. The next piece was an Ansel Adams piece. I always loved his art. It was “Moonrise Hernandez New Mexico 1941”. We were quiet once again and just observed. When we were asked for interpretation, it was obvious that we all had seen the crosses in a cemetery. One person suggested it was a “ghost town” and dark and scary. I didn’t see that at all. I saw it as welcoming and peaceful.

The firmament was amazing but someone brought up an oddity of how the light from the moon shone on the crosses and at an angle which normally would not occur. That baffled me. I liked that. I liked that it didn’t totally make sense to me. Adera pointed out that most communities near a mountain would possibly make their cemetery close to where people lived so that everyone would have access easily. That threw out the ghost town theory. Adera spoke of how each person’s perception is a product of their upbringing. I had noticed that the person who saw a ghost town in the Adams print also saw ‘lonely’ or ‘scary’ in the next piece.

This would be a painting and to me - a “fantasy”. It had an assemblage of various landscape objects that made no sense to what we know in the landscapes we see today. Even if it were centuries ago when the land was untouched or even if it were in another land, I saw “imagination” and that made it fun for me. I like to ‘step out of the box’. I like when there isn’t a definitive answer to things. It was as if I were in the playground of this artist’s mind – which we were told was a slave.

Adera had another tour to give so the group would explore the rest of the gallery unguided. I had enough energy to just grab a few snapshots of a few statues outside and then I needed to grab a late lunch (I don’t eat first thing in the morning, so I was running on empty)!

Aching feet and needing sustenance doesn’t take away from all the things I took in though. The five-hour outing would linger in my mind. The impression it had on me was lasting.

Each tree with its unique bend or bark, each bird with its distinct call and each art piece with a story the observer can interpret in whatever way, made for an outing that blended gorgeous weather, the beauty of nature and art into one thought-provoking and enriching day. 

For photos :

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