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Leaving an (im)print: A different look at our wetlands

Cypress trees in Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin. (Photo credit: GRN)

Cypress trees in Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin. (Photo credit: GRN)

The Save our Cypress Campaign was my first introduction to Gulf Restoration Network. In the summer of 2009, I was searching for a reason to stay in New Orleans after graduating from Tulane, and GRN was looking for door-to-door canvassers to talk with Gulf residents about restoring the coast. With Katrina and Rita recovery in full swing, the importance of natural storm defenses was a hot topic.

Louisiana was losing one football field of wetlands every 45 minutes (the pace has since slowed to a football field's worth of wetlands every hour), which meant the Gulf was swallowing about 27 miles of wetlands each year. We knew cypress swamps were incredibly diverse ecosystems that supported Gulf animals as well as buffered us from storms. However, big box stores were clear-cutting cypress trees to shred and sell as garden mulch. Our storm protection was being sacrificed to line garden beds! After putting pressure on Walmart, Lowes, and Home Depot, they made commitments to stop selling cypress mulch knowingly harvested from coastal Louisiana.

1. cypress I

"Cypress 1": A large-scale woodcut, inked and printed by pressing it from above with Pippin's feet!

We wanted to expand those protections so that cypresses across the Gulf were safe from mulching. Talking to people at their doors, I asked them to get engaged and donate to help GRN fight for our wetlands, cypress forests, and other coastal lines of defense. Although there were some awkward conversations -- when bags of cypress mulch were stacked on porches, ready to hit the garden -- many people were ready to take action. I collected hundreds of petition signatures; attended rallies; and by the end of that summer, spoke to over 1,200 people. Amazing! I had helped to enact change to protect the environment and it felt amazing.

Four years later: I still work at GRN, and a co-worker brings Pippin Frisbie-Calder in to GRN’s office to meet with me about an artist partnership. We sit down at the conference table to look at photos of her work on her laptop. Pippin opens the first image and it’s a cypress.  Not just any cypress, but a big, old, knotted cypress -- each line rendered in such detail that it takes me a second to see that it is teeming with life. On branches, birds emerge from the Spanish moss, an alligator weaves between the cypress knees, and an egret pokes through the marsh behind it. A few weeks later, four of Pippins framed prints, including Cypress 1, are hanging in GRN’s conference room.

"Mangrove" -- A large-scale woodcut, inked and printed by pressing it from above with Pippin's feet.

"Mangrove": A large-scale woodcut, inked and printed by pressing it from above with Pippin's feet!

Last summer, we held two open houses at our office down on Julia and Camp, where GRN members and art lovers could view Pippin’s Gulf-centric work. Naturally, people were drawn to the 6 foot tall cypress print. To a full room, Pippin explained that her inspiration for this print came from an old photo from the Tulane archive of a logger dwarfed by a massive cypress. Presumably he cut it down after documenting it, so Pippin scrapped the logger from her woodcut and added fauna. Pippin’s prints sparked many conversations about GRN’s work to protect what she so delicately captured in ink.

Pippin’s work moves from GRN's conference room to the New Orleans Print Shop (1201 Mazant Street) for a month long exhibition called "Ecotones: Ecology in Tension" The show opens Saturday, February 8 at 6pm. There will also be an artist talk with both GRN and the artist on Wednesday, February 12th at 6pm. The show will be open every Saturday from 10-2 PM or by appointment with Pippin (401-215-5605).