SU sculpture classes emphasize nature’s natural beauty with environmental art


SU students in Steven Dolbin’s fall 2017 basic sculpture course place rocks in the dirt to create an environmental sculpture that extends from the roots of a tree on the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail. Dolbin plans to have students create more eco-friendly art on the trail in future semesters.

Two basic sculpture classes at Shippensburg University left their mark on the local rail trail with environment art created during the fall semester. 

Steven Dolbin, a professor of art and design at SU, and his classes partnered with the Rails to Trails Organization last December — working until finals week to complete the sculptures found along the trail. 

The reason Dolbin wanted his students to participate in this kind of project is because of how important environmental art has been throughout the years, and it still continues to be important.

“Environmental art is one of the most vital forms of sculpture today,” Dolbin said. “It has been practiced for millennia, literally tens of thousands of years. Stonehenge, the great chalk drawings in Britain, the Nazca Lines in Peru. I could go on and on.”

Through this project, anyone who visits the rail trail will be able to see and appreciate the sculptures, which Dolbin said is another important reason why he chose this project.

“It connects our students to the great earthwork of the past and it connects all who see it — such as those in our community — with issues of the earth. And of course it demonstrates how we as artists and citizens can work with and for the environment,” Dolbin said. “The works are temporary and will degrade back into the earth. So we are not dominating the environment but working with it.”

The students also enjoyed being a part of this new project. Working in groups helped complete the project faster, but also offered a new experience for some of the student artists involved.

Lydia Westre-Stith, a junior at SU, learned how to work with a group and the land around her. 

“We were moving timbers that weighed more than me, and we all kind of worked as a unit. It’s not very common in art,” Westre-Stith said. “I learned a lot about going with the flow and letting the materials direct you, especially in an environment where you can’t go get a wrench or weld things together when they break.” 

Collin Dolbin, an SU freshman who participated in the project, enjoyed the aspect of leaving a piece of artwork behind for others to see.

“I liked that we could reach a new audience artistically and people are going to be cycling and walking past the art and seeing it every day,” Collin said. “We are very detached from the environment, and this brings attention to it.”

A major idea formed through these sculptures was to use the elements of nature that the students were provided. 

“Everything we used was from the site, or the area relative to the site. We didn’t bring anything with us,” Westre-Stith said. 

Another student participant, Anna Snee, found this to be important in the project. 

“The purpose of our environmental art was less to create but more to put emphasis on what nature already made,” Snee said. “So I think it’s important to just showcase what nature does daily without us noticing.” 

The art department plans to work with Rails to Trails in the future to create some semi-permanent sculptures along the trail near town. This will be a revolving outdoor exhibition-type venue for visitors. 

“My hope is to not only contribute to the sculptural learning of my students but to engage and enlighten the campus and town communities,” Dolbin said. “We hope to excite and delight all that see the sculptures and bring new visitors to the trail.”

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