The Grove

The Grove is a group of works that began with transformative experiences in nature. Although I have travelled widely in Mexico throughout my life, I first swam in a cenote (underground pool) in the Yucatan in 2017. This literally immersive experience was the beginning of my obsession with the cenotes. Sacred to the Maya, they were seen as portals to the underworld, and were often receptacles for sacrificial offerings. The cenote of Chichenitza, for example, was filled with Maya objects that were dredged up by an American and now reside in Harvard’s Peabody Museum.

As a summer resident of the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I have also been profoundly influenced by the majesty of the boreal forest, and the ancient cultural meanings of trees. The Weeping Willow drawing consists of a Weeping Willow tree overhanging a cemetery of gravestone rubbings that I made in the historic Pine Grove Cemetery in our town of Eagle Harbor. Plant imagery carved into the headstones speaks to the symbolism of resurrection and rebirth, and the willow tree itself is imbued with the human act of weeping for the dead.

The Strangler Fig drawing was inspired by a five-week research trip to Costa Rica in summer 2021 with Trinity University. This species (Ficus costaricana) is a parasitic tree, which relies for its propagation on birds dropping its seeds into the canopy of the tropical forest. The seed grows from the top down and then up again, using the host tree as a support, and eventually strangling it. Apart from the strange beauty of these plants, one can imagine them as metaphors for the legacy of colonialism and unbridled resource extraction in all latitudes of the Americas.
As Simon Schama wrote in Landscape and Memory, “Landscapes are culture before they are nature; constructs of the imagination projected onto wood and water and rock.” Like ancient mythological images of springs in sacred groves, this exhibition brings together representations of life-giving waters, resilient plants, the inevitability of death, and the persistence of nature. These are pieces I felt compelled to make as my own healing offerings to the world in defiance of the environmental degradation that now confronts us.

Liz Ward
May 2023

  • Ahuehuete (Montezuma Cypress), 2023 Gouache, conté, pastel, and collage on Mexican amaté paper 42 ¼ x 31 ½”

  • Cenote: The Deep Pool of History, 2022 Watercolor, pastel, graphite, and collage on Japanese paper 49 ¾ x 50"

  • Cenote: Earth’s Eye, 2021 Watercolor, gouache, pastel, and collage on Mexican amate paper 45 ½ x 45 ½”

  • Small Cenote, 2022 Watercolor, gouache, pastel, Prismacolor, and collage on Mexican amate paper 15 x 15”

  • Tree of Knowledge, 2021, Watercolor, pastel, and collage on paper 77 x 41”

  • Twin Pools, 2023 Watercolor, pastel, graphite, and collage on paper 49 ¾ x 50”

  • Weeping Willow, 2023 Watercolor, pastel, graphite, and collage on Japanese paper 75 ¼ x 45 ¼”