Ecological Art Highlights Wetlands

Ecological Art Highlights Wetlands
"Mangroves near the beach" by Barbara Westfall

There’s nothing like winter’s thaw to make us rediscover the local landscape. As signs of spring crop up around us, it’s only natural to appreciate our surroundings anew.

A similar sense of wonder and gratitude permeates the work of Barbara Westfall, an assistant professor of art at UW–Platteville whose America’s Fragile Wetlands exhibition runs through June 20 at the School of Education Gallery on the UW–Madison campus.

The show features thirteen works made of fused glass, willow, acrylic paint and seashell—water scenes filled with dynamism, texture and vibrant color. Rough branches also wind their way through the small gallery filled with natural light, reinforcing the focus on nature.

“This exhibition is a celebration of the beauty and grandeur of the wetlands biome,” Westfall says in her artist’s statement. “The saltwater mangroves of the Gulf of Mexico coast and the freshwater marshes along the edge of Wisconsin’s rivers and lakes have provided the inspiration for this artwork.”

“Mangroves near the beach” is a large work with leaves made from glass in shades of green and blue, pale branches and rocks from black and white and translucent pieces of glass. It feels like an authentic scene one might stumble upon during a hike or kayaking trip. And that’s not surprising given the artist’s approach: “My artwork evokes the quiet moments spent paddling through rivers, lakes and estuaries, walking through wetlands, exploring tide pools and watching the surf in various fresh and saltwater habitats.”

“Baby mangrove at noon” reveals more muted tones—a paler backdrop and leaves made of blue, green and white glass. Light branches extend from the leaves down to clear and green-tinged glass pieces, with roots reaching out past the frame.

On the other end of the intensity spectrum is “Cattails for Rousseau,” a large scene carried out in bright shades of red, green, orange and brown painted stems and red, yellow and purple pieces of thick glass.

While beautiful, Westfall’s work—sometimes referred to as ecological art—also draws attention to environmental issues. She states, “The fragile state of the world’s wetlands is threatened due to the stress of development, mining, drainage, overgrazing and unsustainable water use.”

Here’s hoping Westfall’s art serves as a catalyst for appreciating and preserving such places.

America’s Fragile Wetlands runs through June 20 at the School of Education Gallery at UW–Madison. For more information on Westfall’s work, visit

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