Sarah Erickson, Sara Womack, Omari Henderson and Melody Harclerode at Blue Heron Nature Preserve. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

The mythical Sankofa bird – depicted in art with its feet facing forward and its head turned to look back from where it came – has become the symbolic force behind a new partnership between Blue Heron Nature Preserve, ZuCot Gallery, and Atlanta Public Schools to show students and educators the strong connection between nature and art.

“Fertile Ground: From Sankofa to Blue Heron” is now on exhibition at Blue Heron, showcasing nature-inspired work from Black artists curated by ZuCot Gallery. During March, APS art educators will come to Blue Heron to see the exhibit, hear from artists, and get inspiration to take back to their students.

APS students will be encouraged to create their own nature-inspired art in local nature preserves, parks, and greenspaces for a competition. In April, the winning students’ artwork will be on exhibition at Blue Heron, while prizes will be provided by Sam Flax art store.

“Sunday Morning” by Jerry Lynn is one of the pieces of art on display at Blue Heron.

“Parks, greenspaces, and nature preserves, like Blue Heron, can inspire, educate, and empower children and adults in Atlanta and beyond to reflect on the stories of Black people in America and to develop their own stories in nature through the creation of art,” said Blue Heron’s executive director Melody Harclerode.

Harclerode, who has led the Buckhead nature preserve, for two years, said she was inspired to create the partnership after visiting ZuCot Gallery in Downtown.

“I was blown away by the landscape art I saw at ZuCot and thought how nice it would be for kids to be out in greenspaces and be inspired by nature to create their own art,” Harclerode said. “Blue Heron was founded by an APS arts educator, Nancy Jones, so its poetic to me that we continue to connect students with art and nature.” 

ZuCot partner and curator Omari Henderson said he saw the partnership as an opportunity to teach Black students not only about art but how to become “custodians of culture.”

“You don’t necessarily see a lot of African American artists who do landscapes, you don’t see it highlighted,” Henderson said. “This partnership will give us the chance to highlight these natural scenes and provide teachers and students an opportunity to infuse art with nature.” 

Sara Womack, fine and performing arts coordinator for APS, said the partnership was a chance to bring equity to art classrooms.

“Typically, dead white guys is where you start with the history of art, so exposing students African American artists and their landscape work is a big push for equity,” Womack said.  

“Prodigal Sun I” by Charlotte Riley-Webb at Blue Heron.

Sarah Erickson, fine and performing arts support teacher for APS, said she was excited that art teachers would be going to Blue Heron for a day of learning. 

“We’re going to have teachers go out into the nature preserve, so they can have an experience to bring back to the students,” she said.

Erickson said the cash prizes going to students would also be a boost for budding artists at APS. “Becoming a paid artist at 12 years old and having their art showcased is an empowering moment for a kid,” she said. 

For more about the exhibit, visit bhnp.org

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.