OnEarthBy SAUNDRA MCPHERSON, OnEarth magazine

Editor's note: This year, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, NRDC announced its first-ever Environmental Art Prize. The winner, artist Saundra McPherson, writes here about her winning entry and its inspiration. Read more about the contest here.

I’m honored to have the opportunity to create and exhibit work for the NRDC and Nabi Gallery from the Sanctus series. Sanctus is an ongoing (2008-present) series that acknowledges widespread and growing efforts to reverse the course of centuries of environmental degradation. Sanctus, from the Latin for sacred, refers to the environment as a refuge, a safe and sacred place that is undergoing destruction and renewal.
The series began in response to the 2008 presidential campaign, as hope surfaced after years of destructive environmental legislation and widespread public resignation. The concept of refuge, and the re-emergence of imagery in my work, grew out of my desire to honor and celebrate the change.
Imagery appears in the Sanctus works for the first time in years. Nests, birds, trees and branches are painted in and sanded out, veiled and fog-shrouded, as if disappearing before our eyes. Birds — an unconscious choice for my imagery — were the most evocative animal, while trees are metaphor for the life cycle: germination, growth, death, change. The imagery, often beautiful, is also destructive and dark.
My connection to the natural realm and its processes is lifelong. Although I am a city dweller, the outdoors is where I am at home; I check in daily by walking, and hike the California state and national parks whenever possible. My layman’s studies of the Earth’s processes are an attempt to examine it from a scientist’s vantage point.
I’m endlessly curious — trying to understand why things are and how they got that way, whether they be rivers, cliffs, plant or animal species, continents. Curiosity, exploration, and experimentation feed what I do today: build, paint, try new mediums or old ones in a new way, all while processing ideas and feelings within and around me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Sanctus: The renewal of hope
The winner of NRDC's first-ever Environmental Art Prize writes here about her winning entry and its inspiration.