“Life is so full of beauty, and we miss it. We’re waiting for the perfect sunset or something—but you find it in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of places.” – Photographer Mary Waddington

It’s officially springtime, and as the weather warms, we’re turning to our archive to pay homage to New Jersey’s landscape. Over the years, artists across a variety of mediums—from photography to choreography, painting to poetry—have urged us not only to honor New Jersey’s bucolic spaces, but to protect them.

The Waddingtons of Salem

First, a 2014 visit to the Waddingtons, a family of South Jersey artists who draw inspiration from their Quaker traditions and the community living and working around their local waterfront.

Sculptor Deborah Waddington walks us through her artistic process, transforming her sources of inspiration from a maquette or small model to the final, large scale sculpture.

“I think I’m really inspired being in this kind of surrounding,” Debbie notes as she walks us around Salem’s waterfront. “I really look for beauty and tranquility—as an artist, you have to come up with your own motivation, right?” In fact, the maquette she shows us in our episode offers an ode to oyster shucking.

Deborah Waddington shows us a maquette

Deborah Waddington shows us a maquette

Artistry runs deep in the Waddington family—Debbie’s grandmother, Mabel, was a painter, and her mother Mary is a documentary photographer who also draws inspiration from the New Jersey landscape. “I think that if I hadn’t grown up here, I wouldn’t have been able to establish the rapport that I do with [my subjects],” Mary muses. “They trust me, and they reveal themselves.” This relationship with her community is particularly evident in Mary’s intimate portraits of watermen and trappers working.

Photo by Mary Waddington

Photo by Mary Waddington

Debbie’s motivation for art making—finding that natural, everyday beauty around her—is stunningly echoed by Mary’s photography honoring our coastal communities. “These incredible stories come out of these people in their element, working. She’s always strived to go into people’s lives—not intrusively, but to capture the story of their life, and I’ve really always admired that,” Debbie tells us, obviously proud of her mother’s oeuvre.

The Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars.”

This breathtaking line by Walt Whitman is just one of the works included along the Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail in Princeton. Melding words and nature with placards of poetry set up along the way, the trail winds along a mile of serene natural space full of sunshine and plants.

Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail

Scott McVay leads a group along the Poetry Trail

“I’m very fond of the wonder and awe of nature,” Hella McVay tells us. She took inspiration from her poetic husband, Scott McVay, founding member of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Dodge Poetry Festival. By bringing the words of admiration that poets have written for nature directly into the landscape itself, Hella hopes to inspire walkers to embrace New Jersey’s beautiful landscape as well. “The more we know nature and the more we appreciate it, the better we will take care of it.” A large part of that, of course, is getting outside to connect with that beauty ourselves.

Climate Art in Four Acts

Other artists in New Jersey have taken up this cause, urging us to pay attention to the dangers of climate change and the ecological distress happening around us. In 2021, art projects along the Jersey Shore were commissioned by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA partnered with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts to commission artists Nancy Agati and Rebecca Schultz at the Absecon Lighthouse, choreographer Lynn Needle in Long Branch, sculptor Adriane Colburn at Dundee Island Park, and ceramic artist Gail Scuderi at the Bayshore Center at Bivalve.

The Poseidon Project, choreographed by Lynn Needle and performed by the Art of Motion

The Poseidon Project, choreographed by Lynn Needle and performed by the Art of Motion Dance Theatre

“New Jersey has a greater risk of sea level rise than most other places on the planet,” Shawn M. LaTourette, Commissioner at the NJDEP, tell us. “I think art encourages us to be thoughtful and reflect upon our experience of the world.” He reiterates the same sentiment as Hella McVay: Creative expression has a particular power not only to engage us with nature’s beauty, but to draw us to action to protect it.

Here’s to art that inspires us to get out into nature!


Cover photo: Meadow Sunset by Mary Waddington