When artist and author Deborah Paris began making daily visits to Lennox Woods, a pristine old-growth forest in northeast Texas, she noticed something changed in her relationship with the land.
“I formed a connection with the place,” says Paris. “I began to feel like I was a part of the place—I wasn’t just looking at it anymore. The landscape became part of me.”
This deep connection was essential to Paris’s creative engagement with the woods and is apparent in every page of her 2020 book Painting the Woods: Nature, Memory and Metaphor, published by Texas A&M University Press in 2020. The book is described as place-based meditation on nature, art, memory and time, with each chapter exploring a different aspect of the forest and a different step in the art-making process. Her online talk on Oct. 21 will draw on similar themes.
Paris first learned about Lennox Woods in 2011, when she moved to Clarksville, Texas. Clarksville is located northeast of Dallas about halfway between the city of Paris and the Arkansas border. The Lennox Woods Preserve is located about 15 miles north of Clarksville.
“It is one of the only remaining old-growth southern hardwood forests,” says Paris. “The land is now is the hands of the Nature Conservancy, and it’s important because it is filled with mature oaks, maples and shortleaf pines. When you walk through the woods, you realize this is what all of the area—and much of the American South—looked like before logging came in and changed everything.”
When Paris decided to paint the woods, she spent several months getting to know the area. “For the first six months, I didn’t draw or paint anything. I simply looked,” she says. “I didn’t want to get into art-making mode before I really knew the place.”
Her patience paid off, she says. “It changed my relationship with the place. It became part of my life and the way that I relate to the world and to nature.”
Paris will discuss her process and show paintings of Lennox Woods completed during the previous fifteen years working in the preserve. Some of these works will later be exhibited in May 19 through Sept. 2, 2022 at the Madeline R. Samples Exhibit Hall in the BRIT Building.
She will also encourage guests—all guests, not just artists—to find their own special place and become deliberate about spending time there. “You don’t need access to a unique pristine forest to have this experience,” says Paris. “You can visit a local trail or park—or the Botanic Garden. It can even be your own backyard.”
She urges guests to take time every day to simply be within nature, without any agenda. “Our lives are so rushed and hurried and sort of fractured into all of these little bits of time,” Paris says. “Simply slowing down is so important. If you can sit in your yard, without your phone, what will you see? What birds will you see, what plants will you notice, what insects? What sounds will you hear? How does the air feel on your skin?” This simple process will help you find your place within nature rather than separate from it. “Experiencing nature with our bodies, our senses—that’s what creates that deep connection,” says Paris.