May 7th, 2011

Learning 10 Feet Above Ground, & Pushing Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Note: Over the next few weeks, we will bring you updates on the progress of thePatrick Dougherty stick sculpture installation at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. We are calling this 3 week transformation of the Anderson Meadow  a “Meadowmorphosis.” We will celebrate the completion of the fantasy-like structure with a naming ceremony at Spring Fling on May 22nd. When the work is complete, you will be able to walk through it and peek out openings. The sculpture will be part of the Garden’s landscape as long as Nature allows, so look forward to enjoying it with seasonal changes (and even lighted at GardenFest!)  To get an idea of the type of structure he is building, take a look at some photos of Patrick Dougherty’s other work.

by Randee Humphrey, Director of Education, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning, and I’ve just left the sculpture site in the good hands of Patrick Dougherty, Andy Lynch, and an able crew of great volunteers. Tomato plants need to be planted in my vegetable garden at home, and so I’m trying out a “management from a distance” approach today.

Over the past week, I’ve thought a lot about the nature of learning, and how we often learn best when we are totally out of our usual comfort zone. Patrick spoke to staff and volunteers Friday over lunch about his project at the Garden, and how, while he has an idea of the shape and form he’d like our sculpture to take, he finds that he often must be comfortable to let the process “work itself out” and be revealed as the materials are twisted and woven. Sometimes the sculpture goes in a direction he hadn’t expected, and the ability to let chance take over and serendipity prevail produces an even better outcome. Artists, and art teach us to revel in the realm of unexpected discoveries and new possibilities.

What’s happening at the Garden over these next few weeks is a truly bold experiment for us–we are letting go of our customary need to predict and anticipate every aspect of the Garden experience. All of us who are involved in the Patrick Dougherty project are learning “in the moment,” solving pop-up problems with trial and error, and enjoying being part of the process of making this piece, even though the work is strenuous, sometimes tedious (leaf strippers are my new heroes!), and certainly requiring skills we’ve seldom used or are learning for the first time.

An intricate network of scaffolding went up yesterday, woven throughout the towering sticks that have been set in the ground to serve as the structural posts of the sculpture. When Patrick suggested I climb the scaffolding and begin tying together some large saplings, I quickly had to rise above any slight fear of heights, and screw up my confidence to clamber — carefully — along the tangle of planks 10 feet above ground.  Talk about being out of my comfort zone!   But what an exhilarating feeling it was to find that I could function quite well at that height and actually contribute a few significant tie-downs that maybe helped work out some ideas about creating straight lines with saplings.

So, near the end of our first Meadowmorphosis week, I offer this observation — which might apply to organizations as well as individuals: letting go of the need to feel in control can lead to new, fresh perspectives, unexpected discoveries, and lasting learning experiences. Come join us in the Anderson Meadow, try feeling slightly out of your comfort zone, and let us know what you learn in the process!

Randee Humphrey, the Garden’s Director of Education, heads up a team of accomplished educators and program developers who design public, school, and special audience programs, educational exhibits and interpretation, and community engagement initiatives and partnerships. She loves how Beautiful RVA serves as a natural extension of the Garden’s heartfelt mission, as well as her own mission to live fully, be present, and serve others.

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