World Affairs Forum educates

The World Affairs Forum (WAF) at Seton Hill University (SHU) presented “Green is a Primary Color: Discussion on Art, Ecology, and Education” on Tuesday, October 6, at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art (SAMA) at Ligonier Valley, located in Ligonier, PA.

By Andrew Wichrowski

Staff Writer

The World Affairs Forum (WAF) at Seton Hill University (SHU) presented “Green is a Primary Color: Discussion on Art, Ecology, and Education” on Tuesday, October 6, at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art (SAMA) at Ligonier Valley, located in Ligonier, PA.

The event, moderated by the SHU Communications Department Chair Frank Klapak, featured a four-member-panel and group discussion, and focused on the relationships between the natural world, modern civilization, and art. The four panelists attending the event included SHU alumni Angela Belli, SHU Assistant Art Professor Dana Elmendorf, SHU Professor Emeritus Stuart Thompson and Artist Constance Merriman.

Angela Belli, the director for the Environmental Education Center at the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve at Saint Vincent College, cited her time working with children in her occupation as having an impact on how she views the natural world.

“Primary meaning that as we are pre-kindergarten and early toddlers, we already have a love of nature. And what I believe my job and my passion is to harness that in a child,” said Belli.

Belli also stressed the importance of nature on the development of children.
“And what we’ve seen is that there’s a huge change between the structure of the inside of the classroom (which was an 1800’s barn), and a huge difference in their attitude and comprehension when we take them outside and teach them in an outdoor setting.”

Dana Elmendorf, an Assistant Art Professor at SHU, used an observational exercise to engage the audience.
“The process that I just invited you into is really a process of becoming aware of what surrounds you, and how what surrounds you connects with what is inside of you,” she said.

Elmendorf connected her opening exercise with her discussion, focusing on the relationship between the outside world and the inner human spirit.

“’Every time you enter a room, or you enter an area, leave that area more beautiful than when you came.’ And that idea, I remember carrying that as a child and began to practice it because it just seemed like something fun to put into play. And yet as I prepared for this talk I began to realize how much that idea has influenced so much of my life and what is my sense of responsibility to the world.”

Stuart Thompson, sculptor, painter and Professor Emeritus of Art at SHU, began by talking about his efforts to conserve resources and energy. “Some of the things that I and my wife do, I’m sure that many of you do the same things to help sustain, things like recycling,” he said. “My wife and I are fanatics of recycling; we’re excessive almost. Something as simple as using canvas grocery bags; I’ve been using canvas grocery bags since 1990.”
Thompson also displayed several of his paintings in a slide show that he presented during his discussion. The paintings explored the balance between the man-made and natural worlds.

“What I was asking folks to consider as they were looking at this was the nature of death, how appropriately do we treat the dead and dying of the world whether it’s plants, animals, handcrafts of man,” said Thompson.

Constance Merriman, an artist who currently teaches at Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) School of Architecture (as well as the Carnegie Museum of Art), explored the alternative meanings of the word “green.”
“Green to me has lots of context in there. And not only color. I come from a painting background. There is a connotation of the green movement, and political issues, all sorts of challenges we are at this particular time,” she said
Merriman also explored the devastation of mountaintop removal.

“The tops of these mountains are all flat, it rains, all the water goes into the streams, the streams are all already buried, so there’s a lot of flooding, there is all kinds of terrible things that are happening. It’s incredible. And at this point, there’s more than 1,000 mountains that have been decapitated in West Virginia.”

WAF creates events and programs in order to promote thinking and understanding at SHU and in the local community.

“WAF’s mission is to develop a community of informed citizens by bringing together people of diverse and independent voice, politic, belief, idea, ability, vocation, learning, philosophy and action,” according to the event program.

SAMA was founded on the campus of what today is Saint Francis University in 1975. Servicing rural Pennsylvania communities and providing them with museum services, SAMA currently operates in Altoona, Loretto, Johnstown and Ligonier.