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Artwork copyright Mercer Hanau. Photo courtesy of the artist, 2023.

Elk Ridge Elementary Curated Collection in Buckley, curated by David Francis, 2023

“In close consultation with the Elk Ridge Elementary Art Committee, I selected artworks by six artists working within 100 miles of the school’s location near Tahoma, ‘giver of the water’ (Mount Rainier), in Buckley, Western Washington. The mountain looms to the south in such close proximity that it seems one can reach out and almost touch it. The Committee’s interest in nature, hallway displays titled “wild about learning,” and Ian McCrae’s gorgeous photograph of elk that fills the school’s entry lobby served as points of origin on this curatorial journey. In our region, almost all artists explore nature at some point. My search narrowed to those whose art practice demonstrated a long-term fascination with the subject over many years. Abstraction also directed my eye, as well as a richness of ambiguity even in the midst of the more figurative work.

In the end, themes of regrowth, fragility, mystery, and observation emerged and blossomed. In hindsight, the advice of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) on collecting images from nature seems to echo throughout the collection: ’If you hold to Nature […] to the smallest detail that scarcely anyone sees, [which can] unexpectedly grow into something great and boundless; if you have this love for insignificant things and seek, simply as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems to be poor…’

The passage hinges on the conditional ‘if’. While 120 years have passed since it was written, we have only recently come to realize (thanks to artists like these) that even ‘insignificant’ details in nature have an immense importance. Perhaps that wisdom is innate in childhood, in turning over rocks and inspecting tidepools, in exploring a world that is more and more astonishing the closer we look.”

–David Francis, curator for Elk Ridge Elementary in Buckley, White River School District, in Pierce County, Western Washington (January 2023).

The local Art Selection Committee for Elk Ridge Elementary wanted art that showcases nature’s beauty and references their local history. They were also interested in art by local artists, so that students will see that art is not foreign to their community. The artworks should inspire kids to create and to make connections with what they are learning.