Des Moines’ Mary Kline-Misol offers a meditation on the Earth

‘The Gaia Project’ Artist Reception/Earth Day Celebration

Artisan Gallery 218, Des Moines, Friday, April 22 at 5 p.m., Free

“How is it possible that the most intellectual creature to ever walk the planet Earth is destroying its only home?” —Dame Jane Morris Goodall, primatologist and anthropologist

‘Altarpiece for the World’ by Mary Kline-Misol

The arts often provide songs of the soul, expressions of inner muses. Visceral responses become the first dominos in a reactionary chain triggered by the intersections of artist and experiencer. Some artists leverage their aesthetic success to prod the social conscience. Combining the power of art with the passion for a great cause, the narrative can shift.

Mary Kline-Misol’s The Gaia Project: A Climate Crisis Dialogue pulses with such significance. It launches on April 8 in the Artisan Gallery 218 in Historic Valley Junction, with an artist reception/Earth Day celebration on April 22 at 5 p.m. and guest speakers at the gallery throughout the month.

“Altarpiece for the World,” a triptych featuring Chief Seattle of the Squamish in the center and apocalyptic visions on either side, serves as Kline-Misol’s artist statement.

“It is my commentary on the current global climate crisis which affects every one of us in many ways,” Kline-Misol writes on her website. “Here in Iowa, we are dealing with water quality issues, land erosion, drought and policy makers who seem to turn a deaf ear to the problems.”

Kline-Misol’s evocative imagery, backed by a passionate understanding of the global threat, burrows into the viewer’s heart, soul and mind. The Gaia Project ignites a deep resonance and call to action which, if left unanswered, will inch us towards an irreversible tipping point.

Can advocacy and creativity save our world?

History provides a rich record of the symbiotic understanding between the human race and the natural world. Today’s crisis has become more pronounced over the past several decades. The impacts are more catastrophic and costlier than ever, in death, economic, natural and societal losses.

Understanding how our ancestors embraced their partnership with Mother Earth can guide us in returning to those environmental roots. Kline-Misol taps the Greek goddess of Earth, Gaia, as the namesake for her project. Gaia is the mother of all life, and has cultural counterparts with the Romans (Terra Mater), the Hindu (Prithvi, or “the Vast One”) and the Hopi’s Kokyangwuti (Spider Grandmother) who, with Sun god Tawa, created Earth and its creatures.

Native American indigenous peoples have long understood the natural and sacred bond between themselves and their natural worlds. Their relationship was respectfully symbiotic and carried an undertone of foreseeing how their respect would carry into the future for their children. Other advocates have joined those ancestral voices, including notable Iowans.

Aldo Leopold, born in Burlington in 1887, joined the Forestry Service. He guided that agency to greater awareness in protecting American wilderness. Considered by many to be the father of wildlife ecology and the United States’ wilderness system, Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer and outdoor enthusiast. He introduced the world to his concept of “land ethic,” which calls for an ethical, caring relationship between people and nature. Leopold developed an interest in the natural world at an early age, spending hours observing, journaling and sketching his surroundings growing up next to the Mississippi River.

Another Iowan advocate was two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Jay N. “Ding” Darling, whose prolific early to mid-20th century images on conservation reached millions through his daily published editorial cartoons. Darling was a polymath who leveraged his diverse interests through his evocative imagery, primarily as an editorial cartoonist. Those powerful images were carried by almost 150 newspapers across America.

Kline-Misol’s creative ‘Altarpiece’ honors Chief Seattle and his earth-bound wisdom in the center panel of her triptych, where Seattle is flanked by barren landscapes featuring images of owls. For the Pacific Coast North One Nations, the owl is a symbol of wisdom and a warning of difficult times ahead (Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, Whistler BC, Canada). Nature almost always provides warnings. Humans seem wont to ignore many of these signs. Artists such as Kline-Misol are members of a growing legion of voices leveraging their talents to make a positive difference for our shared future.

“In my painting, Seattle is emerging out of the text of his letter,” writes Kline-Misol. “It is a poignant love letter to the planet. A plea for the new settlers to ‘Love this earth like a Newborn loves its Mother’s Heartbeat.’”

Kline-Misol thoughtfully and convincingly builds on a legacy of fine art and activism to save our natural world. The Gaia Project: A Climate Crisis Dialogue is a revealing facet of her creativity and concern for future generations, for without a habitable world to live in, how can there be life? Consider the choices, become engaged.

John Busbee works as an independent voice for Iowa’s cultural scene, including producing a weekly KFMG radio show, The Culture Buzz, since 2007. He received the 2014 Iowa Governor’s Award for Collaboration & Partnership in the Arts. This article was originally published in Little Village (Central Iowa) issue 001.