Archive for ‘Art’

January 20, 2015

We Are Getting SO Excited About Summer Camp!

by Melissa Harding


We’re so excited and we just can’t hide it! Summer is almost here and we have just finalized our offerings for the upcoming camp season. We are so pumped to offer a new selection of summer camps to help your child connect with nature. Highlighting ecology, conservation, healthy living and art concepts through hands-on activities, each camp offers a fun and unique Phipps experience. This year we are expanding our age groups to include older campers, as well as continuing to offer the popular programs that families love. We have a great line-up of immersive experiences designed to increase your kid’s enthusiasm for the natural world, with something to offer for every child, no matter what their interests:
Do you have a child who loves BUGS? A camper who likes to make homes for all the insect friends she finds in the yard and who knows all about dragonflies? Then check out our bug camps for campers ages 4-7: Bugs in the Burgh and A Bug’s World! Your camper will have fun hunting for bugs all over the Conservatory, inside and out, and learning what makes bugs so important.

Check out this post to learn how to trap bugs at home, just like we do at camp!

Do you have a camper who loves to dance and perform? A child who pretends to be a cat under the table or a dinosaur at bedtime? Then Dancing with the Plants, for campers ages 4-5, is just right for him. Your camper will learn about plants and animals through dance and movement exercises!

Not sure that your child will love dance-based camp? Check out these fun photos from last summer – a great choice for boys AND girls!

Phipps Science Education (3)ghghghgh
If you have a child who loves to draw, paint, sculpt, or tell stories, then our art camps are right up her alley. We are offering nature-based art camps for children ages 4-5 and 10-11: Backyard Art and EcoArtist. Your camper will use nature as her inspiration to create beautiful and unique projects.

Can’t wait to start making nature art? Prepare for spring by making seed balls at home!


Do you have an older child who loves exploring nature and learning new facts about plants and animals? A camper who pours over books about his favorite animals and wants to be park ranger or a scientist when he grows up? Check out our new camp for children ages 8-9: Nature Explorers!

Want to practice observation skills at home? Check out this post for ideas!

DSC_2906Does your child have a passion for environmentalism? Does she love to learn about different places in the world? If your 12-13 year old camper is a budding steward of the plants and animals of the planet, then Climate Defenders is the right camp for her! Campers will learn all about world biomes while experiencing them right here at Phipps, as well as how their actions can have a positive effect on the world around them.

Learn how spending time in nature helps all children to become better stewards of the Earth!


These are just a few of the camps that we are offering this summer. Check out our website to see our entire line-up, including Little Sprouts, cooking, fairytale, bug, dance, and ecology camps. Our summer camps are both educational and super fun – at Phipps, we LOVE camp!

If you would like to register your child for summer camp, contact Sarah Bertovich at  412|441-4442 ext. 3925.

We hope to see you there!

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

January 12, 2015

BIA Fellow Aurelie Jacquet Receives Prestigious Photography Scholarship!

by Melissa Harding



Botany in Action Fellow, Aurelie Jacquet, recently received a scholarship from the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) to attend the 2015 NANPA summit, receive training and meet with editors! NANPA’s mission is to promote the art and science of nature photography as a medium of communication, nature appreciation, and environmental protection; provide information, education, inspiration and opportunity for all persons interested in nature photography and foster excellence and ethical conduct in all aspects of our endeavors and especially encourages responsible photography in the wild.

Aurelie’s photography is inspired by her field studies at home and abroad. As an ethnopharmacologist and self-taught photographer, she uses photography to communicate both scientific and cultural knowledge. As part of her application for the NANPA scholarship, she submitted a series of photographs from her fieldwork.

Aurelie is currently pursuing a Ph.D at Purdue University and studying how plants used in traditional medicine can help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Her studies have taken her to Nepal to interview traditional healers, local people and collect plant samples. You can follow Aurelie and all of the BIA fellows as they study plants across the US and across the world at their individual websites.

To learn more about Botany in Action, check out the website or this blog post.

To see more of Aurélie’s photography, check out her website!

The above photo of a traditional Napalese healer was part of her winning submission.

December 18, 2014

Fairchild Challenge at Phipps: Examining the Relationship Between People and Edible Plants

by Melissa Harding


Nowhere else is the relationship between people and the environment more obvious than in the food that we consume. During the latest challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, middle and high school participants were asked to examine this in the context of the plants that we eat on our plates every day. Using photography as a means of reflection, students were tasked with creating a photo story that illustrates the relationship between people and edible plants. They were also asked to research the plants that they featured and to write a short caption explaining their photos. Over 465 students participated in this challenge, with interesting results!

In the middle school category, the first place entry was titled “Homegrown Healthy Happiness” and featured photos of the participants’ younger siblings enjoying homegrown fruits and veggies. The plants shown included apples, carrots and bell peppers and the essay enumerated the health benefits of each. The second place entry featured the author’s mint plants as they transformed from growing plant, to harvested herbs, to steaming in a mug of tea! The author’s essay explains that not only does she grow mint in her yard, but also many other herbs and vegetables. She loves taking care of her plants and thinks they taste great! Finally, the third place entry featured potatoes, from the author’s trip to the grocery store to a photo of his friend enjoying some mashed potatoes.

In the high school category, the first place entry explored plants from the Sichuan region of China and featured plants such as bitter melon, lemongrass, and ginger, from whole produce to their use in traditional cuisine. The author visited that region during a stay in China and has been in love with the food ever since. The second place entry featured herbs from the school’s herb garden, which inspired students to share a meal together. Students harvested herbs, created butter from whipping cream and combined it with the herbs to create fancy herb butter, which they enjoyed on homemade biscuits. Plants featured included mint, sage, chives, and basil. Finally, the third place entry focused on the author’s father harvesting plants from the garden. Featured plants included sunflower, eggplant, fennel, kale and green beans.

Not only did this challenge help participants to look deeper at their relationships to plants, but it also prompted some exciting fun-related projects, from picking vegetables with family to cooking class. We congratulate all participants on taking the time to reflect on the role of plants in their lives (and on their plates)!

The winning entries are:
Middle School
First Place: Schaffer Elementary
Second Place: The Ellis School
Third Place: David E. Williams Middle School
Honorable Mentions: Keystone Oaks Middle School and Shaler Area Middle School

High School
First Place: North Allegheny Senior High School
Second Place: Shaler Area High School
Third Place: North Allegheny Intermediate High School

Unfortunately, because some of these photos featured faces of children, we cannot show them here. However, please enjoy the rest of the photos in the slideshow below:

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The first place winners of all middle school challenges will be invited to appear on the Saturday Light Brigade radio program. The Saturday Light Brigade can be heard every Saturday morning on WRCT 88.3 FM. It also streams live at where the interview will be archived under Neighborhood Voices. Join area middle school students on Saturday, December 27th at 10:35 a.m.! Check out the broadcast here.

Pictures of the entries taken by Science Education and Research staff.

November 17, 2014

Evening Ed-Ventures: Art Party!

by Melissa Harding


As Henry David Thoreau once said, “This world is but a canvas to our imaginations.” During last weekend’s Evening Ed-Ventures: Art Party, our campers used their imaginations and the natural world to find inspiration to create works of art. Campers created sculptures and healthy snacks, learning about nature through art.

To begin, campers were given a blank inspiration mural. They were asked to draw or write about the things that most inspire them. Campers drew everything from baseballs to butterflies, explaining the different things in each of their lives that make them happy and give them inspiration. They then introduced themselves and their favorite kind of art.

After all this talk of inspiration, it was time to get down to business and start prepping their materials. As always, our art projects were made from repurposed items and natural materials. Campers spent time crumbling bread  and adding it to glue, dish soap and water to make bread clay. While their clay was getting nice and gooey, they went into the Conservatory to check out the sculptures that make their home among the plants. They learned about Dale Chihuly and how he makes his glass sculptures, guessing what things from nature were the inspiration for each piece. They also found the inspiration from plants in the Serpentine Room and Palm Court, jotting down their favorite ones in their journals.

All of this inspiration made everyone feel pretty hungry, so it was time for a snack. Sticking with the theme of art, campers created “snulptures” – part snack, part sculpture – out of blue corn chips, cheese and fruit. What a delicious project! After creating their edible sculptures, campers went back down to the classroom to create some no-edible ones out of their bread clay. They added natural materials like leaves, pine cones and sticks to add an autumnal feeling to their art. It was such a fun night – truly an art party!

Check out the slideshow below to see more images from camp:


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If program sounds fun, check out Evening Ed-Venture: Fun with Food on February 13, 6:30-9:30 pm. To register, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442 etx. 3925.

The above photos were taken by Phipps Conservatory Staff.

November 12, 2014

Backyard Connections: Celebrate Urban Birds With Citizen Science!

by Melissa Harding


Even though Phipps is located in the heart of the city of Pittsburgh, our visitors and staff are always reporting interesting animal sightings – from deer standing on the hill to hawks swooping down into the fields around the Conservatory. Urban areas may not seem at first glance to be a hospitable home to wildlife, but in reality there are many animals that have adapted well to the built environment. More than just a haven for squirrels and pigeons, the city is home to a variety of beautiful birds, deer, foxes and many other animals that are more commonly associated with woodland areas. People who live in these areas may not know that they share their space with such a wealth of critters, which is where citizen science comes in. Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) is a project developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology whose primary purpose is to reach urban audiences who do not already participate in science, as well as to collect data about birds living in these environments. Birds are a perfect animal to study; they are attractive, plentiful, and easily spotted in any place.

Fall is a great time to think about birds, specifically helping them find food and shelter during the winter, as well as to provide safe and nourishing stops for them during migration. The more you are conscious of the bird populations that live near you, the better able you are to protect them from threats and encourage their habitation of your backyard or neighborhood. Additionally, participating in citizen science programs gives bird researchers useful information that they can’t collect on their own.

Why track bird populations? Bird populations are dynamic and constantly in a state of flux. Birds are always moving from place to place in search of food and shelter, especially during the colder months. Scientists need citizen help because no single team of scientists could ever completely document the complex distribution and movement of so many birds. The longer and more frequently bird populations are documented, the more useful the data becomes, especially as scientists begin to assess trends over time. Having so much data also helps scientists to ask more difficult questions, such as why bird diseases affect different regions or why the phenology of migration patterns changes from year to year.

Celebrate Urban Birds is a great way to participate in citizen science; the project focuses on just a few focal species, many of which are commonly sighted birds, and can involve as much or as little commitment as you desire. All you need to do to get started is to sign up and purchase your CUB kit from Cornell, then you are all set to start observing the birds around you. Here’s how you record your data:

  • Beforehand, pick a date, time, and place for watching birds.
  • Watch an area about the size of half a basketball court for ten minutes.
  • Record which of the focal birds you see and don’t see in your birdwatching area.
  • Send your data to CUB either online or on your paper form

Easy peasy, and you have just helped both birds and the scientists who study them! In addition to just watching birds and collecting data, CUB also supports related community programming in the arts, neighborhood greening and  habitat restoration. They offer mini-grants to support community festivals and really want to help people connect the importance of birds and nature to all aspects of their lives.

This project is great for scout and youth groups, homeschoolers, school classes, or any other group, as well as for families. To get started, check out the Celebrate Urban Birds website – there are resources to help you learn good observation skills, identify focal species and more! Even if you are new to birding, CUB is an easy way to dip your toe into the water of citizen science. Check it out today!

To learn how to participate in bird-related citizen science, visit the Cornell Lab website. Learn more about the Celebrate Urban Birds program here!

New to bird watching, check out Cornell’s excellent resources for identifying difficult birds, using binoculars, and more!

Learn more about citizen science projects to do with your family on the blog!

The above photo is copyrighted to Maria Corcacas and used courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

November 5, 2014

A Smooth Blue Package

by Melissa Harding


The first challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps asked participants to give up technology for one day and write a reflective essay about their experience. Middle school students also had the option of writing a poem about their day without electronics. While all the entries were wonderful as always, the first place poem was so unique and lovely that we just had to share it. Congratulations, Elsa, on your win!

A Smooth Blue Package
by Elsa Tonkinwise, The Ellis School

My room cramped fake silent I need to get out away to the open door swings free with a
The world hits me
so much life, alive
jump run dance
The grass is
soft warm tender
lie down
chip chip chip
a scattering of golden wood
Sweet berries
red pink red
Squirrels with
grey plumes of tails
leap follow sprint
So much to
smell hear taste touch

Stand back



The sky envelopes it all in a
smooth blue

 The above photo was used courtesy of NASA.

October 16, 2014

We Proudly Open the Newest CSL Art Exhibit: Photos from the 2014 Summer Internship!

by Melissa Harding

Group photo

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the new photo exhibit in the Center for Sustainable Landscapes is a story of the summer! Last week, the 2014 summer high school intern cohort returned to Phipps for a celebration of their internship during the opening reception for the gallery. The photos displayed represent the interns’ experience over the course of the summer and their unique perspectives. Joining the interns at the opening reception were their family and friends, as well as friends of the program Nancy Hanst and Alyce Amery Spencer, of Slow Food Pittsburgh, and gardening guru Doug Oster. It was so wonderful to have the interns back at Phipps again; we know that they have taken their experiences here with them into the school year!

Throughout the summer internship, local gardening columnist and author Doug Oster very kindly taught the interns basic principles of photography, from composition to lighting and everything in between. The interns had a wonderful time working with Doug and clearly they learned well, as the photos displayed in the exhibition are lovely indeed.

Check out the slideshow below to see all of the photos from the show:

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To read more about this past summer’s internship, including the first annual Youth Garden Summit, click here.

The above photos were taken by Kate Borger and the 2014 summer high school interns.


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