Cole Hancock: Traditional Craft and the Human Impact on Natural Spaces

Cole Hancock a rising senior in Studio Art and is the recipient of the 2020 Robert and Mary Frappier Undergraduate Research Award. Cole’s faculty mentor is Prof. Denise Bookwalter in the Department of Art.

 As an artist, I wanted to explore the human relationship with nature via our intersections, using the most prominent of those: parks. This project considers a visitor’s mindset and how people view an area of nature with some level of reverence, while simultaneously assuming ownership and dominion over it. To discuss how each affects the other, in addition to research about the parks and visitor populations, I am going to a range of different parks and choosing five. From these five, I collect grassy vegetation and litter, and turn them into paper. The paper made from each park will be made into a corresponding short artist’s book, asking viewers to consider the park and themselves. Since the parks I choose should provide a variety in size, type, upkeep, etc., three of those I’ve visited so far that I’ve decided to collect from are Governor’s Park, Dorothy B. Oven, and Cypress Landing Astronomical Park.

The largest aspect of this project is making the paper. To do so, once I have the proper materials collected, I first have to boil the grass with washing soda to break down cellulose. Then I combine it with the trash in a blender with water, to turn it into pulp. The pulp is poured into a tub of water and mixed with PVA glue as a binding agent. Once the pulp is thoroughly mixed in the water, I use my mold and deckle (a frame with a screen stretched across it) to scoop through the water and pull up a thin layer of pulp on the screen. This is then pressed face-down on a surface and extra water sponged away to transfer the newly-pulled sheet of paper. I’ve found that extra paper pulp is required to make the paper more cohesive.

The sheets of paper are layered between pieces of fabric and pressed underweight until it dries, which can take a week or more, especially in Florida humidity. Because most aspects of this project take place outdoors, I’m limited by the weather. As a result, because of the unpredictability of availability, I am focusing on the physical aspect over research for now. This is work I would’ve done in my school-provided studio; unfortunately, as a result of Covid-19, I am unable to use the space and have had to improvise workarounds and materials. Luckily, I have access to a deck and most of my materials are transportable; but when the weather turns bad, I have to dash out and bring everything inside. My next steps will be to visit more parks, choose the last two, collect grass, trash and data and finish up the paper-making portion of this project.

Tallahassee Area Parks in My Study

Governor’s Park 700 N Blair Stone Rd, Tallahassee, FL 32301

Field Notes: Est. 1997, 200 acre green-way, grassy field with wooded shady areas, train tracks cutting through its center/right. Once the site of the now-demolished historic Myers House. The Governor’s Park was created by environmentalists who opposed the extension of Blair Stone road. Well-hidden and picturesque, very calm, quiet, and nearly empty of people. Miniscule amounts of litter, mostly found in out of the way clearings or in the undergrowth. Mostly left from picnics, dog toys. Walking trail along the tracks, lots of mushrooms and wildflowers, a couple woodpeckers. Wanted to take a nap under some of the trees. Well-tended, wide grassy pathways wound through wooded islands along the side. Entrance is easy to miss, winds down beneath the overpass. Fascinating space.

Cypress Landing Astronomical Park 16900 Co Rd, Tallahassee, FL 32309

Field Notes: Host to an observatory, far from city lights. Small park area, boat ramp into typical Florida swamp on Lake Miccosukee. Very out-of-the-way, tucked among back roads. Small parking area, no one present each time I went. Clearly tended, but minimally so. Small Observatory closed, no indication of an events by Tallahassee astronomers club. Encountered several small alligators, almost ran over two rabbits and a snake on my way out so I’d say local wildlife is thriving.

Dorothy B. Oven Park 3205 Thomasville Rd, Tallahassee, FL 32308

Field Notes: Manor house. Diverse vegetation, pond. Walking paths. Not at all tucked-away, just down the road from Tallahassee Nurseries and with about as diverse a selection of plants. Very cultivated and pretty, everything was tended to. For all the human activity, I still saw quite a few frogs and toads, snakes, and turtles (especially in the reservoir pond at the bottom of the park, largely inaccessible to visitors). No trails or areas left wild, aside from the tiny section of boardwalk at the bottom. everything was arranged and well cared-for. Small park, a decent number of visitors.

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