Artist Janel Houton finds inspiration in the local culture and natural surroundings of Boston, Massachusetts, and in national and global themes concerning protection of the earth and climate change. Her award-winning art is in many private and public collections worldwide including Jeremiah Endicott Foundation, Boston, MA; Windsor Hotel, Akakura, Niigata, Japan; and Edward M Kennedy Community Health Center, Milford, MA; among others.
Houton studied studio art at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts School. She has exhibited nationally and internationally and recently completed an artist residency in Assisi, Italy.
When I read the transcript of a talk she gave at Merrimack College I was struck by her profound knowledge and insight and asked her to share excerpts in this article. I’m delighted to present it here and help to raise awareness about art that focuses on environmental concerns. ~ Renée Phillips, Founder and Editor, The Healing Power of ART & ARTISTS
Environmental / Climate Change Themed Art Series
By Janel Houton
In Pope Francis’s book “Enclyclical on Climate Change & Inequality”, (available in paperback and on kindle at Amazon), he wrote: “The Universe as a whole, in all its manifold relationships, shows forth the inexhaustible riches of God… God wills the interdependence of creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other.”
Those words have a profound effect on me. Within a few years of focusing on art professionally, I found I was primarily interested in nature. I began an environmental / climate change themed art series after reading an article published in March 2015 in the Boston Globe, titled “Native Plants face significant Threat”. The article began: “In all, 22 percent of all native plant species in New England are now either extinct, rare, or in a state of decline.”
The article continued to say that nearly a third of all the region’s plants were from elsewhere, with an increasing number considered invasive, and harmful to native flora. It described current and potential scenarios for native plants, including the Sugar Maple tree, one iconic to New England.
Climate Change and Die-Off
I was most shocked by the potential that temperature changes brought on by climate change, within the next 100 years, are likely to lead these brilliant trees in the region to experience a massive die-off. As a resident of New England, I am aware of the associations of the region with autumn, an image of New England well known afar, and inspiring all kinds of culture, tourism, and economy.
The realization that this is one of many likely and dire possibilities for our environment, was a revelation to me. I realized that while we hear in general terms about climate change and environmental threats, that without evaluating the species that live and grow in our backyards — including the foods we eat to live — we often disconnect from the facts and factors that impact and perpetuate these conditions.
As a series, I started combining text from articles about environmental scenarios and climate change with my subject matter, hoping that people might make a conscious connection to the consequences of climate change and environmental threats.
I started reading about native species in decline in New England, looking at the Massachusetts “List of Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species”. For each species there is information online with descriptions, causes for their decline, and suggestions for conservation.
When we study the history of New England’s ecology, we become aware the incredible abundance of wild and sea life that once existed. The Native Americans here saw the earth and the use of it, in a very different way; they did not see land as a commodity, and considered use of it as temporary, so that lending of land was done with the expectation of its return. They believed in only the use of what was needed, through harvest and hunting, with a conscious recognition of the need for the earth, wildlife, and nature to be able to reproduce for following cycles, necessary for human beings’ survival.
Massachusetts has a rich biological legacy, home to a wide array of plants and animals. Of native species, there are 176 vertebrate and invertebrate animals, and 256 species of plants that are considered to be at risk of extirpation from Massachusetts, or even global extinction.
There are various causes that have impacted these species, however even slight temperature changes cause dramatic impacts on native ecosystems — something that people rarely discuss. Also, as we witness devastating floods and storms, the people who have done the least to cause it, are among the first to experience the worst consequences.
The Consequences of Consumerism
All of this brings us to consumerism. Looking at the limits of the earth, and in order to support our mutual survival, we must consider the need to adjust our views regarding economic success, growth and greed. How can we not consider whether non-human life on earth has any less right to be here, than we do?
Small efforts can support native environments and species, including planting native species, not overusing water, not using harmful insecticides or pesticides, and choosing earth and environmentally friendly options. Supporting local economies, especially farms and farmers’ markets, is critical as well.
My hope is that by understanding the impact that endless consumption has on the earth, that we will all make better and informed choices. The fact is that no matter our desires, we cannot continue to produce and consume as we have for all of the earth’s billions, because we simply don’t have the resources.
It is critical to realize the power we all have to make meaningful and positive choices for the earth, for all of its living beings, and the future, every day.
The full transcript of Janel Houton’s speech is available on her website.
Visit Janel Houton’s website at janelhouton.com