Growing up spending time outdoors often leads people to conservation. Yet the opportunity to hear the rush of a waterfall, feel mud underfoot, or experience the scratchy movements of a lizard in hand is not available to everyone.
For Takeyce Walter, a landscape painter and Nature Conservancy trustee in the Adirondack region of New York, that reality is unacceptable. As a young mother, she regularly loaded her son into the car and drove around the countryside. “My love for the Adirondacks began with a glacial pond,” says Takeyce. “We came around a curve in the road one day and saw sunlight hitting the water, surrounded by mountains that reminded me of the Blue Mountains where I grew up in Jamaica.”
Takeyce takes a selfie with student artists and explorers in the background.
FROM ADMIRATION TO COLLABORATION
Those rambles inspired Takeyce to paint the seasonal changes of the forests, rivers and peaks of rural upstate New York. Her work quickly gained attention—and that’s how she met Peg Olsen, who has spent her career working for TNC around the world and currently serves as the Adirondack director. “I discovered Takeyce’s work in a gallery and couldn’t stop myself from buying a painting,” says Peg. “Not long afterward, I saw a headline introducing a local artist on the cover of a magazine, and realized it was the same artist—the person who painted beautiful scenes of the places TNC is working to protect.” Within short order, Peg asked Takeyce to become a TNC Adirondack trustee. “Takeyce brings a new perspective to our board, inspiring innovation and pushing us to invite more people into our urgent work to address climate change and biodiversity loss.”
ART AND NATURE FOR ALL
Takeyce has dedicated herself to helping other people, especially children, experience and express the joy and wonder of nature and art. A few years ago, she volunteered to teach landscape painting as part of an area after-school program. “I was taken aback by how few of them had explored the Adirondacks—this incredible place just up the road,” says Takeyce. That realization sparked an idea. “TNC has these incredible preserves—why don’t we get these kids out there?”
She brought the idea to Peg and to her friends at Black Dimensions in Art, a respected nonprofit in Albany, New York, that educates people about the unique contributions of artists of African descent. Together with a local church, the organizations developed an immersive three-day program in the summer of 2022 for children in the Albany area. Takeyce taught lessons about the color wheel, how to manipulate light in art and other topics. The group visited nearby preserves, hiked to waterfalls, scouted crayfish and painted outside—or en plein air. TNC staff and partners talked about the region’s ecology and wildlife. According to Takeyce, “Our goal was to help them see that they belong in these places, and that painting is another way of being present. There will never be another moment just like this one, and you can capture and share it.”
The partners plan to continue to help young people find their way to nature through art. The successful program is also influencing broader change within TNC. “We are thinking about our preserves in new ways,” says Peg. “How can we improve the physical assets, signage and transportation access so more people can visit? How can we better communicate so everyone feels welcome and safe on the lands we steward? And what entry points, such as art, can bring people of all ages to nature?”