The Intersection Between Art and Ecology with Madge Evers

The Intersection Between Art and Ecology with Madge Evers

Vivian Kanchian
Vivian Kanchian
May 14, 2024
10 min

Madge Evers creates cyanoprints and spore prints as art – using foraged materials to explore nature’s processes of decomposition and regeneration. Madge lives and works in the woods of western Massachusetts.

Vivian Kanchian: It’s very obvious in looking at your work that it is very much inspired by nature. Would you say that all art, more generally speaking, is derived from nature?

Madge Evers: I think that everything in the universe  – it’s all a gigantic connection. So, in that sense, I definitely think that art comes from nature. There’s an artist named Chris Ware who does graphic novels and did a recent cover for the New Yorker. He says that you can’t improve upon nature; that nature is the most amazing artist of them all.

And I really like that idea. So, when I make art, I feel like I am channeling nature. 

So, yes, I think that even the NFT world or digital art is ultimately inspired by nature.

I mean, it’s inevitable, just because we are natural beings. And you know, even AI originated from the brains of humans.

VK: Yes, a thousand percent! Just like the internet that we’re meeting on today, right? Which is derived from a mycelial network type of blueprint. Mycelium connect life underground, and above ground humans became inspired to create something called the Internet that connects us with each other.

I’m curious to know whether you believe the work that you do in nature has sharpened your sixth sense, your intuition?

ME: Oh, that’s a good question. 

Well, you know, I’ve always felt that intuition is really important and worthy of being paid attention to. And I think that making art allows me to really tap into that. Because when I’m in the process, I might have an idea. But then something happens, and I’ll go in a different direction. 

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VK: Sounds like you maybe have this quiet voice, nudging you in directions that you may not necessarily have expected or planned on going.

ME: Yes, and I think the ability of being able to listen to that, and to follow it is important. It’s almost a relief, because I think sometimes in life we are required to go in a certain direction, and listening to intuition would mean changing directions or doing something different than what we’re doing. So, it’s a luxury to be able to do that, in a way.

VK: Where do you think that comes from? Has your art always been centered around nature? I know that you picked art back up around 2015 after a long hiatus.

What did your art look like before? And how has it changed?

ME: In high school, and then in the eighties, I dreamt of becoming a photographer, and I did photography. I lived in New York and worked as a photographer’s assistant, and I attended the Maine Photographic Workshops. But I never liked the dark room. I never liked the chemicals. I felt like it was toxic, even then. But I did love photography, and I did love image making, and was mostly doing portraiture and still life.

Then, I put that aside because I realized photography just wasn’t going to work out for me. So, I thought, I’ll be a Fine Arts photographer, and I did that for a few years. 

Eventually, other things took precedence, and the process of being a teacher, then becoming a parent, and then gardening—that’s where all my creative energy went. 

And I think that when I started making art again it just happened organically. I was gardening, which I think is a creative process. And when I began spore printing, it kind of blew my mind. All these connections from the past just began firing away. So, I pursued it. It was like the mycelium re-ignited that creativity that had been lying dormant.

I think with gardening you develop this connection with the cycles and soil. And you learn how plants and soil and decomposition work. Also, I have lived in the woods now with my family for about 15 years, so I go into the woods a lot, whereas I didn’t used to. I used to be afraid of the woods. I thought, “Oh, there’s bears in there, and it’s scary,” but I got over that. 

Nature has been really healing for me, and so I think that allowed me to say, “Okay, well, I’m going to pursue this thing – I’m interested in it, and I like it. And I’m just going to go for it. I’m not going to worry about whether other people think it’s okay”.

madgeeversportrait 1

VK: I love that. My husband is from New York City, and he’s kind of reluctant to go into the woods, but every time we get out there, he really settles in. I think becoming familiar (and less fearful) is the first step to understanding the sacredness of nature and of wanting to protect it.

ME: Yes. And it seems the more one goes into the woods the more one realizes how alive it is.

VK: So, I understand that you forage for the plants that you use in your pieces, is that right? 

ME: Yeah, I picked it up when I started making art again. The first mushrooms that I made were in 2015. I cultivated those, but then they stopped producing after about three years. Then, I noticed there were some mushrooms in the woods, which is when I started foraging. 

As a gardener, I would also look for plants. I had seen Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium, and I loved how the same plants that she was using when she was a teenager in this area of the Pioneer Valley still exist. I love that connection over time – that I am looking at and examining the same plants that Emily was. So I started collecting plants that way, to use.

VK: That is so cool.

Do you have any mushrooms growing in your garden now?

ME: I do. Actually, we took down two trees a couple of years ago. So, I inoculated the stump with oyster mushrooms. And then, I asked the guy who was cutting down the tree if he could cut a few 2-foot chunks. And I inoculated them with some Lion’s Mane and oysters using the totem method, and I put those out into the woods. I had mixed results with the Lion’s Mane. But with the oysters, I’ve had these huge flushes. If I’m not paying attention, suddenly, I have these huge mushrooms. But this year, I noticed just in time, so I could use them to make a bunch of work, and that was really thrilling.

VK: Do you eat them, too? 

ME: I mostly use them in my art. I could eat them. But the art takes priority, I guess. But I do [eat them sometimes]. I foraged a bunch of chanterelles this summer, and I ate those ‘cause those are just incredible.

VK: Yum!

You describe your spore prints as a collaborative effort, because you feel like the mushrooms are participating in your artmaking process. Have you noticed a difference between spore behaviors from mushroom to mushroom?

ME: Yes. Well, I have some mushrooms that I really love to collaborate with, and that seem to want to express something. Jack-’o-lantern mushrooms are amazing. They’re a little harder to come by where I live. This year, I was away during the time they [tend to spring up], and my husband saved a few for me, but by the time I got back, it was kind of too late.

The reason I love them is that they’re very prolific with spore production, and the spores are bioluminescent. Not that that really shows up in the work, but it lends the work a special quality so I love them. They just end up being really textural and thick and wonderful. The other mushroom I love is called the Dryad’s saddle, which fruits in early June. And now it seems to come earlier and earlier every year. They’re pretty prolific, and I love the patterns that they leave. So, those are my favorites to collaborate with. 

Some mushrooms just really don’t want to collaborate, and that’s okay. And with oysters, it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes they do well, and sometimes they’re just kind of light in the spores. I think they want to be eaten or something, you know.

VK: Yeah, it’s interesting to think about that, because most of us think of plants as sedentary beings, but somehow mushrooms find a way to spread their spores to get what they need, right? And sometimes they accomplish that by making themselves enticing to humans and to birds, for example. And other times they do that by keeping us away, right? It’s interesting to wonder what they might be “thinking”. 

ME: I know it sounds a little wacky, but I do think that they are very intelligent. And there is this desire [they have] to tell a story. There’s something about the organism that wants to sort of be out there. 

VK: Definitely!

So you’ve said that you’re interested in transformation and nature’s regenerative cycles of growth and decomposition. I’m wondering if you’ve ever thought that perhaps ancient cultures who believed in reincarnation might have been talking about nature’s process of regeneration.

ME: Yeah, you know, I think that the idea of regeneration in terms of plants and fungi is not hard to observe. But I think that with humans, when I think of regeneration, I’m not thinking you become reincarnated as a human [necessarily], but as another living organism or part of one. So, if I were just put in a shroud when I die and allowed to decompose, then my organism will blend in with the other organisms. Right? It’ll decompose, become part of the soil, trees, plants, fungi whatever. Then, I will become part of that. And then, in essence, I am part of the universe forever. So, I like that idea.  

VK: Can you tell us a little bit about what your process looks like for making the cyanospore prints? 

ME: I make both spore prints and cyanotypes – two totally separate processes. Sometimes, I do combine them. But they really are two separate things. 

The spore print is a really straightforward process, which is as simple as putting mushrooms on top of black paper over a period of about 6-10 hours, and then the mushrooms release their spores. And I just kind of catch them onto the paper. It’s really not hard. So, you may do this at home for sure. And I will just give you a little secret. I use this Pastel paper. So it’s slightly sandy. It’s got a little tooth so that the spores adhere to it really well.

Sometimes, you leave the mushrooms and they just sort of melt onto the page. And it’s ruined. That’s the way it goes. And other times they just don’t leave any spores.

With the herbarium work, I just take pressed plants, and instead of a stencil, I put those down, and I put the mushrooms on top. After 8-12 hours the mushrooms release their spores, and then I kind of move them all around. And the image of the plants imprinted on the page act as a stencil.

Mushrooms with dark-colored spores, you obviously want to do on light color paper and vice versa.

It is a process that people use to identify the mushroom. Some people that love mushrooms might have done this before and might know about it. And there are other people that are doing this as an art form, and we all kind of do it differently. So, I don’t feel particularly proprietary about it.

VK: Cool.

What are some mushrooms that you commonly find in your neck of the woods? 

ME: I find Oysters in the woods, and Deer mushrooms. They kind of have a pinkish hue. Often, they can be found on people’s lawns, too. I find boletes, but I haven’t really successfully spore-printed with them. They don’t seem to be into it. I see Pholiota, and sometimes these oysters that have a slightly green cast.

I definitely come across death caps. I have printed with them, and I’m careful when I do it. But I would never sell a sporeprint with death caps in it because if you eat them, you die – they’re so toxic. But they grow everywhere. They’re all over the place. Then there’s the Amanita bisporigera, that just looks like the perfect mushroom. They’re very, very white. 

I definitely have my spots. There’s certain places that I know when I drive by… like a park that sometimes has a big fruiting bunch of Amanitas. So, I’m on the lookout for sure.

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VK: Would you say that your work is influenced by the seasons? Are you seeing different mushrooms at different times? 

ME: Oh, definitely, yes. Right now (in mid-December), I found these oysters, which is kind of an unusual time for them. It’s really late, but we had a bit of a warm spell.

In the winter, I don’t really do any spore printing and so I kind of have started doing other things at that time. Like making books, and cyanotypes. That’s an alternative photographic process where you coat paper with a light-sensitive solution, and then expose it to ultraviolet light. I like to expose it to sunlight, and I can do it in the window during winter. It just makes the process longer.

VK: So, what has got you inspired at this very moment? Are you working on something special? What’s up for you next?

ME: I had this really amazing artist’s residency in Ireland, and I had to kind of work with what I had which was this paper that wasn’t really the right kind of paper for what I was trying to do. So, some of the images ended up getting ripped. And these are very, very big cyanotypes. So, what I’m working on right now is repairing them and thinking about repair [more generally].

At this moment, thinking about repair makes me want to cry a little bit, you know. Like, “How do we repair all these things that are really upsetting in the world?” So, I’m working with what I have and trying to make it into something more whole. It’s still a process, but that’s where I am right now.

VK: It seems inherent in the type of work you do to be hyper-aware and sensitive to the state of nature, especially since you mentioned how the woods and nature have been so healing for you. 

To think about how you might expand that personal micro-experience to the macro of the great big world is beautiful.

Is there anything else that you would like to share? Where can people find your work, or take an in-person workshop with you, perhaps? 

ME: Sure. I have a lot going on right now. 

I teach cyanotype workshops usually in the spring and summer, mostly in New England. I love teaching cyanotype workshops because it’s kind of magical and people love it. It’s just very sweet. I just found out I am going to be working on a cyanotpe book, and hope to do more workshops out West. But that’s kind of down the road. 

I also have some shows coming up in New England. I’ll be in Vermont at the Putney School with two other other earth-based artists. Then, I will have a show at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Massachusetts. Again, another 3-person show with other nature-based artists which is going to be called Forage.

I live near Northampton, and more locally, I’ll have a show with two other women called Biomorph. I’ll also be at the Northampton Center for the Arts, and then in East Hampton, I’ll have a solo show which will all be cyanotypes – both in February, 

If someone wants to buy my art, they can go to my website. I have mostly prints there, but if someone is looking for originals, they can totally contact me. I’m also on Instagram, with the handle @_sporeplay. I have mixed feelings about that, but anyway… 

ME: I just wanna say I loved your questions. It really helped me think about things and contextualize it all, and make sense of stuff that’s hard to understand.

VK: Thank you. And thank you so very much for taking the time to share the process and story behind your evocative work. I could really visualize you out in the woods, immersed in the living forest, and I hope our readers feel this too!

Fact Checked: Seraiah Alexander


Vivian Kanchian

Vivian Kanchian

Content Writer

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