This article is from the February 2019 Grand Rapids Magazine. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.
At just 8 years old, Shilin Hora discovered her reverence for nature. She would spend hours noticing the smallest intricacies of the earth, peeling moss from sidewalk cracks, admiring the canopies beneath trees and crafting terrariums.
“I remember carefully landscaping miniature gardens inside Ball canning jars with lush green moss and fresh soil,” Hora said. “By placing these small natural objects in glass jars, my eyes were able to notice the details of each object, how they related to each other and their inherent qualities.”
Hora, who currently resides in Chicago but grew up in St. Joseph, reflects on her elementary years as brimming with self-guided outdoor adventures — from peach groves and grape vineyards to forests and sand dunes, Hora spent ample time outdoors. Homework assignments included leaf branch sculptures, sand drawings and seed studies.
Later, Hora attended Grand Valley State University and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking and sculpture and then she spent a few years working at Kendall College of Art and Design. Her undergraduate fine arts experiences fostered her craft of collecting and recording.
“In 1999, my obsession with collecting botanical materials and bringing them indoors started in the GVSU ravines,” she said, explaining that the studio doors at the back of her class opened up into the ravines, and luckily, her professors allowed her to use the outdoor classroom during class hours. “I lived out there. I would work out there during class, take naps there, eat out there, sketch, paint, draw, collect,” Hora recalled. “I learned to observe with intention, and it was here that I discovered the voice of nature. It changed my life.
“The joy, healing and satisfaction that I received from being in nature and my desire to share this obsession has made me the artist I am today.”
Now, Hora’s work has come full circle, with her exhibit, “Seed Museums: Viewing and Using Nature,” opening at GVSU last November.
Inspired by self-guided outdoor adventures and 19th-century Wardian cases that were used by exploring botanists to import plants to Europe, “Seed Museums” comprises a collection of massive plexiglass displays, the largest being 33-by-45½ inches, which are custom built with reclaimed barn wood as the framework. Each display contains dried seeds placed behind the plexiglass in an arrangement that emphasizes their unique qualities. Other mixed media used to create these pieces includes antique threads, intaglio etching on handmade papers and litterfall.
“My wall-hanging ‘Seed Museums’ is an innovative blend between natural history specimen collection and fine art museum display, meant to inspire the explorer in all of us,” Hora said. “My vision for the ‘Seed Museums’ exhibit is that this collection provokes a (thought) about nature and how we use it. I hope the beauty of the work will inspire conversations and actions toward conservation or preservation of nature.”
Although it’s quiet and subtle, Hora said she hopes that viewers of the “Seed Museums” will come to hear and see all nature has to offer.
“Nature is kind and respectful, it doesn’t hit you across the head,” she said. “It is gentle, thoughtful and waits until you are still. I hope viewers hear and feel the voice of nature.”
“Seed Museums: Viewing and Using Nature” will be on display at the GVSU West Wall Gallery through March 1.
Photos: Shilin Hora. Courtesy Amilcar Perez (top); The exhibit. Photo by Johnny Quirin (bottom)