The Art of Volunteering

For more than a decade, visitors have marveled at the art created in the Arboretum forest by Howard and Mary McCoy. Composed primarily of elements found naturally in the landscape, and drawing attention to the inextricable connection between nature and art, the artists’ work is in harmony with the Arboretum’s conservation mission. 
Few may know, though, of this husband-and-wife team’s work behind the scenes. From coordinating invitational shows to hanging countless exhibits to arranging the annual Art Competition, they are the very lifeblood of the Arboretum’s thriving arts program.
Introduced to the Arboretum by Marion Price, the late artist and gallery owner who initiated the Arboretum’s art program, Mary and Howard exhibited their first Arboretum show in 1999. They brought the idea of outdoor art to the Arboretum, creating installations in the forest and meadows and curating an every-other-year outdoor sculpture invitational that draws artists from around the country. The McCoys also serve on (and Mary chairs) the Arboretum Art Committee, the panel that selects artists for future exhibits.
“Talented artists in their own right, Howard and Mary have been involved in curating the Arboretum’s art exhibits for more than a decade and have been involved in attracting more than 100 of our region’s most creative artists to exhibit at the Arboretum,” says Executive Director Ellie Altman. “They are a constant at the Arboretum. Without them, the art program would not exist.”
As the Arboretum values Howard and Mary’s involvement in the art program, so do the artists benefit from the opportunity to work and create at the Arboretum. “We get to work outside and have the freedom to do what we want,” says Mary. “We can go out into the woods and experiment. Over the years we have gotten to know the forest and many individual trees. The Arboretum gives us the chance not only to bring art to people but to interact with other artists who exhibit at the Arboretum. We’ve made some wonderful friendships that way.”
“Working in the woods has been a golden opportunity for us,” says Howard. He tells of his interest in the evolution and deterioration of subject matter and how that interest led him from working with industrial materials to working in and of nature. “One of the things that fascinates us is how nature reclaims our sculptures. You see the cycles of nature, and we like how the sculptures change as nature changes.”

This natural progression is one of the reasons the McCoys created their most recent sculpture installation (Second Sitings, June–September 2011) entirely with materials found at the Arboretum. “Creating with materials on the site and of the site makes people stop and consider what is natural and what is art,” says Mary.

“One thing that we really enjoy is when people tell us the thing they found interesting about an area where we do a sculpture at the Arboretum,” adds Howard. “It gives them the opportunity to pay closer attention to what’s going on in that area around the sculpture. That resonates for us, to have that response. It’s really quite wonderful.”

And so are the McCoys. Their creativity, their vision, and their kind and gentle nature make them assets to the Arboretum community. This lovely couple has truly mastered the art of volunteering.

Howard and Mary McCoy live near Centreville in a house designed in the 1930s by Mary’s grandmother on the banks of the Chester River. They will be honored at the Arboretum’s annual Volunteer Recognition Brunch on January 21.


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