Multimedia artist Joy Kreves returns from walks with handfuls of lichen, branches and moss. She harvests moss from her shady backyard and in her studio she paints the moss and lichen to look even greener. Shelved bins of moss and other natural elements are carefully organized for upcoming sculpture and installations. Knitted pieces and green mesh bags that hold avocados together also find their way into her artwork.

Her moss art and gilded bee works can be seen in Homage and Requiem on view at A Space On Main art gallery, 61 North Main St., Cranbury, April 3 to April 26, with an opening reception April 4, 6 to 8 p.m. In May, Kreves will exhibit Craving Nature at the Tulpehaking Nature Center, Abbott Marshlands, Hamilton.

Through mixed media, painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture, installations, poetry and even jewelry made from moss, Kreves -- a classically trained violinist -- is concerned about changes in the natural order. She advocates planting milkweed to help save Monarch butterflies and worries about “large populations of pollinating insects dying as a result of human indifference.” In her artwork, “I honor them by adorning them in solemn, precious gold. Moss covers the earth’s surface with a soothing coat of protection that birds like to harvest for cushioning their nests.  These natural things are beautiful and functional, but also necessary.” 

Her home in Ewing is a cozy den of antiques, and there is art and sculpture everywhere – Kreves’ own work; works from the gallery she ran (Joy Kreves Fine Art in Frenchtown operated from 1982 to 1990); and artwork by daughter Ivia, who recently graduated from Bard College. The dining room has become Ivia’s studio. 

For Homage and Requiem, Kreves collected honeybees that had come to a natural death and painted them gold, inspired by the Egyptian practice of gilding special objects. The process involved a lot of experimentation – spray paint would blow away the delicate corpses. In other attempts, the bees stuck together.

She uses bubble wrap to create the honeycomb – each gilded bee is encapsulated in a cell of the bubble wrap. Ceramic coins have bees drawn within them and a CD is folded to look like wings. There is a poem that is part of the work in which Kreves has written about feeling a relationship to the bees. 

“The homage part is about appreciating moss and lichens. It is such an amazing material, filtering impurities,” says Kreves. “It is a comforting material, and there are so many kinds, from cushion moss to mood moss.” In fact there are more than 15,000 kinds of mosses. Kreves cautions that moss should never be harvested from parks or other public lands – there are online sources for moss.

Craving Nature is a collection of curiosities, says Kreves. It includes cloches, or bell jars, containing what look to be scientific displays from Victorian times. It is on a table made of lichen-covered birch. A book of handmade paper with ceramic and bark opens like an accordion.

The Big Table is set for seven, with placemats made from moss. Earthy ceramic plates are flanked by knives, forks and spoons with handles encrusted in lichen. The cuisine varies from a ceramic spaghetti to turtles, stones, a butterfly and more varieties of moss. 

The Children’s Table, set on a large mushroom with little cups and utensils and a vase with a nosegay, was created in memory of growing up, going into the woods and picking strawberries with her sister and friends. “I remember sitting on a stump to eat a wild strawberry,”  says Kreves, who grew up in Illinois.  

Magic happens in the creative process. Kreves doesn’t begin her projects with a sketch. “Often, the inspiration for a particular image is a mystery to me, but sometimes it reveals itself while working on the piece, or even after the piece is completed,” she says. “Sometimes I begin with an inspiration following from a continuing thread of work, a personal experience, or often from something I’ve read like a poem or a news item. I am also very inspired by textures and materials… art just takes you where it wants you to go.” 

Having recently returned from a walk with Ivia in Washington Crossing Park, not far from her home, Kreves reflects on the day. “The sun was out, the temperature was perfect, the birds were singing and no one was around. A waft of honeysuckle stopped us in our tracks and we stood in amazement at the gift that it was.”

It got her to thinking about nature deficit, to which she is not immune, spending long hours in her studio. “Looking at the trees, I realized that beyond maple and oak, I’m uneducated about the trees – and this is my earth, my environment. I don’t know anything about it, and so many people know less than I do. ‘Craving Nature’ is about sharing those important experiences with others. When you go out for a walk, it’s building who you are. Humans have an emotional connection to the earth, and if the earth is not healthy then we’re not healthy.”

_________________________________________________

The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.