Written by: Perin McNelis, Native Plant Materials Assistant Manager
BRN’s Art+Ecology workshop series is already halfway done! The October edition was a fantastic fiber arts workshop with Jesus Garcia of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Jesus came to the Arts Center and taught the 5-8th grade classes from Patagonia Middle School about ethnobotany in the borderlands and how to process native plant fibers, as well as other natural and recycled synthetic materials, to make cordage.
After some amazing demonstrations of rope-making with horse and human hair, plastic bags, and fibers from different plant species, students tried their hands at creating cordage. The kids learned about the caustic nature of Agves leaves, or pencas, and how roasting the leaves over fire breaks down these toxic chemicals so that they don’t burn your skin when processing. The students pounded, scraped and washed yucca and fan palm fibers, then used a couple of different techniques to twist the fibers into strong ropes, using tools and their own hands. Some students created bracelets that they wore home and others were very excited about the survival skills aspect of rope-making.
Getting creative with Agave and Yucca fibers was a great follow-up to what we learned about nectar-feeding bats and growing agaves for habitat restoration at our last workshop, when BRN Native Plant Materials program manager, Francesca Claverie, came to the Arts Center and had the students sow Agave palmeri seed for habitat restoration for the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat.
The big take-away from the last couple of workshops has been about the interdependence and interconnections of the members in an ecological community, and how healthy ecosystems benefit all parties- in this case, nectar-feeding bats, humans, Agave populations, and the soil on which we all depend. Interdisciplinary programming like this can provide multiple nodes for connecting diverse learners to their home landscapes. This is so important for encouraging a culture of land stewardship and ushering in a new generation of artists, plant lovers, and conservationists.
BRN thanks our partner for this project, the Patagonia Creative Arts Association, and our funder, the Patagonia Regional Community Fund.