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Art, garden come together in Big Cypress

Artist Wilson Bowers uses a macro lens attachment on his cell phone camera to catch super close up photos of bees at work in the Big Cypress garden May 11, 2023. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Demonstrating that a bountiful garden can be as beautiful as a work of art, the Seminole Tribe’s Native Connections, Climate Resiliency and Integrative Health programs held an “Art in the Garden” event May 11 at the Big Cypress community garden.

In the “Let’s Be Trees” garden, busy bees gathered nectar in the beds amid blooming wildflowers and ripening tomatoes on vines.

Under the chickee, tables were set up with canvasses, easels and paints for participants to learn how to create a painting from artist Elgin Jumper. Artist and photographer Wilson Bowers showed how to make artistic photos in the garden.

“The life that I create is the masterpiece I live by,” said Native Connections volunteer Marty Bowers, who came up with the idea for the garden. “It’s as expressive as anything we create on canvas.”

Jumper demonstrated how he creates landscape paintings while kids from the Big Cypress Boys & Girls Club created their own. He also gave a brief history of landscape painting.

“Painting in gardens goes back hundreds of years,” Jumper said. “When you paint outdoors you have to paint fast and think quickly because the shadows are always moving. Take a picture on your phone so it will save those shadows.”

Boys & Girls Club member Akira Tommie tries her hand at painting during the event May 11, 2023. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Jumper gave examples of outdoor painters from the past. Spanish painter Diego Velasquez had to make his own paints in the 1600s, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, J.M.W. Turner and John Constable battled the elements in the 1700s and 1800s and French Impressionists Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were famous for their outdoor paintings in the late 1800s.

“Painting and gardening are healing,” said Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie. “There are a lot of forms of de-stressing and they are all good for your physical and mental health. It’s good to have these events here.”

“We wanted community involvement and this is encouraging,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Nadine Bowers.

The garden is a partnership between Native Connections – a division of the Center for Behavioral Health – and the Climate Resiliency Program.

Climate Resiliency officer Jill Horwitz sees the garden as a place where people can come together, relax and learn to use their creative energy to help address life challenges, including issues like climate change
The Integrative Health table featured a colorful salad and a poster of a man made completely of vegetables.

“Plants and vegetables are fuel for our bodies,” said Integrative Health director Suzanne Davis. “They keep us strong.”

“Salad can be so much more than iceberg, tomatoes and ranch dressing,” said Hollywood health clinic nutrition coordinator Karen Two Shoes. “We can experiment with vegetables in a salad. You want lots of colors and types of vegetables. Like any piece of art, you want to work with it. You are putting art in a bowl that’s really going to taste good in your mouth.”

Big Cypress health nutritionist and dietician Marianna Nikiforov made a rainbow coleslaw with shredded green and red cabbage, jicama, parsley, shredded carrots and arugula tossed with a quick and easy homemade vinaigrette. Attendees were encouraged to take samples and some went back for more.
Every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. members of Native Connections provide upkeep on the garden. Community members are encouraged to volunteer.

“We do whatever needs to be done,” Marty Bowers said. “We do the watering, weeding, give nutrients to the plants and anything else. Everyone in welcome to come by.”

ntegrative Health’s Marianna Nikiforov works at the Arts in Garden event May 11, 2023. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at