Tag Archives: Virginia

Spotlight On George Thigpen: Park Employee And Artist

Thigpen recreated the famous Afghani Girl from the cover of 1985 National Geographic using small pieces of cut paper.

Thigpen re-created the famous Afghani Girl from the cover of 1985 National Geographic using small pieces of cut paper.

George Thigpen is a valued employee who has worked at the Oak Marr Recreation Center for eight years.  During the course of his work at Oak Marr, it was discovered that he has a very special talent.

This discovery began when Thigpen started creating portraits of Oak Marr employees and their spouses. And it was then that it became apparent he has a very unique style, and utilizes some very interesting artistic methods.  His style of art is called “portrait collage,” and he begins by producing a pencil drawing of a subject, usually from a photograph.  From that drawing, and beginning with the eyes, he then begins to build the subject’s face with cut pieces of acid free construction paper, which are attached with glue.  His inspiration came long ago from a junior high school art teacher in Costa Rica.  He is primarily self-taught.  Other strong influences for him have been Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter best known for her self-portraits, and Charles Thomas Close, an American painter and photographer.  Thigpen has worked in this medium for approximately 20 years.

Among outstanding works is his most recent piece, called “Afghani Mother and Child”. His best known work is based on the famous National Geographic cover from 1985 entitled “Afghani Girl”.  Afghani Mother and Child is currently on display at the Jo Ann Rose Gallery located at Reston Community Center at Lake Anne Village Center, where he is a member of the League of Reston Artists, and has submitted his work into competitions. This most recent piece recently won “Best of Show.”  His work is also displayed in other locations, such as at a restaurant in Sterling, Va., and most of his completed works are for sale.  (And yes, he accepts commissions for portraits.)  His current work in progress is a portrait of his father, who is turning 90 years old this year! 

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Sadly for all who have come to know him, our local artist is planning to retire in approximately two years.  And for both his dedicated work at Oak Marr and his unique artistic talents, he will be sorely missed!     

Written by Ken Adams, Fairfax County Park Authority volunteer   

A Wonder of Winter, A Harbinger of Spring

A marvel of nature roams the woods, usually silent but for a raucous spring display. Wood frogs, Rana sylvatica, which spent the winter frozen under leaves, have started their annual concert tour of Fairfax County Park Authority forests.

Wood frogs are the only frogs that can live north of the Arctic Circle. They can withstand more than half of their body water freezing without damaging their cells because urea accumulates in their tissues and glucose forms in their livers. This is natural antifreeze that also enables the frog’s heart to cease beating and the lungs to stop breathing. The wood frogs, buried under woodland leaves instead of overwintering on muddy pond bottoms like most other frogs, can thaw and refreeze throughout the winter without harm.

Last month, males began racing to their local hangouts — ponds and vernal pools — emitting a noisy, bizarre call that resembles a laughing cartoon duck to entice the females to join them. Wood frogs are not the first amphibians you’ll hear heralding spring in our area. That honor goes to the smaller spring peeper. However, wood frogs, brown with a black eye mask and about three inches in length, are more easily seen and heard.

Wood frogs' camouflage help them blend into their surroundings.

Wood frogs’ camouflage help them blend into their surroundings.

Wood frogs commonly choose vernal pools as a breeding area because these temporary bodies of water do not host fish and turtles, which are natural predators of the frog eggs and tadpoles. At Hidden Oaks Nature Center  is a pond that is purposely kept free of fish and bullfrogs to support breeding amphibians. Each year we welcome wood frogs, followed by American toads and then spotted salamanders, to breed.

Wood frogs visit the pond to seek out a mate.

Wood frogs visit the pond to seek out a mate.

Even with a suitable site, there are difficulties finding love in the pond. During the breeding frenzy, males may mistake a male for a female or may drown the female, especially problematic for the first females to arrive on the scene. Males emit a loud croak to warn off the advances of other confused males. When the females – the silent sex – arrive, the males clasp them with their forearms in an embrace called “amplexus”. The smaller male holds onto the female until she deposits her eggs (over 1,000 of them), which usually attach to submerged plants or other egg masses.

Female wood frogs can lay over 1,000 eggs.

Female wood frogs can lay over 1,000 eggs.

After just a couple of days, breeding is complete and the parent frogs return to the forest to hunt for insects, worms and arachnids. Tucked back into the forest floor, the adults ignore their offspring and leave behind standing pools soon to be filled with hundreds of tadpoles.

Meanwhile, the egg masses develop algae which provide more oxygen for the young. The eggs in the center of the mass, warmed by the other eggs, develop faster. The warmer the water gets, the speedier the development. Within weeks, the tadpoles wriggle out of their jelly-like egg masses and develop rapidly, growing their back legs first. They scrape algae and decaying plants with a beak-like mouth. As they mature, they are omnivorous and will eat other amphibian eggs and larvae, including other wood frog larvae. Overcrowding and low temperatures can be deadly at this stage, and many tadpoles become meals for another frog, a turtle, a salamander, beetles, leeches or even an owl. Ever full of surprises, the wood frog tadpoles actually seem to recognize siblings and congregate with them. Nevertheless, the sisters and brothers are together for only a few weeks.

By June, the froglets leave the pond, unaware that they’re joining their parents in the nearby woods. About one-fifth scatter, unfortunately finding their way onto roads and, without the important skill set developed in the video game Frogger, they get squished, providing food for birds, raccoons and opossums. By the time they settle into their homes in the woods, they are virtually indistinguishable from the leaf litter. They will spend the summer finding food and trying to avoid snakes, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes and birds. Wood frogs in turn hunt for snails, worms, beetles, spiders, slugs and other arthropods. They are adept hunters that can ambush their prey. Staying silent until the end of winter, wood frogs’ cacophonous duck-like chatter will again pierce the March air next year.

You’ll find wood frogs from the southern Appalachians into the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. In late February and into March, you can see them closer to home in our own park woods and waters.

Meet some of our area’s native amphibians and maybe catch a glimpse of American toad courtship at Hidden Oaks Nature Center  as well at the county’s salute to Earth Day and Arbor Day, the April 27, 2013 Springfest at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Author Suzanne Holland is the assistant manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center

Murals Spread Smiles At Providence RECenter

Aquatic Supervisor Ginger Colón's artwork is livens up walls and windows at Providence RECenter,

Aquatic Supervisor Ginger Colón’s artwork is livens up walls and windows at Providence RECenter,

When Providence RECenter Aquatic Supervisor Ginger Colón looks at the walls and windows, she sees blank palettes waiting to be painted. To her, they are a canvas for telling stories, and her imagination goes into overdrive as she ponders the possibilities. Art has been a lifelong passion for Colón, and flat surfaces inside the RECenter provide a unique venue for sharing her creative gifts with people. For over a year, Colón’s colorful murals have brightened up the RECenter and brought joy to countless patrons.

Colón paints coworkers in humorous settings.

Colón paints coworkers in humorous settings.

Colón’s murals change with the season. Currently, visitors to the RECenter are greeted by a large polar bear ice skating with a penguin on a frozen pond. This mural painted on the windows of the staff offices adds a splash of color to the main lobby while obscuring the activities of the people inside. The big, smiling faces of the skating pair are warm and friendly. Patrons looking at the windows next to the skating animals will notice more familiar faces. Staff members ride snowboards, climb mountains, hang from branches, skate on a pond, throw snowballs, dangle from cliffs, and warm up by a fire. Colón created the images by pasting photos of her coworkers’ faces on bodies that she drew. “Staff and customers love it,” she said. “They have all been really good sports.”  

Providence staff engage in a snowball fight.

Providence staff engage in a snowball fight.

In the past, Providence had paid an artist to decorate the RECenter. But when Colón was given permission to try painting last winter, she made the most of her opportunity.  Her first mural was painted on the windows looking out to the sundeck and depicted penguins engaged in a snowball fight.  Each panel told a story, and the patrons had fun with the final scene where a hiding penguin was hit with a snowball. After the success of Colón’s first mural, Manager Patti Stevenson gave her permission to paint the hallway leading to the pool. 

Colón chose to paint an underwater scene. The mural, which is about as tall as a child, extends the full length of the hallway and covers both walls.  Apprehensive children may be soothed by the sight of the familiar clownfish hiding behind the door. Adding to the aquatic atmosphere is a young sea turtle with oversized flippers gliding along the current while his larger parent peeks backward. A school of triangular tropical fish swim in formation, and a dolphin waves hello with its flipper. A timid crab peeks over a rock, and a jellyfish bobs lazily, eyes closed, tentacles dangling, seemingly without a care in the world. Clams open their shells to reveal tiny treasures, and starfish cling to colorful coral. Colón says she loves the surprised reaction of children when they recognize the characters.  “They’re coming for a swimming lesson, maybe their first, and they know it’s a friendly place to be. It truly blesses my heart to make them happy.” 

 

Colón is a former professional cake decorator.

Colón is a former professional cake decorator.

Growing up in California, Colón always liked painting landscapes and seascapes. It was her way of relaxing. “I get lost in my seascapes,” she said. As a child, Colón drew cartoon figures and portraits of her family and friends. She took art classes in high school and later became a professional cake decorator. She designed cakes for all occasions. When Colón worked in the Fairfax County Public Schools as an instructional assistant, she would make a heart-shaped cake every Valentine’s Day. The cake looked like a box of candy, and the lid read, “Teaching is a work of heart.”  Students who saw her murals outside her fourth-grade classroom would tell her she should be the art teacher. “They always loved to walk by and see the work in progress,” Colón recalls.

It’s not just children who enjoy Colón’s murals. Patrons stop by her office to let her know they appreciate the paintings. “Customers doing water walking tell me how much they relax and love to look at the paintings. It makes them feel so happy,” she said. One patron asked Colón to re-create a polar bear on a piece of wood for a Christmas display in Vienna. “I drew it and she painted it. Things like that are why I love art – making others happy,” she said.

Although it pains her to see her window paintings removed, Colón is always thinking about her next subject. To prepare for a new mural, she takes photos with her phone and sketches the pictures freehand to add her own designs. She also studies window design videos on YouTube. Once the windows have been decorated for Valentine’s Day, Colón will turn her focus to the summer mural. She’s looking forward to painting palm trees and beaches, subjects close to her heart.

Providence staff were painted in a beach scene for Colón's summer mural.

Providence staff were painted in a beach scene for Colón’s summer mural.

The customers enjoy the changing murals, and staff members continue to wonder in what scenes Colón will paint them next. Colón said she loves painting murals so much that she’d do it even if it only paid jelly beans. Summing up why she paints the murals, she said, “Everyone is given gifts, sweet spots, something that is easy to do. So I love to do this because it really brings me so much joy in my heart to share a gift that was given to me from up above.”

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer

A Whiff of Winter Witch Hazel

Subtle fragrance is a calling card for winter walks, and many witch hazels have their name on that card.

We simply call her ‘Jelena.’

Jelena's colorful blooms and subtle fragrance brighten up a winter day.

Jelena’s colorful blooms and subtle fragrance brighten up a winter day. Photo by Brenda Skarphol

We say, “Did you see ‘Jelena’ in the parking lot?” She is beautiful decked out in her copper-colored fringe.  A reliable bloomer and stunning. ‘Jelena’s full name is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena.’  She’s a hybrid witch hazel whose parents, H. mollis and H. japonica, are of Asian origin. She has greeted visitors to Green Spring Gardens since 1996. However, fragrance is not her thing.

To beguile you with a sweet fragrance, can we entice you to walk west of the site’s Historic House? In the grove nestled between the house and the path to the ponds, you’ll find a fine collection of more than 20 witch hazels. The Chinese witch hazels are among the most fragrant, and here two yellow witch hazels won’t disappoint, H. mollis ‘Early Bright’ and H. mollis ‘Kort’s Yellow.’

Winter Beauty blooms near the historic mansion.

Winter Beauty blooms near the historic mansion. Photo by Brenda Skarphol

Among the witch hazels, the strap-like petals and cup-like calyx both contribute to the color effect. The color ranges include yellows, oranges, reds and purples. The combinations, such as red blending to yellow found in H. intermedia ‘Feuerzauber’ and purple blending to cream found in H. intermedia ‘Strawberries and Cream,’ add intrigue and depth.

'Strawberries and Cream' is a popular variety of witch hazel.

Strawberries and Cream is a popular variety of witch hazel. Photo by Brenda Skarphol

The impetus to develop a strong collection of witch hazels came with our successful application to the American Public Gardens Association’s North American Plant Collections Consortium. Through this project, 65 member gardens focus on a particular group of plants, each site providing a documented repository of plant types for their particular group. We specialize in witch hazels.

H. Intermedia "Feuerzauber"

H. Intermedia ‘Feuerzauber’ Photo by Brenda Skarphol

Our collection started with a gift of six witch hazels from the Chapel Square Garden Club in Annandale. We now have selections from all the Hamamelis species, including the native eastern witch hazel, H. virginiana, the Ozark witch hazel, H. vernalis, and many of their hybrids. Our collection of varieties of the well-known Asian hybrid, H. intermedia, will soon top 100 specimens.

H. virginiana "Harvest Moon"

H. virginiana ‘Harvest Moon’ Photo by Brenda Skarphol

For many of you that regularly strolling the garden in the winter months, you know how the witch hazel beckons, furling and unfurling its petals as the day warms and emitting a come hither fragrance. If it has been a while since you visited, let our witch hazels be the calling card that brings you back to explore.

More than 200 witch hazels beckon you to visit Green Spring Gardens during their peak bloom season, January through March. Green Spring is at 4603 Green Spring Road in Annandale.

Author Mary Olien is the site manager of Green Spring Gardens.

A Walk On A Winter Day At Riverbend Park

Winter leaves

Recently the high temperature at Riverbend Park was 20 degrees. The frigid air and breeze as I walk along the banks of the Potomac remind me that we are still in the grip of winter, and a look around at the dead leaves and barren trees seems to confirm this. All looks withered and frozen and life appears to be on hold. But a closer inspection reveals that much is still going on in the natural world. A winter wren tosses dead leaves under the roots of an old sycamore tree leaning out over the water. A flock of tiny golden-crowned kinglets flits through the branches over my head, seemingly oblivious to my presence as they search for food to sustain their active metabolisms. A brown creeper scours the bark of the sycamore, his feathers ruffled against the cold.

Canada geese on the Potomac RiverOn the river the ever present Canada geese, apparently impervious to the cold water, duck their heads under the surface to scoop up underwater plants, their white rumps providing some relief from the monochromatic winter landscape. The honks and cackles of the geese constantly remind me that I am not the only one braving the cold today. The ring-necked ducks, and coots are grouped together on the far side of the river, and the brilliant white and black male buffleheads whizz by on the current before taking wing and flying back to the flock. A lone black duck paddles towards a small island and two mallards are swept along on the fast moving water. The river is alive with waterfowl and three common mergansers skid to a halt on the water to take their places in the flock, the female’s red head contrasting with the brilliant green of the males.

And what of the plants? A casual glance reveals only dead or frozen vegetation, but look closer and there are the chickweed seedlings, the garlic mustard leaves, and the tiny yellow flower buds of the spicebush, primed to burst forth as soon as spring arrives. The tiny furnaces that are the spikes of the skunk cabbage make their own heat and will even break through the snow to be one of our earliest flowering plants. Underground the spring ephemerals are primed to emerge as soon as the weather turns warmer; the corms of the spring beauty and the trout lily are packed with food to feed the growing leaves and flowers.

Potomac RiverOver this wintry scene the white skeletal shapes of the sycamores form a stunning backdrop to the fast flowing river, most beautiful when viewed at sunset. The branches hanging low over the water are adorned with little bundles of ice, like transparent stalactites. Under the seemingly lifeless branches the gray squirrel hops and digs, constantly searching for those nuts it buried in the fall, and the sentry call of the carolina wren breaks the silence as I make my way towards the visitor center in search of warmth. Finally, an eastern bluebird flits by in search of food. Hopefully he will choose one of our nest boxes in the spring.

Written by Marijke Gate, naturalist, Riverbend Park