image above: ©Ruth Wetzel, Mini Lilies, 2014, courtesy of the artist

New York artist Ruth Wetzel spends hours trekking through wetlands in waders photographing magnified views of diverse plant life and ecosystems found in New York. These photographs are on view in the exhibition Swampland: Photographs by Ruth Wetzel from October 7 through November 13, 2015 in the Arsenal Gallery, located in NYC Parks’ headquarters in Central Park.

Wetzel isolates intimate details in the swamps—plumes of algae, verdant foliage, and colorful reflections—allowing abstract forms to shine. Swampland includes over 30 small and large format photographs of wetlands around her upstate Stone Ridge, New York home, as well as a new photographs documenting New York City’s Alley Pond Park, Prospect Park Lake, and Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

Morpheme+Fimage above: ©Ruth Wetzel, Morpheme, 2014, courtesy of the artist

When asked what drew her to subject matter, Wetzel laughed and announced, “I grew up in a swamp!” She explains that she “grew up in the hamlet of Katonah, NY, in a neighborhood of split-ranch houses that had been built during a drought. When the drought eventually ended, every home had to be surrounded by drainage ditches. Behind my house, there were swamps everywhere, and I spent my childhood in perpetually wet sneakers, bog-hopping, building lots of tree forts and drawing.”

Swamps are ever-changing ecosystems, which contrasts with the idealistic image of landscapes as romantic, benign scenes of familiar beauty. Wetzel highlights what is often thought of as ugly as aesthetic treasures. Her photographs promote wetlands’ value as preserved open space, habitat for flora and fauna, and indicator of and an environment’s health.

BirdJ10inimage above: ©Ruth Wetzel, Bird, 2015, courtesy of the artist 

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. Not only do they provide habitat for a variety of species of plants, reptiles, birds and fish; they also provide natural water quality improvement, shoreline erosion control and flood protection for the City of New York. Unfortunately, due to urbanization, the 100+ square miles of wetlands that historically existed within the New York City limits have now been depleted to approximately 14 square miles. 

Beelte+Bramble1200image above: ©Ruth Wetzel, Beetle Bramble, 2014, courtesy of the artist

Ruth Wetzel (Stone Ridge, NY) has spent 25 years interpreting the landscape in a variety of mediums. She has been awarded residencies at Platt Clove, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Women’s Studio Workshop and Vermont Studio Center and received grants from New York State Council on the Arts, Baltimore City, and the E.D. Foundation. Wetzel has exhibited widely throughout New York and New England. Her recent work in photography is in the permanent Collection of Orange Regional Medical Center and has been shown at Davis-Orton Gallery, Hudson NY, Kentler International Drawing Center, Brooklyn, NY; SUNY/Ulster, Stone Ridge , NY; SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, NY; and the Westport Library. Her work is collected nationally. She received an M.F.A. from Maryland Institute, College of Art, and holds a B.S. in Design from Buffalo State College.

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