Mary Oliver famously said that she could not be a poet without the natural world and many nature-poets would agree. But does the natural world need poets? In the company of other naturalists, writers, artists, free improvisers, and wild philosophers of our ilk we can say “yes!” because we express the creative energies of the cosmos in our own creativity. That is the kind of naturalist we grow.

Perhaps the natural world does not need feral poetry and free-jazz and ephemeral sculptures exactly, but a bright future for the earth community requires creative and compassionate human beings. Wildly creative acts are good for that.

Loess Hills saunter. Photo by Emily Hergenrader.

And so is solitude. Each residency provides a quiet cabin in a nature preserve for a few days of “shack simple”– the setting to explore creative wildness within and all around. The residency provides the opportunity for immersion into the heart of our good work together and the simple solitude to let creativity grow wilder.

joelleatBemis EmilyHergenrader
Poetry reading at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. (Photo by Emily Hergenrader.)

2020/21 Naturalists-in-Residence

Joelle Wellansa Sandfort is a biracial, interdisciplinary artist currently living in Omaha, Nebraska. She makes assemblages and installations that explore themes of alienation and connection.  Her practice begins with walking, noticing, and sometimes collecting found things like trash or natural debris that are often overlooked. She aims to reveal the value of these overlooked things by uniting them through assemblage.

Joelle’s ephemeral work discovered on a riverbank by Neal Ratzlaff. (Photo by Neal.)

This practice of walking and art-making allows for a deeper connection with the places she occupies and the encounters she finds in those spaces. As a naturalist, she believes that paying attention to the natural world is essential for learning how to better care for living beings, non-living things, and the Earth. Through her work, she hopes to address the isolation that she often feels in both natural and social worlds in order to develop a sense of belonging to them.


Joelle has exhibited her work at Tugboat Gallery, Elder Gallery, Eisentrager-Howard Gallery and Petshop Gallery in Nebraska. She has performed her poetry at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Confluence, and The Aliens Studio. Joelle has created and led workshops on ephemeral art in parks and nature spaces across the midwest. She holds a BA in Art and Art Education certification from Nebraska Wesleyan University. See Joelle’s Ghost Art Project at .

Emma Piper-Burket takes dragonflies. (Photo by Jack Phillips with Emma’s Phone.)

Emma Piper-Burket is a visual artist, filmmaker, and writer using fiction, non-fiction, and collected media to investigate interactions between nature, society, and the human spirit. Her work is process-based and research driven, incorporating social trends, ancient history, science, politics, ephemera, and the natural world into her creative practice. Emma has received support from Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Ebert Foundation, Sundance Institute, Light Cone, Visual Studies Workshop, Marble House Project, and Middlebury Script Lab, among others for her creative works; her writing appears in Reverse Shot and She holds an MFA in Cinema and Digital Media from FAMU in Prague, and a BA in Arabic and Classical Studies from Georgetown University.

Still photo from Dragonfly Season , a short film by Emma Piper-Burket.

For more on Emma and her work, see

The TNS naturalist-in-residence program is made possible by the Todd and Betiana Simon Foundation. We are grateful for their friendship and support!