The Virgin Forest Project: Nature Meets Technology

My Creative Renewal proposal was designed to get me out of town, into the woods, and to help me discover the natural beauty Indiana has to offer.

Virgin forests are rare as bears in Indiana today. As IFA and our supporters strive to protect the old growth that remains on public lands, we are grateful for efforts of philanthropists, land trusts, and the Dept. of Natural Resources which preserve our oldest Hoosier forests for public enjoyment. Read on to learn about a film artist’s journey into these forests of surreal beauty (high-definition video exhibition on view in Indianapolis through March 25). 

by C. Thomas Lewis

In 2015, I received a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis. My proposal was to visit and film in the virgin forests of Indiana that are under state control. There are only three such forests: Wesselman Nature Preserve in Evansville, Donaldson’s Woods in Mitchell, and Meltzer Woods in Liberty, Indiana, near Shelbyville. [The fourth virgin forest in the state is Pioneer Mothers, but it is in Hoosier National Forest and cooperation was not forthcoming].

Having moved to Indiana in 2009 from Idaho, I think I found myself less than inspired to head out of Indianapolis in search of nature. The mountains I was so accustomed to in Idaho, which lured me out of the city and into the wild, are obviously missing from the view of my fourth-floor window on the campus of IUPUI. My Creative Renewal proposal was designed to get me out of town, into the woods, and to help me discover the natural beauty Indiana has to offer.

Filmmaker and video artist C. Thomas Lewis.




My project involved visiting the three forests during each season of the year and shooting extended video footage. More precisely, I shot twelve six-minute motion-controlled shots on each visit. Shooting twelve shots in a single day entails the lugging of a lot of heavy gear in search of angles on the forest that reveal visually interesting perspectives. As hard as the former is, the latter is even harder. The challenge in finding vantage points in the forests that reveal aspects of a complex ecosystem involved training my vision to search for perspectives that were rich and layered and for details that are often overlooked. It also required me to not just focus on excellent specimens of big trees but to also consider the full life cycle of the trees and plants.

Well-composed perspectives can be hard to find when the forest is dense with green in the summer and just as hard to come by in the winter when so much is simply gone. But my sustained and intentional looking opened up the forests to me and gave me a more rewarding appreciation than I would have had from simply walking through. In the process, I truly fell in love with these remarkable forests and was able to discover stunning natural beauty in Indiana that will keep luring me back.

C. Thomas Lewis’ The Virgin Forest Project is on view at Herron School of Art + Design‘s Marsh Gallery (in Indianapolis) through Saturday, March 25.

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