The Veins of Mother Earth

At the beginning of my semester-long internship, we spent a lot of time looking at various nature symbols and really digging into their meaning, especially in terms of culture, religion, and science. One of the very first symbols I chose to look into was the river. I have no immediate connection to any particular river, but while being guided through a quick mediation I visualized myself in a jungle with my mom who led me to this long, wide, river running across our path. My mom is from the Philippines and she would often talk about bathing in the river near her village or helping her mom do laundry in it and watching her waist-length hair swirl in the water.

Taking what little connection I had to this body of water, I did some research. As I was reading through various sites and sources, one particular line stood out to me. “Waters rolling as Time itself, as if veins of the Great Mother Earth”. This struck something visceral within me and caught me off guard. Surprised by the emotional response, I let myself think about it more and sit with this intense feeling. Of course the rivers are the veins of Mother Earth. Scientifically, rivers can be defined as “large, natural channel containing water that flows downhill under gravity. A river system is a network of connecting channels”. So, what are veins if not networks of channels which carry life-sustaining fluid away? Fresh water is necessary for life and without it we wouldn’t be where we are today as a species, as an ecosystem, as a planet.

Rivers have been recognized as important fixtures in the natural world before written history, and as civilizations became more stable, their fascination and respect for them started to be documented through stories and myths. The Book of Symbols references various rivers mentioned throughout time, discussing familiar examples like those found in the depths of Tartarus in Greek mythology, such as the Lithe and Styx, which had magical properties or roles within the underworld. Rivers were also mentioned in Asian mythology, with one example being Chinese. First written in the pre-Qin period, this creation myth describes how the first humans came about. The goddess Nuwa created man using clay from the Yellow River. In my mom’s home country, the river was and are lifelines in a cultural and community sense as I’ve mentioned before. In mythology, some indigenous groups believed that humans came from eggs laid by the limokon bird with a man and a woman emerging on opposite sides of a river.

Rivers being so prevalent in culture and religious contexts for so long highlights our innate ability and desire to respect and care for the Earth as it provides us with so much. Things like fresh, drinkable water are taken for granted and the communities who were the first protectors of the Earth are often denied access to or stripped of this precious resource. In thinking of rivers in the context of the veins of Mother Earth, we will be better equipped to protect these vital bodies of water and by extension, the entirety of the Earth. Rivers and water are essential to life and should be protected and respected out of appreciation for all it has granted us. I would like to include one more quote from a Mojave-American poet and Native activist, Natalie Diaz: “I mean river as a verb. A happening. It is moving within me right now”.


Kuipers, Andre. Earth Observations Taken by the Expedition 31 Crew. Colorado River, 30 Apr. 2012.

“The First Water Is The Body.” Postcolonial Love Poem, by Natalie Diaz, Graywolf Press, 250 Third Avenue North, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN, 2020.

“River” UXL Encyclopedia of Science. . 15 Apr. 2021 <>.

Ronnberg, Ami, and Kathleen Martin. The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. Taschen, 2010.

Justin DeMattico – 2020 D-Eco-Self Intern

Introducing the 2020 D-Eco-Self Intern: Justin DeMattico is a studio art major pursuing his B.A. at Monmouth University. He has a background in all types of mediums including charcoal/graphite, clay sculpting, digital media, intaglio, and acrylic/oil paint to name a few but strongly prefers working in oils. A strong influence in some of his work is his faith and love for nature and animals.  He is interested in the Discovering the Ecological Self project due to his interest in nature and how humans not only influence the world around them but interpret them through symbolism and alternative meanings. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, DeMattico worked on the new D-Eco Self social media, merchandise and blog posts. In the future, DeMattico would like to become a professor at a university and help others discover and hone their love for art as well. Working with students like those from Aslan Youth Ministry on this project is beneficial in learning how to teach topics like these as well as bridging topics like the environment and art together in a classroom setting.

Student Scholarship Week – D-Eco-Self 2019

AR 218 Sculpture 2 Students participated in the 2019 Service Learning Scholarship Week Poster Session sharing their work about their D-Eco-Self collaboration project and artworks that they made with Aslan Youth Ministry and MU Science. Denice Michalchuk, our D-Eco-Self 2019 Research Assistant, created the poster, and Daniella Russo, our D-Eco-Self 2019 Project Assistant, presented to a packed crowd during the event.

To view pictures of images and artwork check out the gallery or read the blog posts!

Tree Rings=Lifespan 2019

The science students taught us about the life cycle of a tree, as well as dendrochronology, the study of tree rings. Each year a mature tree develops another tree ring, so when a tree is chopped down, we can count approximately how many years it has been alive.


We then learned about the symbolism of different colors in art, and how those colors are used in art throughout the ages. For example, in some paintings and artwork yellow symbolizes happiness, so we looked at Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, or pink represents femininity, as in Dancers in Pink by Degas, as well as other pieces. We then brought these two concepts together in order to create our own colorful tree rings. Each tree ring is assigned to an important person in the student’s life, from childhood to the present. Assigning a color based on its symbolic meaning to each person, each tree ring is unique to each individual.


For a full gallery of images and artwork from the entire 2019 D-Eco-Self Trees, click here. 

Seeds=Potential 2019

We took a trip to the greenhouse on Monmouth University campus, once there, the science students exchanged thoughts regarding the importance of roots, and how they provide a tree with the water it needs to grow. They also discussed how water travels like pathways through the tree to evenly distribute water. Trees also bare leaves and fruit from their branches.


When we returned to the classroom, we looked at botanical drawings which were once a way of documenting herbs and their medicinal purposes. By taking inspiration from these drawings in how the roots, seed and plant are shown, we made our own botanical drawings on scrolls. Using gouache paint, we painted a seed to represent our hopes and dreams. From the seeds grow an imagined plant that represents the accomplishment of that hope or dream. The roots that extend below each plant creates a foundation for the seed to grow.


For a full gallery of images and artwork from the entire 2019 D-Eco-Self Trees, click here. 

The Seasons 2019

There are many characteristics of a tree that we as humans can draw meaning from, as well as relate to our lives. Through studies regarding the science and symbolism in art, we have learned more about our relationship with nature.


We related the seasons to our own life cycles by looking at how a tree reacts to each season. The beginning of life is represented through spring, which is a time when trees begin to bloom with flowers and all living creatures are born and begin to grow. The summer is when trees begin to produce fruit and receive the most amount of sun. This is when trees do the most of their growing, so we related it to our youthful years of childhood to early adulthood. In autumn, the leaves on a tree begin to change color because they produce less chlorophyll, thereby turning the leaves yellow, orange and red. Eventually, the leaves fall off its branches which relates to adulthood and growing older. The last season, winter, is when the trees have no leaves. Since there’s little sun in the winter, it takes too much energy to grow and maintain leaves, so, instead, the trees stay dormant until spring. Together we read the poem, Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams, and related this season to the end of life, but a hope for new life again.


Our art project was a collage using color aid paper. The students made one tree that showed both spring and summer, then another collage of a tree that showed fall and winter. They were then able to use different colors from each of the seasons for their tree collages.

For a full gallery of images and artwork from the entire 2019 D-Eco-Self Trees, click here. 

Discovering the Ecological Self Goes to Nebraska

When we think of nature, what comes to mind? Trees that provide oxygen, oceans that quite literally move mountains, storms that can destroy skyscrapers… all elements that are both essential and highly influential to our well-being as a species. But when we think of relating ourselves to nature, we are often immediately drawn to our impact on it. Pollution from our activities floods the oceans and the very air we breathe; animals all over the globe are going extinct as we threaten their homes with our development… suddenly the power has shifted and we realize that there is a delicate balance to uphold.

Discovering the Ecological Self makes emotional connections to environmental issues. Somewhere within this balance of beauty and human impact, we are helping people to find their place in the ecological world, their impact on it, and everything in between, whilst using the medium of art to portray this ecological persona. We work with various audiences from middle school students to professional artists, from day-long activities to one-time projects. This past weekend, three of our project helms – Professor Kimberly Callas, Denice Michalchuk, and Julianna Masco – flew out to the Mid American College Art Association’s conference Techne Expanding: Tensions, Terrains and Tools at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. At this event, we presented a morning workshop, Discovering the Ecological Self Through 3D Printing. Our participants were invited to draw inspiration from their youth, mystical experiences, dreams, and symbols from nature that reoccur in their lives. We asked them to find patterns and images from their nature topics to use in their mask. To get their ideas flowing, we asked them to fill out a survey about symbols in nature that may be occurring in their lives. We also led them through guided meditation to deepen their ideas or allow new ideas to emerge. This provided topics to work with, and our new collaborators took to it enthusiastically.

After our general presentation of the project, we took the participants through a condensed version of a process to create their own 3D printed eco masks. First, we scanned their faces to create a 3D digital file so that their mask was personalized for their face. Using the 3D scans, we showed the participants how to use Meshmixer, a software for designing three-dimensional object files that can be printed. In Meshmixer, participants learned how to import their files, sculpt, and edit their masks. By the end of the workshop, everyone had a file that was ready to be printed for them to take home. We put the files in the 3D printers and the next morning delivered their eco-masks.

It was delightful to see how interested our participants were in the project. We received multiple questions on how the scanner worked and on the capabilities of Meshmixer. Many participants were inspired to use Meshmixer again for other projects or even to continue developing the masks we created during the workshop. Since technology was the theme of the conference, our workshop definitely showed the possibilities that come with new technology to create new and exciting works of art. Although technology is becoming increasingly present in our daily lives, our workshop connects it to nature so that we can discover the relationship between nature and ourselves.

Thank you to the Dean of the Wayne D. Murray School of Humanities and Social Sciences for the student travel grant and to the Urban Coast Institute for the student travel grant, enabling us to visit this conference and share our love for the planet.

Student Scholarship Week – D-Eco-Self 2018

Student Scholarship Week

Ocean/Discovering the Ecological Self 2018

AR 218 Sculpture 2 Students participated in the 2018 Service Learning Scholarship Week Poster Session sharing their work about their D-Eco-Self collaboration project and artworks that they made with Aslan Youth Ministry. Denice Michalchuk created the poster, and Victoria Garbutt and Diana Rickard help Denice present to a packed crowd during the event.

To view pictures of their student exhibit, check out the gallery or read the blog post!

D-Eco-Self Ocean Exhibit 2018

D-Eco-Self Ocean Exhibit 2018

2018 D-Eco Self theme was Ocean. Monmouth University, AR 218 Sculpture 2 class collaborated with Aslan Youth Ministry for Discovering the Ecological Self, as well as on their own individual artworks. Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy senior Rebecca Klee and junior Taylor Donovan volunteered their time to guide the science teachings, with support from Assistant Biology Professor Dr. Pedram Daneshgar. Students from Callas’ AR 218 Sculpture II course have helped mentor the Aslan youths on their artwork. The students designed wearable structures and individual wearable pieces of clothing, meant to be expressive of a symbolic idea drawn from nature. The students worked in teams with the Aslan Youth Ministry to create their artwork in conjunction with the eco-masks that the middle schoolers were making.

The sculpture students then created an installation, inspired by the Aslan Youth mask work to be displayed in a Monmouth University art gallery, titled “Layers of the Ocean.” Their individually designed wearables were based off of each layer of the ocean, such as the twilight and midnight zone, just as the Aslan Youth Ministry eco-masks were. To read more about the students’ inspiration, you can read the blog post about the ocean levels and bioluminescence.

Below, you can read their artist statement for a more detailed description of their exhibit:

The students followed a specific timeline to have their project completed by and displayed them for all to see at the end of the semester. To see photos from the exhibit, check out the gallery!

UCI Boat Trip – Ocean/D-Eco-Self 2018

UCI Boat Trip – Ocean/D-Eco-Self 2018

Ocean/Discovery of the Ecological Self 2018

One of the best ways to learn about the world around you is going out to observe it. The best way to feel connected with nature is to learn about and see it, first hand. That is what the students of the Aslan Youth Ministry and Monmouth University’s Sculpture 2 class did as a highlight of their D-Eco-Self workshops. Hosted by the Urban Coast Institute, the group was invited to take an ocean boat ride with Captain Jim Nickels. Tours were led by Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy senior Rebecca Klee and junior Taylor Donovan with support from their faculty mentor Assistant Biology Professor Dr. Pedram Daneshgar. The Aslan Youth students also were accompanied by family members.

The youth artists brought their ocean themed eco-masks out on the water, and wearing their masks in the ocean environment that inspired them. While a group was on the boat, the other half stayed on the shore to observe the plants and the environment at the Monmouth Marine and Environmental Field Station site in Rumson, New Jersey. The students also took a lot of pictures to show off all of their hard work with their eco-masks. Karl Vilacoba, Urban Coast Institute’s Communications Director, wrote a April 16th, 2018 blog post about the event.

To view pictures from the boat trip, check out the gallery!