Artist Spotlight: Johanna Siobhan Guilfoyle

Some people are born natural artists, and Johanna Siobhan Guilfoyle is certainly one of those people. With her bright brown eyes and pixie cut, she’s all spunk with a hint of edge and her artwork is completely unexpected.

As a sophomore biology/art double major student her pieces are primarily biology based, as opposed to the modern art most people imagine upon meeting Guilfoyle. This mix of subjects results in truly amazing pieces such as the one she did for “The Artist as Naturalist,” a book done in collaboration with the St. Mary’s Arboretum. Her painting of a knockout rose (pictured here) was done for the book which was linked with the class “The Artist Naturalist,” which she took last semester.

Guilfoyle attended Baltimore School for the Arts, something that is very apparent in her style of drawing. Guilfoyle said, “It is a very traditional school in the sense that I really only took one digital art class and the rest was very classic drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.” This has definitely influenced her current art as she prefers these traditional mediums. “I love illustration and working with media such as illustration markers and gouache,” Guilfoyle added.

Guilfoyle is currently taking Figure Sculpture, as well as Intro to Visual Thinking, and she thoroughly enjoys both classes. Her Figure Sculpture class is especially helpful for her dream job: being an anaplastologist. Anaplastology is a very specific medical field dealing with the construction of prosthetics and Guilfoyle has wanted to work as an anaplastologist since the 7th grade. She has made biologically accurate replicas of the human face before (also pictured here) and the work is very detailed and laborious.

At the age of nineteen, Guilfoyle is a very talented young woman who knows where she wants to be in a few years time.

Leslie Urgo Advocates for a Beautiful Campus with the Arboretum Society

This past month, the St. Mary’s Arboretum Association sent a campus-wide email asking students, faculty, and staff what they would like to see in terms of Arboretum projects in the future.

The Association decided to conduct this survey because they want the entire campus to have a say in the types of projects they will be taking on in the future. “We want the arboretum to be responsive to everyone in the campus community, students, staff, faculty, alumni, and neighbors—everyone! We thought that now, just as we’re getting seriously under way, would be the best time to see what kinds of new plantings the community was interested in,” said Professor of Biology William Williams. The questionnaire generated 29 returns, seven from faculty, five from staff, 15 from students, one from Historic St. Mary’s City, and one from an unidentified source.

The questions asked were generated by the collections and acquisitions committee of the Arboretum. This subcommittee consisted of Williams, Professor of Biology; Holly Gorton, Curator of the National Arboretum Herb Garden; and Christine Moore, a St. Mary’s alumna. According to Williams, the groups created a draft of the questionnaire which they then sent to be approved by the Arboretum Committee as a whole.

Leslie Urgo, a volunteer and committee member of Arboretum, stated that a majority of the responses received from the questionnaire were positive; however, one response that was received from an unknown responder suggested that the committee “spend the goddamn money on scholarships for smart people…” A student also suggested that the Arboretum was a waste of funds for the school. “These are separate pools of money [scholarship funds vs. Arboretum funds]. All we are trying to do is spend that [Arboretum fund] money as smart and as inclusive for students, faculty, and staff as possible,” said Urgo in response to these criticisms.

As for the suggestions that were received, many of them are initiatives that are either already on campus or planned by the society in the upcoming year. Some of these suggestions were to plant hybridized American chestnut trees which is planned for Fall 2012, plant edibles for students to “snag,” i.e. apple trees, which is in process this Spring. While all of the suggestions were helpful and appreciated, according to L. Urgo not all of them were practical given the practices of the Arboretum. She stated that the Arboretum wants to show the beauty of the St. Mary’s campus without using invasive plant species and while still being cognizant of the river. “We have to be really good stewards of this Earth…we won’t plant anything that requires pesticides or spraying,” said L. Urgo.

With the creation and expansion of the Arboretum, L. Urgo is glad to have the help of the grounds-keeping staff and their expertise. “To me it’s very exciting. One thing I love about this is our grounds department and power plant. They are kind of our unsung heroes in all of this,” said L. Urgo. Not only have these staff members been planting and up-keeping the current projects, they have also attended events held by the Arboretum.

For students who wish to get involved in the workings of the Arboretum, the committee is always looking to sponsor student projects like they have with senior Jessica Ditillo’s healing garden and the Eco House project being set up this spring. There will be committee seats for students opening up this upcoming fall and those interested should contact Leslie Urgo.

Upcoming Events held by the society are as follows: March 28 there will be a planting in front of Alumni House, April 4 edible plants will be planted in the Daugherty Palmer Commons area, and May 3 there will be a native plant workshop held in the library.

Healing Powers of Gardens, Time Outside

On Saturday, Nov. 5, at the healing garden behind Cobb House, the St. Mary’s Arboretum Association hosted a two-part event centered on the reviving powers of nature called “The Healing Powers of Gardens.” The first part was an informal lecture by Mary-Jeanne “MJ” Raleigh, the director of Counseling Services here at St. Mary’s about her personal investigations into the effects of the environment on the human psyche. The second section was an hour-long Tai Chi class led by Tai Chi practitioner Alex Kampf.

Senior Jessica Ditillo, the primary force in creating the healing garden, started the event by talking about the goals of the Arboretum Association and what they had hoped to accomplish by planting the garden. She said that the project, conceived in Fall 2010, aimed to improve the acreage of the college and create “a place where trees and plants are cared for.”

After Ditillo welcomed the visitors, Raleigh began her lecture. In her 25 years of therapy work, she has discovered that nature has a powerful restorative power that affects people of all ages. Children ages eight to ten that spend ten or more hours outside per week have significantly lower anxiety levels than children who do not. This is because children find refuge and safe spaces while outside.

There has been a radical increase in anxiety levels across cohorts, or generations. Eighteen year-olds today have 50 times more anxiety than children hospitalized for anxiety at the beginning of the 20th century. This is partially due to children spending more time inside because of television and video games.

Raleigh emphasized the importance of getting children and adults outside as often as possible. “Being outside stops the ‘white noise’ in our heads,” said Raleigh. “An outside restorative space is more powerful than sleep.”

The healing garden is part of an effort to give people a place to escape and enjoy the curative effects of the environment. A therapeutic garden must have several key features, according to Raleigh: a sense of being away, a sense of mystery, connectedness to nature and others, and quiet. After the plants around the healing garden have had several seasons to grow, the garden will provide this for students and members of the community.

There were not any students at the event, but it was well received by community members.

Bulb Planting Strengthens St. Mary's Arboretum Association's Roots

With shovels, augers, or trowels in hand, about 35 students joined Lesley Urgo, member of St. Mary’s Arboretum Association, around campus on Friday, Oct. 28 to plant daffodil bulbs, wrapping up the College’s events for Sustainability Week.

Along with Urgo, Sustainability Coordinator and Facilities Planner Luke Mowbray helped plant the bulbs with students in the various locations on campus.  Starting on the Campus Center patio at 2:30 p.m., groups spread out to gardens by the Library, Health Center in Chance Hall, Goodpaster Hall, the Michael P. O’Brian Athletics and Recreation Center, Glendening Hall, and by the tennis courts to begin planting.

“I like to see the beautiful colors of the flowers around campus,” said Urgo, who also planted over 400 bulbs last fall. “I would love this place to explode with daffodils in the spring.”

Sophomores Brett Williams and J.J. Eckert were required to help with planting for their Environmental Perspectives class.  “Even though it’s a class requirement, I don’t mind.  I’m excited to see them in the spring.  It’ll be cool to look at them and be able to say ‘I did that,’” said Williams.

Other volunteers like junior Andrew Koch came to simply help out the college.  “I’ve had experience in landscape work before, so I thought I could help out the campus and it looked interesting,” he said.  “Next spring, we’ll hopefully see the fruits of our labor.”

Since the St. Mary’s Arboretum Association was founded in August 2010, campus sustainability events have been happening on campus.

Besides the bulbs planted last fall, Urgo led the renovations of landscaping around the Prince George and Dorchester Hall buildings last November along with about 50 student volunteers.  According to Urgo, new sod was put down as well as the planting of new trees, daffodils, and other flowers.

Last spring, a healing garden was planted by the Cobb House as well as 25 new trees planted around campus by Arboretum members and student volunteers as a part of the college’s first ever Arbor Day series of events from March 22 to 25 and in preparation for President Joseph Urgo’s inauguration on March 26.

March 26 was also the ribbon cutting ceremony in the remembrance garden by Kent Hall to celebrate and officially kick off the start of the St. Mary’s Arboretum Association.

Other campus groups affiliated with the St. Mary’s Arboretum Association include the Community Garden Club, the Student Environmental Action Coalition, Eco-Reps, the Sustainability Committee, EcoHouse, and the St. Mary’s Watershed Association.

Upcoming St. Mary’s Arboretum Association events include “The Healing Powers of Gardens” on Nov. 5 with guest experts MJ Raleigh, director of counseling services, and Alex Kampf, tai chi practitioner and also tree planting around Schaefer Hall, Parking Lot R, and Waring Commons on Nov. 10 from 2 to 4 p.m.

College Arboretum Blooms with Celebration

At 10 a.m. on Saturday March 26, The Arboretum Association had a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the beginning of the Arboretum at St. Mary’s. The ribbon was tied around the willow oak that stands between Calvert and Kent Hall and was cut by Lesley Urgo, a leader in the Association.

Of the people who spoke before the ribbon cutting, many emphasized what they thought the Arboretum meant for the St. Mary’s Community. Dr. Kevin Fletcher, an executive director from Audubon International, said, “St. Mary’s College has established a neat sense of space, blending ecological consciousness with grounds management,” He also encouraged all people in the community to become, “better stewards of the environment.”

However, the St. Mary’s arboretum is not just about becoming more environmentally friendly, it also plays a major part in keeping the campus beautiful. Lesley Urgo said that at the minimum the Arboretum could help “people see and respect the world around them,” with the hope that they would think the world is, “worth preserving, improving, and sharing.”

After these speeches Lesley Urgo cut the ribbon around the Willow Oak. As a joke the group celebrated the launch of the Arboretum by breaking a Champaign bottle against the tree as well.

The speakers and those who were there to listen then moved to the opposite side of Calvert Hall in order to plant a white oak as a way to celebrate and remember the formal beginning of the association.

The celebration of the Arboretum Association was one of many events that celebrated the Inauguration of President Joseph Urgo and one of two that specifically promoted being environmental stewards. While not many students went to the event, approximately six, there were many members of the Board of Trustees as well as other staff who wanted to show their support for the Arboretum.

The Arboretum currently has a walking map around campus that can direct people around to specific trees and groves. The organization’s website is:


Arboretum Association Works to Protect SMCM’s Fragile Beauty

Many of the students, faculty, and staff of St. Mary’s know of its often striking natural beauty. That’s why Lesley Urgo and others on campus are organizing to make an even more beautiful and ecologically-friendly campus.

Urgo has plans to designate the area in and around campus an arboretum, and though it has just begun the arboretum project has already integrated itself into efforts at preservation already occurring within and without of the campus community.

Urgo said that beyond its ties to the campus’s physical plant and the larger goal of environmental stewardship, the project was also partnering with Historic St. Mary’s City. This partnership would ultimately amount to around 1000 acres of land being encompassed under the arboretum distinction.

The arboretum association is also closely tied to the Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful project, which through clean-up efforts is also working to beautify the campus.

Urgo said that she was inspired to start her work upon her first visit to the campus, which she described as “simply stunning”. She also acknowledged that she was far from the first individual to begin beautifying the campus, and added, “the people here have done a lot of things in the past 25 years to make an environmental impact” and that “we’re really just putting a name to what we’ve already been doing.”

An arboretum, according to Urgo, is a “place where trees, plants, and shrubs are named for educational and aesthetic purposes…basically a place where the environment is valued.”

There is no single definition for what constitutes an arboretum, but Urgo said that most college arboretums tend to either be historical, displaying the native flora and fauna of the region, or exploratory as to the myriad of plants which can grow in a specific region.

She said, “we here at St. Mary’s have the opportunity to blend those different trusts…what really distinguishes us at St. Mary’s is a very fragile ecosystem. We have an opportunity to do social service to take care of this fragile ecosystem and make it quite special.”

Work by the association began with workshops which took place last month, meant to help educate attendees on the practical and environmental advantages of rain gardens. Urgo said that these workshops, meant to educate the local community as well as students on ways of dealing with the challenges of waterfront ecology on their own land, would be a major component of the association’s efforts.

Urgo also said that beautification projects were also a major focus of the arboretum association, a fact which became apparent this past Friday when students and college staff ad faculty came out to help plant native trees and plants outside the backs of Dorchester and Prince George’s Halls.

Superintendent of Grounds Kevin Mercer, who supervised much of the planting which occurred behind Dorchester, said, “It’s a bigger turnout than I thought [it’d be]. This place needed a lot of attention.” Student Trustee and volunteer senior Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall echoed the sentiment, and said, “I was just here to lend a helping hand, but they seem to have plenty.”

Turnout was so high, in fact, that students were able to complete the planting about an hour ahead of schedule despite a shortage of tools.

The arboretum association is also in the process of setting up the trappings of a more “traditional” arboretum, with tagging of flora taking place around campus. Urgo said that she hoped that this tagging could eventually allow for self-guided walking tours, but added, “it will probably take us 20 years to do it all.”

According to Urgo, all of these projects are just the beginning of the arboretum association’s work, and more beautification projects and workshops were being planned for the spring. Associate Vice President of Planning and Facilities Chip Jackson, who works along with the arboretum, added, “this is not a one-time shot. This is an ongoing effort.”