Author Keri Smith Brings The Wander Society Adventure Lab to Olana
The Wander Society Adventure LabPhoto credit: Amy Hufnagle
Keri SmithPhoto credit: Leor Miller
As you wind your way up the narrow mountain road to Olana, before you reach the glory of Frederic Church’s architectural masterpiece at the tippity top, you’ll pass a humble little tent. Unassuming — aside from the red and orange fringe adorning its guide ropes — the little canvas building, which sits on the site of Church’s original painting studio, is actually a tabernacle of creativity filled with wonder and adventure.
The Wander Society Adventure Lab is the first physical work by New York Times bestselling author Keri Smith of Wreck This Journal fame. Smith has written a shelf full of books to help inspire kids to feed their curiosity.
“I want to make kids question things,” said Smith. “I try to get them while they’re young and still open. Wandering is part of creative activity.”
Wandering itself goes against the grain of current culture, where we need to be productive every moment, to be consumers. The idea of unplanned time is completely foreign to us now. Creative thinking happens in unplanned moments.
Her 2016 book, The Wander Society, encourages children to spend unstructured time exploring the world around them. The adventure lab, which will remain at the site through December, is the physical manifestation of that mission and is filled with art, books Church owned, pictures of authors, exploration prompt tickets, and a slew of wonderful items curated from a packing list Church once made before embarking on a trip to Maine.
“I’ve known Keri’s books for ten years and used them with my own kids,” said Olana Director of Education Amy Hufnagel. “She’s trying to engage children and adults in interesting ways. So I reached out to her about ways to collaborate and she said she had been wanting to find ways to take her books off the page.”
Olana Foundation President Sean Sawyer said it was exciting for Olana staff to have Smith incorporate more obscure pieces of Church’s collection in this interactive way.
“I love the organization of the space and I love that they picked Church’s original studio location,” said Sawyer, adding that it’s important for people to see Olana as more than just a house. “Continuing Olana as a place for artistic inspiration is part of what we are concentrating on here. Amy is fantastic at making relationships with visitors and with artists. We are not up here to rest, we are up here to inspire and do our stuff.”
Church was one of the few masters who saw critical and material success in his lifetime. It’s what allowed him to build Olana. He channeled the rewards made from his art into creating one of the most fabulously inspiring places on the planet. Smith is helping visitors find that inspiration in new ways.
“I’m trying to foster curiosity,” she said. “I want you to think, 'who left this tent here? What is its purpose?' And then you go through your own discovery.”
The gift of Olana to future generations would be incomplete if it were only a house and its grounds. It’s this creative energy produced by new art at Olana and projects like the Wander Society that keeps Church’s spirit alive.
“The Wander Society Lab is my own little utopian spot as an artist,” Smith said. “Utopia translates not just to a place but to a journey towards something. When you wander you create your own path. The Wander Society is about what’s important to us. I think it’s more important than ever before.”
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