Adult Opportunities

Writing and Art Nature Retreat

Nurture your creativity and connect to nature.

Content Detail

Set aside time to disconnect from the day-to-day and give your creative side an opportunity to flourish. Through guided explorations with professional writers and artists, this retreat at The Morton Arboretum will provide a fun, interactive, natural setting to release your inner creativity, connect with nature, and find community.

Participants may sign up for one or two days. Morning refreshments and lunch will be provided. The workshops on Friday will focus on art, and those on Saturday will focus on writing. Instructors will provide means to see and experience the natural world in novel ways that will inspire you to think differently. Use pen, paper, and a variety of art materials to play and explore new ideas.

Take in the sights and sounds of The Morton Arboretum, and explore nature with fellow creatives. Appropriate for all levels, this retreat will help you strengthen your connection to nature through writing and art, no matter your starting point.

Friday Art Workshops (Section A)

Self-Mandalas: Discovering Your Inner Universe 

A mandala is a circular piece of art with sections radiating out from a central point. Born from Hindu and Buddhist tradition, mandalas have symbolic and meditative meaning beyond their appearance. It is a visual representation of the universe as well as a representation of our own internal journeys.

In this intuitive art workshop, participants will create their own, unique “inner-self mandala” using line and color to express who they are on the inside, thereby showcasing the beauty that lies within. All art supplies will be provided.

Sculptural Actions Artist Richard ​​Serra famously said, “Drawing is a verb.” In this workshop, participants will reference Serra’s Verb List, in which he compiled a series of “actions to relate to oneself, material, place, and process,” to create a sculpture. Based on modalities of reuse, participants will collect and transform found objects into art, using provided fasteners and a verb of their choosing.

This workshop will guide participants to think about common objects in new ways, sparking creativity and fresh perspectives in their approach to art. Participants are encouraged to think outside the box in their material choices by asking,

  • “Where do I see material excess in my daily life?”
  • “How can objects considered to be ‘trash’ have second lives outside their intended use?”
  • “How do I use my networks and community to accumulate enough of something that it transcends our immediate understanding of the object?”

Examples of objects include bike inner tubes, cardboard paper towel tubes, tabs from canned drinks,Styrofoam packing peanuts, well-worn T-shirts, plastic tubes, such as those at the center of plastic bag rolls.

Saturday Writing Workshops (Section B)

Writing W.I.L.D.: Reflective Journaling for Wellness

We all hold within us the words to create, shape, and live our life story. Too often, however, we fall into the role of characters. We respond to external processes, events, and people, forgetting that we are capable of authoring our life narratives. In this session, participants are guided through a series of invitations to write W.I.L.D.–with wonder, intuition, love, and daring–to (re)discover the space where their life author resides. Invitations include contemplative practices, breathwork, and writing prompts that take place through a gentle journey on the Arboretum grounds.

Exploring Interior and Exterior Landscapes Through Words

Open your senses to the natural world. Explore connections between your interior landscape and the exterior landscape around you. Listen to readings from a diverse collection of nature writers, and consider how their work might inform and inspire you in your writing journey. Expand your comfort zone by experimenting with different writing forms. Then, try a variety of writing prompts, both written and visual, and see where they take you!

This program meets in person at the Arboretum.

Instructors: Katie Vota, art professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Cheryl Rausch, artist; Cindy Crosby, author and naturalist; Kristy Belton, certified forest therapy guide, Prairie Pathways

Age: 16 and older

Course number: A096

Katie Vota, art professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Katie Vota is a Chicago-based artist using traditional textile techniques to create sculptural and woven dreamscapes that engage viewers in ideas of touch, pleasure, and the roles we play in shaping the world around us. By collecting cast-off objects and scavenging colors from nature, she transforms materials to create wholes from smaller parts, finding softness in many forms, textures, colors, and patterns based in cloth and, in living.

Vota received her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (2010, magna cum laude) and a studio MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2015). She was awarded a US Student Fulbright Grant (2011–2012) to study traditions of Andean back-strap weaving and natural dyeing in Cusco, Peru, with the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. Vota has exhibited in numerous solo and juried exhibitions.Her newest work focuses on the sea, juxtaposing the idealization of these images with the lived reality of our polluted water systems.

Cheryl Rausch, artist

Cheryl Rausch is a professional illustrator and photographer with a creative career that spans over 30 years. As a result, Rausch has honed her skills in myriad techniques and has created artworks for both private and business clients across the country. Rausch also works to inspire and influence aspiring artists of all ages, sharing her knowledge and expertise through a variety of art classes and workshops. Her dedication to creating the beauty she sees in this world continues, expressed through her visual storytelling in both illustration and photography.

Cindy Crosby, author and naturalist

Cindy Crosby is the author, compiler, or contributor to more than 20 books, including The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction, co-author of Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit and author of Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural and Cultural History (Northwestern University Press, 2020). She is a prairie steward at the Schulenberg Prairie and Nachusa Grasslands, and she coordinates dragonfly monitoring programs at both sites. She earned a masters degree in natural resources at University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. She blogs each week at Tuesdays in the Tallgrass, and she teaches natural history and trains naturalists in the Chicago region. Find out more on her website.

Kristy Belton, certified forest therapy guide, Prairie Pathways

Kristy A. Belton is a certified Association of Nature and Forest Therapy guide, a native plants enthusiast, and an Illinois Master Naturalist. She loves engaging in earth-centered practices, whether through gardening, volunteering for the DuPage County Forest Preserves, or guiding people in forest therapy and outdoor yoga practices. She is the founder of Prairie Pathways, an organization that offers rewilding practices to reconnect people to the land they live upon. Belton holds a PhD in political science and has more than twenty years’ experience in higher education, serving in diverse roles. Learn more at Prairie Pathways.

What to Know

Bring a journal or sketchpad and something to write with.

Bring a small grocery bag of items that will be used for the art workshop, such as fabric, string, buttons, colored paper, wood, stones, or other natural items.

The workshops are held mostly indoors, though some short visits into the winter landscape may be a part of each day.

Lunch is included in the cost of the program.

Program Schedule

Section A: Art Workshops

Friday, February 9, 2024, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Arbor Room and Founder’s Room, Thornhill Education Center

Section B: Writing Workshops

Saturday, February 10, 2024, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Cudahy Room, Administration and Research Center


Your support is vital to the Arboretum, where the power of trees makes a positive impact on people’s lives.

Make a gift