HOWELL, Mich. -- Wood, stones, bark and leaves.
With a little imagination, kids can create anything from the raw materials they find outdoors.
A new Livingston County nonprofit art initiative's first project hopes to tap into that creative energy.
The group, Raw Art, is establishing a new maker space for nature art at the Howell Nature Center. A group of local artists gathered recently at Schroeder's Auto and RV Repair in Howell to paint a mural on a 35-seat bus.
They will convert the bus into a small maker space that will be permanently installed on the nature center grounds.
Artists painted a bus that will be converted into a maker space for the Howell Nature Center at Schroeder's Auto and RV Repair in May 2021.
Schroeder's offered to rip out the seats as a donation to the project. They are having wooden benches made and will stock it with art and crafting supplies.
The maker space bus is the first step toward Raw Art's ultimate goal of a establishing a large maker space somewhere in the county.
Raw Art organizer Tirzah Sirken owns Finding Roots, a Howell store that sells handmade art, gifts and clothing. Her vendor artists and craftspeople often use natural materials to make their products. She is also an artist.
"They are going to hand over the art curriculum to us, and we're going to focus on nature crafts," Sirken said.
The plan is to get the maker space bus installed by by the time the nature center is holding a Race for Nature half-mile run and walk.
It will be installed near the nature center's Global Village, which includes replica model homes from different cultures in Michigan's history.
Raw Art artists will hold classes for kids and adults in the maker space bus. The nature center also holds day and overnight camps.
"We'll pick age-appropriate classes. We'll take kids on a walk, pick up sticks and stones and make a sculpture or paint on a leaf, for example," Sirken said.
She said the overall theme will be making art from raw, natural materials.
"Let's say we have a pottery artist and she's really good about creating plaques that don't need a wheel. She could teach a class on how to roll the clay out, press a flower, and paint the clay to look like real Queen Anne's Lace."
Lizzy Schultz, the nature center's programs and community engagement director, said the center was looking to put a retired bus to good use and knew Sirken had been looking for ways to collaborate.
"We're trying to get away from kitschy arts and crafts, like popsicle sticks and they go home and throw it away. We want to give them tangible skills, like how to paint, and then also how to express the emotions nature spurs in them," Schultz said.
She said the Spirit of Alexandria Foundation, which built a playscape and treehouse at the nature center, originally donated the bus and two others for their wildlife ambassador program, which takes animals to schools and other off-site presentations.
"This is a huge help to us." Schultz said. "They are going to be able to provide instructors. Not everyone on our team has those skills, like jewelry making."
She said the nature center is looking for grants to enhance the outdoor area around the maker space bus with tables, landscaping and other elements.
Sirken said she wants to raise funds to establish a much larger maker space.
"The bus is our first step. Our next step is fundraising and eventually opening up a huge space where one could come in and do any of the arts they want to. It would be like a Planet Fitness for art stuff," she said.
She envisions a maker space covering several disciplines, including a blacksmith shop, woodworking, pottery, sewing and a certified kitchen.
"It's a big, big dream."
Maker spaces are typically geared toward arts and crafts, hobbies and inventions. They typically feature studio space and tools needed to do certain do-it-yourself projects. People come in to work on their crafts or learn new skills.
Sirken said she envisions a maker space that is different from others she has visited. She said maker spaces should be places artists can get messy.
"I'm an artist and I would never go to any of them," she said. "I want a place that is dirty and not too sterile."