Visual arts as a vehicle for our clean energy future

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Amarilys Henderson. Photo/Betsy Wall Photography.

Lush florals, bold lettering, festive designs that converge with the changing seasons—all characterize Amarilys Henderson’s artwork. As a licensed artist, published author, and popular instructor, Amarilys Henderson’s bright and vibrant designs were the perfect fit to grace the walls of Fresh Energy’s new community space in the historic Hamm Building in Downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota.

“Art’s always been my thing, as much as my mom desperately tried to get me into sports and other activities,” Amarilys says. After earning her BFA at Savannah College of Art and Design, Amarilys says she began building a career in illustration based around the three broad themes of truth, life, and beauty. That career has since blossomed into a widely successful business, Watercolor Devo. “I munch on truths that are resonating with me by painting,” she says, “I commemorate what’s going on in my life, how I’m inspired by the natural beauty around me. I’m driven by the feeling that the place of a creator is to create our own iteration of things, to put our own twist on what we create. And I enjoy bringing ideas to life—I think in pictures instead of words.”

Having moved around a lot growing up, Amarilys spent summers in Puerto Rico with her family, which stoked her love of bright colors, sunny weather, and the beach. She admits, “I never imagined myself in Minnesota, but it’s the longest place I’ve ever lived now, going on ten years.” And, although it’s very different from places Amarilys and her family have previously lived, they can’t help but feel immensely connected to their Rochester community and Minnesota as a whole.

Photo/Betsy Wall Photography.

“Being here, I feel like we appreciate the seasons so much more.” She adds, “I find it so funny and invigorating to see that first bud of spring, when suddenly everyone is an avid runner and gardener. But it’s because we see the value of each season. Especially living in Rochester, I feel like there’s plenty to do but then also plenty of space to take care of our families.”

Amarilys says, “I see painting as an outworking of whatever is going on within me. Even if I’m following the parameters of a specific project, I can’t help but be a channel for the faith in my heart. I do my best work when I am spiritually connected. Anything that comes from me I see as inspired creativity flowing through me—it raises the expectation that what I create is going to be bigger than me, no matter what I create.”

Building something that is bigger than her, something that will leave a legacy, is important to Amarilys. When asked if there’s a connection between all the lush, natural landscapes she paints and a theme in her work, Amarilys says, “I do think we’ve been given the Earth to be responsible with and to enjoy to the fullest, and we can’t enjoy it if we don’t take care of it. I take care of my house; I take care of my body—so why wouldn’t we take care of the Earth, something that we so heavily depend on?”

A visionary approach

As we aim to speed the transition to a clean energy economy, Fresh Energy is all about taking care of our climate and communities so that they can continue to thrive for generations to come. Amarilys admits she was happy to lend her art to that vision, working alongside members of the Fresh Energy team to co-create a more scoped vision for the office artwork. Staff members on the Fresh Energy Art Committee worked alongside Amarilys to brainstorm, note design preferences, and provide feedback on each of the 10 pieces of art Fresh Energy commissioned from Amarilys.

The 10 pieces of art Fresh Energy commissioned from Amarilys.

Executive Lead for Organizational Health Mat Krisetya was also a key part of the process, and notes, “After a year of choosing carpet squares and wall paint colors for the office renovation, I knew the finishing touches for our community space had to come from artwork that introduced splashes of color onto the walls, making it a warm and inviting space for staff, board, and visitors to use.”

About her experience with the process, Amarilys says: “When I met with some Fresh Energy staff members to plan the artwork for the office space, one thing I really remember is how much I appreciated that Fresh Energy uses a visionary strategy to get the message across versus more forceful persuasion.” Elaborating, she adds, “I can get behind a vision. I think it’s inspiring to paint a picture of what the future can look like if we are more responsible or implement a few life-changing tweaks to the environmental plan around here. The appreciation this project has shown for the arts in this particular field [of clean energy and climate advocacy] is a pretty neat combination. And it shows with feeling that visual arts have a place in enhancing the vision Fresh Energy has.”

As Fresh Energy continues opening our community space to larger numbers of staff, vendors, and visitors in accordance with local community health guidelines, we are excited to showcase Amarilys’ work to all who experience our community space. The Fresh Energy vision of a just, prosperous, and resilient future is only possible when powered by a shared commitment to building that future together, as a community of Minnesotans. We invite you to join us on the journey!