May 24, 2021|By Eric Wuestewald| Partnerships

Bringing Forests to the City Through Art

Last year, we partnered with Volkswagen of America to award five environmental organizations with grants to support clean water, protect forestland, and support youth leadership and educational opportunities across eastern Tennessee. On Earth Day, in celebration of that partnership, we unveiled a unique mural in downtown Chattanooga by artist Steffi Lynn to stand as an inspirational reminder to embrace the outdoors and sustainable living.

A hand-letter illustrator, muralist, and designer from Austin (now living in Brooklyn), Lynn recalls growing up with a deep appreciation and connection to the natural world.

“A lot of my work is inspired by nature and just flowers and Mother Earth, because it's the only thing that stays with us from growing up to getting old,” Lynn said. “It's constantly changing and it's beautiful and it's really refreshing to look at. I grew up in nature. Austin has a lot of lakes, rivers, fields and hills. Growing up, it was really easy to drive out of the city and go on a hike or go to a quarry or lake. You can experience all these different kinds of elements and the different environmental changes. In the summer and spring, there's so many flowers and it’s just really colorful and fun.

“Now I live in Brooklyn in an area very populated by artists. My building is full of artists and creators and it's very industrial. There's a lot of graffiti and murals around this neighborhood. And it's motivating to see people go in and out of my studio building. It's like, oh, we're doing the same thing, which is really motivating. But it's also really stressful because New York is a very competitive place. Sometimes I forget to take a moment and breathe and look around my surroundings,” she added.

5 24 21 DSC04163Photo courtesy of Volkswagen.

As part of the Volkswagen Community Grant Program, The Conservation Fund is working to convey 1,500 acres of forestland to the U.S. Forest service for permanent protection in Cherokee National Forest, near Chattanooga. Lynn explained the sense of inspiration and calm that she experienced when visiting the forest before the mural production.

“When I went to Chattanooga the first time around, even hearing birds that aren't pigeons was really exciting. It was quiet. You could hear the trees sway. I got to decompress. There's so much happening in the forest. There are so many living things growing constantly. Sitting in a forest and feeling that everything is still growing with you and there's little moving parts like trees, mushrooms, bugs—it's just a more peaceful quiet and you feel like you're part of it,” Lynn explained. 

Her mural borrows heavily from that experience, incorporating leaves and flowers native to Cherokee National Forest, and she brought it to people in downtown Chattanooga. Lynn wanted to “recreate the peaceful feeling of the forest,” so when people experienced it, it felt like a “deep breath and a piece of nature in the city.”

"I like to bring elements from where the mural is going to live. So, of course I incorporate a lot of leaves and nature and florals. Some of the flowers that I put in the mural are actually inspired by flowers native to the Cherokee National Forest. And so, I will do some research on the environment and the location and then find my saying or quote.

I just really love being a part of someone’s world for a little bit. Seeing people who live in that neighborhood walk by a wall that has been nothing for years. It's so exciting to see something painted here that brings smiles to people’s faces,” she added.

She also explained a little more about why she thinks “change starts in your own backyard.” 

“I wanted ‘change in your own backyard’ to really stand out. So, I used a lot of colors. I think we need to take care of our Earth and take care of our environment, and to look at all the beautiful elements in the forest to remind ourselves and each other that there’s a lot of things that are bigger than us,” she said. “I think we need to take baby steps in order to take big steps. You have to work within yourself and within your own small community first.”

Lynn frequently brings that sense of connection and environmental awareness into all her work, not only in her art, but in ensuring her online shop offers more sustainable packaging and products. “I just want to make sure everything that I make can live a second life,” she explained. “I try not to use anything that is just like a one and done thing.”

When asked about working with Volkswagen, she stressed why it seemed like a good fit for her. 

“Volkswagen is a brand that I’m proud to collaborate with because I think they really care about being accessible to everyone and more sustainable,” said Lynn. “They care about the community and the world. And I care about the community and the world, which made a perfect collaboration.”

5 24 21 DSC04666Photo courtesy of Volkswagen.

Learn more about 
our partnership with Volkswagen and check out more of Steffi Lynn’s work

Written By

Eric Wuestewald

Eric is the Digital Content Marketing Manager for The Conservation Fund. He leads the development, writing and editing of strategic content for the Marketing and Communications teams to reach key audiences and partners through blogs, social media, web content and more. Prior to this role, he was the Marketing and Communications Specialist for the Fund's Conservation Services programs, supporting communication and outreach strategies for projects which promote environmental preservation, economic development and social justice.