Where on Earth?!

On the longest day of the year, when the sun kept its northerly course seemingly unchanged, the window seat at forty thousand feet kept me mesmerized with a blazing sky scape.  Greenland ice bergs dotted the sea far below as that fireball stayed apace with the big jet on its course to the northeast.  Although it was well past its time, that stubborn ole’ sun refused to set, and I refused to take my eyes away as it bobbed along at the very edge of the earth.

This went on for some time, when finally it began to sink below the horizon.  It’s actually going down, I thought, and as its final glimmer disappeared, something amazing suddenly appeared! The green flash! For only an instant, an envelope of gaseous green surrounded the spot vacated by the last sliver of the red disc.  Shortly after the occurrence of this rare phenomenon, the sun began to rise, and in those few short minutes of sunset to dawn the entire night had passed and the next day had begun.

Riding out the rest of the flight, I contemplated the prospects that awaited.  I didn’t know that I was on my way to a magical place called Crystal Palace.  I did not know that I would be walking up a road called Hamlet Street, to the top of a hill called Fox Hill.  It was on that very British flavored Fox Hill that Pablo and Maribel welcomed me into their home.

That was yet to come; meanwhile, many mixed apprehensions beset me, although I knew my bronze herons were set to be in the “Wildlife Artist of the Year” exhibition in the heart of London.  Literally in the heart; the Mall Galleries are next to Trafalgar Square on a road called “The Mall” that begins at the square and ends at Buckingham Palace.  Perhaps the gallery and its surroundings of stoic buildings sprinkled with towering monuments were not so impressive to the everyday Londoner going about their daily tasks, but for an artist from the foothills of North America’s Pacific coast, this location had overtones of a fairy tale. Part of the fairy tale was just being juried into such an exclusive art show in a fabled part of the city.

Opening night, Mall Galleries [left center] in the rain, in the summer, in London.

Leading up to my journey to the opening night of this art show, the city was beleaguered with misfortunes, including a spate of extremist attacks and the inferno of a high rise fire with many fatalities. Among my apprehensions, threats to my personal safety were not a concern, but on this mission to sell and show my art, I wondered if less people would be in circulation and venturing out to partake of summer events.  That thought was quickly put to rest when I arrived on the streets of London and mixed with the thousands upon thousands filling the cities’ main thoroughfares with no regard to undesirable events.  Transportation systems were like toothpaste tubes full of humanity steadily being squeezed onto the streets well into the long summer nights.

My hosts Pablo and Maribel were particularly proud of one of their Spanish brethren turned hero in the recent London Bridge terrorist attacks.  A young skateboarder lad from Spain came upon a policeman being stabbed, and immediately began pounding on the assailant with his skateboard.  As he gained the upper hand protecting the officer, he was knifed from behind by another jihadist accomplice.  As I strolled by a makeshift memorial on that bridge, the skated board stood high above the flowers, honoring the heroic act and eulogizing both its owner and the policeman.

Pablo, an architect in a London firm, was very much intrigued by the many outstanding architectural feats of his adopted city.  He was proud to show me the sweeping lines of the Tate Modern and explained the construction and its visual attributes.  After admiring the museum exterior we climbed to the top floor lounge and found a seat at the long countertop running down a wall of windows looming over the city skyline.  St. Paul’s Cathedral with its huge dome towered over the Thames River directly below and front, while modern skyscrapers filled the view to the right.

As I marveled at the view, Pablo explained the many buildings and we debated their architectural merits, the contrast of modern and old gothic, and their composition along the fabled river bank below us.  Rising above all else was the Shard building, tallest in the European Union.  I thought that some of the odd shaped modern high rises skirting around the Shard seemed out of place in the city skyline, and Pablo agreed.  One was egg shaped and one leaned at a precarious angle.  “The building designs could stand alone as exceptional architecture, but don’t seem to compliment the overall city skyline,” he stated, and went on to describe a funny misstep in the leaning building’s design.  “The unintentional flaw showed up after it was unveiled and functioning.  The super modern design with its angular and concave wall of glass had the detrimental effect of focusing the sun’s rays like a magnifying glass.  The extra heat channeled to the streets below was genuinely uncomfortable, to the extent that things were being melted, and alterations to the building were quickly put in place.”

Every day I passed endless rooftops as I sped from central London to the train’s Crystal Palace Station, a half hour commute to the home of my gracious hosts.  Crystal Palace once was the site of a huge exhibition hall constructed almost entirely of glass, which gave it the appearance of a giant art deco greenhouse.  There were acres and acres of landscaped grounds, complete with replicas of the Egyptian sphinx and other monumental figures.  Extensive retaining walls and stairways surrounded the main hall of this early nineteen hundreds extravaganza.  After a mid-century fire razed the main building, the statues and stone works remain today in an expansive city park that includes a soccer stadium.  Nearby pathways wind through a series of waterways in a lush, wooded area that is a delight for children of all ages because of the life size, cement dinosaurs dwelling there.

Foreign and familiar realities can mix in a surprising brew when you find yourself out in the world.  Once upon a time my homeland was known as the timber capital of the world, so much so that the defining tree of that title was known worldwide as the “Oregon Pine.”  Endless forests of that tree, the stalwart Douglas fir, cover the western third of Oregon, and it is only native to western North America.  Imagine my surprise as I strolled through a main thoroughfare lined with Crystal Palace shops and came across the “Douglas Fir” bar.  Ducking into the doorway, I came to a large countertop bar proudly constructed from Doug fir planks, along with other rustic furnishings.  After some discussion with the bar keep, I learned that the trees are planted in the UK, one being the tallest tree of the British Isles, and the wood for the bar came from a tree cut in the nearby countryside.

Wildlife Artist of the Year art exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London

The opening night of the gallery exhibition came soon enough, and it was packed beyond my wildest expectations.  Champagne was served at the door to a full house of patrons looking forward to the presentation of the Wildlife Artist of the Year Award and browsing the incredible worldwide art on display.

Although working artists seek collectors, many easy associations and friendships occur with fellow artists as well.  Standing in line for admission to the gallery, I met a very friendly and gregarious artist from Germany, Tom Lazic, who traveled to Africa often for studying and painting his favorite wildlife subjects.  A close neighbor to my work on the gallery floor was the work of Pascal Chesneau, a former Wildlife Artist of the Year, whose rugged interpretive sculptures seemed like expressions that would come from a French artist.  Although he spoke very little English and I knew less French, we got along famously.

Besides honoring the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s “Wildlife Artist of the Year”, approximately nine other cash award were presented at this art opening, including David Shepherds personal choice.  That award went to Karen Laurence-Rowe for her serenely beautiful painting of elephants wading in a flooded plain.  Incidentally, both Karen and David were recipients of the Artists for Conservation’s annual Simon Combes Award for wildlife conservation, David being the very first at the AFC’s inaugural event, with Karen’s award presented in 2015.

Midway through the lively buzz of the opening, a gentleman seemed overly interested in the label attached to the pedestal of my bronze sculpture, so much so that he kneeled down close and photographed the label with his I-phone.  I politely inquired if I could answer any questions he may have, and he explained that he needed the photo to identify the piece when he made the purchase at the sales counter.  “I want to buy it before someone else does,” he explained.   Experience has taught me to use restraint when faced with wild optimisms that don’t always become a reality, so I retreated as he continued to admire my sculpture.

Sure enough, a short time later an attendant attached a red dot, and the English gentleman had secured his art piece.  My work had sold, mission accomplished, I could start for home at the end of the night.   But there was still a few things that I must do….

Where on Earth?!  London, England   June of 2017

Footnote:  As it turned out, this was to be the last show for David Shepherd, the mentor of this exhibition and a foremost leader of wildlife protection worldwide.  While writing this account of the tenth annual Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition,  the news came that he had passed away at the age of 86, a few short months after presiding over his final wildlife art exhibition. Beginning in 1973, as an artist and conservationist, he had led an aggressive campaign to protect wildlife worldwide, which evolved into the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation in 1984.  Funds raised by this art show support progressive wildlife conservation programs of the DSWF.

 

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Where on Earth?! These Birds Can Fly

 

Bronze sculpture of heron pair, original driftwood sculpture on right.
© Terry Woodall

Bronze editions of the driftwood heron pair titled “Matters of the Heart” were recently selected for two international art exhibitions, one in London, England, and one in Qingdao, China.

The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation selected “Matters of the Heart” as a finalist in their tenth annual Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London.  The work will be displayed at the exhibition from June 28 through July 2, 2017.  The wildlife artist of the year will be announced, along with other award winners, at the opening ceremonies on the evening of June 27.

The other bronze sculpture of the heron pair is part of the Artists for Conservation Foundation’s touring exhibit “The Art of Conservation” which travels to Qingdao, China.  The exhibition takes place at the Lan Wan Art Gallery in Lan Wan Art Park, a relatively new 300 acre ecological park, monumental sculpture garden and art village centrally located in one of China’s most beautiful and important coastal cities, Qingdao City.  The Art of Conservation Exhibition runs from August 1 through September 30, 2017.

Where on Earth?!  London, England and Qingdao, China

 

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Following the Song of the Seal

An Artistic Field Study of the Hawaiian Monk Seal

Purpose of study:  to observe and photograph the rare monk seals in their natural habitat and create art from the study to help promote awareness of this endangered species.

 

In an island world in the middle of the Pacific Ocean are found the only tropical seals left in the world, the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal.  Historically and currently, these seals have been isolated in their primary habitat of the northern reaches of the Hawaiian Archipelago, starting with the main islands of Kauai and Ohau and ending at Kune atoll past Midway Island.  There are only about 1400 of these marine mammals in existence today, and approximately 40 make Kauai their home base.

For this artistic field study of the monk seal, “celebrating the species” is the approach I take in drawing attention to the efforts and successes of people working hard on behalf of the endangered animals, and the positive results from their efforts.  True heroes, they are fully committed to protecting endangered wildlife and helping to perpetuate their numbers, and in the case of the monk seals they are succeeding as numbers are increasing.

From the Hawaii fisheries department of NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the Kauai Marine Mammal Response team are NOAA personnel Jamie Thomton and Gary Langley, and marine mammals response field coordinator Mimi Olry, all key to the success of this field study.  Their generous assistance and guidance enabled me to observe and record the rare mammals for the purpose of creating art inspired by this unique theater of nature.

It’s just another day in paradise, as three monk seals slumber well apart on this isolated beach.  Unlike most seals, monks do not haul out in groups, but are more solitary in their habits.

A beautiful morning of blue sea and sky finds me clambering over huge lava boulders to the edge of an abrupt cliff dropping off to white sands and the sea.  From here the beach meanders for a long mile until it ends at another escarpment of ancient lava flows, and while I marvel over the scene, albatrosses soar just above my head like sea gulls on steroids.  As a key part of this artistic field study and for likely observations of the Hawaiian Monk Seals, Gary Langley of NOAA has invited me to hike this beach with him, which he monitors almost daily, and when he arrives, we make our way down the rough path to the sand below.

Impressions made in the sand by seals dragging their marine bodies onto the shoreline are the first signs of seal activity we come across.  Gary explains that they are from the day before, as they feed at night and take their siestas under the warm afternoon sun.  As the excitement of our search builds, we round a corner of rock outcroppings and come upon our first monk seal.   Gary surmises that he is likely from another area of the islands further away, as he is more nervous as we approach, glancing up at us often and shuffling around.  The regulars on this beach would just sleep in their sand wallows and ignore us, and we soon see that this is also the case, as we spy two more slumbering further down the same stretch of beach. One is quite large, as they can be seven feet long and weigh 450 pounds.

On an island limited in size like Kauai, nothing is really remote or isolated by distance, but there are many idyllic locations isolated by rugged terrain, inaccessible topography and jungle growth.  This long beach favored by the monk seals was thusly isolated and somewhat difficult to access.  After a comprehensive discourse from Gary on the numbers, identities, and birthing successes of seals frequenting this beach which is on his daily “beat”, I asked about the neighboring land, which was a wide plateau, open and flat, bordered by brush and tree lines.

“Does Zuckerberg know about the monk seals hauling out on this beach on a regular basis, and the need for extra protection here?” I asked.

“Oh yes, I have talked to Mark, and I communicate with his security teams from time to time,” Gary replied.  “I also have clearance for tending to the albatross chicks and their rookeries, which are up on his property.”

This mile long white sand beach is broken up in a few places by black lava rock strew out into the sea, and yes, 200 acres of the inland  plateau adjoining the sand is owned by the facebook king.  Scattered along the edge of his land were user friendly white signs with soft blue lettering appealing to the public with the script “Private Property, thank you for not trespassing,” rather than the more abrupt generic red or black warning signs commonly seen elsewhere.  Regardless of any adjoining private land, the beach is completely open to the public, as are all beaches in Hawaii.

We continued on, around more lava rocks to an idyllic lagoon of aqua green water shadowed with dark shoals, and spy a green sea turtle dug into the sand.  It gets a little nervous as we watch, then the surprise treat of the day unfolded; a monk seal came swimming through the shoals like a black torpedo and zeroed in on the sea turtles stretch of sand.  Incredibly, it swims close to where we are standing and begins squirming onto the sand.  He has decided to haul out right here, next to the turtle.  Meanwhile, the turtle decides he’s had enough and backs out, heading backwards into the water.  The seal continues humping his way up the sandy slope, the turtle hits the water and bobs around awhile.  When the seal scoots into his chosen spot, the turtle changes his mind, hits the beach once again, and shuffles his way back to his very same spot of sand.

By now the monk seal has proceeded to dig his head into the sand, scruffing and shaking to relieve the sea lice, fleas and other personal pests.  This is a typical comforting procedure the seals often carry out.  With some relaxing shrugs and flaps, both animals give in to the heat of the sun and call it a day.  We had watched this interaction of nature, which was the highlight of my field study, from a relatively close distance and were mostly ignored the entire time.

Hawaiian Monk Seal

Many of the seals are scarred by repeated shark bites, and though the tiger shark is their worst nightmare, most of the scars are from smaller sharks found a thousand feet down that nip off flesh when the monks dive down to feed.  If you are a Hawaiian monk seal, the struggle for survival is precarious even without the extra complications posed by humans.  Males fighting over a single female in their breeding season sometimes results in the death of the female.  This action, called “mobbing” will actually target the female.  No female, no new pups.

Monk tucked into the lava rocks.

After a full mile of this shoreline, we have also passed a scattering of nude sunbathers [human], a laysan albatross rookery with a group of grounded adult birds back in the brush line, and fantastic sandstone and basalt rock formations.  Lounging half in tide water while laying against low shelves of black lava rock is another monk seal, and even though his coat is gray, he is well disguised tucked in the crevices of the once molten magma.

We finally work our way out to a high cliff edge of volcanic rock wedging its way into the ocean, complete with an arched tunnel boiling with sea currents and waves.  The arch is our destination, and what a sight it is!  We can see a light house far up the coast fronted by a small island , which is the furthest point north of all the main Hawaiian Islands.  The volcanic rock under out feet was the last lava action of all of Kauai, sputtering out eons ago.

Within a mile out to sea beyond the arch, the humpback whales begin to frolic, and we finish the afternoon perched on volcanic boulders overlooking the arch and watch the humpbacks breaching and blowing over and over again.

*                        *                                  *                               *                       *

The day after my field study with Gary, he was involved in a rescue team to remove a seal from a canal in a populated area of Kauai.  This canal poses various problems for the monks, as they are drawn to fish scraps routinely discarded by local fishermen and risk entanglement in fishing gear, and at least two have been known to drown there.  It’s hard to imagine these adept sea mammals drowning, but entanglement in fishing nets can result in their demise.

Co-mingling is okay at this busy, mainstream  beach park, with yellow ribbons and warning signs staking out the seal’s space.  Another monk seal rests on the sand spit in the distance.

These solitary seals have no fear of humans and will haul out on beaches crowded with people.  Volunteers will stake out a “no go zone” perimeter around the seals with signs stuck into the sand, and the animals will snooze away unmolested by the crowds.  Since it blocks their escape route, walking between the seals and the water can make them nervous, and they have been known to nip at people.

On one occasion, I watched at a crowded beach as young man wandered through the seals private “box” and waded in the surf, oblivious to the wild sea mammal sprawled at his feet.  The diligent volunteer, an elderly lady, immediately shooed him away like a mother hen in a barnyard and pointed out the yellow ribbons he had stumbled through.  The fellow was very surprised and apologized profusely over his blunder.

Sharing the beaches.

Why is this important, these field personnel working with and watching over these marine mammals every day?  Once the Caribbean Sea had a balance of monk seals that were an integral part of nature in an aquatic world dotted with tropical isles.  No more.  The Mediterranean Monk Seal numbers are less than 400, although another colony has been discovered and kept top secret to help their chance of survival.  That leaves the seals inhabiting Hawaii for millions of years as the best chance for monk seals to continue existing on our planet.

Where on earth?!  Kauai, Hawaii, March, 2017

Photos and drawing by the author

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What on Earth?! Dog with the Heart Shaped Patch

My dog died; last May, when the flowers surrounding the yard where he had played reached for the sky, a full twelve foot wall of vibrant blossoms; rhododendrons exploding in deep purples, soft pinks, pure white and brilliant magenta.

Having experienced it more than enough times, the story is always the same; you lament their short life span, you bury your dog, and you move on.  Except this time was different.

“Rocky” came into our lives as an abandoned pup in a shoe box, rescued by a policeman friend after he was found wandering along a busy curb of a local video rental store.  He was almost twelve when he left us.  He knew lots of words, including “buzzard” which really got him going with barking fits when they circled overhead. For our occasional overnight outings, he would be left at the folks’ house, and many times they recounted how he would know our return was imminent, to the hour, on the day we were due.

Dr. Dan the vet diagnosed a cancerous tumor.  Briefly but gently, he explained ”your dog has two months to live.”  This was followed by what seemed to be a period of remission.  Except for a few not so good days, he stayed the same and did not deteriorate.  There was no spiraling downhill trend.  Then, without any warning signs, exactly two months to the day from Dr. Dan’s prediction, the furry faced terrier mutt with the heart shaped patch on his side dragged himself across the floor to his special corner of the carpet, lay motionless for twelve hours or so, and passed on.

Dog with the heart shaped patch on his side.

Dog with the heart shaped patch on his side.

As my routine shop work commenced three days later, I noticed something bright white emerging from the muddy gravel of the back lot, about fifteen feet from the big bay door that I use daily.  I keep this area clean of debris on a regular basis, walk by every day, and this white object was new and out of place. Further inspection found it to be a hard plastic “chewy” toy bone poking up that must have been buried there for years. Pulling it from the mud, I brushed it off and in a fit of emotion, contemplated the hard worn teeth marks made in my dog’s youth.

Soon, the uncanny appearance of this toy began to sink in, since he only brought his toys up to the shop in his younger years, and never in the latter years of his life. The bay door area merged into a track into the woods, where a 69,000 pound excavator had been working only six months earlier.  It had driven over and parked frequently right where the bone emerged.  Over the years, new layers of gravel had been laid in that same spot, and myrtle logs were dragged over the area routinely.  I could not fathom how this “Rocky Relic” had emerged so suddenly from what must have been deep layers of earth.

Two weeks later, I enjoyed a typical bike ride three miles down to the bay.  An arrow straight slough parallels the road for the last mile before emptying out bayside, and an expansive pasture buffers the coast range foothills on the roads opposite side.  It is a peaceful country ride with many marshland birds and wildlife sightings, and this day was no exception.  From the corner of my eye, I discerned a brown, deer like figure out in this pasture, but it began darting around in a non- deer like fashion.  Stopping my bike, I saw that it was a coyote running away, but looking back at me over his shoulder. Then it sat on its haunches and stared back at me.  When I moved my bike closer, off the pavement, the young looking coyote ran away over the subtle berms of the field.  But then he would stop and look back.

Amused at his antics, I played cat and mouse with him by moving my bike up and down the road, chasing him from a distance.  He would run away parallel to my movements, and then come back again, sitting and staring.  When I tired of the game and proceeded towards the bay, he followed me.  Finally, I left the playful coyote behind, and enjoyed a brief stop with vistas of the bay.  But on my return ride, there he was again, chasing along as I rode homewards and mused over this random canine connection that came so shortly after losing my dog.

Ten days before he left us, I took Rocky in the jeep for a few miles of driving along the edge of the ocean, and let him run on the sandy beach and sniff among the driftwood piles, two things he loved to do.  We drove to the top of a sand dune, with miles of sand and ocean in view.

His final days weren’t the way they were supposed to be.  The dog seemed healthy until his last twenty four hours, and, unfortunately, I was at an art show in Southern California and absent from his final day.  My wife was alone with him instead of me on that morning; it was only right that I should have been there to share in the good bye, and to relieve some of her emotional trauma, but life and death does not follow any convenient script.  As he lay motionless on his corner of the living room carpet, I was there with him at the end of a phone line a thousand miles away, and while my wife and I shared the trauma, he seemed to recognize my voice from a cell phone, and knowing his final links to life were complete, he let go.

The long trip home was a blur, and at the bay so close to the end of the journey I made a stop.  I found a big jagged rock appropriate for Rocky’s marker, and tossed it in the truck.  Because your canine pet is always around, always glad to see you, and always wanting to play, he becomes an extension of yourself, and when they are gone, a part of you goes with them.

I wrapped him in his special “home” blanket and laid him to rest.  All of our county icons were there, printed on the throw blanket that was his for many years; a fishing boat, logging truck, sand dunes, ocean beaches, and the long bridge over the bay.  My wife laid his favorite toy, a raggy stuffed duck, in front of him and said in a whimsical tone “he looks as if he were lying asleep on the floor.”

I caressed a long, floppy ear, those comical ears that would stick up and out of place until he would shake them so they would fall back and hang down where they belonged.  I gently folded the errant ear back into place over the side of his face, stood up and let the shovel erase all but the memories.

What on Earth?!  Dog with the heart shaped patch on his side.

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Where on Earth?! Easton, Maryland

After an hour on freeways and the long crossing over Chesapeake Bay, I find my way into the quaint line up of colonial brick and stone building defining old town –really old, established in 1711. It’s fairly easy to find my way into the busy festival grounds of this annual art and waterfowl themed event that dominates the entire town, but once there the chaos of the moment leaves me bewildered.

Numerous painters, sculptors and the best of bird carvers exhibit in three different locations, and the downtown is jammed.  Where to park?  And where is the building I am assigned to?  I can’t look and drive, I have no idea where to unload, so I pull over curbside with the dozens of “no parking” signs lining the streets designated for festival preparations.

I better call Doug.  I need to find my final landing site.  I better call Doug. I know he is extremely busy organizing the exhibits spread throughout old town, but I have his cell number handy just for this occasion, and surprisingly, he answers immediately.

“I can’t find the armory building [where my booth assignment is] and I need to know where to park and unload.”

“Where are you now,” Doug responds.

“Good question.  I’m on Harrison Street, and I am looking straight down the street at a large stone church.”

“Are you in the white van?”

I look up and Doug has moved into the street in front of the church and is waving at me.  I laugh and wave out the side window of the white rental van, “well, I guess I am in the right place!”

“Just go around the corner in front of the church, the armory is on the left corner and you can unload there,” and Doug moves back into the pavilion tents being set up, ready to put out more fires and line out other lost souls.

The stoic Christ Church was shielded by an immense oak tree at least 8-9 feet in diameter, which was presumably growing there in 1840 when the church was built.  The old armory building dominated the opposite corner, with its flight of wide steps and the façade of the flat roof looking like a giant rook in a chess game.  I inched my way around the corner through the surreal time warp, as a Bart Walters bronze  of three geese fully eight feet tall appeared adjacent to the armory’s sweeping steps.  What better way to designate the building as the Waterfowl Festival headquarters.

Now the real work begins, the “in the trenches” and behind the scenes effort involved in showing art in public exhibitions, an important facet of any artist’s life in the field.  The gracious and kind show organizers greet me at the armory entrance and easily answer my query about where to set up my exhibit, since we are standing right in front of my assigned spot.  “Well it is right here,” and an assistant pointed to the right of the main entry.  I am a bit stymied and flattered at the same time, to be placed at the very front of the main hall.

As I got busy taping up random material sections over the plain wood panels framing my booth, a lady organizer queried in light fun, “so you don’t like our backdrops, huh?  “Oh, they are wonderful,” I commented, “and just what I need to display my wall hanging sculptures.”  In her defense, this was a new experimental production, as sculptors and painters were inter mixed in the various buildings and venues for the first time, instead of segregated by buildings as in the past exhibitions.  The personnel were anxious to see how it would work and what the appearance of the overall show would be.   One probationary issue was the pegboard backdrops which were uniformly set up throughout the hall, which were essential for painter to display their work, and were completely covered by their paintings.  But for sculptors, the panels could be a distraction and served little or no purpose other than a back wall to the exhibited works.  Fortunately, I actually needed wall space since I also had wall hanging sculpture to display.

        Challenges of setting up a booth;  problems, solutions, and the final result

My original plans to set up an attractive display had unraveled, since all that generous space at the front of the hall was more than I had planned for.  The black fabric I had for a neutral backdrop was inadequate in size, the clips to hang it were too small to secure the fabric to the wood frame.  What to do.  Search for a store and buy more fabric? Not enough time.  I had too much space for my pre-planned booth décor and not enough black material for backdrop draperies.  I am stymied over the situation, and ponder my predicament.  How can I create a presentable art space?  I survey the scene once again, and there are six large wood pegboard panels that make up my booth backdrop.  There were six connected panels and I had six pieces to hang, so that matched up perfectly.

I had been chasing a full roll of pure white duct tape throughout the packing and shipping process. I always like to have duct tape on hand when building a booth, and well after the crate of carvings was shipped, I searched for it at the last minute before traveling, to no avail.

The white duct tape magically showed up in the shipping crate, and there it was in front of me at the booth site, along  with the black cloth.   The light bulb finally flashed on!  With the materials on hand, why not cut the cloth into rectangles matching each art piece, so each one is framed by the black material, then hang each cloth section by carefully taping the entire perimeter to the booth walls, this creating a white border around each black rectangle.  Each art piece would be framed by a striking black panel bordered by a two inch white strip.

I try a test run with a scrap of cloth, and the tape secures it perfectly!  How I love inspiring solutions when thinking on your feet! With the problem solved, I question how tedious and time consuming the process would be; everything would need to be cut and taped very carefully to have a sharp looking display.  The end result had to be appealing in appearance.  Confident enough to take the risk, I tore into the new founded project.

Before long I have tape and material chopped with scissors and scattered all over the place, and in the flourish of plastering white tape on the walls, I notice some quizzical glances coming my way.  With shreds of material strewn about and white duct tape dangling from the plain pegboard panels, a headliner artist from a neighboring booth came over.

“I have some black duct tape,” she hopefully suggested.  I tried to give her a look of reassurance, knowing full well that artists strive to have the best possible presentation and don’t welcome a sloppy or tarnished look from a neighboring booth.  She was unaware that I had a large selection of wall sculpture to hang on the backdrops.

While diving into my new plan, it became apparent that I was attracting more attention, and began picking up some comments from the show organizers and volunteers.  “What is he doing?”  I heard the show staff wondering.

Finished art display

Finished art display

As I polished up the final touches of my installation, I wondered if my presentation was passable. The show manager came by, stopped and observed my progress, and immediately exclaimed “Now that looks great!”  My neighboring artist who seemed hesitant at my erratic booth building came over.  “Terry, you crack me up!  That looks like modern art!” she exclaimed with enthusiasm.  It seemed that I had pulled it off, my presentation was being met with approval!  After verifying that everything I had done was extemporaneous, the show volunteers continued discussing my display, with comments like “I can’t believe he had not planned this,” and “well, artists can just do this type of thing.”

Finally, the opening night arrived, which is an invitation only event for exclusive guests.  A gentleman showed an extra interest in my free form eagle with naturally formed wings widely spread.  “Do you know the woodworker Nakashima?” he asks, and without a second thought I exclaim, “Do you mean George Nakashima from Bucks County, Pennsylvania?”

“That’s the one, the wood guru and furniture craftsman who also authored  Soul of the Tree” he replied.

I acknowledged that he had been a mentor and inspiration early in my wood art career. “In fact, I still have a Life magazine article about Nakashima from the early seventies that expounded on his spiritual connections with the trees and their special woods,”  I explained.  It was from that article that I first saw the term “free form” style, which described the natural edges with the contours and textures of the tree worked into the Nakashima furniture designs, and I have used that description for my natural style carvings ever since.

Carved eagle that found a place to land, by Terry Woodall

“Well, this eagle sculpture by Terry Woodall will be prominently displayed on our George Nakashima table that we purchased years ago,” he clarified as he proceeded with the purchase.

I was stunned and highly complimented.  It was the opening night of the exhibit, and I could visualize my eagle perched on a Nakashima table and go home happy, all from this one pleasant encounter.

Where on Earth?!  Waterfowl Festival, Easton, Maryland, 2015.  Also exhibiting in the 2016 festival, November 10-13

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Where on Earth?! Turkey

Heavy with the harvest season, a full moon bright as a bare light bulb lit up the conical peak jutting up from the vast plain that lay before us.  “Do you really think he landed on that snow capped mountain?” I asked my new found friend as we perched from a cliff at the opposite edge of the empty plain.

“That might be a stretch; anyway, it’s just a legend,” replied my traveling companion.

“But it had to get started somehow,” I came back at him, “It was probably an eccentric ole geezer living on the fringes that happened to attract lots of wild animals and made it his thing.”  Enthused by the idea, I continued excitedly, “he probably lived in a swamp type area, then he saved a bunch of his nature pals in a homemade boat, or maybe he had a whole barn that floated off.”

Feeding on the theory, the Englishman reiterated, “He probably was some backwoods character that attracted lots of animals, and maybe he built his wild pets a floating shed for refuge.  That could be how the story got started.”

“ Well,  maybe it’s not a legend,”  I clarified,  “ I saw really good photos in Life magazine, you could see the shape of Noah’s big boat outlined in the rock, all petrified and lodged way up high on that mountain right over there.”

To arrive at this spot adjacent to Mt. Ararat, the Brit named John with his land rover and I with my backpack had followed the tireless road past the limits of daylight and into the night. The hypnotic churning of engine and wheels took us past the last inhabited dwellings, some with lighted windows peering out like yellow eyes, but most dark and asleep, and onto the empty plateau. An icon on the map indicated an obscure ruin site just off the road that we followed.  If we could find it, we could camp there.

It happened to be Halloween, and the ghosts of Tamerlane and his Asian hordes rode the moon beams that lighted our way into the ruins. Geared down, the land rover groaned up a rough and rocky spur road until the lumpy boulders transformed into the man made forms that the map had promised.   On the steep hillside buffering the great plain, we became surrounded by beacons of minarets and citadel walls with gates, all resplendent with scroll works and mysteriously illuminated in the white light of the full moon.  The edifices perched on sliding hillsides were composed of the same chinks of stone, only the natural rubble was wildly scattered while the lonely ruins clung to a semblance of orderly construction.  Surely the vestiges of Tamerlane and the haunts of his armies hovered over this hollow shell of a once prominent fortress, since he was the Mongol conqueror who defeated the Ottoman Turks in the 14th century and overran this very site.

While contemplating the iconic mountain in the distance and the haunting ruins of this magical night, I nestled my hands into the deep leathery pockets of the thick sheepskin coat that blocked the evening chill of autumn.  Black angora goat hair shimmered around the coat’s perimeter, rustling with every movement, and emblazoned gold stars bumped out from the embroidery that contrasted with the tan sheepskin.  With this coat I had a statement piece in tune with the legions of backpacking youth out for adventure.

A month earlier, the seed was planted at the Pudding Shop, an impromptu gathering spot anointed by youthful adventurers at a crossroad of exotic lands; “Where are you going, where have you been?  What did you see?”  Hot topics were the alluring and fabled landmarks of Samarkand, Tashkent, and the Valley of the Bamiyan.   The hip attire that designated a seasoned adventure traveler was the ubiquitous sheepskin coat, and I wanted one. The seed grew as I meandered into the Grand Bazaar.

Sheep and goats are the life blood for the herders of the Anatolian Plateau, which are subject to constant currents of icy winds.  To combat this opposing force, the sheep layer on thick wool and shepherds donn felt capes that are a full one half inch thickness of compressed wool, and substantial enough to become a stand up mini tent lest the herder needs to hunker down from the icy fury.  Hence, the Grand Bazaar was a mecca of sheep skins and woolen goods.

A street urchin named Kazim had led me through the warrens of his proud city of ancient crossroads and into the hidden recesses of the bazaar, where I found many leather workers crafting a multitude of cloaks and vests of all lengths and styles.

Sheepskin and youthful adventure

Sheepskin and youthful adventure

The typical sheepskins worn by hardcore hippie backpackers were natural white, usually tattered and soiled after the long trek back from India or Afghanistan. After browsing through the vast selections of wools and designs, I jumped at the chance for a more customized version and concocted the perfect coat.  A friendly and helpful designer measured and explained the options, and I selected a white wool lining with a tan exterior, all from one sheepskin, along with all the aforementioned trimmings of gold stars and black angora goat hair. Though my artist career was faraway in the hazy and unknown future, I had an early affinity for creative design and thoroughly enjoyed orchestrating this project.

Back at the mountain fortress on Halloween night and hundreds of miles beyond the grand bazaar, my traveling partner and I continued clambering amongst the citadel and its surrounding walls.   While absorbing the uncanny night, we marveled over the day’s events.   The offbeat, rough roads had taken us around enormous Lake Van in the direction of Syria, until we were blocked by part of the Tigris- Euphrates river system.  Wide and muddy, the only hope of crossing was a village ferry used mainly for the local sheep and camels.  The ferry was a decrepit box of a raft, and as we observed preliminary to our attempted crossing, would half sink with a load of livestock by the time it reached the opposite shore a quarter mile downstream.  It seemed the entire village turned out to watch as we got the land rover stuck in the riverside mud and finally churned our way on board.   After a harrowing crossing and many thanks, we navigated on our way.

After that night in the shadow of Mt. Ararat, we parted ways in Tehran, John on his way to India and I to the Persian Gulf, and were never in contact again, except…  When composing this story, I recently searched google earth for the site of that mysterious Halloween night, and close to that spot was an icon with the entry “1969,  On the road to India, Mt. Ararat.”

And that prized sheepskin coat?  A few years later, while I was gyrating about on a night club dance floor near Mexico City, it was lifted off of the back of my chair and never seen again.

Where on Earth?!  Anatolian Plain of Turkey, and the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, 1969.

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Where on Earth?! Webcams on Wildlife

Published Sept. 8 on Stanford University’s MHAB blog site,  http://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/webcams-on-wildlife/

                  Can technology help connect people and artists with the natural beauty of this world, while reducing the footprints we leave?  Artist Terry J. Woodall shares his experiences from studying, sculpting, sharing and protecting the incredible freshwater seals of Russia’s Lake Baikal.

                                

The Sentinel (2009) Baikal Seal, Bronze, 7x19x12 inches, © Terry Woodall

The Sentinel (2009) Baikal Seal, Bronze, 7x19x12 inches, © Terry Woodall

For nature artists, the doors opened by up-to-date and futuristic technology are many. Options for wildlife observations have grown with stationary webcams, tiny cameras riding piggyback on wildlife subjects, remote controlled model airplanes [eco-drones] with video cams, and night vision-motion activated trail cameras. Some of these methods, like trail cameras, are easily available for an artist’s own research projects. Drones are the latest tool for accessing wildlife that is difficult to observe. Some models are now being used to monitor orangutan habitat in Indonesia, protect rhinos and elephants in Nepal, and to count chimps in Tanzania.

All of these new methods of wildlife observation points to a future of less human disturbances of the animals and their habitats, improving on the well-being of the natural world. An example in point and a method I personally followed and encouraged is a web cam installation in the wilderness of Siberia. This began with my artistic field study on Lake Baikal, Russia.

A career long interest in aquatic mammals initiated my proposal for an artistic field study of the freshwater Baikal Seals as a Flag Expedition, which is a study program of rare and endangered wildlife and their habitats sponsored by the Artists for Conservation Foundation. Besides being unique as the world’s only freshwater seal species, they reside in a land locked Siberian lake of extraordinary physical features.

The initial focus of the 2008 expedition was to actually locate and observe the animals. That is a daunting task for a species spending most of their lives in water, in one of the world’s largest lakes, and one that is surrounded by rugged wilderness. To assure close encounters with the species and for researching them, I enlisted the aid of key Lake Baikal entities:  Zabaikalsky National Park and its nerpa habitat, Baikal Wave environmental organization, The Nature Museum of Irkutsk, and the Tahoe-Baikal Institute head quartered in Lake Tahoe, California.

Although Lake Baikal is vast, it also confines the seals, which is an opportunity to monitor them as an indicator pinniped species in the face of climate change and other impacts. Lake Baikal serves as a living laboratory representing all the world’s pinnipeds, which are far flung and difficult to study. Using this lake as a mechanism for monitoring pinnipeds coping with climate changes has another advantage. For over a century, Russian scientists have kept accurate records on climate and seal numbers and continue to monitor the seal’s well-being.

 Baikal Curl (2013) Baikal Seal, Bronze, 18x16x13 inches, © Terry Woodall

Baikal Curl (2013) Baikal Seal, Bronze, 18x16x13 inches, © Terry Woodall

One project that I pledged to support, which was only conversation during my flag expedition visitations with the Limniological Institute and the remote seal habitat, has now become a reality. Scientists and biologists from the Lake Baikal Museum have installed a web cam on the remote Ushkanii Islands, where numerous Baikal Seals gather every summer and where my AFC artistic field study took place. The museum is now presenting real time video feeds of this seal rookery on large screens, which can also be viewed on their website. Their objective is for the world to see the only freshwater seals without traveling to their sensitive habitat, a method that could be helpful in protecting other species by limiting human disturbance.

Unfortunately, it is possible that rare and exotic wildlife in their own wild surroundings will become less accessible in the future. There are those who say too much eco-tourism access harms the environment, such as popular hiking trails of Nepal that become littered with trash.  Too many people can love a critical habitat to death. More fragile wildlife areas are becoming off limits to human access as habitat diminishes, and in a new trend, sometimes replaced with webcam visuals for the public. This is the direction taken by Russian biologists and authorities at Lake Baikal’s Ushkanni Islands to protect their rare freshwater seals.

Such a progression is a double edged sword. On one hand, the Baikal island wilderness that I explored, devoid of any lights or cell phone towers on horizons in all directions, has been invaded with mechanical devices of wire and steel set in concrete. For most artists, nothing can substitute for “being out there.” Obtaining visual material that every nature artist utilizes is a challenging task, albeit usually an enjoyable task when in the field.  Field work remains an important privilege for many artists, not only for observing, but also for living the experience and interacting with nature. The same breeze batting your face sets a bird into flight, as an artist attempts to grasp the full spirit of nature events.

On the other hand, visitors at the Baikal Museum, which is in the most populated fringes of the lake, can now access views of this wilderness and its rare wildlife subjects by virtue of this installation, a wind-powered webcam. Millions of people worldwide can now observe these rare seals in real time via the internet, without visiting or disturbing the actual site.

A similar project is planned on the Oregon Coast near my home and art studio. Simpson Reef hosts four species of pinnipeds that are closed off to public access and is particularly restricted during the harbor seal birthing season. Roadside sites with sweeping overviews of seal and whale activity are open to the public. About five miles from these reefs in the fishing village of Charleston, a new marine life museum has opened. Part of the long term plan for the University of Oregon center, and one which I hope to be involved in, is to connect pinniped activities to a museum viewing screen via webcam.

Since we are tossed about between the fine line of disturbing the wildlife that we revere and enjoying the access for observing them, the technology for observing from further distances may be a positive trend. More people will have the opportunity to enjoy nature and become more appreciative of the wonderful gifts of the natural world without leaving any footprints.

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