Convening high on a mountain top overlooking a sparkling city seemed fitting for nature artists celebrating the fifth annual Art of Conservation International Exhibition. Climbing to this great height, both metaphorically and physically, are the artists who champion conservation of wildlife, sea life, bird life, and the natural world that harbors them.
Some would venture out to the Eye of the Wind, a ski lift ride further up to the top of the Grouse Mountain world, and look through the center of the enormous wind turbine that provides extra power for the lodge hosting the art event. From here, one can look down at a city spreading out 4000 feet below, threaded with channels and waterways that expand westward into seas choked with mountainous islands. To the east, the eye can follow the staggering of peaks into the lineup of the Cascade Range that extends to the furthest southern horizon.
This is where the Artists for Conservation [AFC] Art Exhibit and week-long Art Festival occurred, a landmark gathering of wildlife artists exhibiting their work and drawing attention to wildlife in nature; artists who are exceptionally motivated individuals making major strides in helping habitats continue intact and unabated, while drawing attention to dire circumstances facing many species around the globe.
It is here that over 30 artists for conservation gathered to celebrate the annual exhibit displaying works of art by 80 artists, and to generate intrigue and awareness with lectures, workshops and the live action of creating works of art. The AFC mission, in the words of AFC President and Founder Jeffrey Whiting, “is to support wildlife and habitat conservation, biodiversity, sustainability, and environmental education through art that celebrates our natural heritage.” And this is the international art exhibition and festival reflecting those objectives.
Visitors, patrons, art enthusiasts, the conservation minded, all came to share in the expressions of wild nature. There were the coincidental passerbys, many that came by climbing all 4000 feet of this mountain in a local tradition called the “Grouse Mountain Grind”, climbing on foot to prove themselves, and many on that endeavor were rewarded at the end of their arduous journey by the nature art on display.
Any given time, groups of artists and guests would occupy the spacious seating in front of the large fireplace warming the lodge foyer that views the alpine outdoors. Beneath the high ceiling supported by stout fir logs elaborately carved with northwest scenes, four to five artists were at work painting their art pieces, and occasionally Tyto the resident barn owl would visit for random photo ops and hang out on the large table gracing the fire place. This casual artist scene was within easy access to the upper and lower gallery halls displaying the exhibition art, and the “Theater in the Sky” where lectures took place.
N a t u r e A r t L e c t u r e s
Nature artists usually have an extra abundance of passion they bring to the cause of helping the natural world perpetuate itself. From the artist lectures presented, rare species were brought to light, new knowledge shared, environmental efforts and victories revealed.
In his address, well known artist and keynote speaker Robert Bateman shared his view that concern with the overused mantra “what kind of world do we leave for our children” is the wrong approach. He emphasized that “the important message is to educate our children to take care of the world they inherit,” not just what we leave to them. He is concerned that children today are not playing outside, missing out on exploring and discovering nature, and raising their awareness in that direction is important for the health of our planet.
Solveig Nordwall, a seasoned scuba diver, expressed a compelling interest in studying and painting newly discovered deep sea species, and ones yet to be discovered. Undersea creatures living near the base of the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, will be close at hand, since Solveig will be living on this mountain, which is the island of Hawaii, in her newly founded studio. on the island of Hawaii. The symmetrical grace and designs of these strange life forms make fascinating art subjects, as evidenced by her mirror image sea dragon pair hanging in the festival gallery.
From his home conservation ranch in Kenya, Guy Combes deftly began an ultimate worldwide N I M B Y campaign when the Tanzanian government planned a major industrial highway directly across the Serengeti migration paths used annually by many millions of ungulates in the past, and herds of a few million today. Through facebook, Guy generated enough persuasive power to halt the highway’s construction, thus assuring open migration paths into the future.
Another high powered environmental cause is being led by Mark Hobson, who described his efforts to discourage the tanker express shipping lane proposed through the inter coastal islands and fiords of the Great Bear Rain Forest of Western B.C. His presentation and film outlined the progress of fifty artists painting the rain forest scenes to draw attention to this ecological plight.
Pollyanna Pickering, a well renowned British conservation artist, led an AFC Flag Expedition to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. A champion of wildlife in many exotic locales, she humorously disclosed seeing a yeti scalp on display in a monastery near the world’s only Yeti Wildlife Sanctuary of Bhutan. Whether it be yeti, abominable snowman, bigfoot, or sasquatch, it seemingly would have to be smarter than the average primate to exist.
Along with Pollyanna, five flag expedition leaders total were in attendance with lectures, including Canadian artists David Kitler, who pioneered the program with a flag expedition into the jungles of Panama, and Kelly Dodge, who explored all the islands in the Galapagos chain of South America.
The AFC Flag Expeditions program supports artists seeking to explore the world’s remaining true wildernesses and to observe the rare or endangered species that live in those places, making possible the artistic field study and rendering of species or habitats deserving of greater public attention. The next flag expedition was announced at the opening of the Art Festival, a research adventure to the Midway Islands by Sharon Schafer.
From her Flag Expedition experience, Ria Winters shared revelations of how much misinformation exists about the extinct island birds that was the focus of her artistic field study. Her study resulted in a published book resplendent with island birds rare and extinct, and her depictions of the extinct Dodo bird included improved accuracy in its colors and shape over other historical depictions.
Ria’s research of these birds driven to extinction by humans came partly from the University of Amsterdam library, where she has worked for a number of years, and at the location of their former habitat, the Mauritius Islands off the east coast of Africa.
Based on an artistic study of the land locked freshwater seals of Siberia and the 7thFlag Expedition, I presented a case for the most numerous of all large land animals, the pinnipeds. Most of the world’s seal populations depend on ice for their successful molting, and therefore birthing, and I noted the risk to their populations by shrinking ice packs. Even though Antarctica’s crabeater seal, estimated at 15 to 30 million strong, is the most numerous species of large mammals, large numbers doesn’t assure its survival. The passenger pigeon, which is estimated as being billions in numbers, was possibly the most numerous bird species on the planet.
The consensus from the week of nature art is, at best, great strides in species and habitat protection have been made, and influences felt, and at worse, dire predictions made and remorse shared for lost species, all reflected by a wealth of passion expressed in art.
It is easy to stay in touch with your inner biology, maintaining health, knowing what you eat, exercising, but the one message to take away from this artist’s for conservation event is to stay in touch with your outer biology as well.
Where on Earth?! North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Mid October, 2012