Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Safe Harbor: Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Located on the Fort Morgan Peninsula of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, Bon Secour consists of 7,000 acres of protected beach and pine-oak woodlands, some of the state’s last remaining undisturbed coastal wildlife habitat. This relatively small area preserves dunes, marshes, wetlands, scrub and old forest habitats crucial to the survival of many animal species.

The tiles on my piece represent the animals, some endangered, found in Bon Secour either permanently or temporarily. Each spring and fall migratory birds can be sighted as they fly though toward their seasonal destinations. Summer brings nesting sea turtles and osprey, while October hosts the migration of Monarch butterflies. The endangered Beach Mouse makes a permanent home at Bon Secour, and feeds on the local sea oats, pictured in the center of my piece.

The botanicals around the outside of the panel were painted from photos from an October trail hike, when many wildflowers were in bloom, and the shells around the centerpiece were all collected previously from the beach near there. I felt it important to use plenty of white in this work, inspired by the sand, the light, and the reflections of the water.

Friends of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is a non-profit advocacy group that accepts donations to help improve the refuge and increase wildlife habitat. To contact them, email rngilges@aol.com. Bon Secour is maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who can be contacted at bonsecour@fws.gov.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Detail Images of Best in Shoals: The Cahaba River

Best in Shoals: The Cahaba River

I was most surprised on my Cahaba River canoe trips by the amazing amount of wildlife in and around the river. Every time Randy Haddock, the Cahaba River Society’s biologist, dipped a net into the water to show us river creatures, he pulled out an abundance of various snails, mussels, fish, and crawfish. Shiny, colorful dragonflies and damselflies darted around us all day. Each stop along the shoals became a treasure hunt for one of the many rare species of river fauna.

My astonishment is corroborated by statistics; the Cahaba contains more fish species per mile than any other river in North America. The river also holds the most snail and mussel species in the world. Rare plant life abounds as well; the shoals and glades host a variety of uncommon and endangered plant species, including the Cahaba Lilly, depicted at the center of my painting.

Unfortunately, the Cahaba River is also considered to be one of the top ten most endangered rivers in North America. Problems such as urbanization, soil erosion from forest clear-cutting, pesticide run-off from agriculture, and toxin discharge from mining and industry threaten aquatic life and affect one of the largest supplies of drinking water in the state. Birmingham receives over half its water supply from the Cahaba.

Organizations such as the Cahaba River Society and the Freshwater Land Trust are working to protect the Cahaba. Go to www.cahabariversociety.org and www.freshwaterlandtrust.org for more information.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Detail Images of Southern Belle: The Alabama Theatre

Southern Belle: The Alabama Theatre

The Alabama Theatre was the original inspiration for my current painting format. I marveled at its lavishness, and soon after began using elaborate, architectural-inspired ornamentation not to decorate my work, but as the subject. When I walk into a cathedral, or a place like the Alabama, I imagine the artists who created it, the time they spent, the care they put into their craft. The magnitude of scale and intricacy of detail are a visual banquet, and a testimony of loving dedication to the meditative, slow, and time-honored tradition of being an artisan and manual craftsman.

Brought together in 1926, the leading theater architects of the day and artists from all over the world designed and constructed the Alabama—the biggest and most elaborate movie palace in the South. The fabulously opulent interior has stunned the imagination of visitors ever since it opened.

For 54 years the Alabama entertained the community with Hollywood feature films often preceded by an organ show played on the largest Wurlitzer organ in the South, a newsreel, cartoons, movie previews, and sometimes a vaudeville show. As the years passed and businesses moved to the suburbs, theatre attendance declined, and in 1981 the Alabama bankrupted and closed its doors.

A small group of citizens dedicated to reviving the theater formed a non-profit organization and re-opened the theatre in 1987. Birmingham Landmarks, Inc. now hosts public and private events and receptions, classic films, concerts, film festivals, and the opera and symphony. With over 250 events annually, the Alabama entertains over 500,000 people each year.

The Alabama Theatre for the Performing Arts is financially maintained by events held there and by public contributions. For more information go to www.alabamatheater.com.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Exhibit A Description

I moved to Alabama 16 years ago, amazed by the historical and natural wonders that are largely overlooked by Alabamians. I received the Alabama State Council on the Arts Individual Artists Fellowship for 2006-07 which inspired a series of paintings in my mixed-media panel format based on some of my favorite Alabama places. The Mobile Museum of Art has scheduled an exhibit of the project for the spring of 2011.

I photograph extensively at each location and gather hundreds of images for inspiration. From the photos I piece together themes involving animals, plants, patterns, scenes. I find the random and profuse imagery captures the essence of the place better than one straightforward image of a view. Sometimes I like to render with scientific precision, other times it seems appropriate to give only an impression of the imagery. I enjoy the challenge of combining visually diverse styles, and my use of various mediums lends itself to this contrast.

The most wonderful surprise to come out of this Exhibit A is working with the organizations that care for these Alabama places. In most cases a handful of extremely dedicated people have devoted their lives to saving, managing, restoring, protecting, and promoting awareness of their place. I have been honored to get to work with these people, and it has encouraged and motivated me with this body of work.

I have gathered support in the form of endorsements from organizations who value these special places. With endorsements from organizations such as the Cahaba River Society, the Freshwater Land Trust, Friends of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, WildSouth, and Jones Valley Urban Farm, my series will be given a better chance to raise awareness and appreciation of these amazing places. The project is a collaboration of art, nature, history, social change, and a state-wide community of people who cherish the wonders of Alabama.

The following paintings make up the series:

Best in Shoals: The Cahaba River

Southern Belle: The Alabama Theatre

Safe Harbor: Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Working for Peanuts: Tuskegee Institute

Italwas: Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

Falling Awake: Bankhead National Forest/Sipsey Wilderness

The Carnivores: Splinter Hill Bog

Bounty: Jones Valley Farm

Fall Out: Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary

Bible Belt: St. Paul's Cathedral

Gay Won Nesah: Stonetalker's Wall

Pitch Black: Limrock Blowing Cave