Saturday, May 29, 2010

Italwas: Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

41” x 48”Align Center

In 2006 I was commissioned to paint a historically accurate painting of a Creek Indian village. In researching the subject I found that much of Creek cultural artifacts have been lost, due to the shameful Trail of Tears. With a lot of help from Miriam Fowler (who put together the life-size Creek village at the Birmingham Museum of Art) I gathered the information I needed and found images of Creek patterns in rather obscure places. I delivered the painting nine months after the piece was commissioned, and felt like I lived in the little village I’d painted.

Because of my familiarity with the Creek culture, it was a natural choice of subject for one of my depictions of Alabama places. I knew immediately that my portrayal would include the Creeks’ wonderful patterns, which I only got to use on a small scale in the village painting. I chose Horseshoe Bend as the place to represent the Creek culture because it is the most accessible site designated to observance of Creek culture in the state.

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park commemorates the end of the Creek Indian War, when, in 1814, General Andrew Jackson defeated 1,000 Upper Creeks led by Chief Menawa. The battle took place on the lands around and between a sharp bend in the Tallapoosa River in central Alabama. After the war, Creek lands that covered three-fifths of Alabama were added to the United States and opened to white settlers, and the Indians were sent on the Trail of Tears to reservations in Oklahoma. My painting is meant to commemorate the Creeks and their culture.

I chose Creek patterns taken from their beadwork, pipes, clay vessels, and blankets. My intention was not to translate Creek symbolism inherent in the patterns. I took actual patterns from artifacts found in the Southeast, and put them together in my signature style, with more concern for depicting a kaleidoscope of visual harmony than for conceptual symbolic accuracy. I fear I may have stated something goofy in Creek language, but hopefully nothing too offensive.

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is maintained by the National Park Service, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior. For more information, go to

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Flower Show at Red Dot Gallery

Join Red Dot Gallery Friday, June 4 for the opening of The Flower Show, 5-9 pm.
Amazing works of art and nature celebrating the radiance of bloom.
Flower bedecked cupcakes from our favorite bakery, Dreamcakes.
Explosive flower arrangements by Rene Sears.
Real daylilies from national hybridizer Scott Bennett.
Flower inspired art by:
Frank Fleming, Annie Kammerer Butrus, Cam Langley, Janice Kluge, Jon Martinez, Bethanne Hill, Beth Maynor Young, John Wathen, Mary Kay Culpepper, Dori DeCamillis, Scott Bennett, Vincent Serbin, Laura Brookhart, Guadelupe Robinson, Lynette Hesser

Here are some images of work by exhibiting artists.

Laura Brookhart (above)
Digital Photographs

Annie Kammerer Butrus

Vincent Serbin

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Carnivores: Splinter Hill Bog Preserve

Now owned by the Nature Conservancy, the Splinter Hill Bog Preserve is home to some of the largest and most beautiful pitcher plant bogs in the world. The site is located in the headwaters of the Perdido River, in the low hills of the East Gulf Coastal Plain in South Alabama. Not your ordinary wildflower meadow, the open fields blanketed with white, red and green pitcher plants also host a dozen other carnivorous plant species.

To survive in the low nutrient soil, some of the plants must resort to eating insects. The pitcher plant is large enough that the skeletons of small frogs and birds have even been found inside its trumpet-like leaves. Other meat-eating plants are covered with gooey dew-like drops to which insects stick and are digested. Many unusual and rare plants grow in the bog, and along with more common varieties, can add up to 60 species in one square yard.

In order for this weird and exotic landscape to thrive, it must be set on fire at about the same frequency that Mother Nature would set it ablaze with lightening: about three times a decade. Prescribed burns maintain habitat for fire-adapted species, restore nutrients to the soil, and help prevent large wildfires. The Splinter Hill site has been systematically burned with nature’s regularity since the time of the Indians, because the locals have endeavored to preserve the pitcher plant for medicinal purposes or to sell. Now it is the Nature Conservancy’s task to burn periodically. Interestingly, maintaining the site with prescribed burns is expensive. Legal and insurance costs are quite high, to protect adjoining privately-owned properties.

I toured the bog with a group headed by Bill Finch, Conservation Director for the Nature Conservancy. I wouldn’t have noticed all the smaller carnivorous plants and learned about the various species and hybrids of pitcher plants without his expertise. He knew where to find the one, tiny, rare orchid in acres and acres of fields, pointed out the holes of the endangered gopher tortoise, and taught us how to tell the native long-leaf pine from the common slash pine, among many other things. But I knew from the beginning that among all the striking and bizarre sights I was taking in, the glamorous pitcher plant would take center stage in my painting. I’d previously marveled at them at the plant nurseries in Birmingham, but here there were thousands of them, growing literally like weeds—lovely and strange, and all over the place.

The Nature Conservancy owns and maintains Splinter Hill Bog. For more information, see

Monday, May 10, 2010

EO Wilson Lecture

On Friday I went to a talk given by E.O. Wilson. Here is some info about this kind, humble, wise, and brilliant man:

E.O. Wilson, recently called “one of the most important biological theorists since Darwin” by The New York Times, returns to Alabama for a special evening at McWane Science Center on Friday, May 7, 2010.

Born in Birmingham, Wilson felt a fascination with nature from a young age and grew up to become one of the world’s leading environmentalists, as proclaimed by Time Magazine and Audubon Magazine, in addition to winning two Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other awards, he was also called one of the “Top 25 most influential Americans” by Time Magazine.

Here are some quotes by EO Wilson:

There is no better high than discovery.

You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.

It's like having astronomy without knowing where the stars are.

If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.

The essence of humanity's spiritual dilemma is that we evolved genetically to accept one truth and discovered another. Is there a way to erase the dilemma, to resolve the contradictions between the transcendentalist and the empiricist world views?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Letter

Dear Mom,

Here is a list of 66 things you taught me that I am grateful for. You taught me…

Not to be afraid of strangers

To be on time

To color really well with my crayons

To be open-minded about religion

To keep my house tidy

Not to worry too much about germs

To eat lots of different kinds of foods

To be honest and straightforward

Not to be stingy

To be appreciative when someone does something for me

To love the outdoors

To love sports and exercise

To love animals

To be curious

To love music

To love art

To eat my veggies

That if I wanted a friend I had to be a friend

Not to wash my hair too much

Not to waste

To be resourceful

To be adventurous

To be a good and funny story teller

To laugh at myself

To bravely look at my shortcomings

Not to overprotect children

That a little healthy irreverence is a good thing

That beauty is only skin deep

To be a fun, outrageous, and not your average run-of-the-mill mom

To use my talents

To eat well-balanced meals

That all kinds of work were honorable

That all kinds of people are honorable

To get up early and go to bed early

That meditation is good for you

To respect nature

To be conservative with the thermostat

To sing often around the house

To swim

To make proper macaroni and cheese

To buy generic when possible

To get help from others when things are hard

To be persistent

That there is a lot you can do in the backyard with a sprinkler

Not to be a fuddy-duddy

That I never have to deep-fry anything, ever

That to laugh is divine

To use alternative medicines

To believe in God

To believe in unconventional things even when they aren’t popular

To blow my nose instead of sniffing

To come home when I hear the sound of a cowbell

To love the sound of ukuleles

To pitch a softball better than most men

That cussing isn’t so damn bad

To make simple meals like “taco bar” when having company

That kids should play outside most of the time, even in winter

To apologize when I’m wrong

To be independent

To wrap presents nicely and creatively

To love Christmas music and decorations

To pay attention when kids put on a skit, even if it’s stupid

That hanging out with family is one of the most fun things in the world

That it’s important to be silly

To like Elvis and Kung Fu

To be a supportive and attentive friend to my kid

Thanks for these things and more. Happy Mother’s Day.

I love you,


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Fallout: Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary Detail Images

Fallout: Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary

Dauphin Island, a 14 mile-long barrier island just west of Mobile Bay, has been sited as one of the ten most globally important sites for bird migrations. One of the featured attractions of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary includes 164 acres with the widest possible range of habitats on the island: a fresh water lake, Gulf beaches and dunes, swamp, maritime forest, and hardwood clearings.

Bird watchers come to Dauphin Island from all over the United States and abroad to view the spring and fall bird migrations. The island is the first landfall for many of the neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring. Here these birds, often exhausted and weakened from severe weather during the long flight, find their first food and shelter. It is also their final feeding and resting place before their return flight each fall. The name “Fall-out” is a term coined to describe the phenomenon that occurs during spring migration if the migrating birds encounter relentless weather over the Gulf, and are entirely depleted by landfall. They literally fall out of the sky.

A part of my research for this piece included participation in a bird-banding with the Hummer Bird Study Group, a non-profit organization dedicated to studying and recording migratory bird populations. Dauphin Island and neighboring Fort Morgan were teeming with bird-watchers from all over the U.S. and Canada. I spent the day watching bird experts catching various birds in very large nets stretched through the woods, then weighing, measuring, and banding them. Many of the bird depictions in my painting are drawn from photographs taken while bird watcher volunteers held the little subjects before setting them free with their newly banded feet. The banded birds, if found later during other banding sessions, teach researchers about bird populations, their whereabouts, etc.

I chose the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird as the subject for the center because its migration story most fascinated me. The tiny hummers fly alone, over 600 miles of ocean in all kinds of weather twice each year. My bird is feasting on the Alabama Crimson (or Coral) Honeysuckle, a native plant and a favorite of the hummingbirds. The birds depicted on the tiles are common to the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary, and around the outside are birds I photographed at the banding. Botanical patterns on the piece represent some the various plants found in Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary.

Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary is managed by the Dauphin Island Parks and Beach Board, and supported by the non-profit Friends of DIBS. The Hummer Bird Study Group is a non-profit organization which travels the United States banding birds to keep track of their populations and health.