Archive for August, 2008

A couple of summers ago, I took a course called Environmental History. On the first day of class, as had been true in every other class I’d taken before then, we were asked to tell our classmates a little bit about ourselves. When I mentioned my interest in conservation art (or art for conservation), I was surprised that no one, including the professor, knew anything about it but I was also encouraged by the student’s and professor’s enthusiasm to know more.

Okay then, what is conservation art?

First of all, look in any dictionary and you will find that the term conservation means the preservation from destruction and/or neglect. Well, to me, because I am a nature lover, conservation means the preservation of wild animals, birds and habitat. Thus, in the case of conservation art, that means any art (though, in most cases, the genre or theme is nature or wildlife) that is used to raise funds for wetlands purchase and protection, or the preservation of threatened and endangered species, or the protection of wild lands against human encroachment, and so on. Admittedly though, when one mentions conservation art, more often than not, it’s “duck stamps” or waterfowl art that comes to mind.

Duck stamps?

Yes, they’re affectionately referred to as duck stamps! But, they’re really called migratory waterfowl stamps. Every duck or waterfowl hunter must purchase a Federal Migratory Waterfowl Stamp as part of their license, although, you don’t have to be a hunter to buy one, they are available for purchase by anyone. In addition to the Federal Duck Stamp program, many states also have conservation stamp programs and many of those are also required as part of a hunter’s license. And, again, these stamps are available for sale to non-hunters as well.

But now, back to conservation art … before any of these stamps are issued to hunters, stamp collectors or conservationists, they are art competitions or commissioned works of art. The granddaddy of them all is the Federal Migratory

Original artwork by William C. Morris

Original artwork by William C. Morris

Stamp Art Competition. It was started in 1934 as commissioned work then later changed to an art competition. I first learned about this stamp art program back in 1984 (or, maybe it was 1983), from an article that appeared in an issue of Smithsonian magazine, when the program was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Well, the program is now 76 years old and, through the sale of those stamps, has “raised more than $700 million that has been used to acquire more than 5.2 million acres of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System” (see The Federal Duck Stamp Program).

Massachusetts Duck Stamp is “Unique”

Many state duck stamp programs aren’t nearly as old as the Federal program, probably around thirty-five to forty years old on average, however, for most state programs, it was the Federal program that set the standard, so to speak, when it came to the rules that artists must follow, that is, the design must depict “[a] live portrayal of [the duck].” But Massachusetts duck stamp art rules are “unique” in that the design must portray “a WORKING (not decorative) decoy of a duck, goose, or shorebird made by a known or unknown deceased, Massachusetts decoy maker” (see my earlier entry called “Massachusetts ‘Duck Stamp’ Competition to be ‘Revisited'”).

Canvasback Drake Decoy head by unknown carver. This working decoy is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.

Canvasback Drake Decoy head by unknown carver. This working decoy is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.

This is NOT a duck stamp entry but is from a series of decoy portraits that I’ve been creating as a personal project. The artwork is in watercolor and watercolor gouache applied using an airbrush and traditional brushes on Ampersand Claybord.


Of course, conservation art is so much more than just duck stamps. As was mentioned earlier, conservation art is any art used to raise funds for the preservation of all that is wild and can be rendered in oil, watercolor, colored pencil or graphite, or it can be sculptures in wood or stone or metal, and so on. Oh! And other labels apply to conservation art as well such as art for conservation, environmental art and art for sustainability, although fair warning here, some of these labels, in particular, environmental art can have other meanings too (in this case, environmental art is sometimes applied to outdoor sculpture that poses no harm to the environment). But, it really doesn’t matter what label you apply here or what medium you choose to work in. What is important is that the purpose of the art be for the preservation of planet earth and all of the life that call this planet home!


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Sometimes, it takes the observations of a special visitor to open our own eyes to what is so special about where we live. I mean, sure, as New Englanders, we know that we have some of the most beautiful coast line in the United States. And, we are especially noted for our splashy autumn foliage displays! But, who would’ve thought to be so enthralled over our cemeteries, or our recent display of various mushrooms, or our small but curious critters, and so on?!

If you want to see through the eyes of that special visitor, an Oklahoman who calls her blog “Drawing The Motmot,” then you must read a New England Love Letter, part 1 and part 2!

Thank you, Motmot, and please come back soon!

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This was a favorite morning walking place back in the early 80s for myself, my dog (the one on the left) and a neighbor’s dog.

But sadly, for me at least, this is what that walking place looks like today, some twenty-five years later.

Yes, I could just cry! 😥

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For quite some time now, I’ve been trying to get my mother (Gertrude) to share this blog with me. She is, after all, a nature lover just as I am. But, she is also an artist and illustrator with accomplishments that far exceed my own. She has been my art teacher and she is my most trusted artistic adviser as much as I would hope she considers me to be her most trusted artistic adviser. Most important, however, is that she has been and will always be my best friend and life confidante.

But, while we share much in the way of art, we also have many, many differences. Choice of foods comes to mind; my mother loves sweets and feels that I want everything with tomatoes. Choice of reading matter is another difference; she likes mysteries and crime novels, I prefer biographies and autobiographies. Which brings me to one of our biggest differences, that is, I also enjoy writing and she does not.

Okay then, in the eyes of some this may seem to be an insurmountable obstacle! Well, not so for my mother and myself. You see, we have always worked well together, using each other’s strengths to work as a team. Thus, here’s the deal we’ve made … from time to time, I will be posting some of her art with a little bit about the piece such as her motivation, the challenges in achieving the look she wanted, and so on. In other words, she will provide the images (her art) and I will do the writing. This is how we will “sort of” share this blog! 😀

An Introductory Piece

Oil is, perhaps, Gertrude’s favorite medium. So, what better way to introduce her artwork here than with this 24″ by 24″ oil on linen canvas titled Patriots!

Gertrude does pet portraits on commission, but, after seeing a photograph of this pair of golden retrievers in a local newspaper, she decided that this would be a project that she’d like to do just for fun. The dogs belong to a couple that used to live near the beginning of our street and they took the photo while hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Gertrude contacted them to ask for permission to paint their dog’s portrait and to ask if a color image was available. The dog’s owners were thrilled and gladly mailed a copy of the original color photograph.

At first, Gertrude had planned to simply paint the dog’s portraits just as they appeared in that photograph, however, trying to create a feeling of “depth” (from the mountains in the background) proved troublesome. No matter what she tried, the background just seemed to interfere, taking attention away from the dogs. Putting the painting away for a while helped and finally, Gertrude came up with the idea of creating a kind of “portrait photographer’s backdrop” approach. In this way, the background does not interfere, the dogs become the focus of attention and the viewer is able to concentrate on the dog’s expressions.

Well, there you have it, my mother’s first entry to our blog! So, … what do you think?

I know that I’m impressed with my mother’s artistic abilities, but, just as important, I can’t say enough just how thrilled I am to FINALLY be sharing this blog with her, even if it is just “sort of!”

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