Wildlife art: portraits of an untamed country
An exhibit on North American wildlife art inspires passion and informs science.
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Artist Harty, best known as a mural painter in his native Canada, was handed an artistic assignment that is exceedingly uncommon in the modern world. By being a modern "expedition painter," he now shares company with some of the greatest artistic visionaries who ever ventured West – people such as George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, and Albert Bierstadt, who have works in the world's finest museums.Skip to next paragraph
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A perfect illustration of the vital role painters have played in safeguarding the Wild West was Thomas Moran. In 1871, he accompanied scientists who were surveying a strange wonderland. A year later, his re-creations on canvas of canyons, cascading waterfalls, and ocher rock helped persuade Congress to set aside Yellowstone as the world's first national park.
"Dwayne was selected for this modern mission because we knew his work would serve as a perfect complement to the historic paintings that are in the exhibition," says Locke.
Harty painted wolves on Ted Turner's Flying D Ranch in Montana, bison in Yellowstone, and mountain goats in Canada's remote Nahanni National Park in the Northwest Territories. He even featured the lowly pika, the alpine-dwelling rodent whose habitat is threatened by warming temperatures.
One paragon who served as a pathfinder for Harty was Carl Rungius (1869-1959), widely considered the greatest painter of North American mammals. He began his career out west in the Wind River Mountains in the 1890s at the southern extension of the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor and then, for the remainder of his life, devoted himself to portraying wildlife in the Canadian Rockies.
"It felt like I was going back in time, finding the old trails of Rungius," Harty says. "It was both humbling and daunting. I think what surprised me most is how wild the country still is."
Nearly two decades ago, Locke, who hails from the Canadian province of Alberta, helped found the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative aimed at rallying people from all walks of life to safeguard the region's biological diversity.