An artist-in-residence paints a picture of nature conservation

With each day that passes with the new leader at the helm of the United States, I grow more fearful of what lies ahead for my child and for many others. The alarming statements, executive orders, and appointments have cast a wide net that leaves almost no American unaffected. Some days the breadth of challenges seem too immense to tackle. Then, the words of Wendell Berry shake me out of our my stupor:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

The issue that I’ve been the most absorbed by over the past year is climate change, which is also regrettably out of favor with the new administration. Because the threat of climate change is so pervasive, urgent, and increasingly politicized, it requires support from people of all professions – scientists to philosophers, educators to entrepreneurs, policy makers to painters. It’s personally given me fresh direction and purpose in my work. And now, with my six-month artist residency at a top-five natural history museum completed, I have outcomes to share that demonstrate that artists and scientists belong side-by-side to tell the story of our impact on this planet and to make a call to action.

Artist-in-residence Ashley Cecil's workspace at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Caption: My workspace at the museum.

In my personal experience, scientists’ hard work is often buried in paid subscription publications and are only decipherable to their peers anyway. What a missed opportunity. If the research was easy to access and understand, you might care about integrative taxonomy, bird phenology, and the Anthropecene. It might even change your behavior (to your great benefit). The missed opportunity is what shaped the mission of my artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH), which was to make dense science relatable to a broad audience to pique curiosity about nature and foster environmental stewardship.

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil holding bird specimens. During my residency, I spent more than 500 hours digging through thousands of specimens and creating artwork that painted a picture of nature conservation. One of the topics I quickly gravitated toward was bird conservation and the museum’s work at Powdermill Avian Research Center in partnership with BirdSafe Pittsburgh. Together these entities “work to research and reduce bird mortality in the Steel City” (it’s estimated that up to one billion birds die in the US every year from colliding with windows).

Mixed media paintings of a Magnolia Warbler and Common Yellowthroat by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil 2016 I created and exhibited six mixed-media paintings that each captures a local bird species heavily impacted by window collisions (details and prices for these works are available here). Each portrait is framed by a silk-screened design of both Mountain Laurel (PA’s state flower) and the iconic Pennsylvania keystone symbol. Below the paintings are replicas of the museum’s specimen tags – one for each bird of the same species added to the museum’s collection due to a window strike since 2014.

Ashley_Cecil_bird_conservation_painting_with_specimen_tag Akin to artworks from the Arts and Crafts movement, my paintings are meant to endear you to nature, to these threatened creatures, and to inspire you to get involved with BirdSafe Pittsburgh’s local citizen scientist program or a national program.

Students participating in one of Ashley Cecil's art and science workshops Caption: Students in one of the three art and science workshops I facilitated during CMNH summer camps.

Clearly, producing the original artwork was a big part of my residency, but I was also: 1. Teaching art and science workshops to museum summer camp students;

Carnegie Museum of Natural History visitors color in a mural by Ashley Cecil 2. Designing and installing within the museum a coloring mural illustrating birds of conservation concern for thousands of visitors to collaboratively fill in;

Scarf and coloring poster 3. Putting birds, botany, and science on products that spread the love of nature to wardrobes and kids crafts rooms alike;

Sample handmade products Caption: Details of four handmade products inspired by bird conservation and made by fellow Pittsburgh artists.

4. Organizing four other local artists to launch additional hand-crafted items that promote an appreciation for nature;

Ashley Cecil draws and writes on the glass of taxidermy cases in Bird Hall at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Caption: My drawing of a Red-cockaded Woodpecker and a quote by Joel Sartore – “Conjuring a world without birds is a thing I don’t dare imagine, like the death of a child. Their fate is our own.”

5. Merging words of some of history’s most inspiring writers and poets with my avian drawings on the glass cases of Bird Hall;

Sketchbook studies of nursing mammals Caption: Sketchbook studies of nursing mammals.

6. Uniting furry mothers with human mothers with a wallpaper of nursing mammals for the museum’s breastfeeding area (this will be installed in time for Mother’s Day 2017);

Ashley Cecil holds a bird specimen over a bird-safe window film sample Caption: A sample window film.

7. Contemplating how my artwork could be translated into patterns for window films to prevent birds from flying into glass;

Four Pittsburgh artist meet with Ashley Cecil at the Carnegie Museum Caption: Fellow Pittsburgh artists, Kirsten Lowe-Rebel, Gillian Preston, and Allison Glancey met at the museum to learn about BirdSafe Pittsburgh.

8. Hosting visits with people of all industries and backgrounds to show them what comes of an artist being set loose in a natural history museum.

CMNH artist-in-residence Ashley Cecil is interviewed on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Caption: My interview on CBS’s Pittsburgh Today Live.

9. And finally, using my work to spread the word about the museum’s research and conservation efforts far and wide – Residency-related artworks and events were featured more than 20 times through online, print, TV, and radio media, including Carnegie Magazine, KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live, NextPittsburgh, Pittsburgh Magazine, the Post-Gazette, TechVibe Radio, and TribLive.

Scientists conducting field research Caption: CMNH scientists banding wild birds and collecting data.

This residency was a learning experience beyond my wildest imagination. My greater understanding of science and people’s enthusiasm for conservation and collaboration has solidified this direction in my work for the foreseeable future.

A child concentrates on coloring birds of conservation concern As scientists continue to make the Anthropocene a common concept, and the public gains access to more scientific research (for example, research funded by NASA is now available to all for free), I hope other creatives will be inspired to visualize it through their work. This, of course, will broaden our collective understanding of climate change, but it will also encourage people to connect with science and nature through art. Or better said by Oscar Wilde,

“No better way is there to learn to love Nature than to understand Art. It dignifies every flower of the field. And, the boy who sees the thing of beauty which a bird on the wing becomes when transferred to wood or canvas will probably not throw the customary stone.”


Vote to support art and citizen science workshops for urban youth

A small action on your part can have a big impact in Pittsburgh – vote with a like to support my collaboration with the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania to offer art and citizen science workshops to urban youth – Voting has closed.

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Good news! I’m joining forces with another outstanding nature conservation organization to offer art and science programming for youth this spring, and you can help make it happen. The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania and I are in the running for a “100 Days of US” grant through the Sprout Fund to support a series of workshops that fuse hands-on art activities with citizen science.

Watch our proposal video to learn more. Then, cast your vote today with a like in the upper righthand corner of the page – Voting has closed.

Your vote gets us one step closer to providing children with hands-on learning and direct interaction with nature to help them develop their own works of art that will tangibly be used as conservation tools in their own communities.

And, they’ll get to interact with live birds. You don’t want to rob a child of the opportunity of getting up close and personal with a live bird, do you?


Art for the birds

Wood Thrush painting Original artwork used to develop a textile pattern.

 

No really, this is about art that supports bird conservation.

About two months into my artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH), ideas for artwork that I would translate into a new infinity scarf AND a coloring poster got my wheels turning about other Pittsburgh artists who also might like to make natural science-inspired products. After all, why should I have all the fun?

bird conservation inspired textile pattern The finished textile pattern being printed on fabric for scarves.

 

Thank goodness it wasn’t one of those ideas that only makes sense in my head, validated by the fact that FOUR fantastic makers enthusiastically raised their hands to make new products visually related to a bird conservation program closely connected to CMNH – BirdSafe Pittsburgh.

In partnership with several local organizations, BirdSafe Pittsburgh is “working to research and reduce bird mortality in the Steel City.” What’s the problem? It’s estimated that up to one billion birds die each year in the US from colliding with windows, which is one of the leading causes of human-induced deaths among birds.

Yes, that’s utterly depressing, but I’m getting to the warm-fuzzy part. Between now and this year’s Handmade Arcade, the boss ladies listed below and I are in production mode making our goods, which will be launched at Handmade Arcade. These items, varying from blown-glass jewelry to a silk-screen print, will be available individually and as a complete set (if you can’t make it to Handmade Arcade, you will be able to order the individual products on our respective websites).

BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired coloring mural My BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired coloring poster.

 

Our put-a-bird-on-it-collaboration will help birds in two ways:

1) A portion of our sales will be donated to support the aforementioned conservation efforts. For example, our contribution will help pay to fly wild birds through a flight tunnel that tests the effectiveness of bird-friend window prototypes, and rehabilitation of stunned birds at a local wildlife center.

2) We’ll be signing interested shoppers up for the BirdSafe Pittsburgh citizen science program, which entails monitoring your home for window collisions and reporting your findings, and/or walking designated routes throughout Pittsburgh looking for birds that have collided with windows (dead birds are brought to the museum to be added to their collection; captured live birds can be taken to the Animal Rescue League’s wildlife center to be rehabilitated and released). If you’re so inclined, go ahead and sign up now. Here’s a national program and the Pittsburgh-specific one.

And with that, I’d like to introduce my creative cohorts making art for the birds with me (and tagging the process via #artforthebirds on the social interwebs):

WorkerBirdKim Fox of WorkerBird

 

strawberrylunaAllison Glancey of strawberryluna

 

KLoRebelKirsten Lowe-Rebel of KLoRebel

 

Broken PlatesGillan Preston of Broken Plates

 

It’s such an honor to work with these talented women and the BirdSafe Pittsburgh program coordinator, Matt Webb. There’s hardly a more blissful combination of things I love than art and ornithology. Ahhh!

Now, onto sewing scarves…


Art for the ArtFund, Back Way to Edinburgh’s High St

Painting of an Edinburgh alley to the high street, 2010
8″x10″ framed oil on board
Email ashley.cecil@gmail.com for purchase inquiries.


Art for the ArtFund, Wilting Tulips


16″x20″ oil on canvas
SOLD


Art for the ArtFund, Sunflowers from Adam


8″x10″ framed oil on board
Email ashley.cecil@gmail.com for purchase inquiries

I was at the Courtauld Gallery today to see “Cezanne’s Card Players” exhibition and visit one of my favorite pieces in the gallery’s permanent collection. I thought it was fitting to make the donation from the sale of this painting to the ArtFund, a registered UK charity and donor to the Courtauld. They,

“campaign,  fundraise and give money to museums and galleries to buy and show art, and promote its enjoyment through  our events and membership scheme.”

I hope to get involved with the ArtFund this year. What a perfect combination of my love for the visual arts and nonprofits!


“Louisville Counts!” benefiting Art Sparks

CH-final-small
24″x30″ oil on canvas
SOLD

While dropping  off  this portrait to my client (Gill Holland of  the Green Building)  I discovered a connection between the portrait and another project Gill has involved me in.   It turns out the children’s book I have been  asked to contribute another piece of artwork to is dedicated to the subject of this portrait, his daughter Cora.

Louisville Counts cover

The book, “Louisville Counts! A Children’s Counting & Art Book,” is a project that assembled 22 artists to create unique, child-friendly pieces of art to accompany 22 pieces of Louisville trivia. Each piece corresponds with a specific number, from 0-21, encouraging the reader to count their way through the book using everything from Muth’s Candies to baseball bats to Olmsted parks and even disco balls.

All 22 pieces  will be  on display September 4th – 25th at the Green Building Gallery and  sold in a silent auction  that runs for the duration  of the show. All proceeds from all sales of the book, as well as the gallery’s share of the sales of the corresponding artworks, go directly to Art Sparks Interactive Gallery, the children’s gallery at The Speed Art Museum.

Participating artists include: Chris Radtke, Nico Jorcino, Jacob Heustis, Cynthia Reynolds, Natasha Sud, Monica Mahoney, Gibbs Rounsavall, Bryce Hudson, Amanda Bishop, J.B. Wilson, McKinley Moore, Julius Friedman, Lloyd Kelly, Russel Hulsey, Billy Hertz, Letitia Quesenberry, Thea Lura, Sarah Lyon, Valerie Fuchs, Skylar Smith, and Stephen Irwin.

I’ll be at the opening reception on Friday, September 4th, which is a First Friday Trolley Hop (for you wine moochers out there).   I hope to see you there.


‘Women of Mass Construction,’ Hannah Lamppin


11″ x 14″ oil on masonite board.
Email me at ashley.cecil at gmail.com for purchasing inquiries.
A donation from sold painting will be made to the Women’s Second Chance Scholarship Fund.

Gallery caption:

Girl Scouting provides a place where today’s girls can become tomorrow’s leaders. Most girls join a local troop for fun and friendship, but they also find out about building character and self-esteem and serving their communities. In Girl Scouts, girls find a safe place to discover, connect, and take action.

Hannah has experienced the fun and games most of us associate with Girls Scouts, but the organization has also helped shape this shy young woman into budding, confident public speaker.   Her experiences with Girl Scouts have provided her with safe and supportive opportunities to tackle her Central Auditory Processing Disorder.   With encouragement and coaching from her troop leaders, Hannah’s language challenges have taken a backseat when she has given speeches across the country and even in Japan.

Hannah’s quote in the painting:

My world was certainly made a better place which has enabled me, by extension, to make the world a better place for others.   It was a very empowering feeling to think I what I said, or what I did, really mattered to these younger girls.


Quote for 4.7.09

From my inbox, in an ArtsKentucky enewsletter:

How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong.

The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers. – Isaac Asimov, The Roving Mind


‘Women of Mass Construction,’ Arla O’Neil


11″ x 14″’ oil on masonite board.
Email me at ashley.cecil at gmail.com for purchasing inquiries.
A donation from sold painting will be made to the Women’s Second Chance Scholarship Fund.

Gallery caption:

Because art nourishes the human spirit, the Louisville Visual Art Association enriches community life by educating people about the value and meaning of today’s visual arts and by championing artists and the creative process.

When Arla moved from Las Vegas with her mother in the 4th grade, she expected her school experience to be the same as it was in Neveda.   The transition was short of ideal, and Arla faced a rough adjustment to her new home.

Arla’s mother got her involved in the LVAA’s Children’s Free Art Classes to reconnect her with a familiar creative outlet, visual art.   Expressing her ideas on inviting sheets of empty white paper helped Arla gain control of her emotions, open up to others, and express herself creatively.

Arla’s quote in the painting:

We had just made a major move. It helped me learn to interact with others as well as to express myself. I would just forget what was going on in the crazy world or what made me angry, and create.


Art+Activism on BlogTalkRadio

This Thursday the 22nd, at 2pm EST, I’m being interviewed on BlogTalkRadio by the CEO of Path101, Charlie O’Donnell.   We’ll be talking about how I meshed my career as an artist with my work in the nonprofit sector, and how social media has aided the whole process.   I’d love love for you listen, and even better, call in with questions.

Looking forward to hearing some of your voices.


Painting their way through cancer

Gildas-Club-mural-project-6

Thanks to a grant from the Kentucky Arts Council, I had the honor of facilitating a community art project in September with a small group of women who are members of Gilda’s Club Louisville. The primary objective was to help the women create a large painting of their own design that illustrated their experience with cancer.

Gildas-Club-mural-project-3

Gildas-Club-mural-project-2

One of the first steps in the process was to visit several local galleries on a First Friday Trolley Hop. I especially wanted them to see the work of Joyce Garner (who is also a cancer survivor) at Garner Furnish Studio. Although her studio was packed with guests, Joyce was gracious enough to talk to us about her work and gave the women ideas for their own painting.

Gildas-Club-mural-sketch-3

Once the group had a finished sketch drawn to scale, I used tracing paper to put a grid over the sketch that corresponded to a larger grid penciled in on the canvas.

Gildas-Club-mural-sketch-2

Gildas-Club-mural-project-7

The grid helped us translate the drawing to its full size, and then we started painting. At this point, we were just a few sessions shy of a completed painting. But the project doesn’t end there.

Glidas-Club-mural-project-community-presentation

In a member recruitment and community outreach effort to raise awareness about services offered at Gilda’s Club, the finished painting traveled to several Louisville community centers. Each exhibit opened with a public unveiling of the artwork that set the stage for the Gilda’s Club participants to share their experience with the project, services offered by the organization, and their personal cancer stories. At the end of the traveling exhibit, the painting was permanently installed at Gilda’s at 633 Baxter Avenue to continually enrich the club’s environment for every member.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to help these wonderful Gilda’s Club members used their passion, emotion, and personal experiences to inform this powerful painting that will inspire future conversations about facing cancer. This project is just one example of a myriad of services offered by Gilda’s Club Louisville to individuals coping with cancer and to the people in their support network. I highly recommend it to anyone in either situation.


Call for Louisville artists

Yes, it’s merely November 08, but I’m already gearing up for next year’s Champions 4 Her.   The annual festival will take place on June 20th, 09 and my team of artists will be expanding by a few.

Champions 4 Her is an umbrella fundraiser for multiple local nonprofits that serve women and girls. The 08 walk/run festival raised over $162,000 and we pulled off a phenomenal series of vibrant street paintings that engaged community participants from each of the nonprofits benefiting from money raised.   The artwork was a tremendous attraction to the event, which wouldn’t have been possible without the professional artists who worked with each of the groups to design and create the street paintings.

I’m looking for a few more visual artists who are interested in participating as a street painting facilitator.   It entails meeting with the group you will be assigned to at their facilities for a series of sessions to collaboratively create a final design of what will go onto the pavement at Water Front Park the day of the event.   Each group will consist of some combination of clients of the organization, volunteers, and/or staff (few of whom will have any artistic experience).   This is not an opportunity for artists to showcase their own work.   The objective is to guide your group through the art-making process and give them creative license.

There are plenty more details, such as the stipend and so on.   If you are interested, or know someone how may be, please send me an email at ashley.cecil (at) gmail.com.


‘Women of Mass Construction,’ Whitten Montgomery


11″ x 14″’ oil on masonite board.
SOLD
A donation from sold painting will be made to the Women’s Second Chance Scholarship Fund.

Gallery caption:

Kids Acting Against Cancer (KAAC) raises money to help the fight against cancer primarily through ticket sales to youth musical performances.

Whitten, and her sister Jaclyn, founded KAAC out of their dream to help kids and their families suffering from cancer. Inspired by their mother, Sandy (an 11 year cancer survivor), their mission is to literally act to help find the cure. The girls, along with countless other children of all ages, have put on musical productions to raise money for the charity. In addition to entertaining, they have distributed backpacks and gift packs to sick children locally as well as made generous donations to several cancer charities.

Whitten’s quote in the painting:

I wanted to find a way to use acting to help my mom. It started as something to keep our minds of it. For the first performance 30 people came and paid $3 to see us perform ‘Annie’ in my basement. To date we’ve raised $250,000 (she’s 18 years old).


A phenomenally successful opening

I decided that since I was going to be on my feet all night at last Friday’s ‘Women of Mass Construction‘ opening, that I wouldn’t go to the gallery until 5pm on the dot. I was about 5 minutes late and expected to be one of the first people there. It turns out I had already missed some gallery guests and was greeted by a full house. It felt like a surprise party. Between 5 and 9pm, I think there was one 10 minute span where fewer than 3 people were in my section of the gallery.

Many of the portrait subjects were there with friends, family and staff members from their respective nonprofit organization. I wish I had had more time to introduce them, but the steady flow of traffic made it pretty difficult. Nonetheless, I feel like the women really appreciated that so many people came to see the artwork about them and their stories. Thanks to those of you who came to support us!

Events like this always draw some of my favorite people, like my high school photography teacher, Mr. (Dave) Runge (who apparently biked to the gallery). I love being surprised by who I see at my art related events. It’s like Christmas with human gifts.

If you missed us on Friday, the show will be up through August at Gallery NuLu. A percentage of portrait sales will be donated to the Women’s Second Chance College Scholarship Fund. Donations to the scholarship fund will also be collected during the exhibit. Bring a friend and check it out.