Partnership with the National Aviary highlights bird species extinct in the wild

Art and handmade goods support conservation of the Guam Kingfisher.

Guam KingfisherPhoto by Jeff Whitlock

A few miles away from my home in land-locked Pennsylvania, two exotic tropical birds are unknowingly under a lot of pressure to get it on. The male and female Guam Kingfishers, who live at the National Aviary, are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan to repopulate the bird species in its native Micronesia. The bird was wiped out in the wild decades ago when, as legend has it, a ship wrecked off the coast of Guam and the hitchhiking Brown Tree Snake swam ashore (sorry about the nightmares I just gave you) where it wreaked ecological havoc. With no predators on the island, the invasive snake gorged itself on native birds and wildlife. Today, less than 150 of the birds are alive, all in captivity, including the pair here in Pittsburgh.

The National Aviary's Guam Kingfisher

This conservation story is what compelled me to pick the Guam Kingfisher as the subject of my latest two paintings, prints of said paintings, a scarf, and note cards for my part in the Aviary’s Maker Challenge. This new program is forging partnerships between local Pittsburgh artists and the Aviary to make handmade products featuring resident birds available in the Aviary’s gift store.

And so with a study skin of a Kingfisher in hand, I set out to visually tell this bird’s story. I decided to create two paintings, or portraits you could say – one of each sex to emphasize the importance of the pair. Of course, I had to include the Brown Tree Snake, a key character in this story, as well as several invasive plant species in Guam.

painting of a Guam Kingfisher in progress by Ashley Cecil

As with most of my paintings, I drew my subjects on craft paper and cut them out to find their perfect place on background patterns of the invasive plants.

painting of a Guam Kingfisher in progress by Ashley Cecil

After tracing the silhouette of the drawings, I filled them in with an acrylic underpainting.

painting of a Guam Kingfisher in progress by Ashley Cecil

And then carefully rendered the likeness of the flora and fauna in oil paint.

Female Guam Kingfisher on Red by Ashley Cecil

Here are the two finished 18″ x 24″artworks on paper.

Fabric featuring Guam Kingfishers by Ashley Cecil

But I rarely stop at finishing a painting, and this was no exception. I used the two images to digitally create a repeating pattern for a new scarf.

 Guam Kingfisher scarf by Ashley Cecil

All of the corresponding products will be sold at the Aviary’s gift store this August. Each item purchased by an Aviary visitors will support the their conservation work, including plans to reintroduce the Guam Kingfisher into the wild.

If physically visiting the Aviary isn’t in the cards for you, these items are also available on my shop. The original paintings are available direct from my studio – just shoot an email to ashley (at) ashleycecil (dot) com to get additional details.


Paper collage art for bird-safe windows

Paper collage workshop for bird-safe windows at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh by Ashley Cecil

I recently had the great honor of making Charley Harper-inspired paper collages with budding naturalists at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. But this wasn’t purely about crafting for the sake of creative expression; our creations were bona fide conservation tools. Yes, once laminated, the avian collages were hung on the outside of the artists’ windows to break up the reflection on glass that causes bird-window collisions (one of the leading causes of bird fatalities to the tune of up to one billion birds a year in the US alone).

The workshop came to be after the museum’s program manager learned about my work at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and asked if I would be interested in offering an art and science activity to their museum visitors. Not only did I enthusiastically say yes, I invited the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania to partake in the fun. They were on-site to take visitors out on mini birding walks and to show them how to log what they found on eBird

These kids blew me away. Not only was the activity a win for a surprisingly wide variety of ages, each and every one of them was incredibly focused on the task. I can honestly say I have never taught a workshop with such flawless success (hopefully I’m not jinxing future workshops).

Case in point, the collage above on the right was made by a girl maybe three years old. For those of you not familiar with the dexterity of toddlers, merely holding scissors at that age is a feat of great accomplishment.

And the adults were just as engaged. I think a few of them were using their kids as an excuse to get in on the action.

I’ll close with this little guy, who totally gets Charley Harper. Before I understood were he was going with his collage, I almost interjected and tried to offer help thinking he didn’t grasp the concept. Luckily, I kept my mouth shut and was wowed when I realized this kids knows what he’s doing with scissors and a glue stick.

If you’re interested in hosting such a workshop, get in touch via ashley (at) ashleycecil (dot) com.


New artist residency in science scheduled at Lacawac Sanctuary

My adventure of artist residencies in science is gaining momentum. Just a few days ago, I was accepted into Lacawac Sanctuary’s Parent Residency Program. That means I’ll be spending a week this summer at the nature preserve and biological field station making new artwork inspired by their “natural living laboratory for field-based research and education.”

Lacawac Sanctuary lake and woodsThe parent track of their artist residency program will allow my toddler and mother-in-law to come with me (a rare and greatly appreciated accommodation for an artist with a young family). While they enjoy the 545 acres along the shore of Lake Wallenpaupack, I will be focusing on new nature and science-inspired artwork.

Lacawac Sanctuary educational programmingWhat will make this an exceptional opportunity is meeting with scientists at Lacawac conducting research on topics including climate change. In particular, I look forward to learning about Lacawac’s multiple environmental monitoring systems that collect data on long-term changes in the lake’s water temperature, dissolved oxygen and algae levels, and more.

All of this data is shared worldwide, making Lacawac part of a Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network. The data has been used for tangible applications such as analyzing lake ecosystems following increasingly frequent hurricanes AND as inspiration for artists.

Lacawac lodging and weather stationAlthough I’m very much looking forward to the residency, my son might possibly be more excited about our week in this Northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. The kid loves all that nature has to offer – especially bugs and anything water-related. The experience will surely get Lacawac one step closer to its goal of “shaping the next generation of scientists and earth stewards.”


Now available: art for bird-safe windows

Big news! My artwork is available as bird-safe window films.

Have you ever been enjoying a cup of coffee while soaking up the sunshine pouring in from the window next to you when a bird, seemingly on a suicide mission, slams into the glass at full force? This is not a rare occurrence. Bird-window collisions are one of the leading causes of bird fatalities. Up to one billion birds die annually in the US alone from flying into reflective glass.

During my 2016 artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I learned a great deal about this problem, including how the loss in bird populations impacts us – birds aid in pest control, pollinate plants, disperse seeds, and more.

This problem can be prevented by installing bird-safe windows or window films that break up the reflection on glass that’s fatal to these creatures. But here’s the rub, in my personal opinion, most of the products currently available on the market are quite frankly not that attractive. One particular variety, vertical stripes, is effective but also will make your windows resemble a jail cell. Nothing I’m aware of offers much aesthetic value. However, as of yesterday, that’s no longer the case.

I’ve shared my pattern featuring six species of high-risk birds with Decorative Films, a company already in the bird-safety window film business. They’ve fabricated the pattern into two varieties of window films – one is a subtle design of a transparent soft gray where the negative space of the pattern is clear film for minimal obstruction of your view; the other is in full color for privacy and maximum window pizazz (click the photos below to be taken to the corresponding product).

I can’t wait to see these installed in homes and commercial buildings. If you’re a Pittsburgh customer, I hope you’ll consider getting in touch with me at ashley (at) ashleycecil (dot) com so I can connect you with the BirdSafe Pittsburgh coordinator – they’re looking for building owners willing to offer their home or commercial property for bird-window collision monitoring before and after the films are installed.

Please share your thoughts on the films and share the films with friends!

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil


Collaboration with Knotzland: my patterns on eco-friendly bow ties

If you’ve ever wished I offered more masculine goods, today is your today.

Ashley Cecil Knotzland bow ties

I’ve partnered with Nisha Blackwell, the founding rockstar of Knotzland, to put my nature-themed patterns on her artisan bow ties for both dapper guys and fashion-forward gals.

Sketches by Ashley Cecil for bow ties patterns

The idea was hatched at my studio while Nisha and I brainstormed conservation-centric design and fashion for this upcoming Earth Day (April 22). Later, I made drawings for two new textile designs – a botanical pattern of plants found in Pennsylvania, and a pattern of African Penguins (the beloved residents of the nearby National Aviary and also an endangered species).

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil collaborates with Knotzland Bow Ties

This limited edition of neckwear is more than handmade and handsome – it’s also extra eco-friendly. Nisha and I saw our collaboration as a perfect opportunity to involve two other Pittsburgh companies to deepen this Earth Day story of environmentally-friendly goods created by independent makers. First, we reached out to Thread International, the East Liberty-based textile company manufacturing fabrics from post-consumer plastics sourced in Haiti and Honduras. Thread provided the necessary yardage for the edition of 12 bow ties (six of each pattern). The final partner, Modesto Studios, a Wilkinsburg-based print shop, silk-screened my designs onto the fabric. The last hands to craft the neckwear were Knotzland stitchers, Pittsburgh residents often apprentices in training on their way to launching their own textile businesses.

The small batch of bow ties are now available online, just in time for you to snag one and sport it at the many upcoming Earth Day events near you.


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.

ashleycecil-aswp

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?


Upcoming events, art and handmade goods from an artist residency in natural history

The election week was tough, to say the least. What’s an artist to do? Keep making work that connects people to nature and to science that demonstrates the need for environmental stewardship, because there’s never been a more pressing time to give our attention to findings that institutions such as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History are revealing about the health of our planet.

Since July, I’ve been making original artwork and related products inspired by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where I’m working as an artist-in-residence. At two upcoming events, that work will be on public view and available for purchase. If you’re in Pittsburgh, I’ve got my fingers crossed that you can join me at both. If you’re elsewhere, links are included to connect you remotely.

And with that, here are the details…


boxheartshow-headerEXHIBITION OPENING: EMERGENT PATTERNS
Nov. 19, 5 – 8PM, Boxheart Gallery (4523 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224)
Join me for this public reception featuring original artworks resulting from my residency. My work will be exhibited alongside paintings by fellow nature artists Augustina Droze and Deirdre Murphy. Not in Pittsburgh? Send an email to request images and details of the artworks.

 

ha-header-v2HANDMADE ARCADE
Dec. 3, 11AM – 7PM, David Lawrence Convention Center
At this internationally renowned arts and craft show of 150+ makers, four local artists and I will be launching our BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired products, varying from an infinity scarf to blown glass jewelry. Purchasing these products helps us to financially support the museum’s bird conservation efforts. Buy your favorite individual items from each artist, or buy the entire set of seven products prior to Handmade Arcade and pick them up at the event. Not in Pittsburgh? My products are available online now. The other artists will also be selling their creations directly on their websites in the coming weeks. Visit Broken Plates, KloRebel, Strawberryluna and WorkerBird.

The grand idea of all of this that the artwork will:

  1. Endear people to creatures impacted by urbanization,
  2. Financially support conservation research, and
  3. Get folks directly involved in citizen science programs (like NestWatch and BirdSafe Pittsburgh).

And because this is just the beginning, I would love to hear your thoughts on how art can enhance and support science. How am I doing and how could this be better?


Art for Ocean Conservancy, Chancery Court Hotel


7.5″x11″ ink on paper
Email ashley.cecil@gmail.com for purchase inquiries


Art for Ocean Conservancy, Tulips From Pat

Tulips-from-Pat-2010

12″x16″oil on canvas
Email ashley.cecil@gmail.com for purchase inquiries


Art for Ocean Conservancy, Orangery at Kew Gardens

orangery-at-kew-gardens-march-1-10.jpg
Orangery at Kew Gardens
7.5″x11″ ink on paper
Email ashley.cecil@gmail.com for purchase inquiries


Art for Ocean Conservancy, Kenwood House Coffee Cafe

Kenwood-House-Cafe-July-2010-small

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


Art for Ocean Conservancy, Whitechapel Gallery Cafe

Whitechapel Gallery
7.5″x11″ ink on paper
Email ashley.cecil@gmail.com for purchase inquiries

Now through the end of August I will be donating 10% of art sales to Ocean Conservancy, which “has assembled a rapid response and recovery team to address the human and environmental needs in the aftermath of the [Gulf Coast oil] spill.”   With an estimated 5,000 barrels/210,000 gallons of oil leaking into the ocean daily, we greatly need the expertise of such organizations.   You can also directly support their work here.


Supporting wildlife conservation

birds-of-paradise-500x299
36″ x 60″ oil on canvas
SOLD

For 114 years, the Wildlife Conversation Society has endeavored to preserve wildlife and wildlife habitats around the world through science, wildlife park management, environmental conservation and education.

Their earliest accomplishment was helping the American bison population recoup in the Western Plains.   Today, they manage about 500 conservation projects in over 60 countries and more than 200 million acres of protected lands around the world, employing more than 200 scientists.   WCS also manages the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, which includes five New York City “living institutions.” These parks reach 4 million visitors each year and assist in educating millions of schoolchildren in science and conservation issues.

The WCS website is equipped with templates for wildlife supporters to use in writing their congressman/woman about conservation issues.   You can also donate online to support their “commitment to protect 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity.”   That’s no small undertaking, for which I’m certain your contribution is greatly appreciated.

Ps- Take a look at another animal welfare group, Paw-Talk, that graciously republished this post.   Thanks for helping to spread the word.


the ‘Ville gets green(er)

Louisville city skyline
2′ x 4′ oil on canvas
SOLD
See all artwork available for sale.

By guest writer, Mark Appleberry, of Sustain (a business dedicated to providing the resources necessary for families and individuals to live more sustainably).

“Green living can mean so many different things. It can start with buying the first re-usable shopping bag, switching to toxic free cleaning, buying from local farmers, or even giving second life to an object instead of buying new.   It starts with small decisions that can have significant impacts on the future.   Everyone we meet that is making steps towards sustainability is an inspiration.   We would like to acknowledge a few our friends, right here in Louisville, who are making great strides forward and inspiring hope along the way.

Ben and Julie Evans – The aspiring filmmaking team, along with another friend, Mark Dixon, are the creative genius behind “Your Environmental Road Trip [YERT],” www.yert.com.   These three took a year to visit all 50 states, putting themselves through extreme eco-challenges, interviewing over 800 environmental leaders, experts, and regular citizens from all walks of life, and documenting sustainability across America – as they like to say, “the good, the bad…and the weird.”   The documentary is pregnant with hope, laughter, and over 500 hours of “green” footage.   It is slated for release in full at the end of this year.   For now, satiate your curiosity with over 50 short fun films on their webpage.   For anyone interested in helping with the feature film, contact Ben at ben@yert.com.

Paul Schellenberger – An 18 year veteran of vermicomposting (worm farming), Paul is a passionate environmentalist excited about educating people about worm farming and composting in general.   Paul consulted from the outset with Breaking New Grounds, a local Louisville vermiculture operation.   You can find BNG’s compost at local Heine Brother’s Coffee shops.

John W. Moody – John is enabling sustainable living by connecting people with local farmers.   His involvement with the Whole Life Co-op., as well as his educational seminars, convey the message of “simple living”.   John regularly speaks on composting and encouraging people to think before carelessly buying, consuming, and discarding.   He and his wife also speak to young parents about raising happy, healthy children.   You can learn more about what John is doing by exploring www.wholelifeco-op.com

Green Convene – The Green Convene is non-partisan coalition to promote sustainable policies in local government.   Led by an informal steering committee of local volunteers, the Green Convene is working to coordinate and bring together the many local Louisville movements addressing a variety of sustainability issues in the Louisville Metro area.   They are always in the market for volunteers and participants and you can join here.

These are just a few of the great people and organizations in and around Louisville dedicated to helping Louisville become a greener, environmentally friendly community and we’re proud of their efforts!”

Thank you Mark!   I’ll add to that list the Green Building, Ohio Valley Creative Energy, and BrightSide (supported in part by Gallopalooza), all of which are highly worthy of your clicks.