U.S. Postal Service Debuts Grand Canyon Stamp

kgjerdset:

This is share worthy! Landscape artists on U.S. Postage stamps including one of my personal favorites – Thomas Moran.

Originally posted on Arizona Highways:

Courtesy of U.S. Postal Service

Courtesy of U.S. Postal Service

If you’re looking for a reason to send something via U.S. mail, look no further: A new book of stamps from the U.S. Postal Service features paintings from the Hudson River School art movement, including Thomas Moran’s Grand Canyon.

The “forever” stamps, available in books of 20, are the 12th installment in the USPS’ American Treasures series. The other three stamp designs are Thomas Cole’s Distant View of Niagara Falls, Asher B. Durand’s Summer Afternoon and Frederic Edwin Church’s Sunset.

Of Moran’s painting, the USPS had this to say in a news release:

Thomas Moran is represented by the 1912 painting Grand Canyon, from the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. The painting embodies Moran’s ability to convey scenes that are both idealized, but also recognizable to people who have seen the actual landscape themselves. “My aim,” Moran said…

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The Mystery of the Beetle and the Ant

staghorn and ant 1600 size

While volunteering for the Great Basin National Park BioBlitz of Lepidoptera this past July, I came across a large reddish brown beetle sitting by the trail. When I picked the animal up, I realized it was dead (or so I thought – more about that in a minute). Attached to the back leg was a dead ant, which had clearly bit it. I admired the color and large size of the beetle (about 2” in length at least) but I wondered what kind of species and what had happened that both should have passed away. Perhaps the ant’s bite poisoned the beetle and/or vice versa? Had the two been sprayed by a repellant or poison from a passing hiker? Fortunately, Ken, a National Park Service volunteer and expert in all things natural history (including “bunnies” according to his business card. Ken had a sense of humor I could tell when I noted this detail, as he smiled), was able to explain.

The beetle was a Stag Horn Beetle and she was a female, as she had an ovipositor extending from her bag end (the ovipositor from which eggs are released). She had most likely been climbing trees to lay eggs amidst the trunk. Her rounding belly was clue to this as well. This type of beetle, I was told, typically lays about 100 eggs, each individually, each in its own hole the mother has drilled in the bark of the tree. We could see as we looked at the trees, various holes in its surface. While this mother has been making safe havens for her young, a carpenter ant protecting the tree had attacked her. Often older carpenter ants are given this task since their strength and usefulness has lessened. Its good size indicated it was an older animal. The ant never let go once it latched onto this mom, so during the beetle’s arduous task, the ant was dragged along, then perished due to its weaker state.

Ken indicated the beetle was still in the process of dying, as she was quite soft yet, but she was very close to the end. He said this was the way it worked. Once she had finished laying eggs, her life ends. I decided to pay homage to her and the ant, in the short time that I had by painting a watercolor sketch. I then returned her and the ant to where I had found them, amidst some grasses along the trail.

Here’s an image of the initial sketch and animals:

staghorn with iniitial sketch

The final painting and showing her underside:

staghorn with belly and painting

As always, your respect is appreciated. Please do not reproduce without my permission, as they are my original works. Thank you!

Damsels and Dragons and Drawing

powder blue on rock

I have often seen many Odonata species without taking the time to look closely. Today I did however (actually, I was not familiar with the word Odonata until a couple months ago when I took a workshop. They are the damselflies and dragonflies). With an ecologist and experienced naturalists at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I walked along for a survey of these long bodied flyers.

meadowlark female

Admittedly, I have thought of them as very simple looking creatures but after seeing them up close with magnifiers, held carefully in hand, that idea changed. Their colors can be brilliant. Their head and legs are covered with what appear to be spikes. Their bodies are divided by segments, indicated by indentations and color. Their eyes revolve around with thought and purpose. And the wings are an entirely complex arrangement of line and pattern. I learned each individual Odonata has its own wing design. I guess one could compare it to our fingerprints. We each have our own identifying marks. So when I think of the probably millions, perhaps trillions of these animals, that live on this planet and will continue to be born, that is quite astounding. The depth of what God has created is quite intense. 

ruby meadowlark

I was compelled to sketch them the more I saw them. I did not expect to get as much information as I did. It helped that they were controlled to a degree, as they were delicately held. They also spent more time sunning themselves and repeating body positions than I expected. Above and below are some of my quick observations. As you can see, there was no time for capturing wing details. They did not spend that much time staying in one place! Each study represents about 1-3 minutes of drawing, if not a few seconds for some. It was a joy regardless. These sketches represent good memories of briefly becoming part of another animal’s world.

damselfly 1

Thanks to Jenn at the Urban Ecology Center and all the enthusiastic individuals I shared the trails with today to discover them! 

damselfly 2 damselfly 3 damselfly identified female slender spread wing

The images are original and my own so please ask for permission to reproduce. The respect is appreciated from one creative individual to another. 

Mountain Monday…and a mountain of a turtle

 

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Taken from Bierstadt Trail in May 2010 in Rocky Mountain National Park. The sun was positively brilliant. It was a perfect day for hiking…so where does a mountain of a turtle come in?  Today while walking my dog in Wisconsin, I came upon a young girl watching over a very large snapping turtle. I was told a nearby neighbor had found the animal in his yard, then promptly dumped it out of a wheelbarrow onto a service road in the area, as he is not fond of animals.  The girl and her mom had become concerned and called the WI Humane Society Wildlife Rehab Center about what to do.

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This time of year, female turtles leave the water for dry land to dig and bury eggs, which is what this snapper was up to. Nothing needs to be done for them…except letting them do their thing. But it is kind to take them off the road if you see one, as many are hit and killed making their way across roads. Do be careful, however, if it is a snapper, as they can be quick and are certainly capable of taking off fingers. Do not move them far away at all from where you found them, as they have their territory and will be lost, if they are moved to a completely new area.  They will not be interested in eating, as the kind mom and daughter thought here, providing her with greens and apple. The female turtle will be focused on her mission.

She was a beautiful creature –  her skin complex with bumps and lines, and a tail that resembled a dragon’s. And she was big. Not a mountain but at least 14 inches in length. Given her size, she has been living on this earth for awhile. I hope she is around for many years to come.

Zoo Theater Mural (and a Raccoon Story) – Milwaukee County Zoo

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My painting went big last week – 26 feet long by 12 feet high big!  I was commissioned to add clouds and grasses to the new Zoo Society’s Kohl’s Wild Theatre stage at the Milwaukee County Zoo. It was a bit strange not to include animals but the stage will be filled with birds of prey flying and actors teaching conservation through enthusiastic productions each summer day. My mural is thus meant to be a simple, complementary backdrop.

This was the stage prior to painting:

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The first step was chalking in white the grasses, then beginning the process of layering greens.

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Below is a detail of the grasses in process. Outdoor house paint was my media, sturdy enough to last through weather conditions of all types. Painting outside was not always conducive. Temperatures ranged from quite cool (40 degrees F) to warm (close to 80 a couple times). In both cases, the paint became thick, making blending challenging.

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Despite the physical and technical demands, the zoo served as a very special studio. Lions roared and elephants trumpeted from time to time. One evening included a drama. I could hear a type of screeching. At first, I thought it was a bird, perhaps an owl who had caught prey. The cry was insistent and heart wrenching. I walked to the hippo enclosure, just outside the theater, where the call was originating. A baby raccoon had fallen into it. Mom and her other young looked down at the panicking little creature. Thankfully, the hippos were inside for the night, as the zoo was closed. The baby tried climbing up the rocky walls but slipped down again and again. I thought I was going to have to call zoo staff to get him out. I prayed persistently that God would help him up. Finally, after much running back and forth, on a third attempt, he made it to the top. Mom greeted him then groomed his head. What happened next was most unexpected. Mom and the young one turned to look at me. Then the rest of the family gathered around her to stare. It was a perfect circle of bandit faces. I wish I would have had my camera.

It’s hard to say what is going on in animal’s minds, if not impossible, but they were aware of my presence and appeared to acknowledge it. I told them to be careful and said a thank you prayer to God it ended well. Quietly, the family turned and disappeared into the darkness. That was not the type of experience an artist has in the studio, which is why it is good to get outside and paint.