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Vermont

Art in Nature

Nancy Howe - a self-taught fine artist who first became known in the art world for her stunning depictions of birds and wildlife – has been an active trustee for The Nature Conservancy’s Vermont Chapter (TNC) since 2005. In 2011, Nancy led the chapter in a statewide art show which showcased local artists works that were inspired by nature. In addition to lending her expertise Nancy also produced a piece for the show entitled “Of a Secret Nature”.

"Spending time in nature has this effect of creating a physical and emotional sense of well-being. It helps you feel more connected to everything." Nancy Howe

TNC:

Your submission to Art in Nature is a magnificent painting of a bobcat set in a TNC preserve -- Raven Ridge. Can you share why you chose this particular place and image?

Nancy Howe:

Being a new preserve and having not been there before, I wanted to explore it. I had heard that it was a bobcat den area and I had been wanting to paint a bobcat for 15 years. I was simply waiting for inspiration.

We had a field trip there and I was struck by the dynamic compositional opportunities of the rock formation. So I went back – this time I went crawling around in the underbrush. It was the end of April - moss was greening up and I happened upon the perfect place. You can walk by an area of rock a hundred times and see nothing special – and then one day the light hits it in all the right places. I was looking for the perfect configuration of rocks to put the bobcat in because I knew I wouldn’t actually see one there. Normally I would want to put an animal that beautiful in the sunlight, but putting it in the shadows was more realistic. Bobcats hide and people have a hard time spotting them. It was hard for me to find the restraint to paint it that way. When you first look at the painting you do not see it right away. Hence the title – Of a Secret Nature.

TNC:

How did you choose nature as a focus for your work?

Nancy Howe:

It’s interesting because a friend of mine who knew I loved wandering around in marshes and being outdoors said I should enter stamp competitions. I tried for 13 years before winning the Duck Federation stamp in 1990. It turned out to be the perfect thing for me because it dovetailed my interest in nature, birds, and wildlife with what I do best. It’s what got me painting full time. The part that was really the most fun for me was researching the birds and learning about their habitat. I would go out and get leaves, branches, and moss and bring them back to the studio. It was even more fun than painting.

TNC:

Did you spend a lot of time in nature as a child?

Nancy Howe:

I practically lived outdoors as a child. My older sister and I were always building forts in the woods and exploring in marshes . The biggest turn on as a kid was to go hunting for frogs, turtles and salamanders.

TNC:

What role do you think spending time in nature plays in art?

Nancy Howe:

Spending time in nature has this effect of creating a physical and emotional sense of well-being. It helps you feel more connected to everything. When you are in nature you have a greater connection to spirit. Think about it - inspiration means “in spirit”. That sense of peace and well-being that you get from being in nature is really important because that comes through in your work. Whatever is going on internally - the artist is expressing externally. I hardly ever go to work without having gone for a walk in the woods first.

TNC:

What role can art play in the appreciation and conservation of nature?

Nancy Howe:

When I’m out for a walk, I am always looking in a different way because I’m looking for ideas. I look at things more closely and it makes me appreciate my environment in a completely different way than if I wasn’t an artist. Painting creates a greater emotional connection to your subject, whether it’s a face, a landscape or a tree. By painting it – you become intimate with it. You develop a greater appreciation or knowledge than if you weren’t rendering it artistically. Not everyone is an artist but if people could practice what an artist does and develop that skill of observing you can’t help but develop an appreciation for nature- feel like you belong to it and want to take care of it.


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