When and where were you when you first began painting nature?
I was drawing and painting nature before I could walk. My mom was a writer at the Illinois State Museum, a big natural history institution. She published 20 books, mostly on nature to a national audience, wrote over 300 issues of a magazine she started and also wrote for Audubon and Nature magazines. My dad was education curator at the same place with a Master's in both English and Ecology, a very rare thing in those days. I traveled extensively with Virginia as she researched her writings. We were personal friends with the likes of Rachel Carson and the other big environmentalists of the day and I saw my first whale at Carson's home in Maine. Mom traveled over 5,000 miles on Midwestern river boats and I was with her often. All this is to say I was trained to travel early.
You travel all over painting natural history and landscapes. What were some of your favorite places to paint and why?
I sailed my own boat to Alaska, painted all along the way and mailed those paintings back to my gallery in northern CA, a little town called Ferndale. My staff sold them all before I could return and I never saw any framed - but the trip was a grand experience. We also sailed to Baja and Sea of Cortez and the nature there was like the U.S. must have had a century ago. It was a most memorable trip. As far as my painting experiences, my 124-foot long mural at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin remains the biggest for me. This is the place where John Muir grew up, as well as the founder of the Wilderness Society. To have my work there seemed meaningful. Painting murals at Mt Rainier, Yosemite, Mojave, several parks in Alaska and elsewhere has kept me enthused about my work. Even today, I can't wait to get up each day and paint - and travel to places I don't know well. I hope this never ends!
When and how did your partnership with the Salmon Coalition begin?
I was one of the original Soul Salmon painters back almost 20 years ago. My painted salmon was sponsored by Jefferson County Parks and Rec. While other Port Townsend artists painted fanciful things like glued glass on the fish, I couldn't imagine anything more beautiful than a real spawning fish.
You illustrate both largescale art installations and public informational pieces about native wildlife, nature and habitat restoration. Why do you choose to do the art that you do and what is your favorite form?
I still show in galleries, but here's the thing: a client buys a painting, they take it home, maybe 10 people notice it each year. My painting at Rainier gets 500,000 viewers a year. The one at Yosemite gets over a million. I think using art to show people nature is high on the list of great ways to use art. It educates viewers to see what they either can't see for themselves, or shows what they might not understand. If it saves one duck from a shotgun blast, I've succeeded.
What has been your favorite Salmon Coalition project to illustrate so far and why?
I think the current two paintings for the Discovery Bay restoration are truly fun. Painting for the NPS or Fish and Wildlife often means accuracy and tightly confined realism. These two new paintings are very loose and bend reality far beyond reality. They've been great fun and I think they work pretty well.
Do you plan to continue illustrating Salmon Coalition restoration sites?
I hope so. I love working with local restoration groups because they always have youth, vitality and passion for what they're doing. It's not just a job for them -and neither is my painting. I've never considered it art
work. It's art, and I've never done work!
Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
I thought you'd enjoy knowing about my other current project. We all remember the militant occupation last winter of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. The refuge is still closed as they repair damage, but the real damage occurred to the community cohesiveness of the Friends groups, the stopping of their environmental restoration programs and the fragmentation of community friendships made worse when the militia were found not-guilty. It was all inexcusable, I mean, nature is already batting last by all measures.
I was recently awarded the contract by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rebuild the visitor center with all new exhibits, make over 50 new outdoor wayside exhibits, both using as much of my art as possible. Over 150 routing signs and directional signs were shot up, so I'm replacing those too. It gives me great pride to be a part of this, and if there ever was a grand use of environmental art, this is it.
Wow! Truly amazing. Thank you, Larry, and good luck!