Wetlands in Murals

When I came across a press release for the newly-revealed Oaks Bottom Preserve Wetlands mural in Portland, Oregon, I started to think about wetlands and murals throughout history.

Murals are among the oldest art forms, dating back to prehistoric cave paintings and ancient hieroglyphs. Ancient Egyptians depicted images of life on the Nile, which included fishing, mingling with crocodiles, harvesting papyrus, rice and waterfowl, as seen in relief murals at Mastaba of Ptahhotep. Murals of ancient Rome, Greece, India, Mesopotamia date back 30,000 years. North American native art, also called rock painting, or petroglyphs, may have recorded spiritual rites or personal experiences, such as salmon fishing. For example, see Eel River petroglyphs (California State Parks): http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=23165

During the Great Depression, the federal government commissioned artists to paint murals in public places such as post offices and libraries as a way of improving morale as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA); images of working waterfronts or loggers, for example, were meant to inspire people to go back to work in the 1930s. At the post office in Kennebunkport, Maine, for example, artist Elizabeth Tracey painted a mural of nude women bathing at a beach in 1941; another Maine artist, Mildred G. Burrage, among other Maine residents, protested and had the mural removed. It was painted over replaced in 1944 with a mural of the waterfronthttp://www.wpamurals.com/Kennebun.htm In Wisconsin, James Watrous painted the “Lumberjack Fight on the Flambeau River” (1938)http://www.wpamurals.com/parkfall.htm At the Grants Pass, Oregon Post Office, two murals depicted life along the Rogue River (1938)http://www.wpamurals.com/GrantsPs.htm

Flash forward to murals of today, graffiti art on buildings in urban areas has been used by artists to promote certain ideas—political, local, social, propaganda. Murals in aquariums are often used to illustrate and educate visitors about marine, estuarine and other kinds of wetland habitats. In recent years elementary, middle and high schools have begun to encourage students to participate in painting murals in order to teach kids about wetlands and the environment. For example, Tulane University art students painted a wetland mural at an elementary school in Louisiana:http://tulane.edu/news/newwave/032609_mural.cfm These kids asked for it!

The Oaks Bottom Preserve Wetlands mural, a project of the Urban Greenspaces Institute, spans 50,000 square feet of the mausoleum’s west and south facing walls, making it the largest hand painted building mural in the U. S.. It was created by father/son team Mark and Shane Bennett in collaboration with local fine artist Dan Cohen. To see a time lapse video of the mural go to the Urban Greenspaces Institue website: http://www.urbangreenspaces.org/

Many artists throughout the world are commissioned to paint murals for private homes and art museums. Florida artist Sandra L. Priest (aka San) paints murals on many themes, with many that have an underwater, botanical and wetland motif, including Sandhill cranes:http://www.artbysan.com/murals/murals_
 Sandy Litchfield’s wetland-themed wall installations can be seen here: http://www.sandylitchfield.com/  Massachusetts-based Barbara Harmon paints saltmarsh-themed murals and recently did work for the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Visitor Center in Florida: http://www.harmon-murals.blogspot.com/ The Smithsonian also has several permanent wetland exhibitions with murals.http://www.si.edu/

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