National Wildlife Refuge System

Artists on refuges

Friends Forward April 2014

This cut-paper wildlife image was created by Katheryn Hunter, the first resident artist at Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee Refuge, AL.
Credit: USFWS

“I kept coming across artists sitting on the refuge with easels,” said Steve Reagan, project leader at Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi. When he found an entire art class from Mississippi State University at work on the refuge (which ultimately required a Special Use Permit), he initiated a conversation.  An artist-in-residence partnership was initiated in September 2013.  MSU handles applications for the residency, gives the artists access to MSU art facilities and schedules events off the refuge. Members of Friends of Noxubee Refuge and refuge staff help select individual artists and host school or public events on the refuge. The Starkville Area Arts Council provided a $1,000 grant to buy art supplies for the Bluff Lake house on the refuge where the resident artist lives. 

The first artist, Katheryn Hunter, spent two weeks in the fall working with paper, metal and fabric. Lillian Zuckerman, a potter from Montana, spent ten days living in the Bluff Lake house in March.  During a public event at the refuge, Zuckerman talked about how her pottery designs are influenced by her surroundings. “I loved the strong horizontal line that the large lakes crate as well as the very flag Mississippi landscape,” reflected Zuckerman, who also helped visitors make their own clay pinch pots.

Each resident artist has one year to create one piece of art generated by the refuge experience. That art is donated to the Friends, who display it and may ultimately sell it. Reagan says the art program is “educating me on how important refuges are to the non-consumptive public. You come here to gather your thoughts and repair from the stresses of life. These artists capture that moment in time within their art.” Fifteen artists have applied for one summer residency at the refuge.

Chinook Nation member Greg Robinson shares traditional painting, carving, and life skills with students and the public at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse on Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, WA.
Credit: USFWS

Chinookan Arts and Culture
The artist-in-residence program at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse on Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington has been bringing Chinookan arts and culture to the refuge for six years. The plankhouse, a full-scale replica of a Chinookan house, is managed by the Friends of the Ridgefield Refuge and full-time coordinator Sarah Hill, a Friends employee. 

The extent of artist programming depends on the Friends’ success obtaining grants. School field trips are scheduled first, public events whenever there is enough money. One grant came in connection with the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The Friends also obtained a special event grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).  Eight days of demonstrations for schools and the public, with two artists for four hours each, required a $13,000 budget. The plankhouse season runs from mid-April to October.  

“We have a network of artists,” says Hill, “and we match requests from schools with available artists and subjects.”  Hill cautions Friends to be flexible but set expectations. “Don’t embark on a giant weaving project with eight year olds in a 45-minute session.”  Be clear about how many students or other visitors will be attending, how long each session is, who is providing materials, and the educational goals of either the refuge or the school. 


“An artist struggles to capture what nature effortlessly creates.” 
Brian M. LaSaga


Note: If selling original art on Service property, Friends organizations must directly purchase the art and offer it as resale through their nature store rather than entering into a consignment agreement with the artist. Raffles of any kind, including those involving donated art, are not permitted on Service property.

Last updated: April 21, 2014