“Never doubt that a small group of concerned and committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, that’s the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead
finding out about Maine’s diverse wildlife
Projects with a strong sense of place are deeply rooted in the relationship between a community and the specific physical environment it inhabits. For students, that means that the more they study a particular place, the deeper the connection becomes. Exploring the lives of the wildlife species from Maine can emphasize the interconnectedness between the environment and human communities. When students learn about the challenges that a particular species is facing, they can develop emotional bonds that foster a positive sense of place.
Maine provides a habitat for diverse wildlife species and many ways to learn more about them. Maine has over 58 species of mammals and over 290 species of birds! The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife enhances wildlife habitats and owns over 60 wildlife management areas that total over 106,000 acres. They also acquire land to protect wildlife while allowing access to hunting, trapping, and wildlife watching. A great spot to see Maine’s species up close is the Maine Wildlife Park located in Gray, Maine. Here you are guaranteed to see moose up close and more animals in a day than you could ever spot in the wild! The park is home to over 30 animals native to Maine that cannot be returned to their natural habitats for various reasons.
If you cannot get out to visit places like the Maine Wildlife Park, there are people who will bring some wildlife to you! The Chewonki Traveling Natural History Program educators take natural history lessons, often including live animals, to schools, libraries, and other community settings across Maine. Local shelters and farms are a great resource as well. To make things even simpler, you can go outside and look for insects or do some bird watching. Science teachers are a great resource for learning about wildlife and their habitats, and pairing the arts with the sciences is like putting on a glove.
Some of the best student drawings that I have seen came from my time working as a museum educator for the L.C. Bates Museum in Hinckley, Maine. One of the programs included taking small groups of students of every age to visit the pond to catch frogs and other freshwater creatures. The students would swoop them up with a net and place them into clear containers for identification and education. In a world where kids spend more time on the computer and less time outdoors, this program was like taking a trip back in time to when kids wearing overalls would run and scamper around and find complete joy in catching and then releasing a pond critter. For my summer art camp, I had the students draw the frogs as they posed for us in the clear boxes, and the results were incredible and fun. This job taught me the real power of connecting the arts with the sciences and how to inspire students to become passionate and engage with nature in a personal and meaningful way.
When it comes to Maine’s wild creatures and art, one Maine artist stands out with his sculptures made of natural and often repurposed materials: Bernard Langlais.
Langlais is a sculptor from Old Town, Maine. The combination of his childhood influences growing up in Old Town and the renovation of his summer cottage in Cushing, Maine, resulted in Langlais’ love affair with scraps of old wood, which he arranged to create his sculptures and reliefs. He termed the process “painting with wood,” These reliefs became famous in the New York art scene in the sixties.
New York, however, didn’t hold Langlais’ heart; it was Maine where he found his creativity nourished, and he could work on a larger scale. If you visit Skowhegan, you will find his seventy-foot-tall Indian and a few other pieces installed throughout the town. A Langlais art trail pinpoints the exact location of his works spread around parts of Maine.
Langlais created massive works that represent the animal kingdom’s personality and inner strength. Interestingly, he identified with lions, and some of these works might be a kind of self-portrait. Not only did his old farmhouse inspire his love of repurposed materials, but his yard, too, became a garden that seemed to grow sculptures rather than vegetables. Langlais’ subjects from the animal kingdom are not always native to Maine, yet these sculptures look like they have existed in the state for years. One could almost imagine that an elephant or a monkey could easily be a local treasure as much as a moose. Langlais’ use of found materials from within the state is a big part of the “Maineness” of his work, and I can’t help but feel that his love of Maine and his sense of place somehow shine through each piece art.
Langlais stated that “I feel a sense of oneness with the state.” conveying the artist’s search for deep connections to his environment and his passion for fusing art and place. It is fitting that today Langlais’ property is a public sculpture park and nature preserve thanks to a partnership among the Colby Museum, the Kohler Foundation, and the Georges River Land Trust. If it is possible, taking a road trip to follow the art trail to see his sculptures in the wild or to visit the Langlais Sculpture Preserve will surely intensify your sense of place.
WILDLIFE Relief art LESSON
1. Choose your Maine Species
After you do some research on your Maine species, find a picture that you would like to translate into a relief. In this example, my kids chose to do their pets, but in the classroom, think about the animals that we share our habitats within our state or community. I have included a few options in the photos below.
This is a perfect opportunity to use some recycled materials and found objects.
Cardboard (include one large piece for the base)
Something to add color
3. Glue and Secure your Shapes.
The picture above is an example of our dog, Cyrus. Connor liked to glue each shape as he cut it out. Some people like to arrange everything first. Maybe a combination of the two methods is best.
2. Cut your shapes and build your layers
As you start to cut out your shapes, remember that your animal needs to rise out of the base. How far out do you want your animal to go? How can you manipulate the cardboard to get more texture into your work? Try out different combinations until you get your perfect look. Do you want to build just a head or a whole body and a habitat?
4. How do you want to finish your relief?
Bernard Langlais liked the natural state of the materials he used, and he used little paint. In fact, he even factored in that some of the materials would change as they were exposed to the elements over time. Meghan made a very simple but sweet version of our bird KK, and you can see how this project could be adapted for many age groups and skill levels. Working at the L.C. Bates Museum, I learned that the more the students were taught about a particular species, the more they enhanced their artwork.
This lesson was created in partnership with Waterville Creates Art Kits for All program.
Community connection: Winter Homes for Cats
When it comes to helping our neighborhood wildlife, there is no shortage of options to explore. My high school students are extremely passionate about this subject. In fact, incorporating stories about animals is a great tool to keep them engaged. This year we had a discussion about the stray cats in Waterville. One thing led to another, and we ended up contacting the Waterville Area Humane Shelter and came up with a plan to make winter cat shelters. The students all researched the project and wrote stories about their personal experiences with stray cats in their neighborhoods. The Humane Society posted the project on their Facebook page, and soon we had all of the necessary supplies donated so that we could get to work building. This community project was more practical than fine art, but it was an amazing success. We were even featured on the local radio, and a TV news channel ran a student interview on the project.
If you are interested in helping to save some of Maine’s wildlife species, please visit https://ifw.citizenscience.maine.gov for more information to get involved.
Art Kits For All is a project created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a partnership sponsored by Waterville Creates and Colby College Museum of Art. It brought together a core group of Waterville art teachers and local groups like the Family Violence Project with other volunteers who help bring art to the community throughout the lockdowns and continues to this day. As part of this project, I took my children to visit the Langlais Sculpture Preserve, and created a video to accompany this art project that was included in the skits. I have included my video in this section to help to inspire one type of art project adapted by any age group to create artwork inspired by this fantastic Maine artist.