Discovering Dinosaurs With Mary Anning

It’s Women’s Day today, a day where we celebrate the women in our lives: a daughter, a mother, a friend. A day where we celebrate the achievements of women throughout history and in our times.

There are a great many women that I admire, from Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her advocacy of the rights of Muslim women, to Georgia O’Keeffe for changing the face of American art forever, to Frida Kahlo and her struggle with chronic pain and her deeply complex, unstable life as an artist.

One woman I truly admire is one that might not be quite as well known as the women above, and certainly not as well-known as say the Kardashians or Rihanna. She was born in the tiny coastal town of Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. It was her great passion and pleasure to spend winters trawling the crumbling cliffs searching for newly exposed fossils. Having a rudimentary Sunday school education, Mary Anning would accompany her family as they sought to supplement their income with fossils; fossil-hunting had become a source of tourism and prestige for the area, and tourists were eager to purchase these unique relics.

Mary Anning was a pioneer; she was the one who discovered the first ichthyosaur skeleton – a large marine reptile that lived alongside the dinosaurs – and then went on to discover several more revolutionary finds in natural history. She uncovered two complete plesiosaurs and even a pterosaur – the flying dinosaur.

If all these discoveries weren’t impressive enough on their own right (David Attenborough and the Sea Dragon), we have to consider that this all happened back in the first half of the 19th Century, when the world of science was dominated by gentlemen, and women were rarely more than mothers and housewives.

That Mary was able to take her love of fossil-hunting and became quite an influential voice in geological circles is endlessly inspiring. But, as a woman, unfortunately, she did not get the acclaim and the respect that she truly deserved. Thanks to Mary Anning we were able to piece together great swathes of mystery surrounding the evolution and ultimately, the demise of the dinosaurs. But, as a woman, there was only so much she could do.

I like to think that we’ve moved on from this, and I know we have. Though she never got the credit for her contribution to the scientific world, after her death she finally started to be taken seriously, as is often sadly the case.

In her own words: “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.”

The world needs to stop treating women scientists and pioneers unkindly. We don’t need to be suspicious of them – rather, we should celebrate them! Trail-blazing women, modern-day Mary Annings should be on top of the pantheon of role-models. Scientists like Emily Levesque, Katherine Freese and Maryam Mirzakhani. If you haven’t heard about these stars of modern science then you’re missing the big picture.

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Art for Conservation

As a child, and I confess even as an adult, it is the work of people such as David Attenborough and Jane Goodall that warm my south, and inspire me to believe that there is good in this world, and we are making positive steps towards change.

In the face of climate change, globalisation, war and overpopulation, animals are under greater threat than ever before. However, in 2017 we are in a better position than ever to protect and conserve them. Conservation has never been easier than it is in the 21st Century: we have social media, email, worldwide broadcasting and many other forms of media to share stories of struggling species, but also to share success stories and to encourage people and communities to work together.

David Attenborough Art Conservation
David Attenborough’s Planet Earth 2 was an epic explosion of art inspiration and admiration. You too?

For me, art is just an extension of this means to spread the word of conservation and its importance. David Attenborough and Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey and Peter Singer (to name just a few) each have their own unique platform, presenting to use conservation not necessarily through heart-wrenching images of suffering or tragic tales of failure, but through provoking in us a sense of awe, wonder and hope.

For just one example, read about Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Programme, a  marvelous initiative helping communities to learn about the environment, and actively participate in it.

For me, art is conservation, Through paintings of rare and unique animal species and presenting them at exhibitions, showcasing them online and turning them into wonderful stationery and household products, wildlife is taking centre stage in a medium previously reserved for landscapes or religion. Beautiful paintings, just like those of Franz Marc, or those that I myself am painting, give us a unique insight into the world, and encourage us to care.

Through the promotion and sales of such paintings, we can also actively participate in conservation projects, through donating a percentage of sales and commissions to worthy conservation projects. It is your choice. This is why I paint, to inspire, to conserve.

Albatross Painting for Conservation

Click here to view the paintings currently up for sale for conservation.

Art Inspired by Nature – this is my passion project

If it wasn’t for Attenborough, I wouldn’t be an artist…

 

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David Attenborough, Oils on Board, 2014

If it wasn’t for Attenborough, I wouldn’t be a painter

and I think this same sentiment is true for a lot of wildlife artists, photographers, filmmakers, zoologists, biologists and more.

As David Attenborough turns 90, it seems clear that his time for documentary film-making is far from over; I personally cannot wait to see what comes next. But it is the legacy that will linger; his legacy of inspiring, educating, as well as pressing on some much more sensitive and political issues; but never dictatorial, never inciting blame. Instead, his aim was always to show us the wonders of the natural world, so we can truly understand what we are missing.

Not all of us will get the chance to stand on the South Pole, swim alongside a blue whale, watch the unfurling of the world’s largest flower, have to conduct a serious interview while Konrad Lawrence gets pooped on by a goose, or get sat on by a rambunctious baby gorilla, but thanks to Attenborough, at least part of us thinks that we will.

Thanks to extraordinary insight, captivating filmography and dialogue that hooks you in and makes you want to care, David Attenborough has in no small way helped to raise awareness of the state of our planet for future generations (and there are many other heroes in this arena – just watch The Selfish Green, where some of the finest minds come together to discuss how to save the planet).

Thanks to growing up glued to BBC One, visiting every zoo and bird park and wildlife reserve I could and devouring animal encyclopedias, I have come to understand just how much we are shaping our planet; both negatively and positively. There is a carefully composed mix of dedication, drive and also, hope. And those are the same values that drive me to paint, so that I can maybe touch a little upon that legacy. I hope to recreate just a tiny bit of that magic in my paintings.

Happy Birthday, Sir David.

 

Here is just a small selection of some of my favourite moments:

David Attenborough – What a Wonderful World

The incredible Barnacle Goose – The Hunt

Penguins and a Life of Crime – Frozen Planet

Africa – Epilogue

Unknown Social Behaviour in Rhinos – Africa

Of Attenborough and Art

We’ve probably all heard about the case of another trophy hunter that mercilessly shot and killed one of Zimbabwe’s finest bull elephants. We’ve probably also heard this week how female sea turtles will soon run out of males to breed with thanks to a warming climate.

But this post isn’t about that. Why? Because I believe in providing hope, and encouraging drive to change the world, not through devastation, fear-mongering and finger-pointing, but by inspiring.

If we turn away from our laptops, Smartphones, fast food outlets and treadmills, and take a closer look at the world around us, we’ll realise what we’re missing, without being told how we’re destroying it and how selfish we are (however truthful this is).

Stopping to watch how ants seamlessly navigate their jenga-board environment carrying twigs three times their size, or watching bats zip past the electricity cables whilst you’re convinced you can here them ecolating; watching pigeons lay down like dogs and stretch out their tatty, greasy wings to bask in the October midday sun…even in the most understated urban environment, nature can be found.

So imagine then, what the wider world offers. One only has to catch a glimpse of base-jumping barnacle geese, peacock spiders flamenco dancing to their death and reindeer swimming across a 2 kilometre stretch of just-above-freezing water to feel a sense of awe. It is thanks to the wonderful work of David Attenborough and the passion and skill of his film-makers, that we are aware of many of the wonders that the natural world has to offer.

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Portrait of David Attenborough, Oils on Panel, 2014

And to me, wildlife art can do the same. Let’s not point fingers and say ‘look what you’ve done’, instead, let’s say ‘look at what you’re missing’.

Yes, climate change is real. Yes, species are dying at an alarming rate, and yes, humans are to blame. But we as the Greatest Ape are the only ones who can solve the problem. If only we’d stop to look at it.

DSCF1764-1
Season of Change, 2015

To find out more about commissioning a painting or to enquire about specific paintings for sale send me a message through my Facebook Page or take a look through at my website: cjwaterfieldart.com