Endangered Species Project

Recently I have become curious about endangered species. I am interested in making things that are generally unseen, seen; in making things that are vulnerable, visible. In my youth I saw the Names Project: the AIDS Quilt in Washington DC, and it made a huge impression on me. The visual impact of such loss was deeply stirring. The AIDS Quilt made something that was societally (initially) unseen (ignored), into a tangible acknowledged reality.

This past spring, I was walking through the Minneapolis airport half listening to a podcast about the Wondering Albatross. It the largest of the albatross breed, measuring in at a wing span of 11 feet and can keep a loft in wind currents over the southern oceans for a month without returning to land. This bird’s population is dwindling on account of industrial line fishing; the Wondering Albatross is being decapitated at the rate of a bird every five minutes. Right there, in the Minneapolis Airport by gate C15, I was actually brought to my knees, stunned by this bycatch carnage. But what can I do about this? I am a potter and a teacher? Quit my job and head out for civil disobedience? Throw myself in the path of those industrial fishing factories? Oy vey. Not very effective or realistic. However, I am a potter and a teacher, and I can make something generally unseen, visible.

Making pottery is how I understand the world; I am making a covered jars, urns really, for endangered species. Urns are traditionally used to hold ashes from cremation so the size of these jars are determined by the resulting ash mass of each species. The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker would be a small urn; the California Bear vessel would stand almost three feet tall. I intend on displaying these all of these pots in a large grouping in one large gallery. The urns will be display empty, as the species are endangered, not extinct and in their emptiness lies hope.

The list of extinct, endangered, vulnerable and concern species is significant. I anticipate this to be a 3 to 5-year project. The word ‘extinct’ was coined during the industrial revolution, around 1790, so that’s where I am starting. In addition, I am researching animals in North America, in my back yard. My job is to see and record these species, give them space and time. I want to find and share the beauty of each species by drawing a portrait on the surface of each urn. I cannot save the Wondering Albatross – I am a potter and a teacher. However, I can make an unseen thing visible and show you how beautiful I think this bird is.

Shown here are the first studies of how to make these jars, technically, aesthetically and compositionally. This is not an exhibition ready cohesive body of work – rather a display of a creative process with successes and failures.