ST. PETERSBURG — Art inspires contemplation, especially when it addresses the natural world around us. “Un/Natural Selections: Wildlife in Contemporary Art,” a new exhibition at The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, recently inspired a group of students attending the museum’s summer camp program.
The exhibit comes from the collection of the National Museum of Wildlife Art and features a wide variety of contemporary works depicting animals. The relationship between humanity and wildlife is explored, with animals placed in the context of civilization rather than their natural habitats.
The students, who will be going into grades fourth through sixth, were attending a week-long Summer Art Camp that was focused on S.T.E.A.M. activities. Organized by Stacy Stockdale, the museum’s manager of youth and family programs, part of the camp was seeing the show and sketching pieces they liked.
It was quiet as a library in the gallery on the day we visited. Kids sprawled out on the floor grouped around the works, staring intently at them and then their sketchbooks.
Faith Crawford, 9, was sketching Paul Villinski’s “Pegasus,” a life-sized horse made from upcycled pieces of dark woods in black and brown. Faith liked the presence of the delicate white butterflies. When she finished her sketch, she wrote the artist’s name and title on it. She said she’ll color it in later.
Jackson Cartier was sketching “Lioness” by Emily Lamb, which attracted him because of its layers and patterns. Jackson draws his own comics at home and has made about 50 of them. He said he would probably take inspiration from some of the works in the show, especially a pair of mixed media pieces by J.C. Fontanive that are motorized, constantly flipping. Jackson makes his own flipbooks, too.
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Many students were drawn to William Sweetlove’s series of colorful works, “Cloned Penguin with PET Bottle.” The pieces, which are made of a recyclable plastic, are “cloned” by the artist as a statement about preventing penguins’ extinction. They’re displayed by another favorite, a whimsical statue of three rhinos: “The Last Three Stood Proud and Tall” by Gillie and Marc Schattner.
Hannah Presod, who is 7, also sketched the “Pegasus” sculpture, but said she also liked the pieces depicting foxes and coyotes.
Ophelia Pappas said she was trying to draw as much as she could from the show. She said she’s “obsessed with science” so she was interested in learning about the animals’ behaviors.
Ophelia also picked up on how the show depicts nature in unconventional ways.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I like how they created things that you never thought would go together.”
What to know if you go to The James Museum
“Un/Natural Selections: Wildlife in Contemporary Art” is on view through Sept. 17. $10-$23, free for kids 6 and younger. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays, when the hours are 10 a.m.-8 p.m. The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, 150 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-892-4200. thejamesmuseum.org.