Watercolor Society Paintings Show Diversity of Merritt Island Wildlife
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is known as a winter haven for migratory birds‚ and more than 500 species of wildlife inhabit the 140‚000-acre refuge. Wildlife photographers‚ artists‚ fisher men‚ boaters‚ hikers and nature lovers of all kinds flock here from around the world – about 500‚000 visitors each year – to catch a glimpse of bald eagles‚ manatees‚ Florida scrub jays‚ alligators‚ otters and other creatures that thrive in the protected estuaries and marshes. For the past five years‚ members of the Brevard Watercolor Society have been capturing the beauty of this diverse wildlife through an annual juried art exhibition – drawing attention to the refuge’s conservation mission in the process. “The exhibition helps create more of an awareness of nature through the eyes of an artist‚” says Darleen Hunt‚ co-chairman of the event with Therese Ferguson. “The objective of the refuge is to protect the environment‚ and this makes people aware of its beauty and fragility.” The exhibition process begins months beforehand with a guided tour‚ especially for Brevard Watercolor Society members‚ through the NASA-owned refuge. It typically takes place in the winter months when migration is at its peak‚ Hunt says. Some artists paint on-site‚ but most take photographs and paint from the images at home. An out-of-town judge selects about 30 paintings from the pool of entries in the fall‚ and first place in flora and fauna categories are chosen along with merit award winners. Called Watercolors of the Refuge‚ the exhibition kicks off with an artists’ reception and runs from early November through the end of January in a small auditorium in the Merritt Island Wildlife Association’s visitor information center. The paintings are for sale‚ and 20 percent of the proceeds are donated to the Merritt Island Wildlife Association. Artists are also invited to make prints of their work to sell in the center’s bookstore and gift shop‚ with a percentage going to the wildlife association. “Every little bit helps‚” says Hunt‚ a member of the wildlife association’s board of directors. “MIWA uses the money to make improvements for visitors at the refuge above what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can do. The visitor programs are often last on the list‚ and that’s where the MIWA organization helps out.” The Watercolors of the Refuge exhibi tion has become a popular mainstay among the artists‚ in part because the refuge – part of the Kennedy Space Center and a buffer zone for NASA’s shuttle operations – is full of interesting and striking subjects to paint. “You can see beautiful sunsets‚ shore birds‚ nestings – you see life‚” says Lolly Walton‚ president of the Brevard Watercolor Society and a member of MIWA. “The world is so cluttered today‚ but this is a quiet place. You can escape here and capture a little bit of that on paper.” The refuge exhibition is just one of Brevard Watercolor Society’s many popular events offered throughout the year. With more than 230 active members‚ the society’s monthly newsletter and Web site are full of upcoming workshops and activities. The nonprofit group is also known for its watercolor paintings of historic Brevard County‚ Walton says‚ and it offers art scholarships to students through Brevard Community College.