Alison Nicholls sketches and paints for the Greater Good

Alison Nicholls sketching in the field

I graduated from Bowdoin College, a small liberal arts college located in Brunswick, Maine.  Despite its small size, the College counts amongst its graduates great leaders from all walks of life – government (yes, there was a time when we actually had leaders in government), the law, medicine, world exploration, literature and the arts.  The College was founded in 1794 and at its opening in 1802, President Joseph McKeen declared that:

“… literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be enabled to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society. If it be true, that no man should live to himself, we may safely assert, that every man who has been aided by a public institution to acquire an education, and to qualify himself for usefulness, is under peculiar obligations to exert his talents for the public good.”

My reason for bringing up Bowdoin is that it cultivated in me the importance of the Greater Good and I strive to live within that intention.  When you put yourself in that space you are bound to find other like-minded people.   This summer Evan and I were fortunate to meet Alison Nicholls, a professional Conservation and Wildlife Artist.  Kudos go out to Anthony Francella at Rye Art Gallery & Framing for making the connection.  Alison is English and lived in Zimbabwe and Botswana with her husband Nigel for nine years.  During that time she and Nigel explored the African bush as much as they could and Alison honed her skills as a watercolor and sketching artist.  While they now live in Port Chester, New York, Alison returns to Africa annually to sketch in the bush. She is a Signature Member of Artists For Conservation and the Society of Animal Artists, and a member of the Explorers Club and the Salmagundi Club.   I had the pleasure and fortune to attend Alison’s most recent lecture, “Living and Sketching in Africa” at the Free Reading Room at the Rye Public Library in Rye, NY on October 20th.  Alison’s incredible passion for her work and African Wildlife, especially with regards to conservation, is evident from the minute you meet her.  Over the course of the hour she shared with us what it was like not only to live in Africa as a human, but also the effects on wildlife as a result of a burgeoning human population (especially with regard to the Painted Dogs and the Big Cats).  Alison also described how she goes about her field sketching and then how she brings her bush experiences back to the studio to create her magnificent watercolors.   It’s a special treat to be allowed inside an artist’s creative thought process.

“Wild Dog Hunt” field sketch by Alison Nicholls

“Dogs at Dusk”, Studio Painting by Alison Nicholls

Alison’s Conservation Expeditions program allows her to work closely with a number of African conservation projects, using exhibits and lectures to raise awareness and funds.  To date, Alison has completed two Conservation Expeditions.  In 2007 Alison spent six weeks with the Painted Dogs Conservation Project on the edge of Hwange National Park in northwestern Zimbabwe. The aim of the project is to conserve and increase the range and numbers of the Painted Dog both in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa.  The Painted Dog as it is known in Zimbabwe (and as the Wild Dog in other parts of Africa) is very near extinction – with probably only 3,000 animals alive today, compared to a population of 300,000 to 500,000 only 100 years ago!

“Maasai Mamas”, field sketch by Alison Nicholls

Alison’s second Conservation Expedition involved field trips to the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW), near Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.  APW works with rural communities to help them manage natural resources for the mutual benefit of people & wildlife.  The African People & Wildlife Fund was co-founded by Laly Lichtenfeld who I have mentioned in previous posts – it was our connection with Alison that originally led us to introduce ourselves to Laly.  One of APW’s greatest successes revolves around their idea of building “Living Walls” to protect the Maasai livestock from predators.  Livestock have traditionally been protected by corralling them into bomas built of acacia wood.  One interesting fact I learned during Alison’s lecture was that many times the Big Cats, especially the lions, get blamed for livestock deaths, which were in fact committed by others, especially the hyenas.  Hyenas sometimes find their way into the traditional acacia bomas creating confusion and panic amongst the livestock causing the livestock to break through and out of their protective wall – where they then find themselves at the mercy of many more nightly predators.   While many large predators will move their kill, this is not the case with the lions, so if a villager goes in search of his lost cow and finds only the lion sitting out in the open with it, the lion usually pays the same price as the dead cow.

“Maasai and Cattle”, field sketch by Alison Nicholls

APW came up with a new twist on the boma idea – rather than having to cut down the thorny acacia trees to build these protecting walls, they would build a “Living Wall” out of chain link fencing and Commiphora branches.  The Commiphora thorn branches can be cut from a larger living Commiphora tree and then planted directly in the ground, intertwined with the chain link fencing.  By the next rainy season the Commiphora is growing prolifically creating a dense physical and visual barrier, keeping the livestock in and the predators out.  The Living Walls built to date are now protecting an estimated 50,000 livestock and are proving to have a 100% success rate.  This program has proven to be a win-win-win for all involved: the Maasai, their livestock AND the Big Cats.

Alison Nicholls is one of those special people who lives her life in the context of the Greater Good.  Her passion is real and contagious.  Her sketches and watercolors are beautiful and breathtaking and she donates a portion of her artistic proceeds to these important African wildlife conservation causes.  Alison’s work has been featured in wildlife art magazines in the USA and UK.  Her work has been exhibited at the Botswana Mission to the United Nations in Manhattan and used by the US Department of State to promote the “Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking” initiative.

“At Night”, Studio Painting by Alison Nicholls

Please visit her website at www.nichollswildlifeart.com and her blog, www.nichollswildlifeart.blogspot.com.  And if you are an aspiring artist, you should know that Alison also leads Art Safaris each year with Africa Geographic magazine, so if you want to learn how to sketch in the field, you should tag along with Alison on one of these amazing trips to get the benefit of her incredible eye and talent.

“Sun Spots”, Studio Painting by Alison Nicholls

 

Alison’s next scheduled exhibition for the African People & Wildlife Fund will be April 12-26, 2013 at the Darien Nature Center, 120 Brookside Road, Darien, CT  06820.  There will be an Artists Reception and Lecture on April 21st between 3pm and 5pm.  She will also be exhibiting at the Somerset Park Commission Environmental Education Center (New Jersey) in May 2013.  And lastly, not only did Alison generously contribute one of her limited edition giclees to our September 18th Silent Auction, she also was kind enough to create the lion, leopard and cheetah thumbprint sketches that we used for our invitations.  Thank you, Alison for sharing your gift and your passion.  Through the generosity of your spirit, the world is a better place.

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