Meeting the carnivore
Belfast — This month’s show in the Belfast Free Library’s Kramer Gallery offers a way to get to know what is unknown to most 21st-century Americans. Titled “I AM Coyote,” the show gathers art from around the state focused on the continent’s “song dog.” A denizen of the Pine Tree State 30,000 years ago, coyote has returned, first spotted in the 1960s and now a well-established part of Maine’s ecosystem.
“Carnivores are unknown to our generation, because of what our European descendants did to them. We don’t have knowledge of them because we were not handed down the knowledge of how to live with them,” said Geri Vistein of Belfast, the show’s curator and an independent conservation biologist.
Vistein is on a mission to spread that knowledge and she travels around the state, presenting PowerPoint lectures to all kinds of groups, talking with Maine science teachers at conferences, working at both the college and public school level and interacting with fellow scientists around future coyote research in the state. “I AM Coyote” has been three years in the making.
“I think that science and art are one — they are both wonderful expressions of the beauty of this planet,” she said a few days before the show was hung.
Although she is a coyote specialist, Vistein said her work focuses on the human community, its interactions with carnivores and how it behaves toward other species. That behavior has often been destructive; the reason coyote has returned to Maine is because the state’s — all the states’ — native wolf population was wiped out going on a century ago.
“Carnivores and biodiversity are my focus … carnivores are an essential part of the health of the planet,” she said, adding she is an independent conservation biologist because she wants to work with every variable of the carnivore/human equation.
“When people ask me who I work for, I say, I work for wildlife,” she said.
“I AM Coyote” offers art in a wide range of media, from all around the state. A highlight is a new canvas by beloved Maine artist Dahlov Ipcar, who hears the song of coyote on the edge of her saltwater farmland. Her painting, titled “Coyote Greeting,” is of two mates — coyote usually pair for life — rubbing shoulders. It was inspired by a dream the artist had, one she shared with Vistein over the phone.
“I’m deeply moved by the work in this show … the artists who took part really wanted their art to contribute to something bigger than themselves. When we do something that’s good for the planet, we end up doing wonderful things for ourselves,” Vistein said.
Another piece is part of an ongoing project. Vistein has been working with Monroe wildlife sculptor Forest Hart to create a life-sized depiction of a howling coyote family that will be gifted to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor. He has created a table-top version of the work, which is on view and for sale with 40 percent of the proceeds going toward getting the to-be-donated work cast to size. Visitors to the Kramer can get information about donating to that cause, as well.
“He’s such a wonderful man, and the library has been so supportive! The Botanical Gardens is so excited and honored,” said Vistein, who also is excited about having a life-sized depiction of a sight human eyes do not see on display for residents of Maine and other states to interact with.
“It says something about respect — before you can care about and protect a creature, you have to respect it. They are very social beings; the sculpture speaks a lot for them,” she said.
“I AM Coyote” is designed to be more than a themed art show, and it will have more than an opening reception. On Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m., the public is invited to a Coyote Celebration in the gallery. The evening will begin with a reception for the artists. Music will follow, with original songs written by Elizabeth Starr sung by Jessica Moore. Starr and Moore will play guitars, joined by Eileen Gatewood on flute and Fredi LaPorte on violin.
“They’ve never really done anything like this before; I think it’s added richness to their lives,” said Vistein.
Poetry readings by Karin Spitfire and Jackie Freitas, and of the work of Cecilia Soprano, will follow. Then, after a short break, the Native American artists of The Great Thunder Chicken Drum will present a drum ceremony, reflecting the continent’s indigenous peoples who lived in much closer relationship with coyote — the Navajo called them “God’s Dog” — and other native carnivores. Finally, a special guest traveling in from Fairfield will speak about traditional coyote medicine.
“Coyote is his totem. I think it’s going to be incredible — people won’t be walking home, they’ll be floating,” Vistein said.
“I AM Coyote” runs to Oct. 1, viewable during library hours. For more information on Vistein’s work, visit coyotelivesinmaine.com.
Courier Publications' A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.