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Wild Arts Festival sets NW artists free

Audubon Society event helps some regain a ‘sense of balance’
by: Courtesy of Lori Presthus 
Visual artist and bird enthusiast Lori Presthus will find herself in good company next week at the Wild Arts Festival, a major fundraiser for the Audubon Society of Portland.

Lori Presthus once observed an owl at a rehabilitation center, then went home to paint it on canvas with egg tempera, her medium of choice. Although she’d seen the owl in a cage, she chose to set it against a natural backdrop instead — a starry night. “I set it free,” she says. Her other artwork depicts herons, egrets, crows, jays and a dizzying array of birds. “I’ve always just been crazy about birds,” says Presthus, a cellist with the Portland Baroque Orchestra. “I feel like they’re part of man’s journey through time.” The West Linn artist isn’t alone in her obsession. Seventy artists and 30 authors who also take their inspiration from wildlife and the outdoors will showcase their works at the 31st-annual Wild Arts Festival next week at Montgomery Park. Set for Nov. 19 and 20, the festival kicks off the holiday shopping season and celebrates the bounty of local talent. It’s the second-biggest fundraiser of the year for the Audubon Society of Portland, which runs the Wildlife Care Center on Northwest Cornell Road and hosts a steady run of conservation education events, such as nature nights, winter break camps and bird-watching field trips to the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. “The Audubon brings attention to people about noticing — look up, there’s birds everywhere, instead of down at their machines,” says Presthus. “There’s a lot to see.” Artists and authors participating in this year’s festival say it holds a special meaning for them. The festival “has this lovely inflection of wildness and environment,” says Ellen Waterston, a Bend author who’ll talk about her 2010 collection of essays, “Where the Crooked River Rises.” Rainy Northwest heart Titles at the festival are diverse, she says, “but I do think there’s this common thread, an appreciation for landscape and place.” The featured books showcase Portland’s bridges, best walking trips, best escapes, Mount Hood, Oregon hiking, the city as a cycling mecca and a group of Portlanders’ graphic novel about their visit to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Colin Meloy, singer for the Decemberists, will promote the debut of his first book, “Wildwood,” a 500-page paperback targeted to fourth graders on up. Illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis, the story is set in a fantasy-like Forest Park. Author Claire Dederer declared in a September New York Times book review that Meloy “has shaped the real stuff of Portland into a fantastic epic with a rainy, bicycle-riding Northwestern heart.” Audubon development director Ann Takamoto says part of the festival’s magic is that it’s organized by about 200 volunteers. Last year, the Wild Arts festival raised $100,000 and attracted 3,500 visitors; this year, the goal is $105,000 and a crowd of 4,000. There will be the usual silent auction, with more than 100 items for bid, as well as the birds used for Audubon’s educational outreach. For the first time, this year’s festival will feature a “Wild Art 6-by-6 project,” with 175 artists who’ve submitted a bird-themed painting on donated 6-by-6-inch square canvases that will sell for $40 apiece. Takamoto says it’s been a challenge to sustain the fundraiser at such a high level in the recent economy, since many choose to give their limited dollars to social services rather than environmental causes. But Audubon — which began in 1902 — is still pursuing its mission, to inspire people to love and protect nature. It has a captive audience. “For a lot of us artists, doing wildlife art is a real compulsion for us,” says Julie Fulkerson, a Gladstone wildlife biologist who’s pursued her bird-based artwork full-time for the past 10 years. “I go out on hikes and see something so beautiful. I think ‘I have to do this, where’s my sketchbook?’ ” Fulkerson says being in nature is both exhilarating and soothing: “It gives me a sense of peace and balance that we often lose when we’re trapped in our cubicles and houses and traffic.” Whether it’s a painting or a piece of literary art, she says, “We’re trying to bring that connection — give people an opportunity to bring the outdoor world into their homes, that maybe they wouldn’t see any other way.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.