NBS Blog

Art-filled April

Not only does the end of April mark the unofficial start of beautiful spring weather on Aquidneck Island, but it also marks the end of a busy month of arts programming at the Norman Bird Sanctuary. In just four short weeks, we concluded an interdisciplinary arts residency with award-winning artist Nina Elder, hosted the former executive director of the Museum of American Bird Art for a lecture on the history of bird art, and welcomed nearly 50 artists to campus for our first annual plein air day.

Thanks to funding from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and Mr. John Grosvenor & Ms. Cheryl Hackett, enthusiastic community interest, and generous volunteer support, we were able to offer a diverse breadth of programming that honored the artistic legacy of Paradise Valley and of our founder, Mabel Norman Cerio.

We kicked off the month by saying goodbye (not forever!) to our beloved 2024 artist-in-residence, Nina Elder. Nina joined us from the southwest for a three-week residency exploring coastal erosion, wind, and geologic formation as part of her long-term, mixed-media body of work, Sedimental.

Staying in the former home of Mabel Norman Cerio, a prolific artist in her own right, Nina immersed herself in the early spring beauty of the Sanctuary and drew inspiration from the Island’s unique coastal geography. Nina closed out her residency with a free kite-building workshop, inviting the public to reflect on the power of wind and to consider kites as sculptural symbols of freedom and movement. With Nina’s guidance, the workshop was lots of fun and led to a delightful range of kites (and some other kite-looking structures!).

As we continue to build future arts programming and establish a residency program at the Sanctuary, we sincerely look forward to welcoming Nina back to the Sanctuary and are so grateful for her time on the Island. To learn more about Nina’s work, visit her website.

Shortly after Nina’s bittersweet departure, we continued our 75th anniversary Sightlines Lecture Series with our 4th speaker, Amy Montague, former Director of the Museum of American Bird Art (MABA). Amy’s lecture, titled “If These Artworks Could Talk: Glimpses into the History of Bird Art, its Artists and Collectors,” detailed the fascinating history of artwork in MABA’s collection, the only in the world dedicated to bird art. Attendees learned about everything from Andy Warhol’s pop art endangered species series and Charley Harper’s cheekily-titled, modernist illustrations to Robert Verity Clem’s legacy as one of the great American bird painters. It was a rich conclusion to the arts portion of Sightlines, a lecture series exploring art and science throughout 2024. To learn more about MABA’s collections and programs, visit their website. To learn more about the Sightlines lecture series and the final three lectures on ornithology, conservation, and indigenous ecological knowledge, click here.

And finally, on a rainy late April Saturday, we welcomed nearly 50 intrepid plein air artists to our first annual ‘Paint Paradise’ at the Sanctuary. Across 8 hours, artists braved the weather to produce beautiful and wide-ranging depictions of the Sanctuary’s diverse habitats.

Thanks to Amy Bartlett Wright–professional muralist, natural science illustrator, and longtime friend of NBS–-several artists enjoyed a guided plein air experience complete with a lecture on the history and principles of plein air painting and a tutorial with live feedback.

With support from Kitchen Companion Catering and Mr. John Grosvenor & Ms. Cheryl Hackett, artists were treated to complimentary breakfast, lunch, and an evening reception and art show. As the sun finally came out, our historic barn was filled to the brim with canvases for the juried art show and benefit sale. The range of subjects, styles, and materials was impressive, from a large-scale study of Hanging Rock to a miniature sketch done on a paint swatch (so cool!). We sold nearly every piece in the show, with several artists generously donating 100% of their profits directly to NBS to further our mission, and celebrated two winners of the juried show; Nancy Custin and Amy Bartlett-Wright.

We’re proud to be able to host diverse arts programming at the Norman Bird Sanctuary that celebrates the unique beauty of the landscape, the history of artists on Aquidneck Island, and the legacy of Mabel Norman Cerio. The arts are an integral part of our organization’s history and we’re excited to further that legacy in our 75th anniversary year of programming. Thanks to all who made such a busy month on campus possible, and please keep an eye out for future art programs!