I couldn’t sleep. It was May 4, and today 14 of the world’s finest wildlife artists would arrive on the island – the tiny Channel Island of Sark.
It had taken me two years of planning and fundraising to fulfil my dream of bringing the artists here to showcase the amazing unspoiled wildlife of the island. Now it was time to get to work.
First I introduced the rather bemused artists to their new mode of transport – bicycles (there are no cars on Sark) – and then sent them out to get their bearings and explore the island at their leisure.
They swiftly adjusted to the slower pace of life on Sark, but within a couple of days they had seen so much they wanted to capture on paper that they were raring to get to work.
As the other artists scattered to the four winds, I took Harriet Mead to her new workshop in the yard of one of the islanders.
Harriet has the extraordinary ability to find the birds and animals hidden in scrap metal and so, in an old Sark ambulance, I had squirreled away all the metal bits and bobs people had thrown out over the past few months.
But Harriet wanted more so we raided the islanders’ sheds. In the outhouse of a friend we found an old pair of bird-ringing pliers once used by my uncle. It was an emotional moment when we realised that they would also have been used by my uncle’s good friend, Harriet’s father, the popular ornithologist and broadcaster Chris Mead. (Harriet will be using the pliers in another Sark-inspired sculpture in the autumn.)
For the next 12 days, our work was blessed with fair weather and light winds – it made working outdoors a real pleasure. Dutch woodcarver Jaap was often seen working on the bench in the lush meadow a little way from Stocks Hotel where the artists were staying.
Kim Atkinson was keen to get into the sea, despite the fact that it was only about 12 degrees. I watched astonished as, without flinching, she waded out into the inky shallows, waterproof art materials in hand. I was even more astonished when, back on dry land, wrasse and seaweed were brought to life under her steady hand.
As the days whizzed past, the artists were warmly welcomes into the community of 600 or so people and became immersed in island life.
Bruce Pearson and Darren Woodhead were on fire, painting almost obsessively. Every day they returned from the field eager to share their huge and spectacular creations with the others.
The evenings were filled with Sark-inspired music and tales of the day’s exploits: Anna Kirk-Smith’s rockpooling, Darren’s performing peregrines and Wolfgang’s drawing, which was caught by a mischievous gust of wing, and blown off his board and over the cliff as soon as he had finished it! The Sark fire brigade kindly offered to retrieve it for us, but it was too late – it had vanished. Perhaps Mother Nature wanted that one for herself.
On the last night, we unveiled an exhibition of all the artwork created over the past 12 days to the islanders. It was clear from the number of people who showed up that, by their mere presence on Sark, the artists had made a positive and lasting impression.
The work on show was a testament to the artists’ love of nature and their determination to showcase the abundance of wildlife and enviable way of life on Sark, both of which are fragile and under threat.
From the vibrant paintings of Matt Underwood to the delicate, detailed studies of Piet Eggen, there was something to suit all tastes.
Now the artists have gone and Harriet’s workshop is quiet once more, but they all threw flowers into the sea as their boat left the harbour – a sign and promise that they will be back one day. And now, through their paintings, I hope that others will see what a special place Sark truly is.
To enjoy a gallery of the artist’s spectacular work, please click here
To hear the special song for Sark that had all the artists singing, written by David Lynn Grimes from Alaska, please click here
To hear the song ‘Cast Your Spell’ – the theme tune for the ANF’s forthcoming film about – by Sark-based musician Peter Gabriel Byrne click here
The Artists for Nature Foundation (ANF) is a unique non-profit organisation that aims to combine art, nature conservation and education through the work of some of the world’s finest contemporary wildlife and landscape artists.
In May 2011, the wonderfully unspoilt, car-free Channel Island of Sark became the focus of the ANF’s 15th project.
Sixteen leading artists and musicians came together on the island to raise awareness of its abundant wildlife and unique way of life, and the urgent need to protect them.
For more information about the Artists for Nature Foundation click here
For more information about author and Sark-based artist, Rosanne Guille, please click here