Artist enhances visitors center displays

Posted: Tuesday, April 08, 2008

KODIAK - When Alaska painter Bruce Nelson's painting depicting Kodiak bears preparing to feast on a dead gray whale was hung in the Kodiak National Wildlife Visitor's Center last week, another chapter in the Gray Whale Project was completed.

In 2000, when a gray whale washed up on the shores of Pasagshak Beach, local conservationist and former Kodiak High School science teacher Stacy Studebaker saw an educational opportunity.

During the next several years, she and a host of volunteers, using a $60,000 grant provided by the Alaska Conservation Foundation, researched and prepared the 37-foot-long skeleton, which now hangs from the ceiling of the refuge center.

When the original idea was discussed, Studebaker and wildlife officials felt something was missing. That missing piece of the puzzle turned out to be the relationship between gray whales and Kodiak's icon, the Kodiak bear.

The relationship is one of death and that is what Nelson painted.

If a gray whale washes up on Kodiak's shores, bears will likely feed on the carcass for days. Depicting that relationship was left to Nelson.

It took Nelson several years to complete the 10-foot by 6-foot painting. On March 31, the painting called "Migration Casualty at Three Saints Bay" that cost the Gray Whale Project more than $6,000 was hung in the visitors center.

Nelson said painting the scene only took about five months; it was getting the supplies and researching the project that took most of the time.

The light-blue matting surrounding the painting and done by Nelson is another work of art and depicts the lifecycle of the gray whale.

Although the painting is another stage of the Gray Whale Project, it's not the last.

"The next project the grant paid for was a series of 50 graphite drawings that Bruce (Nelson) is just completing," Studebaker said. "Large graphite drawings of the bones from the whales, different views of the bones as well as combination of the bones. Then, he's also illustrated the feeding of the whale, some of its prey and parasites and all kinds of things."

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