JAMESTOWN — The Roger Tory Peterson Institute (RTPI) of Natural History recently launched a new artist-in-residence program. Inspired by the beauty of the nature preserve, Little Valley watercolor artist Robin Zefers Clark is creating a painting a day for 30 days.
For one month, Clark will interpret the natural beauty of RTPI and its grounds through her artist’s eyes when she puts paint to canvas. Primarily a watercolorist, she also works in acrylics, oils, gouache and colored pencil.
Tucked away near the end of Curtis Street, the institute and its grounds is a hidden gem that many local people do not know exists. The 27-acre nature preserve is a forested refuge filled with wildlife giving Clark plenty of subject matter for her paintings.
“The artist residency is a wonderful opportunity to become artistically immersed in the environment, finding hidden visual treasures around and within the Roger Tory Peterson Institute,” she said.
The program came about when Clark told RTPI officials that she was planning to do her “30 paintings in 30 days” this fall and asked them what they would think about her doing her paintings at the institute.
“They were thrilled and excited about me doing my paintings there (RTPI), and doing it as an artist residency,” she said. “They said this type of thing is what Roger Tory Peterson did as an artist.”
With her golden retriever Cutter by her side, Clark paints an average of six hours a day as she creates an 8-inch by 10-inch painting. She’s painting mostly outdoors because she can see much more detail than she can working from a photograph. She said a photograph limits what the artist sees and the darker areas may just look black. If the weather is unfavorable, she moves her painting project inside.
“When you are out doing plein air and you look at something, you can see so many more different shades and colors than you can in a photo,” she said. “There can be challenges with the weather, like wind and rain or bugs possibly crawling through the paint, but it’s part of the experience.”
“Robin embodies the spirit of Roger Tory Peterson,” said Arthur Pearson, RTPI’s new CEO. “Inspired by nature, she uses her skills as an artist to help us see our own landscape with fresh eyes.”
Clark said she had the opportunity to enter the archives where about 1,500 of Peterson’s original stuffed birds are kept. She grew up with the Peterson Field Guide and said it was a wonderful experience to see the actual birds he used for his models when painting.
During this year’s artist-in-residence program, she has been leading a six-week series of two beginner painting workshops in gouache at the institute on Saturdays. The sold-out classes began Sept. 12 and will continue through Oct. 17. The classes will culminate in a month-long exhibition of the students’ work at RTPI.
Melanie Smith, manager of education and communications at RTPI, said the institute is really excited to have Clark living on the grounds as she works at this interesting and inspiring project. She said they want to give the public a new appreciation for what’s at the museum, and this is another way to refresh and re-energize the facility.
“Roger Tory Peterson was born and raised in Jamestown and these were his stomping grounds. He was inspired by what he saw here to go on to become a world-famous artist and naturalist,” she said. “Now, Robin is capturing the essence of what Peterson did in her own way and it’s really cool to see her interpretations.”
RTPI is home to the largest, most comprehensive collection of Roger Tory Peterson’s artwork and related archival materials. Peterson, the only artist-naturalist to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is best known for his field guides.
Clark earned a degree in art education from SUNY Buffalo State College and a master of science degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, with a major in oil painting and intensive work in graphic design and photographic studies. She retired from Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School eight years ago where she had taught art education since 1979. She is a member of East Otto Country and the Tri-County Arts Council. When she isn’t painting, she’s hiking the local trails, snowshoeing or doing ski patrol on the cross country trails at Allegany State Park.
She has showcased her artwork in several solo and group exhibitions and has been featured in several publications including Country Woman magazine, The Buffalo News and Focus. Her work has won numerous awards and is featured in private collections throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.
Visitors to RTPI might see Clark with her easel setup painting out in the gardens or along the trails until mid-October. She said they are welcome to watch her and ask questions while she works. At the conclusion of her residency, RTPI will host an exhibition of all 30 paintings.
Clark will have her 30 paintings posted with a narrative about each painting on her Facebook page, Brookside Studio Watercolors. Her 30-day progress may also be viewed on RTPI’s Facebook page. People may visit Brookside Studio Watercolors at 8363 Maples Road in Little Valley by chance or by calling Clark for an appointment at (716) 713-5359.
RTPI is located at 311 Curtis St. in Jamestown. The institute’s iconic museum building was designed by famed architect, Robert A.M. Stern. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays, Tuesdays and holidays. The grounds and trails are open seven days a week, dawn to dusk. For visitor guidelines, hours and admission prices, visit online at rtpi.org.