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September 25, 2009
Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Friday, September 25, 2009

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A new Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) exhibit looks not only at wildlife but also the intricate process of creating a work of art.

"Wildlife Art Revealed" will open Saturday and continue through Jan. 9. The exhibit was specially designed for the museum and never has been shown elsewhere, said Marketing and External Affairs Director Ryan Barber.

The exhibit features bronze animal sculptures by Paul Rhymer and Roger Martin, pyrography - images burned into wood - by Julie Bender, and oil paintings and graphite drawings by Robert Caldwell.

All of the artists are members of the Society of Animal Artists and live between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, according to Barber.

They were at the museum Thursday afternoon for a preview of the exhibit that was open to invited guests.

Rhymer, a model maker/taxidermist with the Smithsonian Institution's natural history museum, organized the exhibit with help from Jessica Davenport, VMNH's publications and exhibits manager.

"The museum has turned an art show into a nice educational experience," said Rhymer, adding he thinks that does not often happen at museums.

Having collaborated with VMNH on projects in the past, he is impressed that the museum puts as much effort into educating its visitors about its exhibits as it does showing the exhibits, he said.

Rhymer recruited the other artists to participate.

For artists to be able to display their works at a museum of VMNH's caliber is "an amazing opportunity," Bender said.

"You just don't pass up" such an opportunity, said Caldwell.

"To have this kind of facility in an area like this," Rhymer said, noting the area's rural character, Henry County-Martinsville "is really privileged."

"It's a beautiful place, a fabulous facility," Martin said of the museum.

Included in the exhibit are time-lapsed videos showing some of the works while they were being created as well as interviews with the artists.

The artists said they think most people do not realize the many hours - or even days and months - that artists put into their works, often crafting the pieces with fine details to make them seem as realistic as possible.

Bender's pyrography "Phillipine Tarsier," which shows the endangered animal clinging to a tree branch, is an example. The tarsier's eyes are focused in a way that makes them seem to follow visitors walking in the museum.

Caldwell's "Cobblestones" shows a raccoon standing near a building along a cobblestone alley, with large roll-out trash containers lining the alley in the background. The highly detailed picture seems much like a black-and-white photo, but it actually is a sketch on a board done with a graphite pencil.

Sculptures in the exhibit also seem life-like.

Rhymer's "Free Ride" shows a bird standing on the back of a hippopotamus. Only the top part of the hippo is sculpted; it seems to be wading in water.

Greeting visitors near the exhibit hall's entrance is "Jeremiah," a bullfrog sculpted by Martin. It looks like the real thing, only much larger.

The artists said that before creating their works, they spend time researching the animals and their characteristics. Sometimes they examine the animals in the wild, too.

"You can spend a lot of time ... just looking around" the exhibit and being mesmerized at the details of the artistry, Barber said.

Visitors will be admitted to the museum for free on Saturday if they have a Smithsonian Museum Day admission card as part of a special annual event. The cards are available both in Smithsonian magazine and online at

Otherwise, regular museum admission prices apply Saturday and on other days.

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