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Feathered friends feature in new exhibition of artistic work

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An exhibition of work by the Society of Wildlife Artists opens this weekend.

The SWLA has chosen the Donald Watson Gallery at Waterson House, the headquarters of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) in Aberlady to host the event, running from 17 February.

A well-known ornithologist and bird artist, Donald was a founder member of both the SWLA and the SOC and this year marks the centenary of his birth.

Barry Van Dusen’s painting, Sanderlings

In the late 1950s, the original work of wildlife artists was not readily available to the general public despite the growing interest in natural history. With the formation of a Society in mind, Robert Gillmor and Eric Ennion, with enthusiastic support from Peter Scott and Keith Shackleton, organised an Exhibition of Contemporary Bird Painters, which opened at Reading Art Gallery in 1960.

This exhibition then toured provincial galleries throughout the following 12 months to much widespread interest and acclaim.

The idea of a Society developed further, inviting Donald and John Busby to join, and the inaugural exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists was opened by James Fisher in August 1964.

Secured Ground 2, by C Akroyd

Today the Society has over 70 members, is affiliated to the Federation of British Artists and stages a large annual exhibition each Autumn in the prestigious Mall Galleries in London, showcasing the very best of contemporary art inspired by the natural world.

In 1990 the SWLA became a registered charity seeking not only to generate an appreciation of and an enthusiasm for the natural world but also to advance the interest, education and concern of the public in the conservation of wildlife.

In 2005, the Aig an Oir (At the Edge) project, a collaboration between the SWLA and Forest Enterprise Scotland, culminated in a beautiful book that celebrated the Atlantic oakwoods of the west coast. These rare temperate rainforests are an internationally important habitat for plants and wildlife yet also contain a rich cultural and historical heritage.

Szabolcs Kokay painted Eskimo Curlew

It also ties in with the release of Flight Lines, a book to understand the challenges that migrant birds face as they journey between Britain and Africa. Artists were paired with bird ringers, nest recorders and others.

The exhibition at Waterston House will be based on the theme of migration to tie in with the release of this book. Other collaborations with the UK’s Wildlife Trusts, for example, have been equally rewarding and the hugely significant bursary scheme that the SWLA supports allows emerging artists to develop their talents and aims. Each year, for example, the Society supports two or three places on the John Busby Seabird Drawing Course based in East Lothian.

The exhibition will showcase a broad range of contemporary wildlife art by more than 25 SWLA members, including regular Waterston House exhibitor and former BBC Autumn- and Winterwatch artist in residence, Darren Woodhead. To coincide with the show, Darren will also be running a workshop ‘Birds in Watercolour’, while fellow SWLA artists John Threlfall and Kitty Jones will be focussing on ‘Composition and Picture-making’. There are limited places on both workshops and details are available on the SOC website.

The exhibition runs until Wednesday, 4 April, and is open daily from 10am-4pm.

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