When the St. Albans Artists Guild first approached painter Harald Aksdal of Fairfax with the idea, he had one response: "I don't have time for this."
After some thought, he decided the proposal had its upsides: funding for the Guild, exposure for his arts community, and though he can demand thousands of dollars per original work a chance to exercise his talent on a new subject.
"I had to make the time for it," Aksdal says. "It's that special."
Aksdal is one of 22 Franklin County artists nine photographers and 13 painters whose work appears through the end of July at the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in West Swanton. All sales from the free show benefit the Guild and the Friends of the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, a volunteer advocacy group.
Established under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1943, the 6500-acre refuge includes most of the Missisquoi River Delta where it flows into Missisquoi Bay. The refuge's vast wetlands and hardwood forests offer prime habitats for various critters, including heron, cranes, eagles, ducks, deer and more. Walking trails and an arm of the Missisquoi River attract hundreds of visitors annually. The refuge is like an oversized, federally funded zoo, minus cages and signs that say, Don't feed the animals.
"It was a perfect place for this," says Karen Day-Vath, Guild secretary and refuge show co-organizer.
The photographers toured the refuge by boat, car and foot and went wild with their lenses. The artists selected photos from those sessions and rendered them on canvas. Every piece in the show which has 50 total is based at the refuge. Every stakeholder in the show photographers, artists and the refuge itself stands to gain more exposure.
The artists have the option of donating one-third of their show sales to the Guild, one-third to the Friends, and keeping the rest or they can evenly split the proceeds between the two nonprofits.
"It's a wide range of different types of art, but they're all looking at the same thing," says Day-Vath. "We thought that would be the most important part, to see how the artists' minds interpreted the photos. It really goes from the eye to the heart."
The project was a departure for Aksdal, who typically works live. His distinctive watercolor-and-ink paintings often feature trees and fields but not wildlife. "I got to venture out with this," he says.
Aksdal worked from two photos: one of an ascending heron by Stina Plant, and one of ducks flying into a purple sky by Christopher Bouchard. He transformed Bouchard's ducks into a 4-foot-long piece with a watercolor background; the rest is composed of intricately placed ink dots. The show rules limit each work to 24 inches, but Aksdal earned a warranted exception.
"Working from a photo took the pressure off, because I was inspired by something I actually saw," he says. "And with the time constraints, we all had to jump in and face what we were doing. For me, things flowed easier."