The Art of Furbearer Conservation

Many know me for my outdoor pursuits, advocacy, and trials in the wildlife control industry. What many don’t know is my affinity for the arts.

The author with a signed print of “No Free Lunch” by Timothy J. Craig (Photo | Furbearer Conservation)

In fact, my early dabbling with wildlife control services managed to help pay for the student loans I’d racked up from a BA degree. Side note: If you’re ever looking to feel slightly out of place, try being the only bearded woodbooger in a flannel shirt rolling into your first day of liberal arts classes behind the wheel of a lifted ‘87 Silverado. I became quite the topic on campus for making oversized paper mache fishing lures and designing magazine spread layouts for fictitious issues of Bassmaster.

I had a particular love with screen-printing self-designed concert posters in the style of Ed Roth's gritty undertones for local shows. I recall one of my installation projects where I screen-printed 135 11x17 sheets of camouflage (by hand) and adhered them to one of the college’s bathrooms. It was designed to give the viewer a sense of disorientation and disrupted field of vision (since the toilet, sinks, and walls all blended together). My art instructor was amused - the campus janitors, however, were not.

My past experiences in the fine arts are why I’m skilled at talking about trapping beaver and preparing a porcupine stew whilst in the same breath discussing the dualities of art nouveau and art deco. I’m not opposed to walking miles of untouched forest tracking fisher while debating dadaism and the relevancy of Marcel Duchamp. Let’s just say I have a bit of an eye for the finer things in life.

So it should come as no surprise that I get a flutter in the cockles of my heart when I come across varying forms of mixed media that meld these two worlds together. Needless to say, I’m a big supporter of the arts, and supporting local artists. While my collection is relatively small, and far from a vast representation of the talent of “conservation art” in the world, I wanted to share a few of my furbearer art acquisitions from some incredibly talented artists. Enjoy this brief synopsis with some choice picks from my “private stock” of artistic pieces.

No Free Lunch:

“No Free Lunch” by Timothy J Craig as it hangs in the Furbearer Conservation office. (Photo | Furbearer Conservation)

One of my most recent purchases to the collection is a limited edition print from Minnesota artist Timothy Craig. Titled “No Free Lunch”, the piece is an amazing display of trapping sets, survival and nature. The acrylic painting depicts a wintery farm setting where a coyote stalks a rabbit - unaware of the cable snare that lies in between predator and prey. The composure and composition of the print stands beautifully on its own, however it was the incredible irony of the piece that captured my true admiration. Its one of life’s teachable moments summed up in one well executed image, depicting the reality of nature; and how a hyper-focus on one particular subject can inevitably become one’s own downfall. Some days you’re the rabbit, and some days you’re the coyote - but both must be wary of life’s snares. The viewer is left to make their own determination of how the story ends in Craig’s “No Free Lunch”.

Tim states the idea & inspiration for the piece was originally sketched out and left unfinished. Two years later, once his son started getting into regulated trapping, Tim was reminded of his “No Free Lunch” sketch. The piece took Tim around two weeks to complete. Whether you are a trapper or not - the piece stands as an amazing representation of rural life and man’s presence within our wild world. The print is available in a very limited quantity of 100 - so reach out to him through his Facebook page before they’re all sold!

The Beaver Lodge:

“Beaver Pen & Ink” by Gene Matras, currently unframed. (Photo | Furbearer Conservation)

I came upon the works of local artist Gene Matras while walking the vendor booths of the local county fair. Born in Poland, Gene arrived in New Hampshire at the age of nine. As Gene states on his website, with initial encouragement from his mother, he has been drawing since early childhood and has developed a 35-year art career. Gene is well known for his pen & ink style which has been developed into an interesting technique. Many of Gene’s works seep agricultural undertones along with the subtle details of rural New Hampshire life. Imagine my delight to come across one of Gene’s well-known and sought after pen & ink drawings depicting one of my favorite fur bearers - a winter beaver lodge scene. The print presents a well-established lodge with a healthy beaver hunched over on the side of the waterline. The sharp contrasts of the black and white pen and ink line-work emphasize the minute details of the nature scene - adding satisfying texture to the piece.

The imagery is what every conservation-minded trapper romanticizes about; those picturesque days on the often silent beaver bogs - where these overgrown rodent engineers are busy maintaining their lodge and dams. As a trapper, one of the most important parts of choosing to purchase furbearer art is the anatomical correctness of the animal, as well as the accuracy of the scene. Gene’s prints do not disappoint, and his Beaver Pen & Ink Print is a cherished addition to my collection.

1976 Remington Wildlife Exhibit:

Remington Wildlife Prints by Various Artists (Photo | Furbearer Conservation)

One of my first purchases of “furbearer art prints” was a series of pieces from the 1976 Remington Wildlife Exhibit, which was to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the United States. Many different works by many different artists were displayed. The prints, collectively, were enrolled into the Remington Art Collection. It was said that Remington provided the artist illustrations and American Express paid for actual exhibit. The pieces of particular interest to me included wild turkey, mule deer, a fisher chasing a chipmunk, a fox observing a bluejay in a farm field, and a beaver carrying chew-sticks past a bathing bear.

To this day, I’m still trying to dig up more on the individual artists of each piece. I’d gladly welcome any info from anyone who may know more. Several reproductions of the prints are available on online auction websites. These particular prints are an important part of my collection, and have a special wall in the home where they’re displayed and enjoyed by all.

Reynard Sly:

The author with a vintage trap advertising print. (Photo | Furbearer Conservation)

Being a graphic designer in my past life, I do have a soft-spot for old marketing promotions. Being a trapper, I also have an (as my wife would say, unhealthy) obsession with historic trapping memorabilia. One of my favorite art pieces is an old marketing print from the Victor Trap Co. of Oneida N.Y. The piece plays off of the old Aesop Fable “The Hen and The Fox”, which tells the tale of a hungry fox named Reynard who attempts to sweet-talk a skeptical hen off the safety of her roosting perch. “Reynard sly, chickens fly, sudden snap, Victor trap” is stated in the middle of the ad, suggesting an end to predation of your poultry from any cunning “Reynards” out there. The ad shows the branded Victor trap products with the notched “V” in the trap pan.

It may sound crazy to any graphic design students reading this, but I’m slightly reminded of the 1900’s French Michelin ad posters. Maybe even a hint of Italian Futurist movement from the 1920’s. The exhibition posters of Fortunato Depero, Marius Rossillon, and Art Deco-era works come to mind. In any event, the piece is both a cherished piece of hunting history, as well as a great conversation piece for guests of my home. A great example of old advertising turned art. You might be able to score a reproduction print by scouting the online auction websites.

The Beauty of Art

The beauty of art is that it is subjective. Its less about what is “needed” by the masses and more cherished by what “speaks” directly to you, the viewer. George Bernard Shaw once said "Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable." So get out there, support your local artists, and enjoy what “speaks” to you.

Have a great furbearer art piece you’d like to share? Post your pieces on our Facebook page, or provide links to the pieces in the comments below!