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Indictment And Hope In Bellingham Exhibit On Endangered Species

A visit to Bellingham likely means a stop at a museum or two. There's the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention, and the Bellingham Rail Museum, to name a couple.

And then there’s the Whatcom Museum, spread over two buildings, chronicling history, nature and art in the Northwest. From now until Jan. 6, the museum’s Lightcatcher building is hosting an exhibition focused on endangered species.

"The exhibition responds to a moment in time, when one out of five species is endangered today," said Barbara Matilsky, curator of art at the Whatcom Museum. "However, statistics don't tell the whole story. What art can do is convey this message to people on a very visceral and emotional level."

The exhibit runs throughout the Lightcatcher's main gallery, leading viewers from an exploration of biodiversity into images and sculptures of species that have become extinct.

Matilsky stands in front of a painting of an American bison, called Buffalo Bull: Grazing on the Prairie. The oil-on-canvas work is 24 inches by 29 inches, was made in about 1832, and is on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum -- a coup, Matilsky says, as "they seldom loan this particular painting."

Bison once roamed North America in the tens of millions. By the late 1800s, about 1,000 remained. In the painting, this bison is staring straight at the viewer.

"This painting is a warning to all. ... But the good news is it represented the first conservation effort in this country to conserve an animal," she said. "[The painting] represents the worst in us and the best in us."

But while many of the works on display indict humankind for our outsized impact on the environment, there are others that give reason to hope.

"It was very important for me to let people know this is not an exhibition of doom and gloom," she said. "There are so many people making a difference. More than you can possibly imagine."
That help, she said, comes from scientists doing the research and work to conserve plants and animals -- and also the artists, whose efforts to depict nature throughout the ages have drawn the eyes, and the attention, of so many, and helped them care.
"Going Places" is 88.5's weekly exploration of travel. Our travel expert, Matthew Brumley, will return next week. He's co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island, which provides small group travel to clients including KNKX. Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Going Places with iTunes Google Play or Stitcher.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.