Laura Hecox Naturalist Award

Recently, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History honored me with the Laura Hecox Naturalist Award. The museum established this award in 2016 in honor of the museum's founder, Laura Hecox, to recognize Santa Cruz community members who exemplify the museum’s mission to connect people with nature and science in ways that help others to appreciate, understand, and protect the wonders of the natural world. Recipients generously and enthusiastically share their knowledge and love of natural history and inspire others to do the same.

Below are the remarks I made when I accepted the award at a Patron’s reception on May 17.

I’d like to thank the Board and the Museum staff for honoring me with this award.

When Marisa called me to tell me about this award, I was not sure I was really the right candidate. I don’t often think of myself as a naturalist. Like many people, I think of naturalists as purely scientists - people who participate in academic research and give Latin names to the creatures they study.

But as I learned more about Laura Hecox, I realized I had fallen into that trap of allowing a narrow vision to define something that is infinitely more complex. Laura Hecox probably didn’t start out thinking of herself as a naturalist and she almost certainly faced some serious skepticism or outright rejection from the scientific community in her time. But she built her collection and dedicated her life to sharing her knowledge with others.

Learning about Laura Hecox also got me thinking about women like Maria Sibylla Merian who was both an artist and scientist. Without any formal scientific training, Maria contributed significantly to our understanding of insect metamorphosis. She produced incredible etchings and paintings that document her observations. I’ve also been thinking about Mary Oliver, who I think of as the Poet Laureate / Patron Saint of naturalists. And I think about the many, many men and women who are the original stewards of these lands - the Amah Mutsun, Rumsen, and Ohlone people -  and all of the knowledge they have contributed to our understanding of this place. All of them have done so much, in such different ways, to help connect each of us to our place in the world. What is a naturalist if not someone who makes careful observations and shares them with others?

So though I forget more Latin names than I learn and I rely on research far more than I contribute to it, I do know how to pay attention. And I know how to share what I witness through paintings and drawings. Wild places in particular are an endless source of inspiration for the work I do. I aspire to honor the beauty and complexity of this place. And more than anything, I hope that my work inspires others to observe more carefully and engage more deeply with the world we share.

I know that this kind of inspiration starts in places like this museum. It certainly did for me and I continue to rely on the resources here to help me understand the world around me. One of the most profound offerings this museum can make is to invite anyone and everyone to engage in observation, in learning, and in connection. By engaging a broad swath of the community - especially those who may not traditionally show up in a space like this - the museum has the potential to spark curiosity and wonder in ways that are critical to our shared future.

We are on the precipice of profound and potentially catastrophic changes in our climate and our ecosystems. In order to address the challenges that lie ahead, we need to inspire each other to

  • Find connection to place

  • Seek out multiple perspectives

  • Appreciate the complexity of biological systems

  • Understand what it takes to take care of our world

  • Become stewards of our natural resources

I am encouraged by what the museum has done thus far and how far outside the walls of this building its influence extends. I look forward to being part of the future efforts of the museum.



2019 Spring News

Spring is nearly here and with it comes a flurry of art activity!

The coming weeks brings two opportunities to see my artwork in person. First, the annual Art of Nature exhibit opens at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History on Friday, March 29. The show runs through May and will be open extended hours on the First Fridays in April and May.

I will also be hanging a solo show at Satellite Co-working space and Digital Media Studio in Santa Cruz. That show will open on Friday, April 5 and run through April. The space is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM.

Both exhibits will feature recent work focusing on ecological relationships. The Art of Nature show will feature a few large nature mandala watercolors from my Elkhorn Slough residency. More new nature mandalas and a set of small multi-media drawings focused on lepidoptera will be at Satellite. I’m excited to be collaborating with both of these organizations and I hope you’ll be able to stop by to see my work.

In other news, New York Puzzle Company recently published one of my paintings on a puzzle! This is a painting I did for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology back in 2009. I’m excited to see it come to life again in puzzle form. For more details, go here: https://www.puzzlewarehouse.com/Ruby-Throated-Hummingbird-npzcb1924.html

Also related to my work at Cornell, they recently redesigned their website and dedicated an entire section to the Bartels Science Illustration Internship program. The work I did during my internship is featured here: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/illustrators/megan-gnekow-2009/

And finally, did you know I’m available for commissions? I recently took a commission for a piece featuring feathers from raptors of the Pacific Northwest. You can follow the development of this piece on my Instagram feed. It’s fun to collaborate with a client on their vision and work with some of my favorite subjects. If you are interested in commissioning a piece, please send me a message!

2018 Fall Events

As always, Open Studios kicks off a season of art happenings! I have two market events and one exhibit opening in November and December! More details below:

First up is a pop-up event at Home/Work, located at 1100 Soquel Drive in Midtown Santa Cruz. I’ll be selling prints, tote bags, cards, flour sack towels, and more - all featuring my artwork! This event is scheduled for Sunday, November 4.

Next is the opening of the exhibit “Reserves of Inspiration: Exploring UC Santa Cruz Natural Landscapes”. My piece “Willets in the Pickleweed” will be featured in this exhibit. The exhibit will be at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at Cowell College from November 6 through December 8. More information can be found here and here. I’m excited to be showing with fellow Science Illustration alum and instructors!

And finally, I will be joining my friends at Watershed Arts Studio at the Tannery Arts Center for the annual Winter Art Market. Linda Cover and Kerri Linden will be hosting me in their studio during the market, which is Dec. 1 & 2.

Reflection on Open Studios

On Oct. 6-7, 2018, I had the good fortune of being hosted by the Elkhorn Slough Foundation at the historic Porter Ranch House in Watsonville. Not only is it an incredible 19th century farm house located just northeast of the Slough, it also is a wonderful place to gather in celebration of art!

On Saturday, Oct. 6, Diane Porter Cooley, who grew up in that house, came to visit. Just shy of 90, Mrs. Cooley told delightful stories and shared her passion for protecting meaningful places. She also celebrated the power of art to highlight a sense of place. What a treat to meet her and learn from her.

I am so grateful to everyone who came through the house, the staff at the Elkhorn Slough Foundation who provided such generous support, and my fellow artists - Kate Warthen & Bill Fenwick - who shared the space with me. We had a great time and I look forward to more creative endeavors celebrating the Central Coast!

Monterey County Artists Open Studios Tour is coming!

I am honored to be participating in the 28th annual Monterey County Artists Open Studios Tour this year! The Elkhorn Slough Foundation will be hosting me at the Porter Ranch House on the October 6 & 7. I will be joined by two other artists at the house and we hope visitors will be inspired and excited by the various work on display. 

I'll be showing new food webs inspired by my time as an Artist in Residence at Elkhorn Slough this past Spring. I'll also have prints, cards, and other items available for sale.  

2018 digital Artists Open Studio Tour Post Card Invitation .png

Where to see my work in June

If you want to see my work in person, you'll have two opportunities to do so in the Santa Cruz area this month. 

First, an exhibit of my new work featuring moths and butterflies with their host plants is up at Garimo's Real Soap Studio at 6225 Highway 9 in Felton. There are several new works there and also a few perennial favorites. But this show is all Lepidoptera so if that's your jam - please swing by to check it out! Plus, the shop smells wonderful!

Also, on Saturday, June 9, I'll be participating in a pop-up show celebrating Home/Work's 3rd anniversary! The event is from 2-6 PM at their gorgeous 1100 Soquel Ave. location - right in the heart of Midtown. Come by to see some of my food webs inspired by the mountains and the sea.  

Upcoming events

On June 1, the series "Lepidoptera and Host Plants" will be on display at Garimo's Real Soap Studio in Felton, along with some other work featuring our winged friends. Please come join us for the opening from 6-9 PM. Original art, prints, coloring books, and cards will all be for sale.

about the food webs

Over the past couple of years, I have been increasingly interested in the dynamic and complex relationships between organisms in ecosystems. I started developing this series of drawings that explores these relationships.

I call these “food webs” in recognition that often, these inter-species relationships are based on who eats or is eaten by whom. I particularly like the word “web” because I think it most accurately describes how these relationships work. Traditionally, this is referred to as a “food chain” but a chain indicates only a single line of relationship where a web describes a more complex set of relationships. The idea of a web also draws attention to the fact that there are crucial connections between many organisms in an ecosystem and that the loss of even one of those organisms can impact the entire structure. 

I have chosen to arrange the organisms in these drawings in such a way that (I hope) demonstrates the complexity of those relationships. I chose the circle as the basis for the composition of these drawings in part because it helps reinforce this idea of interconnectedness. Plus it allows for some fun shapes!