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Inspiration in Nature

by Susan Zaluski

JVD kid holding a picture inspired by wildlife

The BVI is a rich tapestry of colors – brilliant blues and greens surround us, while coral reefs and other habitats abound with every color of the rainbow. Not surprisingly, these resources and the idyllic landscapes and seascapes of the British Virgin Islands offer the perfect inspiration for artists and naturalists alike.

Since 2008, the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society (JVDPS), a locally based not-for-profit organization with a conservation and heritage-focused mission, has coordinated several projects for local youth that promote an understanding of and awareness for Jost Van Dyke's unique natural environment. From meeting stick insects with visiting scientists from Guana Island's Science Program to mist-netting for fruit bats as part of bio-diversity surveys for the island to dissecting animals, Jost Van Dyke youth have been exposed to a wide range of activities through the Preservation Society that help them become more inquisitive about the natural world around them.

In a new collaboration, the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society has joined forces with painter Isah Chinnery, a native Jost Van Dyke islander who is opening a new art gallery in White Bay, Jost Van Dyke. Together, Chinnery's Unique Designs and the Preservation Society hope to increase delivery of youth programs for the island that embrace both the Society's interest in getting youth involved with the natural world and Chinnery's desire to share his passion for painting with the Jost Van Dyke school children.

Earlier this year, a visiting tourist, Alison Brett, fell in love with Jost Van Dyke. Her passion at home for art and her work as an elementary school art teacher inspired her to donate art supplies to the JVDPS for some of its youth activities. At the same time, JVDPS and local JVD District Officer Carmen Blyden had teamed up to help another BVI civic group – the United 2nd District Development Council (UDC) of Cane Garden Bay – with their effort to restore the island's badly deteriorating public restrooms in Great Harbour. The newly painted building, coordinated by UDC and with some assistance from the BVI Tourist Board, looked great but lacked something. During one of the volunteer workdays for the project, JVDPS staff, along with local teacher Jessica Callwood, District Officer Carmen Blyden, and UDC's Chaunci Cline came up with the idea to have JVD children complete some artwork. Since JVDPS had been leading popular snorkeling trips with local youth and the island has a legacy as a fishing community, a coral reef seascape seemed to be an appropriate subject for a community mural.

Young artist painting a picture inspired by wildlife

California-based schoolteacher Alison Brett had extensive experience in developing children's art projects. Alison designed a mock-up for a coral reef mural and donated supplies to create the 5' by 8' seascape that would be sketched onto the wall by adults and painted by school children during their Easter holiday. Isah Chinnery joined the team, quickly adding value to the project by donating his artistic skills. Isah also proved to be an excellent teacher, encouraging students and coaching them on their painting techniques. The nice thing about the mural, according to one on-looker was that you could tell that many different people painted the scene. Alison Brett, who was present for the mural painting, had joyful tears in her eyes, while watching the excitement of the young artists. She commented how exciting it is to see young people realize how thrilling it can be to create artwork.

The days spent on the mural were a lot of fun for everyone and also gave birth to another idea. Chinnery admitted that he'd hoped to offer children's art classes in his newly opened art gallery in White Bay. JVDPS staff had long noticed how art – whether it be sketching in nature journals or incorporating arts and crafts into other science activities seemed to be a favorite among school children, and was also an important part of developing keen observation ability. The two partners decided to team up and offer art lessons that focused on native wildlife.

In 2011, JVDPS designed a wetlands monitoring program for the island in the form of a water bird census of the island's salt ponds, which it carries out three times per year. As a supplement to the bird surveys, JVDPS took many local youth on bird-watching trips to local salt ponds and created activities to help the students learn to identify wetland bird species. There has long been a relationship between art and the sciences and some of the world's most famous naturalists and ornithologists included paintings of birds as part of species study. One famous example of this is Rory Tory Peterson, the 20th century American naturalist and author of a series of famous field guides. Peterson sketched hundreds of North American birds during his lifetime, and his works are renowned for their painstaking detail and still persist as an important resource in the world of ornithology. And so, birds were chosen as the main focal point for the first set of art lessons to be offered as a combined effort between Chinnery and the JVDPS.

During students' summer vacation, Chinnery's Unique Designs (Chinnery's newly opened art gallery) and JVDPS hosted its first Art & Nature workshop, with Ivan Chinnery's White Bay Campground donating facility space. Students played games such as "Wetland Bird Bingo" to help develop their identification skills, went bird watching at White Bay's salt pond and each student created an original acrylic-on-canvas painting of wetland bird species that are either permanent residents or migratory stopovers at Jost Van Dyke's salt ponds.

The success of the mural project and the Art & Nature workshop were enough of a success that both Chinnery and JVDPS knew they wanted these types of activities to continue. The projects also attracted a lot of interest from island visitors. Long-time Jost Van Dyke visitors Tod and Lisa Johnstone, who own a laser printing business back in their Mystic, Connecticut home liked the concept so much that they agreed to donate services and materials to help support future art and nature activities for island youth. In August, a box of tote bags made from recycled plastic bottles and printed with the likeness of the new Great Harbour office arrived. It is the hope that students, Chinnery's Unique Designs, the JVDPS and other island businesses will sell items, with sale proceeds benefiting youth nature and art projects.

BVI visitors can be on the lookout for printed bags and other materials bearing the school children's artwork and are encouraged to visit Chinnery's Unique Designs, (located at Ivan's Campground in White Bay on Jost Van Dyke) or to inquire about products at Foxy's boutique in Great Harbour.

You can learn more about the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society and its work at their website or by calling (284) 540-0861 and about Chinnery's Artwork by visiting White Bay or contacting him at (284) 343-9499.