Illustrations based on specimens from the coasts of Maine and the Louisiana
I believe my passion for the coast started very early. Both my parents were from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and my father got a position as a mechanical engineer in Evergreen, Alabama before I was born. Holidays were a time for traveling along the Gulf Coast to see family back in Louisiana, and I believe this had an effect on me as a small child. After we moved back to Baton Rouge several years later, we would occasionally visit old friends in Alabama and again, make stops along the Gulf coast. I don't remember anything unique about these trips other than having fun building sand castles and getting my feet wet.
When I accompanied my aunt on a trip to Mississippi a few years later, I recall making a very special request to stop at the beach so I could get out. I remember eagerly reaching the sand where I picked up rather ugly oyster shells. Much later, I would pressure my family to take day-trips to nearby coastal areas to search for shells. Sometimes the trip would end in disappointment due to the locations to which we traveled. However, before our trips ended, my father would eventually pull into the parking lot of a well-established shell shop on Hwy 61 between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Here I was able to make up for the lost day. Over the next few years, I eventually amassed quite a collection from this shop, from shell mail orders and from specimens given to me by sympathetic family members.
When I entered graduate school, I drew and painted shells as large works. I also began to use them in my graphic design and illustration studies. After I began teaching at Southeast, I received a grant to attend a field-sketching Master Class workshop sponsored by the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators at the Humboldt Research Institute on the coast of Maine. As a result of this study, I produced a series of large illustrations of various subjects from shells to botanicals to insects. Thirteen years later I received funding to attend the workshop, Illustrating Seashore Subjects held at the same location. The creation of the works for this exhibition followed.
My husband and I began to visit Grand Isle, Louisiana frequently during the winter breaks from school. It became a place where we would regenerate and have the beaches to ourselves since it was during the off-season. Last Christmas, we visited a newly opened state-owned area near Grand Isle called Elmer's Island, where the shelling was the best I had ever experienced. I remember turning to my husband, with tears in my eyes, telling him "I am full." I felt like that small girl on the beach again. Everything before me seemed permanent and unchanging. Before we departed, I recall looking with fondness at the coastal landscape and marshland. I knew in my head of their fragility, but in my heart I felt they would be there forever. Not in my wildest dreams did I anticipate what was to come.
On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon, approximately 50 miles from Grand Isle, exploded, killing 11 men while injuring 17 others. The result of the explosion was an uncontrollable release of oil that eventually made its way to the coast and surrounding barrier islands, destroying wildlife and affecting the way of life in the Gulf Coast region. I reacted with great sadness and grief, feeling helpless to right what I perceived to be a great wrong.
It has been over 6 months since the accident, and the jury is still out on the long-term effects of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast environment. During a recent trip to Grand Isle, my husband informed me by phone that Elmer's Island was closed indefinitely. Upon hearing this news, I felt shut out of paradise. I have no idea what awaits me when I return next holiday. I fear that I will have to face my grief first hand. Until then, I feel so fortunate to have experienced a special time on that island, even though it was so short. It reminded me, once again, to take nothing for granted.
It is my intention that my work, with its attention to detail and to nature's beauty, will create awareness of how important nature is to our quality of life. It is vital to our humanity. I also hope that it reminds all of us, in light of recent events, that our landscapes can change overnight and that we should continue to strive to be responsible stewards of the earth.
Louise Bodenheimer 2010