Nationally recognized artist and naturalist George Bumann is serving as this summer’s Artist in Residence at the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb. George grew up outside of Syracuse and is a graduate of SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, which operates the Interpretive Center. Because he spent time in Newcomb as an undergraduate, this residency is a kind of homecoming.
Based in Montana, George has the unique privilege to live in Yellowstone National Park. He is surrounded by his subject – immersed in a landscape populated with wild animals. Working in clay and bronze he captures the nature of wild animals with information and insight gathered from direct experience. It’s astonishing that George does not work from photography and sometimes sculpts out-of-doors from the back of his car. In George’s view photographs are flat and cannot give information from every angle the way working from life can. When asked about how animals are constantly in motion he said when the animal changes position, he simply rotates his sculpture. I don’t know any other artist who drives around with a roadkill kit but George gets very excited about describing his kit and the wonderful data he gathers with it. How else could one touch a grizzle bear except after its death? While in the field he makes full use of these rare opportunities to measure every length of bone to bring accuracy to his sculptures.
George wasn’t always interested in the arts. His mother is an accomplished artist and he spent a lot of time in her studio while growing up. He could see how hard she worked and, for a time, rejected that lifestyle to follow a career path in ecology. While living in Yellowstone, in the habitat of bears, wolves, elk and bison, George had profound experiences that he felt required a return to the arts to express.
Recently, George gave a talk at the AIC about his career as both a wildlife ecologist and professional artist. While sculpting a whitetail deer George shared his views on science, art and what gives meaning to life.
“In the end, it’s not about clay. It’s not about wolves,” he said. “It’s about that vast unspoken magic lingering between my words and our world. If there’s one gift we can give ourselves it’s to be conscious of this beauty that’s around us each and every day. Second only to that is to share it with others in whatever your medium happens to be.”
In 2014 I had the great fortune to serve as the first Artist in Residence at the AIC. When I learned about George Bumann and his work as a wildlife sculptor I was curious to see what he was up to. Recently, I joined George’s Raptor sculpting workshop. He is a generous instructor and spoke at length about the skeletal structure of the bird and how knowing this internal framework helps to bring the correct proportions to the piece. He shared some of his extensive knowledge about modeling clay and tools. We were supplied with two stuffed specimens to work from. Although my sculpture doesn’t represent any bird that exists in nature I’m pleased with the result.
During his residency George plans to study the habitat of dragonflies as a subject for new paintings. He hopes that by sharing these images local residents and visitors will see the dragonfly differently.
Spending time in the Adirondacks with his young family, he is leaving plenty of room for serendipity. We talked about our shared residency experience at the AIC and agreed that it’s a great place to hear one’s inner guidance and leave behind the pressures of our outcome driven culture. If one is open one’s work can follow a surprising new trajectory. This openness has brought George full circle back to the arts and to the Adirondacks, at least for a while.
George will be hosting another Open Studio on 22nd from 10 am to 1 pm. Drop by the studio to learn about his artistic process and pose questions to the artist. On July 23rd he is offering a workshop entitled “Better Birding through the Artful Eye Sketching.”
The Adirondack Interpretive Center is located at 5922 State Route 28N in Newcomb. If you have any questions or wish to register for workshops contact the AIC at (518) 582-2000 or visit them online.
Photo of George Bumann, and sculptures “Veteran Traveler” and “Contemplation” by George Bumann.