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Aesop inspires artists at wildlife museum

October 12, 2016

Local artists join museum program to illustrate ancient fables.
By Erika Dahlby

The tales of a tortoise and hare in a footrace, a mouse freeing a great lion and a fox tricking a crow have been ingrained in the moral code of generations and cultures across the world.

This week Aesop’s Fables will come to life at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. The tales of courage and wit, illustrated by 25 local artists, will hang starting Friday in the King Gallery. Patrons also will have several chances to preview the works at special events (see sidebar).

Bronwyn Minton, the associate curator of art and research at the museum, came up with the idea to create an art exhibit centered around the famed fables.

“I think it is interesting that they are so lasting,” Minton said, “and that there are some that carry themselves through history and culture. There are stories that have become a part of our language.”

Minton found 25 artists with a knack for illustration to bring 25 fables to life. The artists were given a canvas to work with and the guideline to use black and white with tones of gray. Besides that, the artists had complete freedom to interpret the stories.

“I like all of [the artists’] different ways of thinking about things,” Minton said.
Some artists used charcoal, others used ink to create line-heavy pieces. One artist even used spray paint in his creation. Another incorporated screenprinting into his piece.

In the gallery the 20-by-30-inch canvases will be presented next to the associated fable. Walking through the gallery will feel like walking through a giant book.

Minton read through more than 600 fables, she said, and was able to whittle them down to the 25 featured in the exhibit. But she had criteria to help her: Tales with people were ruled out and others that seemed a bit too dark were left behind. In a decent number of the stories some of the animals would die or somebody got killed, Minton said.

“Those weren’t as interesting to me as the more subtle ones that were about communication or a trait,” she said.

At first she wasn’t sure if she should keep the classic fables in the mix, like the story of the tortoise and the hare or the lion and the mouse, but then she realized it was important to include them. But she couldn’t leave behind some of the more clever stories like the crab and his mother.

“I also tried to pick some that you would definitely recognize,” Minton said. “I kept some of the classics, and some are ones that nobody would recognize but are really good.”

Minton said she is always trying to think about the museum and its mission in different ways and how people can access and interact with animals.

“Through stories, and illustrated stories, is a really cool way to do that,” she said.
This isn’t Minton’s first time curating a group show. She’s been known to put together creative ideas and many artists into one big final project. She’s facilitated the creation of exquisite animals, the wonder cabinet, fortune cookies and a visual storytelling. They’ve ranged from 20-something artists to 125 community members.

“In the beginning I was like ‘This is a really fun way to engage my friends,’” Minton said. “And I think it’s a really neat way to engage the community with the museum.”

Minton and the museum have also created a book with the fables and illustrations. It will be available for purchase in the museum’s gift shop for $29.95.

Contact Erika Dahlby at 732-5909 or


Jocelyn Wasson’s illustration of “The Fox and The Crow” was created with graphite and ink. If you look a little closer the fox has small creatures hidden in its tail.


Emily Poole fills in details of a bat in the ink and watercolor representation of “The Bat, The Bramble, and The Seagull.”

Artists involved

Haley Badenhop Emily Boespflug Ben Carlson Jenny Dowd Sam Dowd Walt Gerald Steven Glass Greta Gretzinger Matt Grimes Greg Houda David Klaren Rachel Kunkle Hartz Olaus Linn Erin O’Connor Mike Piggott Emily Poole Ben Roth Jocelyn Wasson Erin Ashlee Smith Sharon Thomas Tim Tomkinson Shannon Troxler Lisa Walker Stacey Walker Henry Williams

Get a sneak peek at the art

If you can’t wait to see the exhibit when it officially opens during museum operating hours on Friday, there are two options to see the exhibit up close on Thursday.

At 11:30 a.m. on Thursday the museum will host a sneak peek in the galleries. There will be a behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibit and artists Sam Dowd and Emily Poole will speak about their illustrations.

Later that evening the museum is kicking off its fall and winter series of Mix’d Media. It’s a free after-hours party at the museum meant to bring together people who normally wouldn’t be able to get to the museum during regular hours. From 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday you will be able to meet the artists, tour the exhibit, eat Greek food, taste ouzo, listen to music, mingle and make your own “fable flair” to take home.

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