Journey’s End By Bert Raynes, Naturalist Eight turtle species live in the seas of the world. One species, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, is critically endangered, having suffered greatly by human predation and inadvertent human activities. Loss of vast areas of their former breeding beaches—female sea turtles must return to land to lay eggs and continue their species—is a primary factor in the ridley’s plummeting population. In a current exhibition at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, sculptor Kent Ullberg has captured a moment in the lives and life cycle of two female ridley sea turtles as, drawn by the instinct they make their ultimate approach to the beach where they hatched. Judging by the expression on their faces of anticipation and triumph— somehow captured in the bronze by Ullberg—there’s a determination as well. They are compelled to complete their journeys. On my first visit to this show, Fight of Flight: Art, Action, Animals, I viewed this artwork from a chair from an unobstructed lowered elevation, lower than familiar. Thus I approached Ullberg’s Journey’s End as if I were underneath the surf as it brought these turtles on the last few yards to shore. Not looking down on them, but about to receive them. Not swimming with them, but welcoming them. Journey’s End is a title with multiple meanings, of course: both of the animals approaching the end of their journey, but also, perhaps, their participation in the final acts of their species. Focused on their mission, oblivious to anything but their ancient urgings. The expressions on the turtle’s faces speak of anticipation, of hope, expectation, determination. How can Ullberg capture all of that in bronze? Well, he has lots of experience. Kent Ullberg has been a successful sculptor for over four decades, with works shown worldwide. His work captures the intensity of animal behavior, from mammals to fish. He is an undeniable master of his chosen art form on both intimate and monumental scales. In the book Kent Ullberg: Monuments to Nature, Todd Wilkinson presents descriptions and illustrations of Ullberg’s extraordinary abilities. Already breathtakingly prolific, he is very much a working artist, continuing to seek new interpretations of animal form and movement. Ullberg works on a relatively small scale (Journey’s End is about four feet tall) to the largest wildlife art ever made, a sculpture made over several city blocks. Immediately outside the windows of the Museum’s Rising Sage Café, overlooking the National Elk Refuge and the foothills of Gros Ventre Mountains is an Ullberg bronze bear lounging and at ease. Kent Ullberg occasionally visits the National Museum of Wildlife Art. In 1996, he was awarded the Museum’s prestigious Rungius Award for his contributions to the interpretations of wildlife and its habitat. The current show Fight or Flight: Art, Action, Animals, replete with pieces from the Museum’s own collection is a rewarding experience. LOOKING A T W ILDLIFE A RT (LEFT) Kent Ullberg (Swedish, born 1945), Journey’s End, 1993. Bronze. 41 ½ x 32 x 31 inches. Generously sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Richard F. Mogan, III, National Museum of Wildlife Art. © Kent Ullberg. 46 Photo by Kathy Robertson, TreasuresISeek.com Bert Raynes is a beloved local and nationally known naturalist. His weekly column in the Jackson Hole News&Guide and his books—Valley So Sweet, Curmudgeon Chronicles, Birds of Jackson Hole, Winter Wings, and Birds of Sage and Scree—inspire readers to understand, explore and protect the beautiful valley of Jackson Hole. His books can be found in the Museum Shop. He was chosen as the recipient of the prestigious 2001 Rungius Medal for his tireless work in raising awareness and appreciation of the natural world and the precious creatures that inhabit it.
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