Local artist making mark
Nick Thomas, Special to the Enquirer
Sweeping down from lofty mountain peaks and soaring through lush valleys, the bald eagle must surely have cast its shadow of fierce beauty over the canvass of Alabama wildlife artist, Larry Chandler. In his latest painting, "Freebird," the Decatur native, who has a studio in Hartselle, has once more masterfully captured the great bird's proud independence that has long been a source of inspiration and national pride.
Viewing this work it is not difficult to see why, some two and a half centuries ago, the bald eagle was adopted as the country's official emblem. It was a natural choice for a proud, young nation, about to spread its own wings of freedom and make its mark on the world.
Although he is perhaps best known nationally for his paintings of dogs, ducks, and other gaming wildlife, there is a proud, patriotic theme that radiates from the canvas of Chandler's bald eagle works.
"Symbols of America since 9/11 have taken on an entirely different meaning than ever before," the 53 year-old artist said. "The bald eagle is the single most known icon for freedom around the world."
Chandler credits his own father, himself a gifted artist, for encouraging his interest in painting.
And family hunting expeditions as a child provided an early appreciation of American wildlife and the environment. His talents were quickly recognized.
"I won a poster contest at my school on the subject of saving the environment," Chandler said.
Many other awards and honors would soon follow. Chandler takes special pride in being selected to design an Arkansas duck stamp – the most successful stamp in the state's history – and a commission to paint President Bill Clinton and his dog Buddy for display at the White House.
While some wildlife artists find inspiration in books, Chandler prefers to take his own photographs at sanctuaries and bird rehabilitation centers.
"I also have a friend who is a professional wildlife photographer who photographs many eagles in Alaska for me."
Chandler's bald eagles will therefore always depict a real, living bird, each with its own personality and uniqueness. Perhaps this is why all of Chandler's bald eagle paintings, have quickly found homes.
"Freebird" was recently purchased by George Bryan, retired owner of Bryan Food Industries and current director at Buckeye Technologies, Tenn.
"The painting is in the most prominent place at work," Bryan said. "Its bold, patriotic look gets everyone's attention. It's just a magnificent painting."
"Freebird" is perhaps Chandler's simplest, yet most stunning, portrayal of the national symbol. The profile of an unpretentious head and neck shows exquisite feathering detail. At near to center, a single gleaming eye sunk into a proud, erect head fixes its gaze on some distant object, which the viewer will never know or see.
"In most cases I will paint the eyes first," Chandler said. "The entire focus of life, character, and mood are always in the eyes. When you encounter an animal, bird, or person you are always drawn to them first."
A flicker of reflection in Freebird's pupil does indeed immediately draw the viewer irresistibly towards the eye – a portal to the very soul of this noble creature.
Of the half-dozen bald eagle paintings Chandler has created, "Majesty in the Pines," is his favorite. It took six weeks to complete during 1991, and depicts a lone bird perched on its pine tree throne, surveying its kingdom. The painting sold for $12,000, and subsequent print sales have helped several eagle foundations including the eagle sanctuary at Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
While most of Chandler's paintings would suggest eagles are solitary birds, bald eagles are far from loners. A pair of bald eagles will bond and mate for life. They will use the same nest year after year, adding more twigs and branches to build a permanent home for themselves and their brood of eaglets each season. Over time, nests may reach diameters of ten feet. Chandler's "The Land of the Blue Smoke," depicts such a pair of love birds. For sheer grandeur of scale, it would be hard to overlook this massive 48" by 60" work showing a life-sized pair of bald eagles perched prominently in the foreground with the magnificent hills of Gatlinburg as a backdrop.
Like most successful artists today, Chandler's paintings are reproduced in limited quantities as prints. In the past, photographic reproduction coupled with lithography has been the best way to economically create good quality prints of an original oil painting. But for much of his recent work, including "Freebird," Chandler's prints have been made using the Giclee (pronounced Zhee-klay) process. For this technique, the original oil painting is scanned with a computer. Archival quality inks and high-resolution printers are then used to produce incredibly detailed canvass prints at a fraction of the cost of the original.
Whether carved in wood, chiseled into stone, or painted on canvass, artists have always been challenged by the powerful symbolism of the bald eagle. "Freebird" – like all Larry Chandler's eagles – celebrates this ageless spirit that so embodies the strength and freedom of America.
Chandler's works are available for all to view on his web site, www.larrychandlerart.com.
Nick Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer in Montgomery and teaches at Auburn University Montgomery. His stories about animals, nature and the environment appear in newspapers throughout the Southeast.