Rare woodpecker puts local artist in spotlight
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
The sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker for the first time in more than 70 years has led to an opportunity of a lifetime for Hartselle artist Larry Chandler.
Chandler painted the rare bird in March-April 2004 on a tip he received from a friend, Bobby Harrison, a professor at Oakwood College in Huntsville.
"He came to me in February 2004 and told me he'd seen a male ivory-billed woodpecker while making a search with a fellow ornithologist, Tim Gallagher, in a heavily wooded, swampy area in eastern Arkansas. Since the bird was last sighted in Louisiana in 1933 and thought to be extinct by many birdwatchers, he suggested that I do a painting of it," Chandler recalled. "I started it right away using Bobby's memory as a guide. I made a lot of changes and it took about six weeks to complete."
Chandler's painting depicts the large bird in flight. Its red, black and white colors contrast sharply against a muted background of large trees surrounded by water.
The painting attracted international attention when it received the endorsement of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and was placed on display for the formal announcement of the bird's discovery by the U.S. Department of Interior. Subsequently, it was chosen to be printed on the 2005 Arkansas state duck stamp, license plate and governor's edition of conservation stamps and prints and soon will be used by the Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited and other national wildlife organizations as a licensed logo on lapel pins, T-shirts and other articles. In addition, it was recently published on the front cover of "People, Land and Water," the official publication of the Department of the Interior, and Alabama Wildlife" magazine.
"I feel very blessed," Chandler stated. "The Lord works in strange ways but I never expected Him to work through a woodpecker."
A kayaker named Gene Sparlin sighted the ivory-billed woodpecker Feb. 11, 2004, while canoeing in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge near Brinkley, Ark. Although he couldn't identify the bird, he knew it was one he'd never seen before.
When the Cornell Lab of Ornithology learned of the sighting, interest soared. The woodpecker's numbers dwindled substantially in the early 1900's when its habitat was destroyed by clear-cut timber harvesting and it was last seen and documented in 1933.
Gallager, who is employed at the lab, and Harrison met in Arkansas a week later to conduct a search of the area. On their first day out, they were crossing a slough in their canoes when the woodpecker made a pass in a clearing about 70 feet away. They had no doubt they had seen what they came to look for. They split up, recorded field notes and made sketches of the bird. When they met later their sketches were identical.
The lab conducted a follow-up search but only one sighting was reported after several weeks in the swamps. The lab still needed documented evidence of the woodpecker's existence. That was accomplished a short time later. A team of videographers from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock caught the bird in flight and recorded it on videotape.
Chandler's painting entitled "Elusive Ivory" is now available in print. It can be seen on his web site, larrychandlerart.com, or at Slate &Son Custom Framing in Hartselle.