Interview with the Artist

Interview with Sandy MacDonald of Arnold Art Gallery, November, 2000:

S.M.: Where did you live as a child?

L.deL: I was born in Tennessee, but don't really know the place because we left when I was one or two. I then lived for the next 4 or so years in Bedford, Mass, then another 3 in Lexington, Mass, then 9 years in Kensington, Maryland.

All summers were spent living in Newport where much of the extended family was living. RI always felt more like home base than anywhere else since it was there, we consistently lived part of every year. I lived many years in RI after graduating from college.

S.M.: Who were your inspiring teachers?

L.deL: My most inspiring teacher taught advanced biology class to the 12th grade. The labs were extensive, delving particularly into anatomy and physiology, and it was there that I did my first anatomical drawings when we studied in depth all the muscles of cats. Since anatomy is similar in terminology and form among the mammals, I still find that experience useful. The room was lined with her pets including a squirrel monkey, a goldfish eating piranha, and others. I often arrived home on weekends and holidays with such things as a boa constrictor in a pillow case, (which promptly crawled behind a radiator and would not come out), a small bear-like kinkajou, and a downy snow goose who swam in the bathtub and left a green trail down the carpeted stairs as I carried it out the front door.

My most valuable education came from working summers at the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, RI. There I cared for young wild animals that were brought in, I caught and banded hundreds of birds, I learned to stuff small mammals for the museum's collection. During my last summers there I was prompted to illustrate a trail guide in pen and ink, the first time I saw my drawings in print. This surprised me as I had always done drawings for book reports, scribbled caricatures of the teachers in my school notes, etc. though I had never thought about working as an artist.

One following year I took some chopped up photo copies of the trail guide drawings in a manila folder (my first attempt at a portfolio), and walked into the office of "National Parks and Conservation Magazine," near the University of Maryland where I studied zoology. There I picked up my first illustration job drawing grizzly bears in pen and ink.

S.M.: What were the most inspiring area locales?

L.deL: I would say that the ocean in general inspired me most during the years when I lived in Rhode Island. At that time I was delving intensely into the transparent medium of watercolor, and in particular studying the water in its infinite conditions. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to observe something constantly moving and to find patterns within it; patterns made by the ripples and waves, by the reflections of various sky conditions and vegetation and by the colors of the ground seen through water. I wanted to be able to convey its reflective and luminous quality. Much of the time I spent just sitting and observing it, even analyzing why certain types of wind conditions, why the various form and directions of wavelets caused particular types of reflections.

S.M.: How do you see your talents educating/illuminating the public?

L.deL: I don't consider that my work has anything to do with educating or illuminating the public. I concentrate on painting, on interpreting what I see and mastering the media that I work in. I hope that my work conveys the feeling of the places where I travel.
Because I have a science education and a continuing interest in that field, I am conscious of the importance of being true to the subject. I began my career illustrating for articles and books dealing with wildlife and science. For that, accuracy and detail were paramount. Over the years I have turned to painting landscape and wildlife, to interpreting more, and to using a freer brush stroke. Though I have chosen to avoid the strict detail of my earlier illustrations, I still strive to keep the integrity of my subjects.
I enjoy sharing the fascination I feel for the extreme landscapes and the more familiar landscapes where I travel. I hope that my paintings bring some of my experience back to people who have not been to these places, and perhaps incite their interest in these areas.

S.M.: Any words of wisdom, caution, praise or other for the local community concerning art, conservation, nature, open space, etc.:

L.deL: It is possible I play a part in conservation in the very nature of what I do. When I paint, I am influenced by my sense of the richness and complexity of nature. If a painting piques someone's interest in the natural world, or prompts them to travel to see these natural treasures, then perhaps it has had some effect on his appreciation and caring of these places.

Spending time in Antarctica, and in the Amazon region, drives home the realization that environments are changing fast. I lived at a science station on the Antarctic Peninsula in 1985 and then again in 1999. During this 14 year period I saw that the glacier had melted way back, exposing unnamed rock islands that were not there before. I saw changes in animal populations caused by warming temperatures. The more northerly elephant and fur seal, gentoo and chinstrap penguin populations were increasing, exerting pressures on the dwindling populations of the more southerly Adelie penguins which depend on the effects of cold temperatures to breed successfully. Krill, the major source of food for most of the animals, was dwindling because of a decrease in pack ice.

During my relatively short experience in the rain forest, I saw evidence of commercial pressures on the natural forest. I saw floating rafts of harvested trees destined for mills. I saw baby monkeys slouched in tiny cages in the outdoor market sun after their mothers had most likely been shot and eaten. I saw large tracts of secondary forest, areas where the majestic trees of the primary forest had been cut down, never to grow back as before.

We are fortunate to be living on the earth during such a lush and varied period. I hope we can keep it this way for as long as possible.

S.M.: What are your future goals, projects?

L.deL: I have taken a great interest in the natural world which stems from my lifetime interest in the sciences and background in zoology. Though art has always been my career, beginning during college, my interest in biology always thrived. From 1985 to 1999, I concentrated mainly on Antarctica, traveling there three times under the auspices of the National Science Foundation and living there for a total of ten months. I painted the landscape, illustrated two books, studied the environment and the wildlife, and spoke with the scientists who were living and working there. My fascination with that part of the earth continues to this day.

More recently, I traveled to the Peruvian Amazon, staying and working along The Tahuayo Tributary. I feel I have only begun to delve into this treasure on Earth and plan to continue my work and investigations of that area, beginning with a trip this coming January. Each season there is different, harboring life that abounds in infinite complexity.

Those two remote areas, Antarctica and the Amazon are opposite extremes in many ways, and a study of each enriches my knowledge and perspective on the other. There is a fascinating comparison to be made there.

S.M.: Did you ever get another airplane? What were the adventures as pilot?

L.deL: No, I sold my little 1946 Luscombe a few years ago because I felt that I did not have time to fly it enough and to pursue my painting in a way that I wished. Having flown it for five years was an experience I would not trade for anything.

Those were during the years when I was painting the waterfronts all up and down the east coast, and I found that my little blue airplane was a perfect travel companion, faithfully (between minor mechanical breakdowns) taking me up and down the coast from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Miami, Florida. It took me to the islands to paint the waterfronts of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket when the weather allowed.
Sometimes it demanded tremendous patience as I waited for endless days for the haze to lift off Martha's Vineyard and I had to take the ferry home; or for a stationary front to lift off a Georgia airport at a highway intersection where I waited out four days in chain hotels and Denny's, pacing in front of the weather channel in sterile hotel lobbies. I had to leave the plane in Titusville for a few weeks while I waited for a replacement for a bolt in the landing gear that broke (after all, the plane was ten years older than I). I had to backtrack to a tiny Delaware airport, the plane shuddering at full throttle, barely keeping its altitude when one cylinder of four conked out in the air. I felt the engine die as I throttled back upon landing. I quickly learned to trust the feel of the plane rather than the instruments the day my apparent airspeed steadily dropped after take off, until I had leveled the plane over the trees and my apparent airspeed dropped to zero as I flew. When a tiny insect can block an instrument air vent, you learn to use the instruments only as an unreliable crutch.

Through all this, my plane was a great traveling companion during the years I painted waterfronts. I get a twinge of nostalgia each time I pass by a small airport. I saw the world from the air back then, when everything appeared smaller, people and their cars scurrying like ants below.
These days as I investigate the world from the ground perspective, I never lose sight of the fact that we are just another small and delicate life form, enjoying our temporary stay here with an unprecedented curiosity about the world around us.