Little Ridley • Tolerant Little Skunk • Little Night Visitor • Little Snow Queen • Little Indigo
(scroll down to see each story)
Here are some highlights of my recent series of small works called "Little Stories". This project has brought unexpected joy to me through the chance to communicate, not only with my art, but through conversations with people online and in person. As I chose the subjects for these diminutive cut paper sculptures, I thought about memorable experiences in nature and illustrated those moments.
During our recent Pop Up Gallery, I spoke about the stories and was overwhelmed with the positive response. I was asked to tell stories of particular pieces. Then prompted to tell another. The best part was when there was a story to swap.
I have a new tale to tell, in a moment, about baby sea turtles. I have already told a few of the stories through social media, and I will record them below, if you missed them. Or want to hear them again. As my dad used to say, "Did I already tell you this story?" "Yes, you did, Dad—many times..." As he'd settle in to re-tell the tale, "That's ok, I want to hear it again..." he would quip.
Most of my nature subjects are native to my current life in Western New York state or from the previous years we lived in the Midwest. One little odd ball stands out — "Little Ridley" the sea turtles.
Where are you now, little sea turtle?
As the creative director for a clothing catalog company I had the good fortune to travel to exotic places on fashion photo shoots. I was often distracted by the nature around me, especially when we were shooting in tropical locations and unfamiliar wildlife was around. One resort we used was on the southwest coast of Mexico had a beautiful pristine beach.
Trouble was, the beach was already home to the local nesting sea turtles. When the tourists were enjoying the beach, the eggs were in danger, so the authorities picked up the eggs, incubated them and released the baby turtles into the sea. One morning, as we got ready to leave for a day of shooting they slipped an invitation under my door saying they would be releasing turtles that evening. We were invited to help. Cool!
With much ceremony and reverence, and a stunning view of the setting sun, the tiny Ridley turtles were sent on their way to begin life in the Pacific. I've often wondered what eventually became of the one I released. If lucky, he or she would be almost 20 years old now. The life expectancy is about 50 years, so that little one, now about two feet in length will have had many experiences in the open ocean. Migration, hunting for food at great depths, breeding, experiencing difficulties with pollution, avoiding nets. I imagine its been a challenging life. I was just a strange hand lifting the little turtle out of a bucket full of wriggling Ridleys. I meant nothing to the turtle, who could only think: Must. Get. To. The. Water. But that little kid meant something to me and I will never forget the experience.
I contacted the resort for permission to use this photo and was happy to learn they still are releasing turtles off the beach.
"Little Ridley" 6 x 6" cut paper sculpture. Collection of Laurie Struss who took the photo on the lower right, lower left photo by Christian Horan, Four Season's Punta Mita, both used with permission.
"Tolerant Little Skunk" 6x6” cut paper sculpture. Private collection.
The tale of of the brave titmouse
“Tolerant Little Skunk” comes with a story from about 30 years ago: While visiting my parents who’d retired in the Ozark mountains, my daughter Lezlie and I witnessed a tufted titmouse repeatedly ripping furry nesting material out of a skunk’s back as the little skunk was eating birdseed below the feeder. It went on for a while and the skunk didn’t seem to mind. It was a wildlife moment shared by three generations. The best and rarest kind, I think.
My series, Little Stories celebrates stories in nature, with plenty of room for you to interpret your own tales.
"Little Night Visitor" 6 x 6" cut paper sculpture. Private collection
How do you feel about ’possums?’ Oddly, they always remind me of my mother. Not that she looked like a ’possum, (she did have an adamant belief that human children were sometimes born with tails, but that is a story for another time) but they remind me of her because she loved ’possums. She even wrote a children’s book with the main character “Blossom the Awesome ’Possum”. In my early years of illustrating, we had hoped to collaborate and get the book published. I regret we never finished that project.
Last week, as I was closing in on the final cut paper piece for my “Little Stories” series I asked Bill what subject I should choose. He had some great suggestions, all beautiful animals I would love to create in paper. Suddenly the motion detector light came on outside near my art studio. Bears have been raiding my bird feeders lately, so I had to think...did I bring in the feeders? No bear. Deer have been using our lane for access to the field recently. But, no deer.
There, perfectly silhouetted by the floodlight was a big old ’possum. Her hairless tail held high, she lumbered over the gravel toward the house. OK, Mom, you must be sending me a sign. Make that last piece a 'possum.
"Little Indigo" 6 x 6" cut paper sculpture. Private collection.
Send me a sign it will be ok
Here is a little indigo bunting story with a happy ending. We used to live in Wisconsin and I especially loved seeing indigo buntings along our country road. After living our whole lives in the Midwest, we had made plans to move to Western New York in the fall. That last summer every sighting I felt like I was saying goodbye to those familiar blue birds. I was nervous about the move and worried about starting over in my mid-fifties. I was scheduled to visit the new location for further interviews and a tour of the area, so I flew into Buffalo. On the drive down, I saw a sign for "Jamestown Audubon Society" and stopped in.
There in the parking lot, with the sun shining on his bright blue feathers was an indigo bunting. I swear he was singing: it will be fine, you'll find new friends here!
And it was, and we did. And to our good fortune, we bought a home 3/4 of a mile from Audubon (since renamed Audubon Community Nature Center) and every summer I enjoy the distinctive song of the buntings and think how these birds helped me through a challenging time of the my life.
"Little Snow Queen" and “Little Snowy”
6 x 6” hand cut paper in shadowbox frame. Private Collections.
The snowy hunt
There was talk of a snowy owl eruption about 50 miles from home. I’d never seen one in person before and was curious. An eruption? Would it be like a volcano with white feathers flying everywhere? Lol. My friend Eve agreed to ride up with me and look for snowy owls. Our central Wisconsin destination was flat farmland, the treeless fields put to bed and the ground frozen. Tundra-like. Perfect winter hunting grounds for these arctic natives.
The thing about looking for snowy owls is they don’t usually perch in trees like other owls. They hunt in the daytime from the ground. They even fly quite low. We found several that day. The first was on a little patch of snow with bare ground all around. She had sought out the snow. It was beyond the reach of our cameras, but we took dozen of photos anyway. Another female or perhaps immature (judging by the salt-and-pepper look) was on a fence post. The females were beautiful indeed, but I really wanted to see a pure white one.
At this point, after hours of scanning the barren fields and looking on every hay bale and outbuilding for several square miles, we were getting pretty slap-happy. “There’s one!” “Nope, that’s a plastic bag flapping in the fence row.” “Oh, boo.”
We were just about to give up and start for home when suddenly a flash of white feathers crossed the windshield. Thank goodness we were driving slow. We must have flushed him up from the ditch. He flew right over the hood of the car and gave us a spectacular, yet brief view of pure white owl. While actually not all that big— All About Birds website says they are about the size of a crow— this bird looked enormous looming across my field of view with wings spread wide. “Yay!” we cheered in unison. Mission accomplished.
Bill and I moved to Western New York the following winter. We bought a house near the Audubon Nature Center. When people would discover where we had settled, they often commented, “Oh, that’s where the snowy owl was last year!” I hear he put on quite a show for people all winter. Five years later, people are still talking about it.
I have since not seen one in the wild, but last month I was lucky to get to see and photograph one brought in by Mark Baker for Birds of Prey Day at Audubon Community Nature Center. It was amazing to see her up close and note her fuzzy feet and piercing yellow eyes. She served as the model for this cut paper sculpture.
(Not) The End — I've so many more ideas — stay tuned