The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky is the first of only three venues to host a touring exhibition of some of the best animal art in the world.
This weekend through April 28, the museum will host Art and the Animal, the flagship exhibit of the Society of Animal Artists' 52nd Annual Exhibition.
The society is an association of animal and wildlife painters and sculptors dedicated to "promoting excellence in the portrayal of creatures who share our planet."
The 70 artworks are a scaled-down selection of the complete collection housed at The Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum in Oradell, N.J.
Leaders at The Art Museum at UK understand that animal art always has had popular appeal.
"It is ancient really," UK curator of exhibitions Janie Welker says as she leads a private tour of the exhibit. "It goes all the way back to cave paintings."
Portraying animals might be an age-old endeavor, but Art and the Animal has contemporary, living artists working in a diverse variety of media.
From more traditional (bronze sculptures, oils, acrylics) to innovative (scratchboard) materials, each artist's choice of medium is designed to uniquely capture the essence of the animal subject.
Colorado artist Tiffany Miller's three-dimensional works in paper are an example of how process and theme are united in her portrait of a wood frog, Life at the Bottom.
"As I tore sheets of specialty papers to create the mud ground, I became more and more conscious of the parallels between how I was creating artwork, the paper-making process itself, and the natural processes of decomposition and soil building," Miller writes in her artist statement.
"I challenged myself to represent a visual contradiction — depth within a shallow environment, and the illusion of atmospheric interference within the open space of a sculpture," Miller writes.
Fellow Colorado artist Cathy Sheeter's scratchboard drawings are another example of a unique medium's ability to capture its subject.
She painstakingly "scratched" an ink surface covering layers of colored clay to reveal, hair by hair, the fur of a female gray wolf in a piece titled Just a Glance.
It is easy to mistake Sheeter's drawing for a high-definition photo.
But photography is one medium you will not see in the exhibit.
"There aren't any photos," Welker says, explaining that the Society of Animal Artists does not include photography as one of the genres accepted for admission or inclusion in its exhibits.
For many of the artists, photography's role is integral to the study of their subjects rather than the medium of the final artwork.
One such artist is Minnesota painter Rebecca Latham, whose work Out on a Limb, an opaque and transparent watercolor of a tiny opossum, is featured in the exhibit.
"We often take up to 5,000 still photographs on a shoot," she writes on her website. "It is very important that the subject painted is studied from every available angle, as well as its habits and preferences."
Latham is active in wildlife and conservation campaigns, and her work has appeared on several commemorative conservation stamps, endeavors shared by many of her fellow animal artists.
"A lot of them are very active in conservation efforts, and some are avid hunters," Welker says, explaining how animal art is a unique specialization in the art community. "Many of these have loyal followers who collect their work."
IF YOU GO
'Art and the Animal'
When: Feb. 3-April 28. Museum hours: Noon-5 p.m. Tue.-Thu., Sat., Sun.; noon-8 p.m. Fri.
Where: The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, inside Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St.
Admission: $8; $5 seniors; free for all students, UK staff and alumni. Free for everyone 5-8 p.m. Fri.
Learn more: (859) 257-5716, Uky.edu/artmuseum
Artful Sunday: The Animal Parade. 2-3:30 p.m. Feb. 3. Guided tours of Art and the Animal and art activities for the family. Free.
Art and the Animal Family Day. Noon-4 p.m. March 10. Guided tours of Art and the Animal, art activities, music, storytelling, refreshments and live animals. Free.
Muse After School: Animals in Art. 4:30-7:30 p.m. April 10. Professional development program for educators. $20; registration required.
Pet Photos With Personality. 9:30-11:30 a.m. April 20. Photography class with Alison Salyer.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.