Touching tributes to nature in the form of wildlife drawings executed to unique perfection by artist and author George B. Emmons are on exhibit at the Mattapoisett Public Library now through November 15. The pencil drawings speak to Emmons’ deep understanding and love for birds, fish, local wildlife, and for the indigenous people that, once upon a time, were the only people in the Americas.
A self-taught artist, Emmons took up drawing as much more than a hobby, nay, more a way to express his lifelong reverence for all living things. Growing up on a farm as a boy, Emmons was surrounded by nature, which clearly imprinted within his mental landscape just how glorious the natural environment is. It is his belief that “Every living thing has a spirit.” That belief expresses itself in his works.
The Wanderer spent some time discussing with Emmons what motivates his artistic endeavors, many of which have been featured in these pages over the years.
“I’m inspired by nature,” he gently stated. Beatrix Potter, the children’s author, illustrator, and natural scientist, is number one on his list of favorite artists, followed by Ernest Thompson Seton, a wildlife artist, author, and one of the founders if the Boy Scouts of America, as well as the American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon. Influences from these cornerstones of a naturalist’s view of art and science are evident in Emmons’ drawings and writings.
“It’s my second or third career,” Emmons said of his artwork. “I think I’ve tried just about everything.” What is also apparent as Emmons recounts his life’s work is his very personal and strongly held belief that one must seize the day, find the joy, and pass along positivity. “I’m having more fun than ever before.”
Emmons studied social anthropology at Harvard University but added, “I wish now I had studied English.” While at Harvard, he was on the varsity football and baseball teams. “I’m an athlete,” said Emmons, who also served in the Navy during the end of WWII, followed by two more years in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps.
Emmons also spoke glowingly of his wife, Jan, who passed away in earlier this year. “We had 65 wonderful years.” As his longtime partner, Jan supported all that Emmons pursued both professionally and artistically.
For decades he was a businessman, but always with a toe in the natural world. At one point, he was on the board of directors for a fish hatchery and at another point received an award for his work preserving the natural environment. But he is not a man to boast; instead, he would rather ask his interviewer her thoughts on any number of topics. With delicacy turning the conversation back to Emmons, he smiles and acquiesces to a few more questions, although he slips in several additional questions of his own when the conversational space allows.
Now in his ninth decade, Emmons doesn’t so much reflect on his long life and its ups and downs but prefers instead to think about the happiness he’s experienced and the next project he is contemplating.
Yet he did wander down a lane of memory to a time when he was acquainted with a local Native American when he was still living in his family home. Of this man, he said, “I learned (Native American) philosophy from him.” He said his friend took him under his wing, talking to him about the spirit that lives within all living things and the importance of respecting life in its many forms.
To emphasize this point, Emmons pointed to one of his drawings now on exhibit. It is a pencil drawing of a Native American brave. This central element is facing away from the viewer looking out in the direction of a rolling landscape, above which is a line of birds in flight. One realizes that the human image that dominates this piece is not the subject or the theme, it is the soaring birds whose spirits are lifting up and away into infinity.
Emmons’ work has been published in The Monterey News, West Chester County News, Richfield Press, and The East Greenwich Pendulum, as well as The Wanderer.
For the reader, Emmons gives us a break from a world filled with technology and long to-do lists. Coupled with his drawings are his thoughtful and insightful texts, from which we are transported to the natural environment and all the riches that await if only we turn our attention away from the screens.
For his part, technology is not a complete necessity; he writes his column using a typewriter and his drawings from graphite and colored pencils on paper. The charm of these works is respite for the soul.
From his home along the shore in nearby Fairhaven, Emmons watches migratory seabirds at sunset, a sight that thrills him anew each time, and he is quick to share his appreciation of it all, saying, “It is so wonderful to be a writer and artist living in this area.”
By Marilou Newell