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‘Ding’ artist-in-residence program ready to kick off

By Staff | Jan 7, 2021

The art of Rachel Pierce reflects her love of sea and nature. PHOTO PROVIDED

Beginning Jan. 5, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s 2021 artist in residence Rachel Pierce will kick off a series of free biweekly, plein-air art demonstrations and monthly Friday Art Journal Walks. The refuge and the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge support the season of nature-art events, which will also include visits to underserved youth organizations and a grand finale exhibition.

Through April, Pierce will do her popup demonstrations along Wildlife Drive on the first and third Tuesdays and Thursdays of each month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to stop and chat with the artist — in a safe and distanced manner — while watching her create her brand of whimsical impressionistic art inspired by sea- and bird-life.

The dates for the Friday Art Journal Walks are Jan. 8, Feb. 5, March 5 and April 2. Participation is limited to the first 10 people to arrive at the Visitor & Education Center flagpole by 10 a.m. Free journals and pencils are included in the nature-walk art lessons.

“I love all things ‘Ding,'” Pierce, who emceed Project Refuge: A Couture Fashion Show Using Trash for the refuge’s 75th anniversary in March, said. “I am always in awe of the wildlife, especially the birds, during my visits. I often find my inspiration while there. How fitting and what an exceptional honor to be the artist in residence at the place where I source so many subjects for my artwork.”

Most well-recognized from her role as the former NBC2 morning anchor for five years, Pierce recently retired from TV journalism to devote more time to her passion for art and to her family. A lifelong artist, she studied art in college, but eventually segued into journalism. Pierce moved to Fort Myers in 2015 and became involved in community affairs as an event emcee and celebrity artist. The latter once more ignited her love for creating colorful, nature-inspired oil and acrylic paintings.

Pierce’s artist-in-residence program will culminate in an end-of-the-year exhibition of her refuge-inspired and other wildlife art in the visitor center’s auditorium from Oct. 1 through Nov. 10.

“Our refuge was created by conservation artist Jay Norwood ‘Ding’ Darling in 1945, so our artist-in-residence program honors that history and tradition,” Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said. “Darling created the Federal Duck Stamp program and designed the first duck stamp and the refuge system’s Blue Goose logo. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice for his political cartoons, which were syndicated across the country throughout five decades starting in the 1920s.”

The refuge began its artist-in-residence program in 2019 as part of its anniversary celebration, with hopes to continue it each year. Idaho wildlife-journal artist Ed Anderson served as the first. As COVID got in the way of plans in 2020, the refuge and DDWS are moving forward with the 2021 program.

For details, visit dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/artist-in-residence. To support the program, contact DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller at 239-472-1100 ext. 4 or director@dingdarlingsociety.org.

For more information about Pierce’s work, visit byrachelpierce.com.