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Arts and Culture of Long Beach Island

written by Matt Burton

Many LBI Arts Council members are plein air painters; plein air is the experience of painting and drawing out in the landscape. The Jersey Shore and Long Beach Island region has traditionally been a popular destination for painters. Many notable American artists, including Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins, frequented the Jersey Shore for inspiration and the bright and airy atmosphere. Part of the LBI Arts Council mission is to preserve and call attention to endangered locations threatened by the encroachment of salt water, natural disaster, and development. Part of the culture of the Long Beach Island region is the natural flora and fauna depicted by the artists, captured on canvas, and collected by residents and visitors. The idea of collecting and bringing home a “piece of the island” has been a tradition passed down for generations.

Alice McEnerney Cook, Master of Fine Arts, is one such plein air artist. Cook, a long time Tuckerton resident has painted the coastal wetlands of the United States for over 25 years. For the past two years, Cook and the Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (FNWR) have been collaborating on the Art Science Initiative, which will culminate in the creation of new signage, which combines art and science, within four FNWR public access environments.

Cook states: “Our understanding of a location changes with each generation’s memory of a place. Scientists call this phenomenon a shifting baseline. I have realized that my passion for painting the coastal wetlands was an artistic documentation of this shifting baseline of environmental changes that seem at first glance so subtle that they would appear to be insignificant. My over 25 years of observation and direct painting hopefully anchors this shifting baseline in at least one place on this planet, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. I have painted coastal wetlands from Georgia to Maine and the coast of California; these protected Jersey marshes are a national treasure, which I repeatedly have returned to paint because of their complex beauty, strength and fragility.”

Cook continues: “Rachel Carson, the scientist and writer who worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service, described this landscape, the tidal wetlands, as the place where the drama of life played its first scene on earth and perhaps even its prelude, where the forces of evolution are at work today, as they were since the appearance of what we know as life.”

This drama continues to be played out today with the changes found on our tidal marshes. Ecosystems often have a keystone species that are the connection that holds them together. When they are missing, the systems goes out of balance and can collapse. There are also invasive species that can gradually destroy an ecosystem because of their presence. Which description or do both describe our species place in earth’s history?”

A good question.

The public will have the opportunity to see Alice McEnerney Cook’s series of landscape paintings of FNWR in an exhibit sponsored by the Friends of the Refuge. The exhibit will run September 1– October 31. The Opening Artist Reception will be September 23, 4-7 pm at the FNWR Visitors Center in Oceanville, NJ. Sales will be divided with the Friends of Forsythe to pay for the cost of this new signage.

You can see Alice McEnerney Cook’s paintings at the m.t.burton gallery in Surf City.

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