As we wander through our concrete cityscapes, it is easy to forget that once-upon-a-time, not so long ago, nature prevailed over the land. It can be even easier to forget that nature still ekes out an existence in urban settings – sometimes just barely hanging on.
A movement is afoot to showcase endangered species that are fighting for survival in human-shaped landscapes. Roger Peet, a Portland-based artist, in partnership with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, is working with towns and cities across the United States to paint murals featuring the endangered plants and animals that call our human communities home. Peet works with local artists to design murals that resonate with the neighborhoods in which they are painted, and that highlight local species struggling to hang on.
Speaking by phone, Peet admitted that it is rather easy to find subject matter for these murals given the prevalence of endangered species across the country. He thinks that losing a species to extinction is a loss not only to the natural world, but also to the human communities the species inhabits.
“When we lose species, the places we inhabit and the lives we live become poorer and shallower as a result,” reads his artist statement. “To help bring these species into the light, we decided to paint them on the walls.”
One of Peet’s earliest projects was a large ground-to-roof profile of a mountain caribou traversing a field of short green grass in Sandpoint, Idaho (pictured above). A city council member helped arrange the mural space, hoping to draw attention to the endangered native reindeer.
In the Los Angeles area, Peet collaborated with local artist Jess X. Snow and a group of high school students whose families migrated to the US from Mexico and Central America. Together they designed a mural portraying several yellow-billed cuckoo birds juxtaposed with portraits of the students. The mural is filled with movement, depicting birds in flight above the students’ heads, and speaks to a broader narrative of the wildlife and people that make a place unique.
In the end, Peet said, the goal isn’t just to create an advertisement for the fact that an endangered species exists. He hopes the murals can do more, that they can foster civic engagement and pride in places where wildlife and people share space.
Roger Peet is an artist, printmaker, and muralist based in Portland, Oregon. He has worked with communities to install murals across the US, including in Asheville, North Carolina; Birmingham, Alabama; and Butte, Montana. You can learn more about his work at justseeds.org/artist/rogerpeet.
—Erin Banks Rusby
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