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Meet Joan Dunning

On the evening of Friday, July 8, EPIC is honored to feature the work of Joan Dunning, the widely recognized children’s stories artist and author, as part of the city wide Arts Arcata! celebration. From 6 until 9 PM the staff of EPIC will host a reception in our office at 145 G St Suite A, in Arcata, down by the marsh, and we invite everyone to come by! Ms. Dunning will have paintings and other work on display in our office, and the EPIC crew will be excited to receive visitors, adults and children alike. This gathering will provide us an opportunity to speak of Ms. Dunning’s art, and of EPIC’s work to protect the wild nature of Northwest California.

Joan Dunning: Magnetizing Children to the Natural World

In anticipation of the showing, we asked Joan a few questions about her art and her activism. We think this interview captures an important glimpse into a creative talent who has demonstrated a tremendous dedication to expressive creativity, and who is contributing to a bioregional community awareness that endeavors to maintain a balanced relationship with the landscape that provides us spiritual and physical sustenance.

Enjoy this brief interview with Ms. Dunning, and be sure to join us this coming Friday evening for Arts Arcata!

What can you say is the seed of your artistic inspiration?

I am both and artist and a writer and have been since I was a little girl.  I have always wanted to do illustrated books on natural history topics and this is my fifth (see my website: or do a search of my name on Amazon.) This book, Seabird in the Forest, is very special to me because I have always wanted to do a children’s book that I illustrated in oils.  This is my first  book in oils and people love it!  Also, I think the topic: the marbled murrelet and the canopy of the ancient redwood forest, is mysterious and fascinating.  

How did you decide to dedicate your artistic and professional energies to teaching children (and adults!) about nature, and specifically the redwood forest?

My father was a wanderer of California, Arizona and Nevada.  By example, he taught me to love California as my only religion.  I have lived other places and felt extremely claustrophobic because I am so used to California’s wealth of public land.  It was actually kind of a shock, as I was growing up, to realize the uniqueness of my personal heritage. I gradually realized that not everyone shares my impassioned feelings about the natural world of California.  When I teach a classroom full of city children to draw a marbled murrelet chick coming out of its egg, a lot of kids are hatching too.  When I was a child, someone came to my fourth-grade classroom and taught me how to draw a redwood.  I remember every minute of it, and it was life-changing.  

What is the role of art, and especially art designed for children, in todays environmental politics?

I have an idea to help save the parks called Art Saves a Park (ASAP).  When children receive guided instruction in drawing a simple image from the natural world, they can experience that “form follows function.”  We can talk about why the marbled murrelet only lays one large egg instead of four small ones like a similarly-sized robin.  In the process, the child learns, becomes involved in an artistic expression, and, ultimately, this piece of art can be “sold” in an exhibit in a school “gallery,” perhaps with refreshments and a drawing lesson or other presentation for the parents by the children.  Everyone learns, and the proceeds can go to a special fund for the state parks.  

Can you describe how you balance art with science in your books?

I believe that children deserve a good story.  I like fuzzy, lovable, appealing images.  I believe they are good for children’s souls.  I do not believe in overloading children with “hard facts” or “hard realities.”  It is not their fault that previous generations have neglected their window of stewardship of the earth.  On the other hand, I am devoted to the elegance and discipline of science;  I love the reality of nature and the challenge of walking that fine line between anthropomorphizing and presenting delicious information and images that instantly magnetize children to the natural world.

How is a group like EPIC important in the year 2011? Why would you suggest that people support EPIC?

Because it exists!   It is a tool, nothing more, nothing less and it is there for us to use by offering time, new ideas and financial support.  EPIC has a proud history of effectiveness against MAXXAM Corporation in the days of “Headwaters.”  Few people who did not live through the period that began in 1985 with the hostile take-over of Pacific Lumber Company, can imagine the fierce struggle that engulfed Humboldt County.  EPIC was a key player, organizing and winning countless lawsuits that held off the liquidation of precious fragments of the vast ancient forests once stewarded by the exemplary, family-owned Pacific Lumber Company.  You can read about this struggle in my book for adults, From the Redwood Forest, which is out-of-print, but which you can order , new or used, on Amazon for just a few dollars.  

Any special reasons to come out to the EPIC Arts Arcata! event featuring your art?

To have some fun in a warm, similarly committed group of people; to purchase a signed, personally inscribed copy of Seabird in the Forest; to see original art from the book; to learn, first-hand, about my process in creating Seabird and my other books; to ask me any questions you may have; to purchase a print of the original art; to have some wine and good conversation; to meet new friends and see old ones; to support EPIC; and maybe I will even teach you how to draw a marbled murrelet chick hatching out of its egg if you bring a pencil, an eraser and a piece of paper and wait till I have a moment (this is for children and for adults, including all those people who “can only draw stick figures.”)

Come out and join us for Arts Arcata! from 6-9 PM on July 8 at the EPIC office, 145 G. St. Suite A, down by the marsh!


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