Environment inspires shorebird artist’s work


 red squirrel splitting open a nut. A giant Pacific octopus nestled in the tide. Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival featured artist Kim McNett’s art revolves around the ecosystem, and each creature’s place within it. 

She takes great pride in her realistic depictions of fungi or nudibranchs (sea slugs), strange alien like organisms. McNett is irresistibly attracted to the strange and bizarre aspects of nature. The subjects of her work often look like something ripped from a science fiction film. 

“I want to show people how the subtle and small creatures contribute to the biodiversity of an ecosystem, and how that helps it maintain its resilience and beauty,” McNett said in a recent interview.

This weekend, Homer welcomes the arrival of spring with the 23rd annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival. As the state’s largest wildlife festival, it brings in a wide and varied crowd hoping to capture a glimpse of Homer’s beautiful, wild ecosystem. 

McNett, 29, is a naturalist whose work embodies the abundance and variety of life in the Kachemak Bay.

McNett is somewhat nature obsessed. She earned her degree in ecology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. She spends her summer as a guide for St. Augustine’s Kayak and Tours. An avid explorer, she has hiked and kayaked across thousands of miles, traversing the Kenai Fjords and fat biking her way through the Iditarod trail. 

It is McNett’s love and fascination of the outdoors that drives her to these adventures, and it’s that fascination that inspires her work.

McNett employs a variety of tools and styles to capture the wildlife and nature around her. Her work currently on display at K-Bay Caffe consists of pen and ink originals. This direct method of capturing an image, which forgoes any attempt to glamorize or exaggerate its subject, would not be out of place in a biology textbook. 

“How can we love what we don’t know about?” McNett asked. 

Aware of the disconnect between modern society and the ecosystem, McNett believes it’s important for people to get hands on with nature, and see with their own eyes, not just as a picture in a book.

In this way, McNett’s artwork reflects her values. In the spring, McNett leads the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies school groups through forests and tide pools, educating students on the strange and beautiful life that is abundant in the bay. 

McNett’s other works are done with relief block printing. As a featured artist for this year’s Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, she contributed a stunning block printing of a merlin chasing shorebirds. The image is featured on shorebird clothing and as a print available for purchase. 

On Friday at 4 p.m., the Pratt Museum holds a welcoming reception for the shorebird keynote and featured speakers and featured artist. People are invited to meet McNett, as well as the keynote speaker, Dr. David M. Bird, and featured speaker Neil Hayward. 

Bird is a professor of wildlife biology and director of the Avian Science and Conservation Center at McGill University in Montreal. Hayward, who is a field trip coordinator and the director of the Brookline Bird Club, actually broke the Big Year record in 2013 when he sighted a rustic bunting.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, McNett holds a block printing workshop at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. Those who sign up will receive a soft, easy-to-carve block, along with the tools, ink and paper needed to begin block printing. McNett will be going over the technique and method to transfer an image onto a block. 

The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is the perfect event for an artist like McNett. Its emphasis on conservation and wildlife are in sync with the artist’s own passion for outdoors. 

To McNett, the natural world isn’t a luxury, or something that should be kept around simply because it’s “nice to have and look at.” The preservation of Homer’s and Alaska’s natural beauty is critical. 

But McNett doesn’t believe that awareness alone is enough. To her, it is important to establish a personal connection and relationship with nature, in order to truly appreciate its place in our lives.

“My hope is that by showing people this kind of art, and by taking people out [to the tide pools]… that people will like it, that people will love it, and they will keep that in mind when they make decisions that affect the ecosystem around them,” she said.

Fermin Martinez is a freelance writer living in Homer.

Kim McNett shorebird events

Welcome reception for keynote speaker Dr. David Bird, featured speaker Neil Hayward and featured artist Kim McNett, 4-6 p.m. Friday, Pratt Museum

Block printmaking workshop, 9 a.m. Saturday, Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies

$35, including $20 materials fee

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