Second in the Chessman’s ecology series, “Vulnerable Predators” is an exhibit that
explores Apex Predators by painter and installation artist Tara Pierce, Zoology and
photography student at OSU, William Schweinfurth, artist working with marine
biologists, Samm Newton and installation artist and arts programmer at Chehalem
Cultural Center, Carissa Smith-Burkett.
Along with acrylic paintings, photographs and drawings, this exhibit features an unusual
array of materials such as woven fishing line and by-caught salmon shark fin sculptures
procured with the help of the Hatfield Science Center.
“Vulnerable Predators” is an art exhibit with a passionate purpose to deliver a vital
message. It challenges viewers to think about the importance of APEX Predators in our
oceans, such as Shark, Killer Whales and even creatures so small that you would never
guess that they’re predators.
The state of the ocean environment is changing dramatically. This, hand in hand with
irresponsible fishing practices, has caused a major decline in these important predators.
Will Schweinfurth talks about his work entitled, “Fins for Sale”:
Over 70-100 million sharks are killed a year in the shark finning industry, causing an
increasing concern of shark extinction. As apex predators, sharks influence the
population and behaviors of other marine animals. This makes them crucial to all ocean
ecosystems, without them there would be an imbalance among lower tier predators and
prey. For example, the presence of Tiger Sharks in Hawaii keeps the Sea Turtle
population from over-gazing sea grass floors.
The question is, how does one explain and bring awareness to such a complicated
subject through art?”
William Schweinfurth was born in Portland, Oregon in 1997. Developing a love for
photography in high school, he went on to Oregon State University where one term in,
switched from zoology to photography, hoping to merge his love for the nature world
with art. Fins for Sale was made in Schweinfurth's final year at Oregon State, with the
help of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, and professor Kerry Skarbakka, made from
real shark fins from a by-caught salmon shark, submerged in isopropyl alcohol in
custom made Poly-Carbonate boxes. Aimed at provoking conversation over the
disgusting tradition of shark finning and the dwindling shark populations in our oceans,
Schweinfurth's goal is to upset his audience enough to raise awareness of these acts.
Tara Pierce explores the relationships of apex predators through her acrylic paintings
on canvas. Sharks are critical to each ecosystem they inhabit and are potentially one of
the world's most misunderstood animals. Orca Whale species around the globe are all
handling the warming waters differently. Also an apex predator, Orca populations and
altered territories signal massive ecological shifts.
Tara’s Bachelor's thesis combined her studio practice with marine biology. Scientific
studies and biological events informed her work as she sought to create hopeful images
about otherwise dire topics. The media bombards us daily with grim environmental
news and implies that unless we overhaul our lifestyles and are consistently perfect, we
are all going to kill the planet. This sensationalism does not promote conversation or
discussion of potential solutions; it promotes only a feeling of defeat. For this reason,
Tara chose to create inviting images. This is an experimental approach to starting the
Through her readings, she has found there is reason for hope. Humanity has come
together across borders, oceans, and cultures, to create international laws that solve
environmental problems via prevention, protection, and remedying mistakes. These
paintings are about those mistakes, but also about the successful solutions we put forth
and adhere to, to this day.
Samm Newton developed this work over the past two years working with marine
ecologists from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science and fluid mechanics engineers
from the University of South Florida. These series of visual works created alongside Dr.
Amy Maas and Dr. David Murphy interrogate Cliones, a genus of pteropods, and
Heteropods. The tiny marine snails swim through pelagic ecosystems with modified
wings earning them several names including sea butterflies and sea angels. While the
scientists and engineers study the ecology and physiology of pteropods, these paintings
experiment with how we know the ocean and handle vulnerable beings in the natural
world. It is meant to spark curiosity, and to generate further questions, not answer them.
Unfortunately, these tiny whimsical predators, which range in size from a few millimeters
to one or two centimeters, are impacted by changing ocean chemistry. The main prey of
Heteropods—and Cliones even though they don't have shells themselves—are other
pteropods with calcium carbonate shells. Changing ocean conditions may also interrupt
the internal processes of these predatory snails.
Carissa Smith-Burkett is a three-dimensional narrative maker. She enjoys repetitive,
additive processes when she makes sculptural objects. She is a classically trained
vocalist and enjoys singing jazz standards. Smith-Burkett is the Curator and Arts
Program Manager at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg OR and serves on the
Board of Directors for Public Annex, a non-profit organization in Portland OR that
provides Urban Farm and Art Programming to adults all along the ability spectrum. She
received a BA in studio art with a focus in sculptural practices at Azusa Pacific