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”Ancient Mariner,” 15x18 redwood and bronze sculpture by Casey Parlette. (Supplied photo)
”Ancient Mariner,” 15x18 redwood and bronze sculpture by Casey Parlette. (Supplied photo)
”Ancient Mariner,” 15x18 redwood and bronze sculpture by Casey Parlette. (Supplied photo)
Thursday June 13, 2013

BENNINGTON -- The Bennington Center for the Arts opens its new exhibition of furry, flying, and ferocious works inspired by animals for the 18th annual Art of the Animal Kingdom exhibit, beginning Saturday, June 15, alongside the Small Works Show and Impressions of New England exhibit. Art of the Animal Kingdom is made up of 70 pieces by various artists both returning and new to the exhibition.

One artist featured in the show is Kim Diment of Grayling, Mich. Diment majored in art and zoology at Michigan University and combined her love of art and of animals into the work she does now. The two pieces she has on display are of a pair of guinea fowl, and a pair of river otters. The otters are part of a series about animals on the Tahquamenon River.

Diment, who has appeared in most of the Animal Kingdom shows since the early 2000s, draws much of her inspiration from photographs and sketches she does of animals in their natural habitat, whether that's the forests near her, the banks of the Amazon River or the plains of Africa.

"I love just about all animals; even if it's a landscape it's a lot better if there's a little animal in it," she said.

One time she was taking pictures of a very tame adolescent lion when she got really close to it. Her lens cap was dangling below the camera and it caught the eye of the great cat.

"And I see it go into house cat mode," Diment said. "And the next thing I knew I was flat out on my butt. It was amazing the amount of force that little guy had."

Also at the Animal Kingdom XVIII will be Anni Crouter of Florence, Mich. The daughter of a veterinarian who grew up living above her father's practice, Crouter has a great love of animals as well and primarily paints them. In this show she has two paintings; the first is of a jumping ocelot which came from a photo she snapped at a zoo in New York. The other painting is of a mandrill, a type of blue-faced primate closely related to baboons and drills.

Most of her paintings, including commissions she does of people's pets, are done in her studio above her husband's veterinary practice.

Crouter's work is also featured in the Small Works Show, which also opens this weekend.

"(Art of the Animal Kingdom) is an invitational show," said Bennington Center for the Arts gallery director Shirley Hutchins. "All of our shows are juried, but these you have to really good to even be invited to submit work. So for those kinds of artists we need a really good person to jury the show."

This year's special guest artist and show curator is Carel Brest van Kempen of Salt Lake City. Brest van Kempen, who has been in the show every year except one since its beginning, has three pieces included in the show this year. His work, "Green Iguana and Leafcutter Ant" is focused around large green iguana, but the real inspiration for the piece, Brest van Kempen said, was the ants.

"I wanted to do a picture of leafcutter ants marching through the forest with little bits of leaf," he said.

The second piece is called "Eastern Kingbird and Long-eared Owl," this piece too takes its name from the subject matter. The scene shows a battle between the kingbird and owl, the owl's normally astonished look twisted into a visage of combat.

"My reason for painting that piece was kind of taking an unusual look at long-eared owl.

I wanted to give the bird a different expression," Brest van Kempen said.

His final piece in the show is a whimsical painting born from a visual joke he had come up with years prior. "Wild Chameleons of Manhattan" features the iconic Gotham skyline with transparent chameleons hidden across it.

On Saturday at 2:15 p.m. Brest van Kempen will give a critique of the works in the show and on Sunday at 11 a.m. he will give a three -hour demonstration.

At 4:30 hors d'oeuvres will be served prior to the 8 p.m. musical performance by Caravan of Thieves in the Edith Theater. Tickets to the performance are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

All pieces are for sale and the part of the sale will go to the center, which is a non-profit art facility. 

History of the show

When the arts center was first built in 1994, they were approached by the Society for Animal Artists, to which many artists featured in this year's show belong, to host their annual show.

"The Society for Animal Artists is probably the most prestigious wildlife organization in the world, so we were of course thrilled," Hutchins said. "It worked out great, we had a wonderful show. But a couple of years later we thought, ‘well, why don't we just do our own?'"

The show has grown in popularity and prestige every year since its inception.

"Our patrons love it, the artists love it, it's become one of the best shows in the country to get into," Hutchins said.

For more information go to www.TheBennington.org or call 802-442-7158.

Andrew Roiter can be reached at aroiter@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @Banner_Arts.