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Drawing the Motmot: An Artist's View of Tropical Nature

Most people will never have the opportunity to visit the rainforests of South and Central America. Though we may be well-schooled in their biodiversity, their majesty and endangerment, most of us will never experience these tropical jungles first-hand. A new exhibit at the Sam Noble Museum in Norman aims to give visitors a taste of these vast, fragile natural resources through the eyes of an artist. “Drawing the Motmot: An Artist’s View of Tropical Nature,” opens on Oct. 10 and runs through Jan. 18.

The exhibition features the works of nature artist Debby Kaspari. The exhibition has been several years in the making, and will bring together artwork from Kaspari’s rainforest expeditions across Central and South America. The exhibit recreates an artist’s expedition and immerses the visitor in the magical world of the nature artist at work. The artwork includes sketchbook pages with notes, field drawings, pen-and-ink studies and studio paintings, accompanied by Kaspari’s lively and thoughtful field notes and commentary that give the feeling of a personal conversation with the artist. Adding to the adventure are the sounds of toucans, monkeys and other tropical wildlife recorded in the Amazon and Panama rainforest, plus videos of works in progress in the field. Debby Kaspari drawing in Australia

Kaspari first began drawing and painting the rainforest in Trinidad in the late 1980s. She fell in love with the lush exotic landscape and made many subsequent trips to the tropics, including sites in Panama and Costa Rica. Last winter, a grant from the Don and Virginia Eckelberry Endowment allowed her to make a trip up the Amazon River to work at a research station deep in the rainforest of Peru. There she was able to draw the flora and fauna of the rainforest canopy thanks to an elevated walkway linking 14 trees through a system of platforms and rope bridges.

For the past four years, Kaspari has been working with the museum to develop an exhibit that would give visitors the same sense of peace, beauty and wonder she herself experienced in the field.

“I wanted this to be more than just an art exhibit,” Kaspari explained. “I wanted to share the environment as I see and feel it. I wanted to bring a visitor into the rainforest and give them the chance to connect with it the way I do, through artwork and media.”


With that in mind, and armed with a tiny portable art studio, Kaspari began compiling the various elements that make up Drawing the Motmot. A high-tech audio recorder the size of a cell phone allowed her to capture the complex symphony of rainforest sounds, from monkeys to motmots (a colorful tropical bird). A video tripod filming over her shoulder captured the artist’s-eye-view of works in progress in the field. These audio and video elements help to bring Kaspari’s artwork – and her experiences – to life for visitors.

“When visitors walk through Drawing the Motmot, they’ll not only hear birds and animals as I heard them, but through the sketches and paintings they’ll see the same things, too,” Kaspari said. “I see much more of the world when I draw it. There’s a wonderfully personal connection that opens up when drawing from nature, and I always come away with a better understanding than if I were simply looking. I hope people will enjoy seeing the rainforest this way, and be inspired to try it for themselves.”

Kaspari’s experiences in the rainforests, and her work on Drawing the Motmot, are documented on her blog at Many of the works in the exhibition are available for purchase direct from the artist.

Blue Rondo, Harpy Eagle. Pastel and graphite on paper. Debby Kaspari.Red-capped Manakins displaying on lek. Acrylic on board/gicleé. Debby KaspariOver the Top, Amazon Macaws. Pastel and graphite on paper. Debby Kaspari.