Monday, April 23, 2012

Artists and Endangered Species: The Endangered Species Print Project

Whooping Crane; wild population/print edition: 398

Two more artists (see earlier post) who've been doing their part to tune us in to the biodiversity crisis are Jenny Kendler and Molly Schafer, from Chicago, who created the Endangered Species Print Project. Jenny Kendler kindly agreed to carve some time out of her incredibly busy schedule and answer some questions for me.

1. In your biographical statement, when you say you and Molly bonded in grad school over “nature-geekery,” what are we talking about here?

JK: We’re talking evening prowls for urban coyotes, pre-dawn wake-ups to see snowy owls, studious poring over (sometimes hilariously awkward) 17th-19th century naturalists prints, massive collections of found feathers, shells and skulls, shelves packed with field guides, fiction and non-fiction books about animals and nature, serious investments in good binoculars, tents, hiking boots, sketchbooks full of drawings, minor salivation when a new David Attenborough BBC documentary comes out, and a pretty much endless obsession with the endless wonder available to the (lucky) person who takes time to look closely at the natural world. 

North Atlantic Right Whale; wild population/print edition: 438

2. That sounds delightfully geeky. When did you tune into the present extinction crisis?

JK: Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of the specter of extinction. My parents were (and are) very environmentally involved. We lived in a passive solar home, went on backpacking trips with the Sierra Club, and often spent our weekends outdoors the at the river or botanical gardens. I am endlessly grateful that they tuned me in to nature at an early age. Nature shows like NOVA and magazines like Zoobooks put the concrete names “extinction” and “endangered species” to the danger that I knew threatened many of the animals and plants that fascinated me.

Though I don’t think conservation should be reserved for adult conversations, it can be hard to talk to kids what a mess they’re inheriting. My 12 year old cousin David, who wants to be a marine biologist, recently broke my heart when he told me what he wanted most in his future career was to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s gone.

We’d like children not to have to worry about these things -- but when David grows up he’s going to care about the world around him and I believe he’ll make a difference. 

3. Oh, that is indeed a heartbreaking comment. We barely know how to talk about this crisis as adults, let alone with children. 

How was the Endangered Species Print Project conceived?

JK: Molly and I, though we enjoy our individual artistic studio practices, were frustrated with the inability of a career confined to the traditional “white walls” gallery & art world to make a real impact on the issues we cared about. We wanted to bridge the gap between art and activism with something accessible and pragmatic, without compromising on concept or artistry. Once we came up with the model to donate 100% of the funds, and the idea that the edition was linked to the species’ numbers in the wild, we realized that despite our constantly busy schedules, we had to find a way to make this happen.
Vancouver Island Marmot; wild population/print edition: 140
4. Which endangered species print was first and why?

JK: There were actually 4 prints that kicked off the project: Molly’s SeychellesSheath-tailed Bat and Vancouver Island Marmot (see above) and my Indri Lemur and Panamanian Golden Frog. We released them during July and August 2009, at the beginning of the project.

We choose these particular critically endangered species for a few reasons that continue to be the guiding principles in selecting species. Whether the artists are us or others, we always want people to choose species that are personally interesting to them. In my case I was fascinated by the behaviors of the two species I initially choose. Indris have a haunting call and a unique behavior that mimics “sun worship” -- and male Panamanian Golden frogs use an amazing system of “semaphores” to communicate dominance before wrestling for prime habitat! Who could resist! There is so much to learn from the natural world.

Though we help our guest artists find species and match them with conservation organizations, we don’t want to “assign” them a species, as I think that the personal connection makes the work stronger.

We’re also really excited when we can support smaller, more targeted, conservation organizations, so we consider this when choosing a subject for a new print. Unfortunately, when researching species, it’s not uncommon to discover an amazing endangered species only to learn that barely anything is known about it, and no one is working on its conservation.

We’ve also been contacted by conservation organizations a couple times, who were hoping to have us create a print to support their work.  We’ve been thrilled to find artists who were excited to make prints of these species -- for example Noah Scalin’s Vaquita print (see below) for ¡Viva Vaquita!, a great organization that’s working hard to protect these tiny porpoises.

Vaquita; wild population/print edition: 250
5. What sort of response have you had to the project?

JK: We have had an overwhelmingly positive response. Many people comment that the idea of linking a limited edition print with a vanishing species has really stuck in their mind. Almost since the very beginning of the project, we have been surprised and thrilled to have many artists contacting us asking to be involved, as well as many spaces that have been excited to show ESPP’s prints.
6. I think in your series only the Whooping Crane (above, top) is truly famous as an endangered species. One rarely hears about the Javan Rhinoceros or the Amur Leopard, which had a few minutes of fame on the BBC documentary, Planet Earth, yet both of these have less than 50 individuals in the wild. Why do you think we’re not hearing more about these and other critically endangered species?

JK: It’s true, species like the Javan Rhinoceros don’t receive very much attention from major media etc. -- but then think about how little attention the Dwarf Trout Lily (a rare and lovely plant with less than 14 populations remaining in the wild, see print at left) receives!

To get into why I think most endangered species don’t receive notice in the public forum would be to write a treatise about what I think are misplaced priorities in today’s consumer society. Nature does not seem to be a priority for many people, despite the fact that we ourselves are animals still living in a mostly natural world  -- and so for a species to make it into the popular news, it has to be particularly big, beautiful or near home, like the Whooping Crane.

Sadly, the other likely factor is that there are just so many species that are threatened with extinction. The IUCN’s Red List, which is the most widely accepted index of endangered species, lists 61,000 species as of 2011. Of course, this is not a full count, since there is never enough funding to analyze all populations and many species become extinct before ever being counted by human beings.

Another way to understand the magnitude of the extinction crisis is through percentages. About 1 in 10 birds is endangered, 1 in 4 mammals, and 1 in 3 amphibians. When you think of it this way, the numbers are staggering.

Most people are just unaware that this is going on, so one major aim of ESPP is to raise awareness. Though nature may not be obviously prioritized in popular culture, most people do care, and find these endangered species interesting, beautiful and moving if given the chance to learn or help. The Earth is being depleted of its magnificent biodiversity, and yes, it is largely due to the actions of human beings. Fortunately, this means it’s also within our power to change things.

7. It's true, the numbers are staggering. But you're actively trying to change things -- you’ve raised over $9000 and 100% of your print sale price is going to the conservation organizations that you mention on your webpage – congratulations on your fundraising and hard work. Are you happy with how the project is going?

JK: Yes, but there’s always more work to be done, and never enough hours in the day. We’d love to be able to spend lots more time on this project, since it has been so successful and fulfilling. We’re working towards our goal!

California condor; wild population/print edition: 180
8. How can readers find out more about the Endangered Species Print Project and buy your unique endangered species prints?

JK: The Endangered Species Print Project is online at
where you can view, read about, and purchase prints of the 21 amazing species that ESPP is supporting so far, with the help of people like you! [Three lucky Ecofest participants will be taking home Endangered Species Print Project prints.]

You can see more of Molly Schafer’s art at and Jenny Kendler’s art at

9. Readers are reminded that these special prints make great gifts (Mother's Day is coming up!) and that you can "like" the Endangered Species Print Project on Facebook.

JK: Thanks! 


  1. Neat project. Startling numbers, particularly the fraction of mammals and amphibians that are at risk.

    Keep up the good work, Molly & Jenny!

    Mike M

  2. beautiful prints, excellent work. I wish you good luck and much success raising awareness.