Stories Behind the Art

"Standing Guard"

Mother is never very far away from her young. This pair of Reticulated Giraffe gave us a curious look which is a perfect pose for my reference photography. Return

"Testing, One, Two"

Elephants are truly testing the air when they raise their trunks in this way. After observing elephants in the wild I am certain this behavior is a way of communicating as well. One of the questions I am most often asked is how close were you to these animals? The answer is, very close. This bull elephant was about 15 feet behind our slowly retreating land rover. Bull elephants aren't always as friendly as this one was. He gave me a thrill by rumbling as he raised his trunk to test our nearness. It was a friendly rumble and I did not feel in the least threatened by him. The rumble is so low it sounds like the beginning of a drum roll. I was closest to him standing in the back seat of the rover and it was as if he was greeting me. For me the communication was clear and this was the highlight of the day for me.

Elephants are my favorite animals. They are also the most difficult to paint. They have a skin texture that defies most painting techniques. Watercolor just does not capture elephant skin texture for me but I think I did come closer to it with acrylic. There will be many more elephant paintings. Return

"Time Out" and "Surrogate"

In December of 2001 we were in the Masai Mara in Kenya when on our daily game drive we came upon a herd of zebra being stalked by two lionesses. They were closing in from opposite sides to make a kill. As we watched from our land rover the zebra caught their scent and ran. One of the lionesses gave chase but failed to connect with her prey. The pair were most likely sisters, one of them was badly injured and she had two small cubs. The sister who had given chase was hungry but in good physical shape otherwise. She was lactating and we guessed had recently lost her own cubs. She had taken on the role of surrogate mother to her sister's two cubs. The pair were in no condition to travel far so over the course of the next two days we found them again and they gave us their all in photo op's. The two cubs were full of antics and one especially ornery ignored Mom's directions until she finally picked him up in her mouth and carried him to the lugga (ravine) for safer quarters. She was oblivious to our presence and walked directly toward us several times with cub in mouth, the other more obedient cub following close by. The thing that was most clear was that the sisters were showing signs of hunger more every day and with two nursing cubs it was critical they make a kill soon.

Third day, game drive, three of our four land rovers went in search of them again while the four of us (three photographers and the driver) went to "Leopard Gorge". Shortly, our driver got a call on his radio from one of our other rovers that they had found the lionesses again and that they had finally made a kill of what appeared to be an Elan. We were so excited knowing how badly they needed to eat. Seconds later the call came that is was not an Elan but a Masai cow they had killed. Our hearts sank. We knew this crime would not go unpunished. To the Masai, their cattle are their most prized possessions, the symbol of their status in the tribe. They are always guarded so there wasn't much hope of this kill going undetected. We held our breath as calls continued to come from the rest of our group who were on the scene. They had backed away from the kill so as not to attract attention to the feeding lionesses but just shortly the report came that approximately 50 Masai had descended on the pair with spears in hand and killing on their minds. Lions are afraid of the Masai and run at the sight of them. The Mom and two cubs headed in one direction and surrogate sister headed for the lugga. The Masai went for the sister and cornered her in the lugga, killing her within minutes and cutting off her tail for evidence of their victory. We were thankful to be in Leopard Gorge, thankful that we had not witnessed this first hand although we felt the impact and sorrow just as much as if we had been there. It was a solemn dinner that evening with much discussion about the events of the day.

It is against the law for the Masai to graze their cattle within park boundaries or to kill a lion, however the laws are not upheld due to a shortage of game wardens and lack of funds. The Masai are between cultures of the past which has always been nomadic and the present closing in of large parcels of land making it nearly impossible for them to follow the "good" grass for their cattle. Therefore, they graze their cattle within the park boundaries where they encounter hungry predators. This was our second visit to this area and the increase in population of the Masai and the permanent villages that have been established on the perimeter of the game reserve in the course of just one year is staggering. We all worry about the future of this area that is so rich in wildlife.

Some of the discussion centered around the fact that it would have been better if the Masai had killed the mother of the two cubs because her chances of surviving on her own with the injuries she had and without the help of her sister are now very slim. Our only hope is that she will recover quickly and be able to hunt on her own to feed her two cubs, but we know that possibility is slim. I vowed to at least give this family life in paintings. There is endless drama in the wilds of Africa. Return

"A Long Cautious Drink"

Zebras drink cautiously at a water hole that is surrounded by a low hill which blocks their view of any approaching predators while they are drinking. This was a large herd that seemed to take turns going to the water hole in small groups to drink. They always bunched together while drinking. It is always amazing to me that the black and white stripes of the zebra blend into the land as much as if they were the same color as the grasses where they graze. Return

"Your House Or Mine"

Hippos are the most awesome animals. The last two weeks of our Kenya safari is spent at Mara River Camp , a permanent tented camp along the Mara River. Don’t think we are roughing it in the wilds of Africa. We have regular beds, hot and cold water from regular faucets, showers and flush toilets in the tent, electricity, canvas floors with rugs and wonderful hot water bottles in our beds at night. Our tents are located about 25 feet from the banks of the Mara River. Living in the river are many hippo’s and very big (sometimes 18 foot long) crocodiles. The banks are very steep and the crocs stay in the river in this area so no danger from them. However, the hippos come out of the river at night and graze in the center of the camp and often we can hear them munching grass late at night right outside our tent. We eat dinner at the main lodge and when we are finished eating it is dark so we are escorted by young Masai warriors, carrying spears to our tents each evening in case we should encounter a hippo who has come up from the river early. The story is that hippo’s kill more people in Africa than any other animal. The truth is, the hippo’s don’t bother you unless you happen to get between them and their river sanctuary. Rarely are hippo’s seen out of the rivers because they do all of their grazing very late at night so the chance of seeing them out walking is rare.

One aspect of the awesome hippos are the sounds they make as they travel up and down the river. Very loud, indescribable reverberating grunts and greetings. On our last afternoon at Mara River Camp it looked very much like rain as it came time for our last afternoon game drive and I chose to stay in camp and photograph the hippos in the river outside our tents. I guess no one else thought this would be a lucrative photo opportunity so I was alone on this occasion. I sat up my tripod and camera on the bend in the river where there seemed to be the most action and I was rewarded with the most fun photo op's of hippo’s fighting, greeting, splashing, wide open mouths yawning and threatening, a mom protecting her very small calf as other hippo’s traveled by, even one hippo walking up the far bank so I could get a full body shot coming and going. It was so much fun that when it began to rain I put a plastic bag over my camera and one over my head and continued to shoot in the rain telling myself, now I am a true photographer. I have many hippo paintings to do from the reference photo’s that day. Your House, or Mine (title suggested by a friend) is the first of what is certain to be a series. Everyone else got rained out that day but me. Return


Zawadi is the leopard of “Big Cat Diary” fame. Jonathan Scott has filmed her and her mother “Half Tail" for the BBC and Animal Planet since she was a tiny cub. She is what is called a habituated leopard meaning she is used to photographers in vehicles and tolerates their presence. She is still very much a wild leopard and an incredibly beautiful one. Zawadi's range includes a beautiful area known as Leopard Gorge. In this area there are many hiding places, caves, rock crevices, huge fig trees (I have the urge to climb every one I see and someday…....) There is a lot of vegetation in this area making it ideal for the illusive leopard. Zawadi means “the gift” in Swahili and indeed she gave us the great gift of her presence late one afternoon near the end of our first safari. There were ominous growls coming from the thick vegetation where we saw a leopard disappear moments before. Suddenly, Zawadi walked out of the bushes to a nearby termite mound in the open and the perfect stage for photographing her. She lay upon the termite mound for 15 to 20 minutes and groomed herself, slept a little, and turned around several times as if to give each of our four land rovers surrounding her a chance at a different view. She did not show the slightest bit of discomfort by our presence. The camera shutters were going off constantly and we were loading new rolls of film at a furious pace. She got up finally and disappeared into the bushes again and we could hear all the noises of a breeding leopard pair. She came back out a second time and took her place atop the termite mound. Unfortunately it was time for us to get back to camp. The light was fading fast and everyone has to be out of the Mara reserve by sunset or face possible fines or worse so we had to say goodbye to an unforgettable experience. We never saw the male leopard even though we heard him and knew he was very near. He clearly was not a habituated leopard.

We had seen Zawadi’s daughter, Safi, earlier that afternoon in another area. While not as cooperative as her mother she did not seem to be fearful of our presence. Safi is now an adult with her own territory.

We left Africa knowing that we would return the next year in anticipation of seeing Zawadi’s cubs. If all went well with the breeding, they would arrive late September, early October and be out and about by late November. The chances of seeing them were pretty good as everyone who visits and especially the driver/guides are all familiar with her area and would be keeping a watch.

2002. We returned in late November hoping to see Zawadi’s cubs. The scouts had been out every day and knew that she had given birth to two cubs. When we arrived they had not seen Zawadi or the cubs for several weeks. At the last sighting there had been only one cub. This was not a good sign and we were very eager to find them. On the day of the lion killing we were in Leopard Gorge looking for Zawadi. We found her late that afternoon. She was clinging to a limb high atop a fig tree and three young lions were laying at the bottom looking intently up at her. It was again near sunset so filming was very difficult. I got a record shot of her in the fading light but no sign of any cubs and our fears were that the lions had gotten them. That is often the fate of the young of all species.

There is a down side to this story. While a habituated leopard is most welcomed by photographers, becoming habituated is very bad for the leopard. A leopard without fear of humans is a very vulnerable animal. This was the last time we were able to find Zawadi in 2002 even though we spent a couple of more days in the area searching for her. We heard a rumor before we left and it made our hearts hurt. Seems there was an East Indian fellow who wanted to buy a leopard cub and he had been making inquiries around the time of the last cub sighting. Because of the economy of East Africa and a 60% unemployment rate, we have no doubt that a substantial sum of money would yield the man a leopard cub and how easy it would be to take a trusting leopard’s cub. We hope and pray this rumor was false but the fact that we could not find Zawadi easily was an indicator that she may now be wary of humans and vehicles and the fact that no one had seen her or her cubs for several weeks leaves us little hope. One side is, we hate it that a leopard so trusting may have lost her last cub in a most cruel way, the other side is we hope she will now be more wary even though we may never have the opportunity to see her again. But I shall never forget her and have painted her more than once and will continue to bring her to life in my work. Return