Flying Away from Human Mentors

Vicky Burke celebrates 2018: The Year of the Bird. Photo by Matt Rose

Hendersonville may be a few hundred miles from the ocean, but the recent renovation and reopening of the Team Ecco Aquarium & Shark Lab, including a new 2000-gallon shark tank, brings a whiff of salt air to the county. This month, the aquarium will also serve as an art gallery for the work of avian painter Victoria R. “Vicky” Burke, known for her depictions in acrylic of shore and marsh birds. She tells Bold Life why she only takes instruction on the wing.

How did you become associated with Team Ecco?
I first walked into the aquarium about five years ago to ask if I could sell some of my gicleé prints in the small gift store. I thought my oceanic birds would be a good fit. That’s when I met [executive director] Brenda Ramer. She loved my prints, and as we talked I mentioned that I was hoping to have a show someday, somewhere. I’ll never forget her words: “Why not here?” My main purpose of that showing was to honor the oceanic birds and bring awareness to the numerous threats to ocean health — to basically give the birds a “voice.”

And this month’s show?
It’s a celebration of “The Year of the Bird,” recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which is being celebrated this year by hundreds of organizations.

Why are you drawn to the coastal environment?
I love the smell of the fresh salty air and even the murky mudflats. I have a heart for shorebirds … so much of their environment has been taken away. That environment hosts a wonderfully balanced ecosystem, and it’s a great joy to watch the interactions of all the life there.

You’re a self-taught artist. How did the inspiration to take up painting arise?
As a small child, I was fortunate to have access to art materials — crayons, watercolors, and acrylic paints. I have always loved nature, so putting the two together came naturally. I’ve never had a mentor, and, really, never wanted to be influenced by another artist or told how to paint. I guess I just wanted to make sure my work was 100 percent my own.

What are the particular challenges in painting birds?
I struggle between my scientific knowledge of what birds are and my artistic desire to be a little more whimsical at times. I’m certainly not a scientific illustrator, and I often get frustrated with all the fine details that really make up a bird. One of the most important physical aspects is making sure the beak and eye are lined up properly. And then there are those confusing feathers …

Vicky Burke will show and sell her work Saturday, May 19, 1-5pm, at the Team Ecco Aquarium & Shark Lab (511 N. Main Street, Hendersonville), in honor of the Year of the Bird. For more information about the exhibit, call 828-692-8386 or see teamecco.org or birdsinthesand.com (Burke’s website). For general information, see audobon.org/yearofthebird.

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