Wyland, Combining Art and Conservation

Author: Shari Horowitz

TFH sits down with famed painter and sculptor Wyland, who is renowned for his artwork depicting fantastic ocean scenes and his efforts in preserving the marine environment.

Art Under the Sea

As aquarium hobbyists, we know that beauty is one of the primary reasons people fall in love with the underwater world. Our tanks often serve to showcase that beauty, offering aquarists and non-aquarists alike reasons to care about aquatic life. Marine conservationist and internationally renowned artist Wyland displays the wonders of the aquatic world in a different way—through his paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other forms of art.

An Inspiring Figure

We met up with Wyland at the Beneath the Sea scuba expo in Secaucus, New Jersey, where Wyland painted with the kids at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, donated some pieces of fine art to the auction, and designed (and signed) t-shirts, the proceeds of which went to support future shows.

“With all the things going on in the ocean today, I feel that I can use my art to engage the public,” Wyland said. And he meant it—throughout our interview, people kept walking up to Wyland and telling him stories about how they were personally inspired by his artwork. He was happy to talk with them, take photos, and provide an autograph.

Whaling Walks

On a much larger scale, Wyland is probably best known for his “whaling walls”—life-size murals of whales and other marine mammals found on buildings all over the world. He completed his first whaling wall in 1981 at the age of 25, and his 100th one, which was his last, in 2008. “I simply decided I was going to need bigger canvases if I was going to paint whales life-sized,” he explained. Several of the whaling walls were done at public aquariums and zoos, where Wyland works diligently to get out his message of ocean conservation. “Zoos and aquariums have inspired me since I was a kid, and they are critical to educate young people,” he said.

Besides simply using his art to showcase the beauty of the oceans, Wyland also uses it as a teaching tool. The final whaling wall, which was created for the Green Olympics in Beijing, China, features the work of student artists from 110 countries.

Wyland has worked with over a million kids in total on a wide range of projects. “If you’re going to protect the environment for the future, you have to engage kids,” he said. He added that, “I don’t have a real job, so I’m kind of like a kid.” While talking to Wyland about his conservation work, you can see his child-like enthusiasm for all of his projects.

Conservation Work

The Wyland Foundation, which he founded in 1993 in conjunction with the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, is dedicated to “promoting, protecting, and preserving the world’s ocean, waterways, and marine life.” “I decided that, like Jacques Cousteau, I would create a non-profit to bring together art and science,” he said.


One of the primary programs they work on is called FOCUS (Forests, Oceans, Climate, and Us), a partnership with the US Forest Service and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aimed at getting children to participate in conservation-based activities. Whether they are painting murals, studying a lesson plan developed by FOCUS, or blogging about their experiences, kids are able to combine art and science together for the purpose of conservation. There is also the Clean Water Mobile Learning Experience, a mobile classroom that is set up to teach about watersheds and the impact communities have on ecosystems and the ocean.

Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation

Another cornerstone program, the Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, is a competition between cities to conserve water during the entire month of April. Once a city pledged to take the saving-water challenge, they encouraged individual residents to do their part. Ultimately, over 5 billion gallons of water were saved during the challenge this year, not to mention the untold amount of energy saved as well.

Art and Conservation

“If you create a gentle environment, you will reach more people that way,” Wyland said. By carefully depicting gentle ocean scenes and displaying his artwork around the world, he has certainly inspired many people to care about our oceans.

See the full article on TFH Digital http://www.tfhdigital.com/tfh/201210#pg87