Erik Fremstad’s Unnatural Selections at Lakewold Gardens

by Molly Gilmore

The large animals in Fremstad’s Unnatural Selections series meet the viewers’ eyes. He spent between 9 and 12 months on each piece in the series.

A picture, it is often said, is worth a thousand words. The pictures in Unnatural Selections, on view beginning Feb. 16 at Lakewold Gardens, are each made up of thousands of words — and these words count.

The Grizzly is part of Erik Fremstad’s series of detailed animal portraits, on view at Lakewold Gardens.

Selections’ animal portraits, by Erik Fremstad of Olympia, are detailed, realistic depictions of iconic North American species done in pen and ink and watercolor. A close look reveals that each image is made up mostly of words, painstakingly researched information about the way these animals — bison, wolves, grizzly bears, polar bears, sea turtles and pollinators — have been threatened and hunted over the centuries.

Fremstad spent six years creating the pieces, each of which includes biological information as well as the history of the species’ interactions with European settlers and present-day Americans. Besides the words, the pictures include graphs, maps and sketches. “The Grizzly,” for example, includes images of guns and a drawing of a bear-feeding station labeled “Lunch Counter for Bears Only” — details that emerge only after one spends time with the piece. The exhibition expands on the detail, including the notebooks the artist filled with research, source lists and a video documenting the process.

His goal: to illuminate the stories of the animals and reveal the interconnections among them and between their fates and the larger issues that face the world today. This is his first time showing the entire series, completed in July.

Detail: The Grizzly is made up largely of words, including biological and historical information, along with maps, graphs and illustrations such as this one drawn from a photo of a bear feeding station.

“When you see all six, you can get a better idea of the full story,” he said. There’s the story of these animals, yes, and when you put them all together, it’s the story of the land and the people and what has caused some of our current predicaments. We’ve been doing this for centuries — not just killing animals but also destroying the balance of old-growth forests, wetlands, prairies.”

This is also Fremstad’s first Western Washington exhibition. In November, “The Grizzly” won third place in Central Washington University’s national juried exhibition Interstate. “It’s a tour de force,” said juror Stefano Catalani. “It’s a piéce de résistance.”

“Fremstad’s work is startling, blunt, original and artistically extraordinary,” said Susan Warner, Lakewold’s executive director. “Lakewold is pleased and proud to present this singular exhibition. … We hope it will provoke deep thought.”

“The team really liked both the quality of the work and the relevance of the theme,” said Ricard de la Torre, curator of art and music at Lakewold. That theme fits with the gardens’ vision of “a world where all people live in harmony with nature,” Warner said.

The inspiration for Unnatural Selections came from Fremstad’s work as a TV editor. He was working on the ABC Saturday Morning series “Rock the Park and got interested in the American bison, which was hunted close to extinction in the 19th century. “There used to be millions and millions of bison, and then they were all slaughtered,” he said. “I knew bits and pieces of the story, but I wanted to know more about it.” That story and image led to others, and he’s donated nearly $8,000 in proceeds from his nature-themed art to nonprofit organizations working to help animals.

Pollinators in progress. Human’s everyday decisions affect bumblebees and other pollinators, Fremstad said. That’s why he included Pollinators among his animal portraits.

His TV work fits his passion, too. He’s worked on many food shows, including chef Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” and several episodes of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” but he sometimes gets to sink his teeth into environmental subjects. He’s currently working on “Hope in the Water,” a three-part documentary that explores the intersection between saving the world’s oceans and waterways and feeding hungry people.

All photos courtesy Erik Fremstad.

Unnatural Selection

Feb. 16-April 7, with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 16

Lakewold Gardens, 12317 Gravelly Lake Drive SW, Lakewood

$6-$12, free for members and children 5 and younger. Admission to the reception is free.


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