Art with a porpoise

By HermineBloom

Only a couple hundred rare porpoises, or vaquitas, are still alive in the Gulf of California to this day, as they often die in fishing nets. But by meticulously weaving together multi-colored thread in the shape of the animal, 38-year-old Virginia-based artist Noah Scalin is practicing environmental activism.

A photograph of this piece of art—which both mimics a vaquita’s fate and reflects Scalin’s own body of work—is sold through the Endangered Species Print Project. The proceeds will go directly to Viva Vaquita!, an organization devoted to protecting the sea mammal.

The Chicago-based, environmentally driven Endangered Species Print Project is a little more than a year old. What started out as an effort by former School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate students, Jenny Kendler and Molly Schafer, by illustrating critically endangered species to raise money for specific organizations, has evolved into a more expansive art project with acclaimed artist contributions. Though the spirit of the project hasn’t changed since the idea was conceived, its scope has continued to grow.

Both Kendler and Schafer deeply appreciate nature and share a similar attitude toward assessing the social impact fine art

should have.

“We were thinking about doing something that’s outside the gallery system, but still has one foot in that system,” said Kendler, who owns and operates a company that designs websites for artists, called OtherPeoplesPixels, with her husband. “[The project] allows us to really have a direct impact on the things we care about. We were not leveraging our power in the way it was most effective.”

The project fulfills an artistic need for Kendler, who said showcasing fine art at a gallery isn’t always enough.

“Both of us were really dissatisfied with the gallery system and how market-oriented the art world is,” Kendler said. “People really seem to be navel-gazing. They’re forgetting about how amazing the world is and forgetting to really engage with the world in their art-making process.”

Essentially, the process begins with choosing an animal with an already established population status, Kendler said. Then a piece of artwork is created based on the endangered species and tied to the animal’s organization. Once the illustration is finished, each print is sold for $50 and printed on paper “in the highest post-consumer recycled percentage available,” according to the ESPP website.

“I wish there was an upper limit and we could say there’s only 200 endangered species so we’ll only do 200 prints, but there are thousands,” Kendler said. “We could never create them fast enough to keep up with new endangered species that humans are creating everyday.”

So far the co-founders, along with other artists who are either friends or artists who have contacted them through their website, have created 20

original artworks based on specific animals.

A high-resolution photograph of an original art piece, or a gicleé, is sold in limited editions, roughly based on the number of animals left. The whooping crane, Sumatran tiger, Hawaiian monk seal and the Vancouver Island marmot are among some of the species that have been featured for the project.

Kendler said much of the project’s focus right now has to do with encouraging the artist to create a print that falls in line with his or her own aesthetic, naturally belonging in his or her own body of work.

Kendler’s rendition of the whooping crane, for example, could be shown at a gallery with the rest of her work, she said, which is what she hopes for every artist-submitted print.

Scalin, a longtime family friend of Kendler, was attracted to the project because its spirit matches his professional work. The creative director and founder of Another Limited Rebellion, an environmentally conscious graphic design company, Scalin said he likes to use his artistic skills for a good cause if he can.

Even 32-year-old artist and writer Christopher Reigher wanted to contribute to the project, despite living in San Francisco. He created prints for both the javan rhinoceros and the red wolf, as he felt personally connected to the mission after growing up in a rural area of Virginia and spending a lot of time outdoors.

“My dad is a conservation writer, and we would travel together a lot for his magazine assignments,” said Reigher, who writes for his blog titled Hungry Hyena. “I was exposed to a wide range of environmentalists. There’s definitely a lot of animals and plants in my imagery.”

Schafer, who teaches art classes at Lillstreet Art Center, 4401 N. Ravenswood St., and does freelance illustration, read Reigher’s blog regularly, which began their correspondence.

Reigher used watercolors, Japanese ink, colored pencils and markers to illustrate the two species he chose. The intimate connection between the animal the artist chooses and where the money goes, he said, is truly unique.

To purchase or find more information on the prints, visit