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Seeing the zoo's animals, through the eyes of artists

The Lake Superior Zoo has a new way to experience the animals -- through art -- and your last chance to see it is this weekend. "ZooScapes," a juried art show ending Sunday, Sept. 30, is the brainchild of John "Buzz" Buczynski, a painter and a se...

The Lake Superior Zoo has a new way to experience the animals -- through art -- and your last chance to see it is this weekend.

"ZooScapes," a juried art show ending Sunday, Sept. 30, is the brainchild of John "Buzz" Buczynski, a painter and a security guard at the zoo who thought of it over coffee with other artists in 1999.

It's an unusual project for a zoo to take on, said the zoo's director, Mike Janis. He noted Tuesday that while some zoos host artwork or exhibits, very few have a contest.

"This is the first in a zoo our size," Janis said.

And it's something that has attracted attention and interest from other zoos around the country. Janis was asked for information by a zoo in Texas at a recent convention.

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To get the event rolling, Buczynski sent out a prospectus to more than 600 area artists, and more than 80 of them responded by preregistering.

They were all given season passes to the zoo -- some even with unique access, coming in after hours to see nocturnal exhibits under different conditions -- with the idea of creating art with a feel for the life at the zoo.

"We turned them loose, and of course they did well," he said. Buczynski said the show was intended to encompass a broad range of works, including realist art, more academic fine art and the perspectives of environmental artists.

{IMG2}"ZooScapes" also has a broad spectrum of media. It has paintings, collages, wood carvings, sculpture and even stained glass.

The artists came from as far away as Inver Grove Heights and International Falls and ranged in age from 18 to the mid-60s.

In all, 33 works were accepted.

"It's hard to believe the talent in this community," Janis said. He said the art show works with the zoo's mission, which is to raise awareness among people of animals.

"This definitely fits that niche," he said.

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He added that showing patrons the animals through artwork is just as important as showing those animals in live exhibits.

The show seems even to have worked its charms on the people who put it together. Both Janis and Buczynski said they were enlightened after seeing how artists see the zoo.

"We're seeing things differently after what we've seen come in here," said Buczynski, who had a watercolor of his own accepted for the show.

Martin DeWitt, director and curator at the Univerisity of Minnesota-Duluth's Tweed Museum of Art, did the jurying. Winning the jurist's first prize was a sculpture called "Ivory Jack and the Zoo," by Pat Lentz. Chris Sherepa, Adriana Soeters and Judith Anderson also won jurist's awards, each with a cash prize.

Two other prizes were also given out -- the Director's Award (chosen by Janis), which went to "Look at Me!" by Rhonda Maki-Bischoff, and the Docent's Award, which was presented to "Living on the Edge" by Mary Wictor.

"ZooScapes" did not happen without help. Buczynski and Janis said the city's public arts commission chipped in with funding and assistance. They were partners in the program.

Another boost came from John Steffl, then artistic director of the Duluth Art Institute. Producing an art show takes a substantial amount of coordinating and planning and preparation -- all in Steffl's line of expertise.

"We got a real eduction," Buczynski said. "He knows a lot." The first issue was space. Zoo officials soon decided to use the multipurpose Onsgard room, which had a relative light schedule for the show's September run.

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But it had to be revitalized with lighting, which proved a challenge, and cleaning. Buczynski said at times it didn't seem possible. But it all came together. Janis said now that the organization has done it once, the next one will get easier.

"The first time is always the toughest, but it's exciting," he said.

That's right -- it will happen again.

"ZooScapes will be an annual event for the foreseeable future," Janis said.

The format may not be the same, and organizers have not yet decided how the show will change, if at all, but it seems likely a children's art component will be involved. This year's show was only open to artists over age 18.

Buczynski said many artists may still be using their season passes to prepare for next year, getting ready to take advantage of big zoo events like Boo

at the Zoo for Halloween, polar bear Bubba's birthday and Zoo Year's Eve.

Time will tell.

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