MDC Cape Nature Center: Father, daughter gallery display celebrates extinct birds of Missouri

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Join the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center to reflect on extinct birds of Missouri in a month-long gallery display throughout December featuring drawings by father and daughter artist duo AJ and Cheyenne Hendershott.

Sara Turner, MDC manager of the Nature Center, said this display is special because it celebrates both conservation and family.

"So much of what we do in nature and for conservation is done together with our families," Turner said. "Family experiences and memory-making is a vital part of making conservation a life-long and generational legacy. That's what we strive for and it's an important aspect of this gallery display."

The Hendershotts are no strangers to many art forms. Cheyenne, 15, has worked in oil and acrylic paint, colored pencil, ebony and chalk.

"I've been drawing since I was about two years old, when I started coloring with sidewalk chalk with my dad," she said.

AJ holds a bachelor's degree from Southeast Missouri State University with a major in biology and minor in art. He also earned a master's degree from the same university with areas of emphasis in biology and art. AJ has worked with many mediums, including acrylic paints, pencil, scratch board and ink. He's been a practicing artist for 25 years.

"Cheyenne and I share a love for art and I wanted to do something with her that would be a fun and meaningful memory," AJ said.

The idea to work together on a display came when Cheyenne had a 9th grade art project where she had to create a project on an issue that needed to be solved. After discussing the project with her dad, she chose the issue of extinction to focus her project. That project eventually led to the idea of doing an art show on Missouri's extinct birds together.

The two have focused this gallery display on birds that once lived in Missouri and have gone extinct in the past 100 years. It will feature Carolina parakeets, passenger pigeons and ivory-billed woodpeckers. Lesser known extinct birds like the Bachman's warbler and Eskimo curlew will also be depicted.

"We've used a variety of art media to portray the beauty and ecology of these magnificent birds," AJ said.

As artists, the duo compares similarities and differences in their work quite often.

“One difference I have noticed is that it doesn’t take my dad as long to draw objects in proportion to one another, which probably has come from the years of experience. However, we have dealt with similar issues like being too concerned with small aspects of our artwork,” Cheyenne said.

For AJ, it’s the opportunity to watch his daughter grow as an artist that he enjoys most.

“I’ve had the privilege of watching Cheyenne grow as an artist over the years, and to shape her in some ways.  It’s fun to see her develop the same aptitude for certain media and dislike others, which catches my attention because we have similar aptitudes,” he said. “For example, I watched her do her first charcoal drawing and smiled when she said she didn’t prefer it because it was too messy. I completely agree.”

Overall, AJ said he thinks their styles are very similar right now. 

“Cheyenne is blossoming as an artist and I look forward to where she takes her skills,” he said.

One way she’s developing her skills is by using nature as her muse, just like her father.

“When I want to draw but don’t know where to start, I sometimes go outside and see if anything inspires me,” Cheyenne said.

“Nature is the ultimate art gallery, being both beautiful and inspiring,” AJ said. “A walk in the woods can give me weeks of subject matter to draw.  When I study nature, the study always spills over to my art.  It’s a way to express amazement about what I’m learning.”

For this gallery display at the Nature Center, the duo hopes their work inspires others to consider the plight of the birds they’ve worked to represent.

“I hope people look at our artwork and become curious enough about the birds to learn more,” Cheyenne said.

“I want people to realize how beautiful these birds were in real life,” AJ said. “Then as they consider their extinction I hope they feel inspiration rather than sorrow.  We can’t save extinct birds, but we can prevent future extinctions with conservation efforts.”

For the Hendershotts, preparing for the display has been an opportunity to reflect on conservation efforts, as well as the experience of working together.

“I’ve enjoyed working on this project with my dad and I can only hope that he will continue to help me grow as an artist,” Cheyenne said.

“I love my daughter and being able to share the experience of an art exhibit with her is immensely gratifying,” AJ said.

Visit the Cape Nature Center lobby in December to view the drawings inspired by the extinct birds of Missouri. The exhibit is free and open to the public when the Nature Center is open, Tuesday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Find programs where you can connect to your family and nature through nature art at