The Oregon Coast Aquarium is doing something it has never done before. For the first time in its history the Aquarium will host a traveling art exhibit. "The Living Waters of Tillamook Bay," will be on view near the Passages of the Deep exhibit beginning March 19th. This collection of brilliantly colored collages by artist Diane O'Leary, are clearly an expression of love for a critically threatened estuary.
Diane O'Leary's life is a fascinating story. She is a remarkable individual who has an ability to master disciplines that take lifetimes for others. She was a widely celebrated piano prodigy in her youth. She has received accolades for her work in nursing education, archeology and physics. She has become an innovator in every field she has endeavored and now, as one of the nation's most distinguished artists, she has turned her attention to the estuarine environment of Tillamook Bay.
Her interest in the bay goes beyond the ability to depict the fish and habitat. She studied the bay for a year, reading every report written about it since 1890. "I spent a year on research and it took me one weekend to write the report," she said. "I saw what was wrong." O'Leary says one third of the habitat was missing and the bay was in terrible condition. The thing that makes this environment unique is that it is fed by five rivers. So everything that goes into the streams winds up in the rivers and eventually the bay. "Fish are like people," she says, "When their habitat becomes unlivable they move out." That is why she created these magnificent works. "I wish I could inspire people to think about what they're doing to their immediate personal environment." She says she knows that nobody can save the world on their own, "but we can all do a lot to our yard, our stream and our immediate environment. We can change the way we do things."
O'Leary's creative gifts came naturally. "I always drew," she says of her childhood, spent in Texas and Missouri. "I'm a depression kid-so I grew up weaving, sewing, and quilting. We made everything--the men were ironworkers and glassblowers. You would stand outside in the winter with your hands freezing while you made soap and candles." O'Leary says it was hardship, "but I look back now and bless everything I learned."
Music was a big part of life in those days. "Everyone had a piano in the house," she says, "we would get together and have political and philosophical discussions and then everybody would sing hymns." In spite of her celebrated virtuosity on the piano, her father told her if she were planning to go to college-she had better learn a trade, so she studied nursing. As a nurse, she would stand on a box and draw what she saw in surgery. But she saw beyond the strengths and frailties of the human body. She envisioned improved technology for the surgeons and her vision led to improvements on the technology being used. Her vision became valued in the field of physics.
Her work in physics led her to New Mexico where she decided she would check out the local art scene. When she saw what was happening, she says, "I voted with my feet!" She left her career in physics to study art. She found herself in the midst of an art community that included the likes of Emil Bistram, Eric Gibbard and Georgia O'Keefe. They were the "Taos Founders"-a group of New Mexican artists devoted to the creation of art forms with universal meaning. O'Leary painted traditional Indian art and, at first devoted her work to the creation of images of the lives of Native American women as they must have been in the past.
O'Leary moved to the Oregon coast in 1989 and began a second creative career, making art quilts, two of which have been published by the Smithsonian. Recently, her interest in environmental issues, especially those of Tillamook Bay have inspired her to return to painting, printmaking and paper making techniques. These have all been combined to produce "The Living Waters of Tillamook Bay".
All of O'Leary's depictions are anatomically accurate, using wild colors and patterns to create glorious undersea images of fish and invertebrates that inhabit-or once inhabited the bay. "The Living Waters of Tillamook Bay" will be on view in the area of Passages of the Deep from March 19, 2005 through March 19, 2006.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is a private, not-for-profit aquatic and marine science educational facility offering a fun and interesting way to learn about Oregon's unique coastal ecosystem. The Aquarium is dedicated to teaching marine wildlife and ocean conservation through responsible management and exhibition of marine life.