Monday, February 6, 2017

BOOK REVIEW:  Reflections on Michael C. Tobias’s and Jane Gray Morrison’s

Anthrozoology: Embracing Co-Existence in theAnthropocene

Some people are just born with more energy than others.  No doubt Michael C. Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison are among them.  How they manage to produce the volume of work they do is beyond me.  In addition to serving as President and Executive Vice President respectively of the NGO, Dancing Star Foundation, which focuses on international biodiversity conservation, global environmental education, and animal protection, the couple has written over 50 books, and produced over 100 films.  But it’s not just the volume of their body of work that’s amazing.  It’s also the breadth of their knowledge and the depth of their thinking.  Their most recent book, Anthrozoology: Embracing Co-Existence in the Anthropocene, is a case in point.  It focuses on humanity’s relationship with other species from the earliest of time, when human activities first had a measurable impact on the Earth and it’s inhabitants, and forward through the course of the integrated history of humans and other species inhabiting the planet (aka per the authors, “The Others”).

If you are familiar with the work of Tobias and Morrison, you would expect a new book by the couple to be thick in description.  And this book is, both as etic and emic discourse.  I chose to focus on Chapter 2, “Our Conquest of Coevolution?,” and Chapter 11, “A North American Family: The Ecologies of Translation,” because the authors confided in me that they feel these are the book’s most radical chapters.  But I also lightly read from other chapters here and there including Chapter 1, which I found useful to grasp the authors’ lexicon of ecological philosophy and animal liberation science, subjects not as familiar to me as they should; and the Coda, which brings their theses full circle.  In the course of my read, I encountered head-spinning interpretation of tightly integrated contents ranging from histories and ethics of conquest amply supported by quantifiable data, irreverent musings about shortcomings of normal science, e.g. comparative zoology vis-à-vis reverence for and understanding of animals through aesthetic expression, blunt and passionate ideology, and even delightful, philosophical prose which occasionally bordered on the mindful pleasures of Thoreau or the effective, often anecdotal, writing style of Aldo Leopold and his penchant, like that of the authors for lists, or perhaps even Native American perspectives in literature and history such as those imbued in the affable trickster, coyote.  All of which gave me pause on more than one occasion, to look up from my copy of the book, smile, and ponder the book’s spiral structure, which I imagined as something akin to Max’s memorable line in Maurice Sendak’s book, when he “sailed off through the night, and in and out of weeks, and almost over a year, to where the wild things are.”[i] The sectioning of the book, and its lexiconic vocabulary creates that kind of spiraling cadence, which is not only part of the charm of this book, but also an aide to a reader like me not schooled in the science of Anthrozoology.  Whereas I occasionally found myself challenged in sections where jargon and rich vocabulary was foreign, I would no sooner spiral out into the next section where familiar language and train of thought made for a connected read. 

 In the book’s Preface, that authors state, “At the book’s core is a singular proposition: Homo sapiens are a species that is failing, in contrast with nearly all those Others on Earth.  But our biological redemption is still possible. It will require unstinting kindness, personal humility, and sacrifice, and the awakening of the collective conscience in both ideal as well as pragmatic ways that can work to safeguard remaining biomes and individuals – the ultimate drivers of ecological success - in whatever near infinite time frames are possible.” [ii]

For Morrison and Tobias, sentiments expressed in Anthrozoology about The Others are not mere words.  Rather, they have been tantamount to lifestyle, as revealed in the autobiographical second half of Chapter 11, in which they recount the joys and lessons of life over the course of 30 years lived with Josie, a Yellow-Headed Parrot (Amazona oratrix) from Tres Marias Islands, Mexico.  In the chapter, Morrison and Tobias explain that of 22 known psittacine species in Mexico, 20 are threatened (An estimated 78,500 are captured annually at a 75% rate of mortality after capture!).  After a raft of psittacine facts and figures, the authors proceed to give voice to the parrot’s “kyaa-aa-aaah and krra-aah-aa-ow” in a dozen pages for those readers who might not otherwise infer meaning from the vocalizing of a parrot: “Josie: ‘Throughout my varied flight patterns, over a life now verging on one hundred of your years, I have heard it uttered by many learned people that we parrots display a greater linguistic range than any known bird-type. Indeed it is further alleged that we can wield more verb tenses, flamboyant adjectives, and past perfect syllogisms beyond that of any known species.  Frankly, this is a bit overstated . . .’” [iii] Though this humanizing device adds validity and charm to the book, I don’t want to give the misconception that Anthrozoology is sentimental.  To the contrary, it can be as ideologically blunt as anything you will read:  “Anyone who considers him or herself to be a conservationist and eats animals is a preposterous hypocrite, and a dangerous one because such contradictory actions enforce a template of behavior by example that easily turns to preconception, and further ladens biological opinion with the bias of great harm.”[iv]

Anthrozoology: Embracing Co-Existence in the Anthropocene is packed with example after example of attitudes, values, behaviors, and practices of human dominance toward animals across and throughout cultural history.  The catalogue of examples which Morrison and Tobias present of human inhumanity against animals is encyclopedic and impressive.   The book argues that unless humanity liberates itself from biological hegemony, human existence will self-destruct, but also that there is an antidote: communication.  In the authors’ own words: “. . . the crucial message that lives and breathes throughout the book: That our love and reverence of other organisms, yes, other species, and our humble efforts to somehow non-invasively engage with them, may be key to solving the crisis of the Anthropocene which, most noticeably, has translated into the Sixth Extinction Spasm in the history of life on earth, [v] a biospheric Holocaust occurring 24/7.” Throughout Anthrozoology, Tobias and Morrison reiterate their concern for the need for communication with other species.  In the process, the book’s dire yet hopeful core message establishes that the world of Homo sapiens and Others is full of bifurcated challenges and opportunities.   

Earlier, I mentioned that the spiral sectioning of this book reminded me of a line from Maurice Sendak’s children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are.  But, another reminder, this time a picture instead of words, also stuck in my mind as an image or symbol of the spiral trajectory of Anthrozoology in the current context in which we live.  If you’ve ever seen a James Bond movie, I’m sure you know the image:  the rifled bore of a Walther PPK in each opening sequence.  Just as the bullet in Bond’s Walther PPK is given its accuracy by the spiral of its bore, so too do Morrison and Tobias confront bifurcation and inaction by establishing the escalating urgency of their rallying cry:
. . . This is a desperate time. These are depressing realizations but the evidence has quickly and abundantly mounted.  We are all in trouble. What is most distressing, and at the root of this accelerated truth of our waning durability, or rationale for even being allowed . . . to continue, is that we are also dragging all those other species and habitats down with us and in so doing, predicating the extinction of humanity itself. [vi]

Though Anthrozoology is a book about compassion, hope, and the promise of communication, I for one, felt the scales of my read tip toward pending danger given the pathetic state of current presidential politics.  In fact, I confess that there were times while I was reading this book, that I was unable to do so from a hopeful perspective.  (When I came across this line comparing humans to “The Others,” for example, it was next to impossible for me to read it without association:  “No other species has ever dared to massively behave so foolishly, narcissistically, angrily, so ruthlessly.”[vii] On the other hand, I found the authors’ skill at conveying the sense of joy and mystery from love and understanding of all species to be infectious and up-lifting.  

                  Questions about Anthrozoology remain in my mind:  Can the authors’ utopian ideals transcend a self-serving world that values short-term gain?  From a literary perspective, I wondered about the nature of the author’s collaboration.  How do they work?  Their voices are unified in the text, but I am curious about their research and writing methods, i.e. who does what?   It would be interesting to hear them talk about that in a seminar.  In any event, Anthrozoology is a challenging yet informative and very creative book; one that I imagine would engage and stimulate students, among others, in countless, unimaginable ways.
David J. Wagner, Ph.D.

David J. Wagner, is the President of David J. Wagner, L.L.C. , a limited liability corporation established in the state of Wisconsin for the principle purpose of producing and managing traveling exhibitions for display at museums and related art, cultural and scientific institutions in North America and abroad.  He previously served as a museum director for 20 years, and is an author with a long list of lectures and book signings. He also occasionally serves museums as a guest curator, and as adjunct faculty at colleges and universities. 

[i] Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, originally published by Harper & Row, 1963
[ii] Anthrozoology: Embracing Co-Existence in the Anthropocene, P. xv.  In a recent interview about the book, the authors went further, saying that  “. . .  unless we liberate ourselves from a 200,000 year-long biological hegemony that we have assiduously tried to maintain by dominating all other creatures, we will self-destruct, and soon (My emphasis.) January 13, 2017 Interview by Marc Bekoff

[iii] Ibid P. 314
[iv] Ibid P. 95
[v] Ibid P. xv
[vi]  Ibid P. 326
[vii]  Ibid P. 326   

Saturday, January 21, 2017





September 2 - October 29, 2017
Oradell, NJ


November 18, 2017 - January 7, 2018
Dubuque, IA

January 27 - March 25, 2018
Murrells Inlet (Myrtle Beach), South Carolina

April 14 - June 3, 2018
Tucson, Arizona

June 30 - August 26, 2018
Joplin, Missouri

(414) 221-6878;;
American Alliance of Museums; International Council of Museums

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Some 20 Members of The Society of Animal Artists have had their entries (links below) published on the Stanford University Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere BLOG.

If you wish to submit an entry for consideration for publication on the Stanford University Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere BLOG, please email David J. Wagner, Ph.D. at:

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

John James Audubon: Birds of America

May 7 - October 16, 2016

The stately Paine Art Center and Gardens, located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is presenting a  broad, representative selection of original, hand-colored plates from Birds of America, produced by John James Audubon, as is featured exhibition for the Summer of 2016.  Colloquially known as the “Double-Elephant Folio” because of its large size, Birds of America took over a decade to be printed and colored (1827 - 1838).  Upon completion, it comprised 435 life-size, hand-colored plates.  Birds of America subsequently became the most celebrated work of American ornithology in art history.  


In 1820, with little more than art supplies, a gun, and a young assistant, Audubon set out down The Ohio River to discover and paint American birds.  Using watercolors, pastels, and various other media to create dramatic, life-like compositions of birds in their natural settings, Audubon focused on individual physical characteristics, as well as behaviors and habitat.  Audubon's remarkable undertaking ultimately resulted in over one-thousand paintings documenting more than 450 species of birds. In 1826 Audubon partnered with the preeminent, Scottish printer of the day, William Home Lizars, to bring his paintings to market as prints.  

 But this relationship was short-lived due to a strike by colorists.  When word of the strike reached Audubon in London, Audubon approached fifty-eight-year-old Robert Havell, Sr., a reputable but not particularly well-known printer. At the time, Havell was about to retire.  Havell accepted Audubon's project but only on the condition that his son, Robert Havell, Jr., be the one to incise the copper printing plates and over see production.  The rest is history.  Some 200 full sets or so are thought to have been printed and published in Audubon’s life time.   Their rarity and extraordinary quality of workmanship have contributed to a seemingly insatiable demand by collectors, and values which have increased steadily over time.

The particular collection assemble at The Paine was selected by Curator, David J. Wagner, Ph.D., who authored American Wildlife Art which features a chapter on Audubon, to reflect the breadth and depth of Birds of America, and some of Audubon's very strongest images.

Lenders to the exhibition include the John James Audubon Center, Audubon’s historic, homestead at Mill Grove, PA, the Milwaukee Public Library Rare Books Collection, the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, and Joel Oppenheimer also in Chicago.

Photo Credits: Phil Weston of Weston Imaging Group in Oshkosh for The Paine Art Center and Gardens

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Opening of Art and the Animal

Canton Museum of Art

The Canton Museum of Art

55th Annual Art and the Animal

Art and the Animal is the tour of selections from the annual juried exhibition of members of the Society of Animal Artists. The Tour Director is, David J. Wagner, Ph.D

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Brian Jarvi's 



Rarely does a concept and body of work to back it up come along that begs for a museum exhibition, as much as the AFRICAN MENAGERIE project of Brian Jarvi. Seven large panoramic panels, the largest of which is 9 feet by five feet, form a sweeping, grand panorama of the African savannah and the animal kingdom contained therein. Fifty related research sketches and mixed media studies accompany the panorama; along with subtly and intelligently integrated signage describing the wildlife and ecology.

Documenting the project will be a coffee-table book by Todd Wilkinson, author of such books as Last Stand: Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet, and Kent Ullberg: Monuments to Nature. Wilkinson's book, will be available to tour venues to sell in their book stores and gift shops.

Bongo Study

SAA member Brian Jarvi is widely recognized as among the very best painters of Africa today. AN AFRICAN MENAGERIE is unparalleled in its breadth, depth, and scope, and sure to be a hit with visitors wherever it is displayed.

David J. Wagner, Ph.D.
Curator/Tour Director


From  its  very  conception  fourteen  years  ago,  "African  Menagerie"  has  experienced  a  journey  of growth,  meaning,  and  evolution.  Now,  it  has  entered  the  most  exciting  phase;  creation  of  the  epic vision.  The  seven  paneled  twenty-seven  foot  long  work  will  feature  more  than  one  hundred  forty different species from the Dark Continent, spawned from early childhood fascination with both living collections  of  wild  animals,  and  paintings  from  the  distant  past  portraying  large  varied  groups  of exotic  creatures.  In  the  "Menagerie,"  the  gathering  of  an  incredible  array  of  wildlife  will  be  set against  a  grand  panoramic  backdrop,  highlighted  by  a  view  of  the  receding  snows  of  Mount Kilimanjaro. All of Africa's icons including the Elephant,  Leopard, Giraffe, Rhino, Hippo, and Zebra will  mingle  with  such  exotics  as  the  Bongo,  Okapie,  and  Mandrill. 

Windows to the Soul, Mandrill

More  than  eighty  bird  species; Ostrich,  Shoebill,  Lilac  Breasted  Roller,  and  Sacred  Ibis  among  them,  have  also  arrived.  And  man, who has come to dominate the earth, has been summoned to this gathering, as the natural world seeks answers  to  the  growing  issues  of  survival  faced  by  countless  species  across  the  planet. 

Haley's Flamingos

African Spoonbill Prestudy

Allegorical storyline's intended to dramatize the urgency of the moment are woven into the tapestry of this idyllic scene.  For  example,  the  arrival  of  the  "Four  Horses"  from  the  far  left,  and  the  "Lion  and  the  Lamb" seated  directly  in  front  of  a  "DaVinci"  like  figure  in  the  foreground,  compel  the  viewer  to  interact with  the  scene.  Over  the  years,  the  original  concept  of  simply  seeking  to  create  art,  has  evolved  into something far more meaningful: a message to humanity intended to inspire acts of conservation. Acts that  will  save,  not  just  the  great  iconic  species  of  Africa,  but  wildlife  across  our  fabulously,  diverse planet.

Grant's Gazelle

In  preparation  for  the  creation  of  "African  Menagerie,"  more  than  100  studies  will  be  produced. Pencil,  charcoal,  monochromatic  oils,  mixed  media  and  major  full  color  oils  will  be  created  as  I explore  and  familiarize  myself  with  a  multitude  of  species.  To  date,  fourteen  of  these  works  have been  completed,  six  of  which  have  been  juried  into  major  exhibitions  including  The  Annual Exhibition of the Society of Animal Artists, Artists for Conservation Annual Exhibition, Birds in Art at  the  Leigh  Yawkey  Woodson  Art  Museum  where  one  work  was  purchased  for  acquisition  into  the permanent  collection.  More  studies  will  focus  on  relative  scale,  personality,  attitude,  and  the demeanor of  a wide array  of subjects.  Numerous  small multi-species paintings will be produced over the  course  of  this  process  including  "The  Sunbirds,"  "The  Duikers,"  and  "The  Ibis"  studies,  just  to name  a  few.  Eight  of  these  pieces  will  be  of  major  variety.  The  following  is  a  list  of  those  works, along with brief descriptions.


In preparation for the creation of "African Menagerie," more than 100 studies will be produced in various media including pencil, charcoal, monochromatic oils, mixed media and major full color oils.

Many will also be included in the exhibition.

Lion and Lamb

"Predatoria" (36x72)
"Predatoria" will feature species ranging from the diminutive Banded Mongoose to the iconic 450lb African Lion. Also included are the Leopard, Spotted Hyena, Homo Sapien, Honey Badger, Cheetah, and others in a menagerie grouping.

"The Last Quagga" (36x48)
A detailed full color study of the extinct Quagga Zebra.


"Twelve Monkeys" (40x80)
Several of the primates including the Western Lowland Gorilla, Yellow Baboon, Wolf's Mona Monkey, Mandrill, Homo Sapien, Colobus Monkey, and others.

Bonobo Charcoal

The Birds Study in Progress
Silent Song, The Birds

"The Birds" (36x48)
The nearly completed menagerie grouping of more than 20 of Africa's most iconic avian species including the Ostrich, Shoebill, Crowned Crane, Lilac Breasted Roller, Bateluer Eagle, and Lesser Flamingo.

"Omega Man" (36x48)
A study of Homo Sapien inspired by DaVinci's "Vitruvian Man."
"The Four Horses" (40x60)
A Prestudy of the Equines includes the Mountain Zebra, Grevy's Zebra, Burchell's Zebra, and the Quagga.

"Jurassica" (72x72)
"Jurassica" will feature several of the more prehistoric appearing species including the Elephant, Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, and Crocodile.

"Master Prestudy" (48x96)
The Master Prestudy will be a complete monochromatic preliminary study of the final epic 27 feet long and 10 feet high painting titled "African Menagerie, The Inquisition."    

Documenting the exhibition will be a book by Todd Wilkinson,
Author, Last Stand: Ted Turner`s Quest To Save A Troubled Planet.


 October 1 - December 21, 2017
 Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University, KS

 January 20 - April 5, 2018
 Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, Oradell, NJ

 April 26 - July 15, 2018
 Canton Museum of Art, Canton, OH

Additional Venues are Pending