Parisian museum to feature loaned Devos pieces

Chelsea Birdsall

The Museum of Hunting and Nature in Paris is featuring seven pieces from wildlife photographer George Shiras III loaned by NMU’s very own DeVos Art Museum until February 14, 2016.

The DeVos loaned “Innocents Abroad,” “Expectation,” “Hark!,” “Has He Gun or Camera,” “A Midnight Reflection,” “Deer and Porcupine – An Unexpected Portrait” and his famous “Canada Lynx on the Shore of Loon Lake, Ontario” to the French exhibit. These are just seven of 11 pieces that were donated by June and Frederick Schaefer out of their personal collection.

The DeVos pieces will be accompanied by several contemporary reproductions of original negatives from a 1906 edition of National Geographic. They currently own the main collection.

The renowned Shiras is famous for his technique of capturing wildlife at night using trip lines and flash photography. His groundbreaking method was important not only historically, but biologically and ecologically as well, considering the vast understanding it provided as to how the UP wildlife survives, said Matuscak.

“It’s fascinating to think about the amount of effort it took to capture the photographs,” Matuscak said. “We all have cameras easily accessible now, and we take that for granted.”

Though his original processes are admirable, Matuscak said people respond positively to his work on an artistic level, considering his first place win at the Paris World Fair in 1900.

“The way Shiras framed the images is thoughtful, and he was definitely making aesthetic choices when printing the images,” Matuscak said. “I’m not sure that Shiras saw himself as an artist per se, but he does belong in the canon of art history considering the significant contributions he made to photography.”

Sonia Voss, the independent curator in Paris responsible for getting in contact with DeVos staff about using Shiras’ work, said she was fond of “Hark!,” a piece that was featured in the 1900 World Fair. She said she believes the work highlights his scientific yet artistic outlook on nature.

“The deer appears in all its majesty, he is really the monarch of the forest. The reflection in the water is perfect, one can see the antler extremely clearly. The thousands of sparkling dots create an eery atmosphere which is absolutely magic,” Voss said. “The animal lives much more actively during the night, he belongs to it. There is a limit between the animal kingdom and men that can only be crossed occasionally and briefly. Here we have a marvelous example of how close we can get to them and yet remain forever distant.”

The loaned prints are part of the DeVos’s permanent collection, which has accumulated over 1,500 donated pieces in the last 40 years, said Matuscak. The Schafer donation added to the pre-existing collection of negatives the DeVos has previously acquired from National Geographic.

Matuscak said the plan is to reserve the back gallery of the Devos for permanent collection pieces only, starting in 2017. She said the educational opportunity it presents opens the doors to more collaboration between all departments and will hopefully increase the flow of tours and programs that could focus on a variety of disciplines.

The DeVos prints are especially tantalizing to the area since they were originally printed in Marquette, said Matuscak. In addition, large amounts of the photos Shiras took were of Upper Peninsula wildlife. Matuscak said he experimented heavily at the Peter White camp in Alger County.

According to his biography on NMU’s archive website, Shiras discovered his fascination of nature in 1870 during a camping trip to Marquette. Similarly, he found an interest in photography  after some camera experimenting in 1889.

Voss said one of the things that stuck out about Shiras, who is largely unknown, was his life story.

“He was a hunter in his youth, then gradually realized that nature needed protectors rather than hunters and swapped his rifle for a camera. He then wrote numerous articles to convince other hunters to do just like him,” Voss said. “Through photography, he tried not only to make an aesthetic impression but also to change the mentality of his contemporaries and to modify their relationship to nature.”

Shiras was coined the father of wildlife photography and has several achievements tied to his name, including regular contributor to National Geographic and founder of a moose species, that was subsequently categorized as Alces Americana Shirasi after him.

During his time, he had also grown close to President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a strong supporter of Shiras’ photography and advocate for his eventual books depicting his life and art. His most famous publication is titled “Hunting Wildlife With Camera and Flashlight” and has well over 960 photos.

With a passion for capturing shots of animals in their natural habitats, Shiras spent a majority of his life living at least part-time in the U.P. before settling down in Marquette in the late 1930’s after the passing of his wife. He lived here for four years before his death in March of 1942.

Matuscak said she was excited by the cooperation and collaboration between the two countries over something that brings all cultures together: Art.

“Having this type of cultural exchange helps us share our story with a new audience, which hopefully deepens understanding between countries and cultures,” Matuscak said. “The arts have a special way to facilitate this type of exchange and I am proud that the museum can play even a small part in that idea.”