When art and nature collide – ‘Creative Conservation’ is hatched

Department of Conservation —  19/05/2021

By Jana Beer, Partnerships Ranger (Auckland)

The hut was rather dingy and the weather a little marginal that day on the Murchison Mountains when an idea for a book came to Chrissy Wickes...

She was stoat trapping and taking a breather in the hut when she noticed someone had drawn a beautiful pencil drawing of a takahē on one of the walls. Underneath the drawing were the names of people who had worked to protect this once-thought extinct bird, dating back to the 1970s. It struck Chrissy that people working in conservation had important stories to tell, and one of the most powerful modes of storytelling, was visual.

As an artist herself, Chrissy understood this more than most. She has been inspired by the beautiful, remote places she has had unique access to through her role as a Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger, producing art both from memory and photographs. After putting an initial call out, her suspicion about the link between conservation and creativity proved right, as her inbox flooded with names of artists working in conservation both inside and outside of DOC.

Fast-forward six years, several iterations, finding the right publishers and navigating a global pandemic, and the book has finally hit bookshelves to great effect.

Creative Conservation, compiled by Chrissy Wickes and Sonia Frimmel, brings together 35 artists who celebrate our distinctive landscape and flora and fauna through a wide range of mediums including painting, sculpture, ceramics, carving, poetry, and weaving. It is the only New Zealand, conservation-based, creative collection of its kind.

You might expect a level of similarity among the artists’ various art practices, but each is as distinct as nature is varied. Some capture our emotional and spiritual connection to the land, while others approach their subject in a playful or experimental manner, while others still draw our attention to an important conservation topic. What binds them is a shared love of nature, and a depth of know-how and experience of what it takes to protect it.

In an interview with Kathryn Ryan on RNZ’s Nine to Noon, Chrissy explains, “What lifts this from just a book about artists that are passionate about nature, is that it’s about artists that have worked, and still do work, in conservation. So, there is an incredible depth of meaning and knowledge behind each artwork.”

Viewing art is a powerful means to help us see the world in a different way to our own. With more than 4,000 of our endemic and native species at risk of extinction, encouraging New Zealanders to understand the perspectives of conservationists is important. As DOC Director-General Lou Sanson points out in the foreword:

“By bringing hidden worlds to life, and challenging the viewer to ask questions of themselves and the artist, a conversation is started and new connections are made. It’s all about engaging hearts and minds.”

Chrissy Wickes, ‘Mt Iron’, oil on canvas, 920 x 300 mm
Chrissy Wickes, ‘Mt Iron’, oil on canvas, 920 x 300 mm

In Creative Conservation, between four and five works from each contributor are displayed, accompanied by captions, and a bio written by each artist that explains their technical and emotional approach to the subject.

As Lou Sanson finishes in the foreword:

“Conservation is a story that needs to be told, and retold, as it’s a living and evolving story. The contributors in this book are playing their part and helping to keep this story alive.”

Creative Conservation is published by New Holland and retails for $45. Please check your local bookstore for availability.


Chrissy Wickes has worked in conservation for more than 30 years and her work has seen her travel extensively around New Zealand, including many outlying, isolated parts of the country. She is also an artist and her oil paintings capture the magnificence of the New Zealand landscape. She has worked with other artists who are also interested in conservation in curating group exhibitions and shares their passion for furthering conservation efforts through their artwork.

Sonia Frimmel is a Waikato-based artist and author of guidebooks to her region’s walking and cycle tracks. She also produces creative display panels with conservation themes – incorporating art to tell these stories that are important to her. She is inspired by her 30 years working alongside people committed to conservation and the time she has spent tramping in some of New Zealand’s most beautiful places.

2 responses to When art and nature collide – ‘Creative Conservation’ is hatched

    Karen Brown 01/06/2021 at 5:39 pm

    Inspiring to see beauty of art focusing on conservation of flora and fauna.

    Peter Hallinan 19/05/2021 at 1:43 pm

    Just when I think a DOC blog can’t possibly get any better… it does!