Natural Heritage Project: Art Giving Voice to At-Risk Species

by Jessica Turtle, Creative Director for Farm Table Foundation

There’s a dynamic list that is a small part of an international response to gather data on the location and status of rare species and natural communities: insects, snakes, turtles, bees, and other natural features. This list, “The Wisconsin Natural Heritage Working List (WNHWL),” is over twenty pages long: in six-point font it provides Latin names, common names, rank, and status of over 1,200 species in Wisconsin. Have you seen the list?
For example, the species are ranked according to their degree of risk: S1, critically imperiled; S2, imperiled, high risk of extinction or elimination; S3, vulnerable. The water shrew, the satiny willow, the slender bush clover, and the prairie leafhopper are all S2s and S3s that live right here in Wisconsin. The rusty patch bumble bee ranks as an S1.

A group of artists rallied by the discovery of the WNHWL began chipping away, one species at a time, to create a work of art for each. They will not stop until every last species identified has a voice, or even better still, is represented by a well considered, articulate visual work of art. The artist group is named The Natural Heritage Project.

The project, sponsored by Farm Table Foundation in downtown Amery, Wisconsin, held the first exhibit [When?], entitled “Much Ado About Bees,” focusing on six declining bumblebee species and the popular culture of the ever-producing honey bee.

The exhibit included honey bees as a way to connect people with something beloved and familiar, then encouraged further dialog through the artistic imagery that had been created regarding the native species of bumblebees that are disappearing. The exhibit displayed each of the seven species, depicted by myself, in a series of methodical and vibrant paintings, a hand-woven sun hive made by artist Kelsey Bee of Minneapolis, and bee boxes hand painted by Christy Schwartz of St. Paul in the likeness of famous works of art. Also on display were beekeepers’ tools, a sample table with fourteen varieties of local honey, and beekeepers’ clothing. Guests were invited to enjoy a Wisconsin/Minnesota—made mead (honey wine) tasting.

The next Natural Heritage Project exhibit, entitled “Inopia,” by Saint Paul artist Sarah Nelson, has been created after months of delicate consideration. Sarah chose her species from the WNHWL based on the relationship one species has to another. She demonstrates the interconnection of humans to birds, insects, fish, crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians, flies, and rodents. Sarah’s consideration, drive, and technical mastery make up the essence behind The Natural Heritage Project. Join us to celebrate our current exhibit!

Farm Table Foundation—110 Keller Avenue North, Amery, Wisconsin.
Opening Reception: November 10, 2017, 6:00 to 9:00 pm.
Exhibit runs November 10, 2017 through January 30, 2018.

Jessica Turtle a professional artist, exhibit curator, and instructor. Her current position is Creative Director at Farm Table Foundation in Amery, Wisconsin. She holds interest in food-system education, arts outreach, pollinator conservation, and watershed education—more specifically, where all these points intercept.

To learn more about the Natural Heritage Project, visit
To inquire about hosting an exhibition, email
To view The Wisconsin Natural Heritage Working List, go to

Make a Backyard Bee House: It’s Easy!

Did you know you and your kids can make a special house for bees? This isn’t the bee habitat used by those raising bees for honey; this bee house simply provides a safe place for bees to raise their young.

From the National Wildlife Federation, here’s how:

  1. Take some scrap lumber and drill several 3 to 5 inch deep holes in it—BUT NOT ALL THE WAY THROUGH.
  2. Cover the structure with chicken wire to protect it from birds and other larger wildlife.
  3. Place the house on the south side of a building, like your house! Or on a fence post or a tree. Attach it securely.
  4. Some DO NOTs:
    1. Do not move the bee house once it is established until at least November.
    2. Do not use insecticides near the bee house.
    3. Do not use treated wood to build it.

The Nifty Homestead website encourages you to build “insect hotels,” made from upcycled materials placed between layers of sturdy protective material like old pallets, in which bees can overwinter. Why are insect hotels a good idea? Nifty Homesteader explains: “Insect hotels provide safe areas for solitary insects to hibernate over winter. Big lawns and the lack of dead wood in our yards leaves wild bees, spiders, and ladybugs without a place to live. Building accommodations for beneficial insects like ladybugs or flying pollinators can help benefit both your environment and your garden in the spring.”

When you make a “hotel” for solitary bees (bees whose females are all fertile and build separate nest cells for the baby bees), put it in a location that is sunny but sheltered from harsh weather. Wood nester bees like to nest in cavities they find, like hollow stems or holes in wood. The female will then create individual compartments for each egg. As she goes out to find pollen and nectar for the brood, she pollinates various plants and food crops. She puts nectar and pollen in each compartment before laying an egg in it. You can make a “bee hotel” using materials you find at home or out on a walk that either already have small compartments in them or have small spaces the female bee can then develop, or you could drill tunnels in wood, too. If you open this hotel for business, bees will “check in” for winter!