Honoring the beaver
Sahalee Park in the heart of Madras has a new visitor who seems to be getting a lot of attention. Walkers stop for a photo op with the bright green creature and then post their photos to social media with #beaversandus.
This beaver sculpture and one at The Museum at Warm Springs are part of "Dam It! Beavers and Us," a new, original High Desert Museum exhibit. It explores the ecological role of the North American beaver and highlights ongoing human efforts to restore and coexist with this animal in the High Desert region.
High Desert Museum contacted the city of Madras and asked if the city would participate and temporarily display the artwork in a location where it will be viewable for free by members of the public. City leaders liked the idea and agreed to cover the $750 installation fee at Sahalee Park, where the 4-foot beaver will remain until the exhibit concludes in early October.
The beaver was installed at Sahalee Park last Thursday.
According to the museum, in the Pleistocene era, a mammal that was up to 8 feet long and 220 pounds roamed what is now the High Desert and beyond. The giant beaver went extinct 10,000 years ago, and the modern beaver is now the largest rodent on the continent. A replica of the giant beaver, as well as the skull of a squirrel-sized Pleistocene relative, will begin the story of this iconic animal in the exhibit at the Bend museum.
Humans and beavers have coexisted for thousands of years. This exhibition examines humans' coexistence with this herbivorous rodent throughout history. Today in the West, people from many walks of life are reintroducing the beaver and mimicking its dam-building behavior in order to restore healthy High Desert ecosystems. While the beaver is found across the country, it supports many species that are endemic to the High Desert and can play an ecological role in arid and semi-arid areas.
Central Oregon residents and visitors will find the presence of the exhibit throughout the community with four beaver sculptures occupying community spaces around the region. The sculptures are being placed at Sahalee Park in Madras, The Museum at Warm Springs, the Redmond Airport, and the Old Mill District in Bend.
Participants in the project include Umatilla Indian Reservation artist Ellen Taylor, ceramicist Jess Volk, artist and educator Andries Fourie, and mixed-media artist Sweet Pea Cole.
Oregon-based Fourie created "The Beaver Builds an Ecosystem," the green acrylic on fiberglass sculpture in Madras.
"By building dams, slowing down the flow of water and creating flooded areas, beavers radically reshape ecosystems. Their efforts can create green havens in arid landscapes where an astonishing variety of plants and animals thrive," Fourie stated. "The Beaver Builds an Ecosystem catalogs the inhabitants of the verdant, watery worlds the beaver shapes with its ceaseless engineering efforts. The work also points out that we see the plants, fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects that beavers provide an ideal environment for far more often than we see the shy, reclusive beavers themselves. Beavers are hidden behind the web of life they've made possible."
Taylor's art is featured in the "Sacred Reflections: The Art of Umatilla Artist Ellen Taylor" exhibit at the Museum at Warm Springs through May 29. Her "Mr. BEAVS: The Spiritual Beaver" is part of the exhibit. Taylor says the colorful beaver sculpture "is meant to bring peace, love and tranquility to any observer and is sure to elicit many emotions through self-reflection. His traditional regalia is eye catching and intriguing. The Beaver is a builder of mind, body and soul, and he symbolizes individuality, creativity, cooperation, persistence and harmony."
She wants people to have a better understanding and appreciation for Mother Earth and her intricately orchestrated wildlife and hopes that this project will inspire young people to learn more about their environment.
"While the beaver is well-known for building dams, these creatures make more of a difference to their ecosystem than many people realize," Taylor said.
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