The East Texas Natural History Collection
The East Texas Natural History Collection

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dan Lay's Painting - A gift to Joe Truett On Display at the East Texas Natural History Collection

The Final Piece of the Puzzle

New Arrivals


Last Friday, November 9th was a quiet day on an empty campus. Clear blue skies and red leaves made it a pleasant walk to the administration building to receive a package. The year is ending. The trees are going to sleep. My boy Clement rode on my shoulders to see what had arrived. Normally getting a package at the museum is a pleasant and exciting prospect with the anticipation of interesting specimens or artifacts buried in foam peanuts . But this time it was solemn. I knew the scene in the box before it opened.


Judy Truett had sent a painting from New Mexico. It was left to her by her husband, Joe Truett. Before that it had been a gift from his friend and co-author Dan Lay. It is a sad picture. A female Red Cockaded Woodpecker is searching through cavities in a pile of sawlogs. In this species, the female fledges and leaves to seek-out a male who has inherited a cavity in a living mature pine. She joins him and they continue the colony.


Truett had sent a photo of the painting to me in 2010 for a project to assemble all of the Dan Lay works. That project fell apart for various reasons and the next I heard about Truett was of his death. He had offered to donate the painting to the College of Forestry in Nacogdoches. I put them in touch, but the foresters never followed up. Perhaps the subject was too controversial for a department built on tree-cutting. So two years later I asked Judy what the disposition of the painting was. She offered to send it to the museum here at Jarvis College.

The painter, Dan Lay, died in 2002. The bird is an endangered species that Lay was instrumental in protecting. Lay and Truett both spent careers producing literary works and wildlife science that all seem to be united by a focus on loss, or rather holding back the tide of loss. Loss of habitat, species, ways of life. Their collaboration on the 1984 book "The Land of Bears and Honey" got them mentioned with the likes-of Bedichek, Graves and Leopold. Truett's 1996 book, "Circling Back" is a chronicle of lost people and ways of the Angelina River bottom.


Young Clement watched me hang the strange picture on the wall with 40 other paintings of birds and trees and rivers by Mr. Lay. He might have wondered why daddy was so quiet and sad but maybe he didn't notice. Sadness and loss on many different levels was apparent. The painter is gone 10 years. The recipient is gone about two years. Their greatest contributions were highlighting loss and struggling against it. The subject, a lonely female is in search of a home and mate that are now gone reminded me of Judy and her loss.


The museum curator who is constantly surrounded by the objects and works of long gone people has got to learn to look on the bright side. The situation is not entirely dark. If it were so then what would be the point of preserving objects of the past for use in the future. The messages of conservationists like Lay and Truett are preserved to us in the printed word with hope to the future. The mind's eye of the painter/scientist is dark now, but his vision lasts on canvas for us to see. Survivors are carrying on and thinking about the future. Craig Rudolph, of the USFS Southern Research Station in Nacogdoches says that as of this year the RCW is in a great period of recovery due in large part to the foresight of Dan Lay and many others. Little Clement will get to go see a woodpecker colony this spring. And now Lay's woodpecker paintings are nearly all reunited. Joe Truett's joined images of other RCWs from Brent Ortego, Craig Rudolph, Dick Connor, and me. Now they form a strange little colony on the wall. Until Joe's painting arrived there was no female in the colony. Perhaps with Judy's addition there is hope for the little colony.


Dr. Will Godwin
Curator - East Texas Natural History Collection

Jarvis Christian College - Hawkins, Texas

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Breaking News:

ETNHC and International Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies Announce Partnership


The East Texas Natural History Collection is proud to be the first North American Host and partner with the International Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies. The Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies  is a peer reviewed international Open Access Journal which is abstracted in various reputed databases. The Journal provides a platform with the aim of motivating students and personnel in all fields of Zoology.

The Journal publishes review and research articles in all fields of Zoology.

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