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June 2011 cover image Those Remarkable Reds

The Art of Fish

National fish art expo will be held in Texas this year.

By Dyanne Fry Cortez

Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.

Give a youngster some paint, colored pencils or pastels, a bit of background information on fish and their habitats, plus a chance to win a prize? That kid may create an amazing piece of art — and learn something in the process.

That’s what Wildlife Forever’s State-Fish Art Contest is all about. The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center will host the National State-Fish Art Expo June 24–25. TFFC runs the Texas branch of the nationwide contest, which invites students in grades 4 through 12 to create a picture of an official state fish and write an essay about its ecology or conservation status. Texas entries are judged here. First-place winners compete for national awards with top-ranked entries from other states.

This is TFFC’s second year to host the national expo. Winning art from all state-level competitions will be on display, and many of the young artists will be in attendance.

An “Art’s Better Outside” festival will be featured Saturday, June 25, for students, their families and the general public. Painters, photographers, sculptors and potters will display their work and demonstrate techniques. The fishing ponds will be open for business, and Smokey Bear is expected to make an appearance.

Wildlife Forever is a national nonprofit that seeks to conserve America’s wildlife heritage through education and preservation projects. The State-Fish Art Contest, now in its 13th year, aims to inspire the next generation of conservationists. The organization offers a free lesson plan for educators and chooses one piece of artwork each year for a fundraising conservation stamp.

“Our plan is to spark the natural wonder that all children have for wildlife and the environment,” said President Doug Grann, speaking at last year’s expo. “When we do habitat enhancement and wildlife management, we change land, but education changes people.”

Since TFFC took on the role of state coordinator in 2006, Texas has been involved in a big way. Money donated by the Toyota Texas Bass Classic provides cash prizes for state winners and travel expenses for students attending the national expo. Texas kids in public, private and home schools submit about 600 entries each year, more than any other state. Many choose to draw our own state fish, the Guadalupe bass, but they are free to pick a designated fish from any state.

Twice in the past decade, a Texas entry has been picked for the national conservation stamp. In 2010 the honor went to Anh Thu Do, a senior at Liberty High School, a 3A school between Houston and Beaumont.

Marsha Rader teaches art at Liberty High. Last year, she teamed with environmental science teacher Penny Taylor to prepare students for the contest. In Rader’s experience, young people often view each school subject as a separate entity, with no relation to other subjects or, perhaps, to real life.

“If we can make connections for them between science and art, it’s helpful. It makes them see things they didn’t see before,” Rader said.

The 2011 Art of Conservation Stamp Award winner will be announced at TFFC on June 25, as will other national honors. Winners of the Texas contest are online now at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishart. To see winners from other states and vote for the People’s Choice Award, go to Wildlife Forever’s website at www.statefishart.com.

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