Wildlife and Visual Artists in the Skylands

While the region's natural beauty is apparent to many, few are able to express their appreciation as well as the wildlife artists that live and work here in Northwest New Jersey.

Rob Leslie

Painter Rob Leslie grew up in Wisconsin where hunting is a family tradition, but it wasn't until he moved to Turnersville in 1985 that he began to put the wildlife around him on canvas. Shunning the 9-to-5 routine and searching for something new to do, Rob dove into his longtime dream of painting, inspired by his hunting experiences. "Seeing everything around me is as much a part of the hunting experience as hunting. It's impossible to not recognize the beauty that's around here." Rob's acrylics and oils of mammals, game birds, hunting scenes and mostly waterfowl have earned him national acclaim. Ducks Unlimited recognized him as "Artist of the Year" in 1996 for "Just Laying Around"--a painting of green wing teals and black ducks. Rob also won contests for 18 Duck Stamps around the country, including three in New Jersey. He sells his work at shows along the East Coast, but exhibits exclusively at Decoys & Wildlife Gallery in Frenchtown (888-996-6501).

Ginny Walsh

Virginia Genova Walsh puts her heart on canvas. She paints what she holds dear--wildlife and the men and women who give the time of their lives for our country. Her paintings have a mission--they say "Hey, remember me."

Ginny does a lot of community service when it comes to veterans because she loves her country and wants to give back. "Tribute to Tears," a donation to the American Legion, raised funds for the Veterans Association of Morris County and now hangs in the Hall of Records. "I don't want people to forget either, like the WWI guys, there's nothing for them so I want to start some paintings on them. WW1 was totally, totally forgotten."

In 1989 Ginny was the Montana Centennial artist for Cattle Drive. Her love of detail shows in five paintings including "Montana Heritage," now in Charleton Heston's collection. She painted for Duck's Unlimited in North Carolina and donated the sale money to the local chapter. "Welcome Wings at Day's End" was presented to President George Bush in 1992. It shows the TBM Avenger (Bush's plane) and the two Hell Cats who saved him.

"I do the animals because I get lost in them. You look at those guys in the military paintings and you know that they're gonna get blown up. I just love painting the animals right now."

Ginny likes to get charged up about something in order to put in the long hours for each painting that takes 200 to 300 hours. "Vanishing Majesty" depicts a Siberian tiger whose half-sneer seems to say "How could you let this happen to me?" Her passion and reverence zing from her brush to canvas and right out the tiger's eyes, stance, fur. "There are only 700 left. They'll be gone in our lifetime."

"I get inspired very easily when I see stuff and I want to communicate that." She portrays the wonders we have every day, like an eagle right here in NJ in a maple tree and the wildlife in her Belvidere backyard. Tribute to Tears" says "'Hey, you guys forgot about these people.' I thank God I have the ability to do it." Her work can be seen at Tranquility Frameworks, Franklin (973-209-2555).

Guy Coheleach

A painter of wildlife for many years, Guy's work has been heralded by naturalists, sportsmen and sportswomen, and conservationists, and sought by fine art collectors. Prized by presidents and public alike, popular with museumgoers, a Coheleach painting offers revelation as it entertains, returning to the world some of its captured essence. For many, the work of Guy Coheleach defines the genre.

From a Bernardsville studio in Somerset County, grand images of the inhabitants native to our planet's great untamed spaces -- African Veldt or vast Siberian forest, as well as more familiar environs --emerge. One of nine Coheleach (pronounced CO-lee-ack) children who grew up in Baldwin, Long Island, Guy's love of animals formed the basis of his insight into the lives of creatures great and small, and hinted at the career that would later soar with their masterful rendering. "My mother and father were wonderful about it," he remembers as he tells the story of keeping poisonous reptiles at home. "As long as I kept them fed and watered and kept their cages clean." Once, as a small boy, when a teacher held up to the class a drawing of a golden eagle Guy had produced instead of the subject of the day's study, the artist learned a very different lesson. "He said that one day I would make twenty thousand dollars a year drawing pictures like that. It was more money than I could imagine because I knew my father's income was only six thousand dollars."

So paint sets and drawing sets became the gifts of choice to the young Coheleach. He worked diligently at his craft, depicting the predators that held such a deep fascination for him. From Long Island to a Catholic high school in Brooklyn, New York, Guy's study of the natural world continued and there was growing power in the expressiveness of his art. "I'm really a person who never grew up, in a way. I discovered cars and girls like everybody else, but I never lost that first love of nature, and of wild animals in their habitat", he explains.

The halls of Cooper Union in New York drew young Guy after high school, and taking the fork in the road marked 'artist' where the other was marked 'architect', his formal studies began. A stint in the Army came in between matriculation and graduation, however. Guy's service in an intelligence unit brought him to the Korean peninsula, and later to scene of the retreat of French forces from Dien Bien Phu in what was then a far away French Indochina.

Once established in the life of a working commercial artist, the fates didn't take long to point their way to a life of artistic expression beyond rendering of tempting glasses of beer. An illustrated calendar commission turned away by prominent wildlife artist Don Eckelberry resulted in Guy's taking the job, and later his fee in calendars--which he promptly sent to every art director in the city. The official recognition of his gift as a renderer of the animal world had begun.

This recognition now includes that of galleries in many places around the world, the permanent collection of the White House, and several museums. Many years and world travels later, after celebrated openings in world capitals, and commissions for individual works well into the five figures, Guy Coheleach's images still tell the timeless story of stealth, pursuit, and capture. His artwork fairly radiates a deep understanding of his subject, and his mastery of his media provides an astonishing example of exuberance and control.

This story was first published: Summer, 1998
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