Maine artist auctions NASA print to aid gulf cleanup

Posted Aug. 05, 2010, at 6:38 p.m.

To support the National Audubon Society’s gulf oil spill response efforts, Barbara Ernst Prey is auctioning off her limited-edition print “Columbia Tribute” during her exhibit, “Soliloquy: Meditation on the Environment” at Blue Water Fine Arts, Main Street, Port Clyde.

The print auction runs through Aug. 10, and the exhibit runs through Aug. 15.

“Columbia Tribute” is one of four Prey paintings commissioned by NASA in 2003. The 28-by-39-inch watercolor, on exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center, commemorates the anniversary of the Columbia tragedy of 2003.

Columbia was the first space shuttle to travel to Earth orbit. In 2003, during its 28th mission, the shuttle was re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere when it disintegrated over Texas due to a damaged thermal protection system. Seven astronauts died.

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Prey said Wednesday in a phone interview that she sees the “Columbia Tribute” painting as “a wonderful juxtaposition of wildlife and technology — the importance of keeping them balanced.”

The painting was unveiled at the National Air and Space Museum Anniversary Tribute Dinner in Washington, D.C. The astronauts’ families received prints of the painting, on which former President George W. Bush wrote: “This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose, it is a desire written in the human heart.”

Prey says the auction and exhibit work together for the environment. She describes the “Soliloquy” exhibit as a mixture of moods, messages and subject matter, from mystical island scenes to a bustling waterfront.

“[The exhibit] is a closer examination of the thin margin of life for those whose livelihood depends on the sea,” Prey said. “How [the gulf oil spill] affects the fishing industry. How it affects them environmentally.

“My exhibit ties in so well with the gulf oil spill and the importance of really preserving and being aware of the environment,” said Prey.

All but one of the exhibit paintings are Maine scenes.

“For the exhibit, I went a different direction,” said Prey. “I don’t usually do portraits … Last summer, I came upon some amazing picture images of some fishermen mending their nets. It just came by chance. That’s a lot of time how things happen.”

Prey has a history of supporting organizations with her art. Her care for the environment led her to be interested in the Audubon’s cause to protect and aid wildlife affected by the oil spill.

Her mother is a bird-watcher, and she remembers watching the migratory shorebirds when she was a child.

“So I’ve always had a respect, a love for birds,” said Prey, “And it really makes me very sad to see the images of the birds covered with oil.

“It isn’t an idea [to support Audubon]. It’s just natural.”

Prey has studios in New York and Maine.

She divides her time between the two states, with a home in midcoast Maine. She has been coming to Maine, especially during the summer, for about 30 years.

The state is an inspiration for Prey, and her Maine art has traveled far. A painting of Swans Island has been exhibited in the entryway of the U.S. Embassy in Paris, and a painting of another Maine scene has been on exhibit at the White House for eight years.

President Barack Obama appointed her to the National Council on the Arts, the advisory board to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Her paintings are included in collections throughout the world, including the Brooklyn Museum, Smithsonian Museum of Art and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland.

Bidding on the limited-edition print started at $2,500. Only 40 prints are in existence.

For information, call 372-8087, visit or e-mail

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