BELFAST, Maine — Art can go where science cannot, Geri Vistein believes.
Vistein, who lives in the Knox County town of Washington, is a conservation biologist with a particular interest in coyotes. She is curating an art show at the Belfast Free Library’s Barbara Kramer Gallery that opens Sept. 4 and includes what Vistein calls a celebration event with music and poetry from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11. “I Am Coyote” concludes on Oct. 1.
The 20 pieces, which include sculpture, paintings and photographs, all were inspired by and reflect their creator’s vision of coyotes, an animal whose place in the ecosystem Vistein believes is misunderstood, or at least not as understood clearly as it might be.
“Science and art are one,” Vistein said, in that “they both express the wonder of our Earth.” But art, she believes, connects with people in a deep, nonverbal way that academic approaches can’t reach.
The participating artists hail from Down East to Southern Maine, and were asked to include a brief statement about their feelings about the wild canines whose place in Maine is often viewed in sharply opposed perspectives.
Vistein said there is little research on coyotes in Maine, though she cites the work of Dr. Dan Harrison at the University of Maine and Walter Jakubas at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The coyote population in Maine, sometimes put at about 12,000, “is a pure guess,” Vistein said.
What is known about the carnivores, she said, is that they mate for life, their young will stay with their mother and father for up to three years, “they’re very, very social,” their litters vary based on the amount of territory and food that is available, and their only threat comes from humans.
“They’ve adapted,” Vistein said, from the days when Europeans first arrived on the continent, when they lived in large numbers on the prairie. Now, they live primarily on rodents and hunt alone, for the most part.
Though she clearly believes coyotes should be protected, Vistein, who often delivers public talks about the animals, said she respects those who believe coyotes are a threat to deer and other game animals. She works to avoid a dogmatic approach to her efforts, she said, which is why an art show is an appropriate tool to change people’s perceptions about coyotes.
By examining “how we relate with them, how we perceive them, how we exist with them,” Vistein said coyotes help teach people about the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. And that can lead to “shifting our perceptions, our behaviors and our laws,” she said.
Vistein especially likes the idea of displaying the art in the Belfast Free Library’s Barbara Kramer Gallery, because visitors — from all walks of life — to the library must pass by the work to get to the library itself. All the works will be available for sale, but because of its nonprofit status, prices will be listed at the library’s main desk, not on the art.
The Sept. 11 celebration, which will be held in the library’s Abbott Room, will feature music by vocalists and guitarists Elizabeth Starr and Jessica Moore, accompanied by flute and violin; poetry read by Karin Spitfire, Jackie Freitas and Cecelia Soprano, and native drumming by The Great Thunder Chicken Drum.
For information, visit Vistein’s website at www.coyotelivesinmaine.com.