Osprey Soars in New Mural at Ship Bottom Hotel

Artwork Designed to Help Wildlife Conservation Movement
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Ship Bottom — Drifting Sands Hotel in Ship Bottom is the new home to a beloved native bird, the osprey, in a two-story artwork painted last Friday, Aug. 9 by Pennsylvania muralist Evan Lovett. The environmental scene featuring the osprey is on the hotel’s north wall.

According to Lovett, the mural is intended to promote and celebrate the Osprey Project, led by Ben Wurst of the Conservation Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, which manages and protects osprey populations throughout the Garden State. The live installment was filmed as part of Lovett’s ongoing documentary series, which aims to shed light on the who, how and why of critical conservation work.

Lovett has been a professional artist for over 15 years, and his murals can be seen all over the world. While based in Philadelphia, where he also works as a tattoo artist, he is originally a native of South Jersey. As such, the Osprey Project is especially sentimental for him. The Osprey Project will be the third of Lovett’s ongoing mini-doc series, following his first documentary on the Red Wolf Sanctuary, in Rising Sun, Ind., and his second on the Pennsylvania Bat Rescue organization.

Lovett is the creative director of a nonprofit arts advocacy organization called Visual Urban Renewal and Transformation, which aims, in his own words, “to bring larger-than-life murals to local communities, and art classes to children to promote creative thinking and the joy of self-expression.” VURT’s mission statement is “to inspire, unify and renew urban communities through the power of public art and revitalization.”

VURT is headquartered in Kensington, Pa., where Lovett resides, but serves overlooked and underprivileged communities in New Jersey from Trenton down to Atlantic City. “We do work wherever it’s needed,” said Lovett. “Aside from painting public murals for communities,” he explained, “we help support local artists by getting them work. We act as a liaison between companies and a network of artists that we have access to, and help them project-manage.”

In addition to supporting artists, Lovett explained that VURT also helps cultivate new artists by hosting free painting classes, through a program called the Starter Brush Initiative, for students who do not have access to the arts. The initiative is designed for students age 7 to 12, “but it’s not limited, and we really invite their families to come as well and encourage their participation,” he elaborated, “anything to support the creative arts.”

Another VURT program is the Starter Box Initiative, for which VURT volunteers collect both new and old art supplies via community fundraising drives, and donate them to public school teachers with little or no budget. Lovett asserted that budget limitations for art in public schools are not just a regional issue but a national one. “A lot of the art teachers end up having to spend their own money just to buy things like paper for their students,” he explained. VURT takes donated supplies, packages them in a box that is decorated by a local artist, and hand delivers them to classrooms. “These are just a few of our programs, but we are always inviting members to bring new ideas to the table and see how we can help out,” he said.

In addition to VURT’s broader mission of bringing inspiration through beauty and color to underserved communities, Lovett’s personal work aims specifically to raise awareness and draw community interest to the local environment and its wildlife, as well as publicizing the organizations that protect and maintain species in need. Lovett refers to himself as a conservation artist, specializing in large-scale murals of animals and natural scenes.

“I started painting this series in Philadelphia called ‘Local Critters,’ where I was painting really large animals found within the city limits. It is to remind people that we are not the only ones living here.” He explained as he began to branch out, his work has allowed him to make inspirational connections with people in the conservation world, and he wants to pay homage to them through his work.

Creative serendipity gave Lovett the opportunity to do just that, as fate would find conservation biologist Ben Wurst, of New Gretna, in Lovett’s tattoo chair. “Ben was just a tattoo client of mine,” said Lovett. “I tattooed an osprey on him. Before I met him, I didn’t really know much about that work.” Lovett described becoming fascinated with Wurst and his efforts to restore the osprey population in New Jersey. “The more I learned, the more I knew I wanted to help him out, so we’re actually filming a documentary to bring that to light, and this mural is a part of that.”

While Lovett’s murals draw interest to local critters and celebrate the conservationists who help those critters thrive, he explained the documentary is meant to give insight into why the work is important. “I was fortunate enough to learn about these amazing birds from my friend Ben Wurst. I was truly inspired, and can’t wait to share the beauty I found in these birds with the community he works in,” he stated.

He added special thanks to two locals whose contributions were invaluable: Deb Whitcraft helped pay for his lift, and Tony Perpetua donated food to the artist and his crew.

Lovett reiterated the importance of broadcasting the work CWF is doing locally. “I’m from New Jersey, but now I’m just a visitor here. They (CWF) are your neighbors. They are constantly fundraising, and they need public support in order to do what they do, to build platforms and maintain nesting pairs, and make sure this remains a home for ospreys,” he said adamantly.

Since the early 1990s, CWF scientists and educators have helped conserve and protect a variety of at-risk species of wildlife in the most densely populated state in the nation. Still, CWF reports that only 24 percent of New Jersey’s landscape is considered to be preserved, with continual development resulting in habitat loss.

Lovett described the awe-inspiring privilege of accompanying Wurst and assisting him in banding some osprey chicks. “We filmed the whole process, which was really cool. Getting to see these birds up close and personal, getting to hold one and helping him (Wurst) band it … these are such beautiful creatures. It gave me a healthy appreciation to actually paint them.” Osprey chicks are banded with United States Geological Survey aluminum bird bands so they can be tracked throughout their lifetimes. Additionally, unhatched eggs are collected so biologists can study how exposure to environmental contaminants may be affecting the species.

Lovett was impressed with how conscientious the local community is with regard to the osprey. “It was really cool to see how respected they are within this environment. They have these nesting platforms, and people respect that they’re there.”

In a parallel acknowledgement, he also described his admiration for the community-oriented nature of ospreys. “Another thing I found interesting is how ospreys behave a lot like humans. They are partially colonial. They nest separately, but they kind of look after each other. They’re not so territorial that they scare other ospreys off.” He went on to explain how ospreys will call out warnings to each other, and help ward off potential threats from neighboring nests. “It’s kind of like us,” he said. “We have our little homes and families, but we look after our neighbors.” He continued, “They mate for life, but they migrate separately. And they come back together, as the same nesting pair, which is awesome to see.”

Despite the resurgence of the osprey population, there is still much progress yet to be made. Lovett urges the public to get involved in efforts of conservation. “These amazing animals can now be seen fishing and nesting all along the coast, but their management is still in need of support, as 75 percent of the known population nests on man-made nesting platforms, and only around 50 percent of osprey young survive to reach adulthood.”

Wurst said, “Public participation in monitoring nests and support through donations is key to the long-term sustainability of ospreys in New Jersey, and having Evan create a unique piece of public art will enhance awareness and build on everything that we’ve achieved so far.”

Wurst attended Lovett’s live mural painting on Friday, and left CWF’s Osprey Project brochures in the lobby of Drifting Sands Hotel. Helpful information and tips on how locals can help in osprey conservation efforts can be found inside the brochure, or at conservewildlifenj.org. In the next few weeks, Lovett will paint another massive osprey mural in Atlantic City.

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