Nancy Halliday, Featured Artist of the 2015 Nature Artists’ Guild Spring Exhibit –
I was born in Chicago where the German immigrants who founded my family settled in the late 1800’s, and we remained there for the next seven years. My father was a traveling salesman; he was gone much of the time and moved the family frequently – to Long Island, New York, St. Paul, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Indiana, Detroit, Michigan and finally, in 1960, back to Chicago.
Attending so many schools in so many locations made permanent friendships impossible. Nature became my companion; it was always available, particularly before the post-World War II building boom obliterated so much open land, and children could roam free safely. From early childhood, I exhibited a desire to draw, and I drew what I knew: animals and plants. My mother was a successful fashion illustrator, maintaining a freelance career wherever we lived, and she and my father encouraged my talent. I remember my mother taking me as a child to classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and arranging private instructions with a tutor when we lived in Detroit. I also took various art classes elsewhere, including a year at the Art School of the Society of Arts and Crafts (now College for Creative Studies) in Detroit. However, a future in art at that time offered only a career as a commercial artist or an abstract expressionist, neither of which interested me.
I was the first in my family to attend college, and I enrolled at Michigan State College (now Michigan State University) where i majored in home economics (most women in my day married without a career), but when I failed both cooking and sewing classes, I knew that was not for me! I have always been a museum addict; I visited the museum on campus so frequently that when an opportunity arose to increase the staff in 1957, I was chosen! For three years I worked at the museum in its new, expanded location, doing everything from plastering walls and preparing artwork for exhibits to lecturing to visiting school groups.
In such an academic environment, I began to realize the need for a college degree. By then I knew I wanted to major in zoology, but most of those classes were held during the day. The Director of the Museum, Dr. Rollin Baker, graciously allowed me to attend some of these classes, but this exception could not become a regularity. I left my job and resumed classes at Michigan State College, but immediately ran into the impermeable wall of mathematics, required for zoology graduates. I was beginning to fail badly when colleagues who had joined the staff of the University of Oklahoma encouraged me to transfer there, where math requirements were not as stringent. I finally graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1962, eight years after enrolling at Michigan State College. Some of my classes there were taught by the noted bird artist Dr. George Miksch Sutton. Although Dr. Sutton never took on protegés in art, he influenced many students, and I am proud to say I was one. Even before I graduated, college professors were asking me to illustrate research papers and I soon realized I could make a career of this! Looking back I have been fortunate indeed to have always been involved in what I love most: nature and its visual expression. My career has taken me to the Smithsonian Institution as Exhibits Artist (1966 – 1967) and the Florida State Museum as Scientific Illustrator (1973 – 1981). Much of my life course has been working as a free-lance illustrator and even as a naturalist: I was a Sumer Assistant at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff in 1963, and Naturalist for Camp Widjiwagen, Near Ely, Minnesota, in the summer of 1984. I treasure my sketching visit to Simla Biological Station, Trinidad, in 1977 at the invitation of Dr. Peter Feinsinger and the two sojourns to Taiga Biological Station, Manitoba, Canada, in 1978 and 19994 at the invitation of Dr. William O. Pruitt.
I began teaching animal drawing at the University of Florida in 1977 as an aid to graduate students in zoology, along with Marion Sheehan who was teaching Botanical Illustration at the University of Florida. Our collaboration became one of the first attempts to start a collegiate curriculum in scientific illustration. Again, I realized I would need another degree if I wished to continue teaching. In 1984 I returned to Chicago and found an opportunity to acquire a Master’s Degree in Geography and Environmental Studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. I studied under the able guidance of Dr. William Howenstine, where my thesis was an analysis of the field studies of the late wildlife illustrator, William D. Berry of Fairbanks, Alaska. Shortly after graduation in 1988, I was offered the position of Artist-Naturalist for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois, where I prepared artwork for exhibits and publications until my retirement in 2005.
One of my first contacts in moving back to the Chicago region in 1984 was Nancy Hart at The Morton Arboretum. When she formed the Nature Artists’ guild, I joined immediately. I was a consultant in establishing the curriculum for the botanical art certificate at The Morton Arboretum, and taught a number of courses in the program. Currently I teach watercolor at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I am also a founding member and Historian of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and a member of the Society of Animal Artists.
I wish to express my thanks to the Nature Artists’ Guild for this invitation to be featured in this exhibition and to all the Guild does to encourage the human creative response to beauty in nature.