Ellen McMahon: NaturArte

  • ©,






Creation Year:



    A Bi-National, Interdisciplinary Wetlands Conservation Project in Sonora, México


Artist Statement:

    Faculty and students from the University of Arizona have teamed up with the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) to promote conservation and sustainable use of Puerto Peñasco’s six major estuaries. This multifaceted conservation project, spearheaded by CEDO conservationist Alejandro Castillo López, brings together art, architecture, graphic design, ecology, land use planning, micro-business, technology, and ecotourism. The tourism industry in Puerto Peñasco is growing at an unprecedented rate. Currently, there are plans to build an international airport, a coastal highway, nine golf courses, over 15,000 new rental units, and a marina in each estuary. One of CEDO’s strategies to protect the estuaries from environmentally-damaging tourism development is to support sustainable micro-businesses and ecotourism in the wetlands areas. One of these projects, funded by Global Greengrant, was to build a small building to serve as an indoor kitchen and seating area for Sociedad Cooperativea Única de Mujeres, a collective of oyster farmers in Morua Estuary. At CEDO’s request, University of Arizona students created a mural on the new building, illustrating indigenous plants and animals, to serve as an informative starting point for CEDO-led and self-guided tours of the estuary. Other projects include: a visual identity system for NaturArte by faculty Ellen McMahon and Kelly Leslie; a mural for a Kayak ecotour business in Morua Estuary by Puerto Peñasco high school students, University of Arizona undergraduate students, and alumnus Mike Buffington; La Cholla Museum of Natural and Cultural History, a virtual museum for Cholla Bay and Estuary by graduate students Heather Green and Jeff Case; a web site and documentary video by graduate student Ben Kirkby; an interactive DVD by Kelly Leslie and Ben Kirkby; and interpretive kiosks by architecture faculty member Erin Moore and her students.

Technical Information:

    The interactive DVD is a Flash-based multimedia project that uses RSS feeds to dynamically draw itself based on current tidal conditions in the Sea of Cortez. The project features high-definition digital video, still photography, and audio clips from the six estuaries. Interactive maps of the estuaries provide a visual reference for additional information about the area’s natural history, the ecological effects of tourist development, and the role of art in our perceptions about our relationship to the natural word.
    Video featurettes capture the images and sounds of the environment and document oyster farmers, research biologists, conservationists, and University of Arizona faculty and students as they work together toward assuring sustainable usage of these wetlands.
    Drawings for the natural-history mural were scanned and imported into Corel Painter IX and converted into flat color. Using Adobe Illustrator’s live-trace feature, the drawings were vectorized. Color images were adjusted to black-and-white outline drawings at 1:1 scale, printed on a large-format plotter, perforated by hand using a pouncing wheel, and applied to the wall by hitting the drawings with bags of colored chalk. All of the painting was done by hand.