By Shelley Hill Young
You’ll find far more than dogs and ducks in the Fine Art Gallery at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition these days. Artist curator Natalie Henderson is credited with helping to expand the variety of the works featured during the three-day festival that celebrates the connection between art and wildlife.
Natalie scours every art publication and countless Instagram accounts, looking for as many as 70 to 80 painters and 30 sculptors to show their work in the Fine Art Gallery. “You know how you start going down that rabbit hole,” Natalie says.
She visits galleries and travels to other art shows in search of art that tells a story. Natalie has discovered that a really great wildlife artist is someone who is painting what they live. And she says one of her favorite parts of her job is getting to know the artists. “They have such a connection to nature.” She points to this year’s featured artist, Kathryn Mapes Turner, who was raised on the Triangle X Ranch in Grand Teton National Park. Her painting of wild horses, “Unbridled,” is the featured painting for this year’s expo and is displayed on the official poster.
Fellow SEWE organizers credit Natalie with ensuring that diverse subject matter and diverse media are represented. She’s helped introduce more contemporary art and young artists and has raised the caliber of art at the show.
“We don’t want to be stagnant. We’re not just landscapes and North American big game,” SEWE marketing director Mary Roberts says.
Natalie and Mary say SEWE is such a successful event because many of the artists attend and can share the stories behind their works with art collectors. The expo is a success if each of the artists sell some of their work. “That’s always the dream,” Natalie says.
Natalie has been instilled with a passion for art since she was young. Her mom was a painter and art collector. “My entire life, I’ve been dragged around to art galleries,” she says. While her mom loves abstract art, Natalie says her appreciation for the representational art that is often shown at SEWE has grown immensely.
Natalie bought her first piece of art at her first Southeastern Wildlife Expo – a John Audubon reproduction of a Carolina Parrot. “I love it as much today as when I bought it,” she says.
Natalie describes herself as leading an active lifestyle, though she is not necessarily a sporting and hunting enthusiast. She has a yoga certification and used to practice six days a week. She and her family love to run, hike, bike, and go horseback riding.
She says it’s easy to appreciate nature and wildlife when you’re living in Charleston. She notes you can’t drive across the Ravenel Bridge or see a marsh without noticing wildlife. “You can’t escape it around here,” she says. “You’re surrounded by beauty everywhere.”