Healthy U.S. Ecosystems Draw International Nature Pilgrims

A British artist, Julie Askew, traveled to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to capture wildlife long-gone from her home country. In the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone she saw members of the Druid Pack that inspired this painting, "Eye to Eye."

Meet a pilgrim — a nature pilgrim — a woman who traveled to the backyard of America to set eyes on a species that long ago was extinguished from her homeland archipelago.

Julie Askew could have selected hundreds of other pretty destinations in the U.S. She could have also gone to Disneyland, but she selected Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks—and their stunning surrounding environs—because the wildlife predators are HERE.

A painter from England, Ms. Askew has globe-trotted across Africa, Asia, Australia, the Pacific, the Atlantic Caribbean and, of course, the fleeting untamed corners of Europe. The purpose of her treks has been to see animals in their native surroundings, thus bringing greater authenticity to the scenes she paints.

Back in the United Kingdom, people turn out whenever she has a showing of new works at galleries and she was selected to be an artist in residence at the Nature in Art Museum in Gloucester—Britain’s illustrious answer to the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole.

Many of Ms. Askew’s works — a mixture of easel paintings and field sketches — fill the pages of a delightful book, A Voyage Round the World in Paintings: The Art of Julie Askew.

In a variety of media, Ms. Askew celebrates the charismatic megafauna of sub-Saharan Africa—elephants, lions, cheetahs, giraffes etc,; the array of tropical avifauna in the southern Pacific and Atlantic; the rare larger animals in India; and outposts in Scandinavia and the sandy beaches at the bottom of the world where penguins come ashore.

But she devotes the most pages, proportionately, to the two national parks residing at the center of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

A beautiful naturalist’s blending of graphite and watercolor calls attention to a couple of afternoons spent at the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River in Grand Teton Park. What we take for granted every day is exciting, exotic, and noteworthy to billions of other people. Each year, hundreds of thousands of families set aside valuable time out of their lives and scrimp and save thousands of dollars so that they can come HERE.

Ms. Askew was drawn in by bison, elk, pronghorn, moose and grizzly bears, but she reserves special enthusiasm for her first glimpse of a wild wolf in a dispatch she penned at Wildlife Art Journal. That led her to Yellowstone.

Ms. Askew has seen lions on safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and cheetahs on the Serengeti Plain—Africa’s counterpoints to America’s first national park—and yet she has an exceeding fascination for Canis lupus.

“Being English, the only wolves I had seen before were in collections and zoos. Usually they are somewhat lethargic and slightly bored animals. So spurred on by the first sighting, I headed off to Lamar Valley,” she penned.

Indeed, the Lamar in Yellowstone’s northeastern corner is already well-known worldwide for its wolf watching, just as the Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton is a favorite for countless nature pilgrims.

The Wyoming, Montana and Idaho tourism bureaus don’t need to spend a single dime advertising what Ms. Askew witnessed. Via word of mouth and postings on the Internet and communicating through their art, Ms. Askew and thousands of enthusiastic photo tourists are not demonizing wolves and bears; they’re telling others, passing around their inspiration virally.

Recalling a dawn in the Lamar, Ms. Askew wrote: “As our eyes adjusted, the most amazing sight developed before us. A very angry grizzly bear was sitting on top of an elk kill. He turned himself back and forth, fending off the other animals intent on spoiling his feast. The seven strong Druid Peak wolf pack had surrounded the bear and took turns biting at his bottom to try and dislodge him from atop the meal.”

Ms. Askew’s painting, Eye to Eye is a tribute to the Druid Peak pack that has undergone its own harrowing struggle to survive.

Wildlife and predators were in the ecosystem, co-existing together long before humans became permanent residents. If you want to know how rare greater Yellowstone is globally, just ask Ms. Askew. Her message is that if you restore and protect wild places, people will come. For every one person who wishes wolves and bears would go away, there are a thousand others with the opposite impression, saving their money with the hope of seeing them firsthand.