TWS artist to exhibit wildlife pieces at upcoming conference

By Julia John

In “Autumn Merganser,” Tunberg depicts a hooded merganser drake floating on a pond reflecting golden cottonwood foliage at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. ©Gail Tunberg

Gail Tunberg is not only a retired biologist, longtime member of The Wildlife Society and New Mexico local. She’s also a painter who’s been capturing the spirit of animals through art for as long as she can remember, and she’ll be exhibiting next week at the 24th Annual Conference in Albuquerque, N.M.

Growing up, Tunberg drew many animals for school projects. In college, she took classes in drawing and scientific illustration, sketched skeletal diagrams for vet students and illustrated graduate theses. After retiring from three decades in the U.S. Forest Service in 2012, she learned oil painting from a neighbor in Corrales, N.M., where she’s been based for the past 25 years.

She works off photographs she takes of wildlife in specific natural landscapes to depict the animals, starting with the eyes, “the most important and expressive part of a painting,” she said.

Species you’ll see at Tunberg’s display include the mule deer, pronghorn, Dall sheep, desert cottontail, great grey owl, great horned owl, osprey and merganser. Inspired by recent safaris in southern Africa, she’ll also showcase her focus on that continent’s wildlife, such as the leopard, lion, waterbuck, sable antelope and lesser kudu.

“I appreciate when people get interested in species I paint,” Tunberg said. “For some, they’ve never seen them in wild.”

In her paintings, she said, she aims to convey the fragile beauty of the natural world.

“People who buy my work want to know what inspired me to paint that particular animal in that particular setting,” she said. “I tell them about that particular park, refuge or forest and help them understand the conservation message that goes with the art I do.”

Tunberg began her career with the Forest Service in Washington, handling wildlife, range and recreation duties and helping reintroduce mountain goats to Lake Chelan and North Cascades National Park. She went on to become the first female biologist in her ranger district in Oregon. She transferred to the headquarters in Washington, D.C. to serve as assistant program manager with the threatened and endangered species program. In New Mexico, she’s worked many years as a wildlife biologist with the Santa Fe National Forest and as Southwest region wildlife program leader for 11 national forests and three grasslands across state borders.

Tunberg joined TWS as an undergraduate member of the Washington State University Student Chapter over four decades ago and eventually served as president of the New Mexico Chapter in the ‘90s. She’s active on the retirees’ committee and is attending her first annual conference since retirement.

After noticing her work in an article dedicated to retirees in an earlier issue of The Wildlife Professional, fellow members suggested Tunberg share her art at the upcoming conference in nearby Albuquerque. She’ll present and offer for sale about 20 paintings and 4 colored pencil drawings to attendees. Look for her on the stairs landing between the ground and upper levels in the west building of the convention center, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 25th and Tuesday, Sept. 26th.

“I’m hoping visitors will see there are other avenues to share your passion for wildlife, and that retiring from a professional career doesn’t mean you have to stop pursuing that vocation and avocation,” Tunberg said.

Browse more of Tunberg’s art here.

Julia John is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at jjohn@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article.

Read more of Julia's articles here.