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Eye of the Tiger

The Eye of the Tiger is an account of the trips of the wildlife artist and environmentalist Pollyanna Pickering and her photographer and business partner Anna-Louise Pickering to India in search of tigers. There were two trips, one in the late 1980s and the next ten years later. The first expedition was to Nagarahole National Park and Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Park to look for wild tigers and then to visit tigers rescued from a UK circus and rehomed in India. The second expedition was to visit a Project Tiger reserve and included trips to Rajasthan and the foothills of the Himalayas.

The book is based on the journals of Anna-Louise Pickering and includes sketches, photographs and paintings from both authors. There are a few recipes. The trips are described in a very natural way. Not every day is covered and there are many days when there are no tigers to be seen anywhere. But there are several moments when tigers are close and visible. The final sighting is very dramatic and vividly expressed.

Tigers are beautiful creatures. There conservation doesn’t just preserve the existence of these incredible beings; when an apex predator is flourishing it indicates that the habitat and food chain is in good health. Ensuring the survival of the tiger ensures the success of many other species. The book provides a lot of information about the work of the Born Free Foundation and Project Tiger and the challenges faced from poaching and habitat loss.

Pollyanna Pickering’s art is stunning and books are lovely in themselves. The photos and art are gorgeously presented in a well designed book that is easy to read and easy to just look at for hours.

Pandas next, I think.

The Gayer Anderson Cat

The Gayer Anderson Cat by Neal Spencer is part of the British Museum’s Objects in Focus series. So far, I’m enjoying the series immensely. There’s something very satisfying about a short book packed full of stuff I didn’t know before.

The Gayer Anderson Cat is the familiar, well-known cat statue from Ancient Egypt. I was surprised just how much isn’t known about the statue. It was acquired by Gayer Anderson, an art and antiquities collector in the early 20th century, who purchased objects from dealers on a regular basis but no information about where it came from or what it was for came with it. Thousands of cat statues were created in Ancient Egypt: there is evidence of workshops churning these things out and the book covers the excavations of some of these workshops. How they were used and who by is more mysterious. The Gayer Anderson Cat is the finest example of the type in existence so an assumption is made that it was paid for by someone wealthy and dedicated in a temple, but that is still conjecture.

New technology can tell us a lot about how it was made from the casting technique to the effects of the chemical composition of the metal. It can also reveal more detail on the surface of the object than is visible to the naked eye. The book goes into this in some detail. X-rays have revealed that there are repairs around the head and show how they were made.

These books are delightful. I like the intense focus on one small thing and what it tells us (or what we have projected on to it) about the lives of people who lived thousands of years ago.

The Way of the Wolf

The Way of the Wolf is a book of paintings by Pollyanna Pickering, with text and photography by Anna-Louise Pickering, bought for me as a Yule present by my parents. It is absolutely gorgeous and I loved it.

The book recounts two trips made by the Pickerings to photograph and draw wildlife. The first was to seek out the threatened European wolf in Transylvania and the second trip was to look for the critically endangered Ethiopian wolf. Both areas are pretty remote and along with paintings and photos of the wolves are descriptions of the effort needed to get anywhere near them. There’s some interesting observations on the way of life in these areas and a little history. In both cases the authors worked with conservation teams to get close to the animals and descriptions of that work is included.

As the wolves are both rare and shy (the Ethiopian wolf is the rarest of all wolves) there’s a lot of time spent not seeing them, and instead painting and photographing other wildlife, the people they meet and the places they pass through. In Ethiopia they describe a feeding ritual with hyenas accompanied by some intense photos.

I love wolves and I enjoyed The Way of the Wolf for the beautiful art and the loving way it is presented. The Pickerings have published a number of books of wildlife art, including tigers, pandas, polar bears and owls. They are not readily available through the usual booksellers so I’m going to include a link to their website Pollyanna Pickering Studio.