In preparation for creating the mural, Pearson and her assistant Bridget Keimel launched their kayaks at Big Break to see the habitat for themselves. They discovered a murky world teeming with native and non-native species. Using photographs and other reference materials, the artists worked in the Alumni Exhibits fabrication shop in Sebastopol over a 10-week period to depict the aquatic habitat of the Delta in acrylic paints on canvas.
The completed mural will include native animals such as river otters, a great blue heron, coots, white pelicans, tule perch and Chinook salmon. Native plants depicted include tules and pennywort. Among the non-native creatures, you’ll see black bass, striped bass and bluegill, plus water hyacinth.
The Delta provides habitat for a remarkable array of wildlife, and is an integral part of California’s water supply, farming and recreation. “In the past 150 years, many changes have been introduced, to the point where we’re seeing stress on the ecosystem,” said Big Break Supervising Naturalist Mike Moran. “In the Delta, non-native plants choke off waterways and change the water quality, making it difficult for some native species to thrive.”
Working in science exhibit fabrication allows Pearson to combine her dual passions for biology and art. She grew up in a family of professional biologists. Her father, Oliver Pearson, is a former professor of vertebrate zoology at UC Berkeley. Ali, who has worked in the fabrication field for 30 years, has created exhibits for numerous museums and visitor centers throughout the country, including Yosemite National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore and the East Bay’s Lindsay Wildlife Museum.
Even in this digital age, Pearson believes painting can still help tell a story in a way photographs cannot. In a museum diorama or other large exhibit, paint offers the ability to create the illusion of convincing perspective without the distortion of photographic lenses. “The optical quality of paint is way more diverse than inks in terms of representing local color, shadows that are filled with color, and highlights that make sense with the venue’s lighting,” said Pearson. Canvas and paint may also be repaired and modified on site, in the case of damage or changes to the installation.
Alumni Exhibits have designed paintings and lifelike sculptures for the East Bay Regional Park District’s Environmental Education Center at the Tilden Nature Area, Crab Cove Visitor Center at Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda, and the Visitor Center in Sunol Regional Wilderness.
The Big Break Visitor Center at the Delta in Oakley opened last fall as the first interpretive nature center on the Delta. Public programs are available on the weekends. Big Break Regional Shoreline also offers picnic sites, a boat launch and the outdoor Delta Discovery Experience, featuring a large topographic map of the Delta region.
To learn more about the Big Break Regional Shoreline and its Visitor Center, visit www.ebparks.org/parks/big_break or call 510-544-3050.