Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Combines Art and Conservation in New Book | Brighten up


Part museum, zoo, and art studio, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has been connecting Tucson residents with desert wildlife for over 60 years. Beyond an appreciation for the beauty of our surrounding landscape, the Desert Museum aims to help visitors understand and connect with nature through live animal demonstrations, classes, and community events. “Treasured Legacies,” a new book from the Desert Museum, traces Tucson’s conservation efforts at the crossroads of art and education.

The book features large, vibrant scratchboard illustrations by local artist Priscilla Baldwin, along with archival photographs, interviews with local biologists, and a history of the museum.

All of the animals pictured in the book originate from the Sonoran Desert and are currently or formerly housed at the Desert Museum. Many animals were previously featured in “Desert Ark”, an awareness program started in the 1950s where Desert Museum member Hal Gras brought animals to schools and clubs to give residents in-person animal education. of the desert.

“Today, many adults will tell the story of Hal arriving in their classroom and as they left the exhibit, all the students reached out and touched the animals he had brought, like a snake. And for some of them, it was the first time they had touched a snake, ”said Anne Warner, book co-author and longtime supporter of the Desert Museum.

The book also highlights the Desert Museum’s ongoing “Raptor Free Flight” program, where birds like hawks, crows and owls fly over visitors.

However, the book is based on Baldwin’s scratchboard art: a unique form of “subtractive art” where pieces of colored clay are cut out to reveal different colors underneath. Baldwin’s incredibly detailed art is almost photorealistic, like the depiction of the individual hairs of a sleeping mountain lion on the book cover.

“Priscilla Baldwin was the muse behind the book,” Warner said. “She is a very talented scratch artist and she became a co-founder of the Art Institute of the Desert Museum. Priscilla, in her work, has become fascinated by the conservation work of Hal Gras and the Desert Arch since the museum began. She really wanted to capture the conservation message he embodied.

The story goes that Baldwin’s friends wanted to see a collection of his work. The idea gradually developed, and the staff at the Desert Museum soon decided to write a book that encompassed several elements of the museum, such as historical conservation, art, and modern conservation efforts.

“We realized that we didn’t just want to look at the history of the museum and the conservation at the museum, but we wanted to look at what the museum and other museums might face as challenges in the future,” Warner said, who worked on the book for about two years. “The museum has a loyal following and we want to foster that support for the museum and conservation efforts. But that said, we also hope new readers and visitors are drawn to Priscilla’s amazingly graphic art, as well as the curatorial efforts. “

Other Desert Museum conservation efforts include a captive breeding program for the Mexican wolf to reintroduce it to its natural habitat, the Save Our Saguaros campaign to combat invasive grasses in the Sonoran Desert, and a support for migratory pollinators.

“We want to give people an idea of ​​what conservation can look like. And that’s one of the things the Art Institute does so well, ”Warner said. “Because you can take a class at the Art Institute and watch a living animal interact with its keeper. Once you start to watch the way nature expresses itself, you have the possibility of being more and more drawn to it.

Warner says Baldwin is the ultimate example of this transformation. In the book, Baldwin explains how she came to fruition by doing a botanical illustration, an achievement that eventually led her to co-found the Desert Museum Art Institute with her husband in 1998.

“She’s always been interested in conservation, but it was more on her mind,” Warner said. “But then she started taking art classes and watched a wasp interact with a flower, and she told me that a light bulb had gone out. She said, ‘This is the gift of the life I want to pass on. “

Other contributors to “Treasured Legacies” are Desert Museum Librarian and Archivist Peggy Larson, Executive Director Craig Ivanyi and former Executive Director Bob Edison.

“Treasured Legacies: Conservation, Art, Education, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum” is currently available at

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