Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Puyallup pointellist artist connects the dots for naturalist Jane Goodall

Becci Crowe’s style of pointilism - creating portraits of this elephant, for instance, with a series of tiny dots.
Becci Crowe’s style of pointilism - creating portraits of this elephant, for instance, with a series of tiny dots. Courtesy

Growing up in rural Oregon, Becci Crowe loved the world around her and drawing what she found in the wild.

She thought about being a biologist, somehow wound up in nursing — critical care nursing — and married an Army pediatrician.

Their travel was wonderful, her salary enough to make the work gratifying despite the stress.

On weekends, she found herself still drawing.

“I retired when we were in Columbus, Georgia, and took college art classes there,” Crowe said. “It was 1992, and I went back to my childhood passion. I learned watercolor, pen and ink, pointillism …”

It wasn’t a hobby, it was a transition that would change her life, and that of husband Mark.

For one thing, she wanted to draw what she saw — and to see the kinds of wildlife Crowe had in mind, she had to leave home.

“Since then, we’ve been on every continent except Australia, including Antarctica,” said Crowe, who works out of the studio attached to her Puyallup home.

“My intent was to encounter, study, get to know the animals I draw. We’ve been to Africa 13 times.”

The art that followed underwent something of a transition.

“I could do a watercolor in a day, but it can be two, three, four weeks to finish a piece of pointillism,” Crowe said.

What is pointillism?

It’s the use of small dots applied to canvas or paper with pen and ink or paint to form an image. A self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh from 1887, for instance, was done using the pointillism technique.

It requires the ability to envision and create an image dots. Or, as some have said, dots, dots and more dots.

“When I’m in the middle of a piece, I’m not deliberately placing dots,” Crowe said. “It’s a rhythm. It’s meditative. I see a ghostly image come together as I work.”

Crowe will use watercolor to highlight the eyes in some of her work, do a watercolor background in others. She has drawn the big cats — lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs — as well as elephants and apes, chimps and meerkats, Pandas and penguins, birds and zebra.

Along the way, a heart for animal conservation melted into her life’s work.

“Through my art I’d network with conservationists, naturalists,” she said. “Through mutual friends at the Washington Nature Conservancy, I met Jane Goodall.”

Goodall, 81, is a British anthropologist who became the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and a woman who has devoted her life to protecting chimps.

Crowe visited her in the Republic of Congo, and spent a week working with Goodall in a chimp preserve.

Realizing they shared another passion, Goodall and Crowe met in Nebraska for the sandhill crane migration.

The Nature Conservancy is holding an annual San Francisco stopover on Saturday (Oct. 10), and Goodall is the keynote speaker.

Organization executives approached Crowe and asked if she’d present one of her portraits to Goodall.

“I was honored and can’t wait,” Crowe said earlier this week. “This is a portrait of an elderly chimp named LaVieille, who is about 50 now. Jane first met her in the ‘90s, and she is one of Jane’s favorites.”

Throughout her career, Crowe has donated pieces of her work to conservancy efforts, and a part of her sales go to conservancy efforts. That might not be as much as she’d like, but it helps.

“I’ve never made as much in a year as an artist as I made my last year as a critical care nurse,” Crowe said.

Ah, but the life she’s led as an artist.

“I’ve sat down with 5-day-old orphaned elephants, with a family of cheetah,” Crowe said. “I painted for three days with a baby chimp, and on the third day she decided I was part of the canvas and painted me.”

Crowe is not shy about sharing her story or her work, and does both at her website — www.becci.com.

She’s given a TEDx talk in Tacoma, shown her art in galleries around the Puget Sound and helped produced a video that was shown for two years on PBS stations around the country.

Mostly, she’s living her childhood dream.

“My love for art has only grown since I got back into it,” Crowe said. “So has my love for animals.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

@LarryLaRue

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