Len Rusin's Art


(This 1023rd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on October 31, 2010.)


Black Bear Painting by Len Rusin


It was very early in that misty morning and the water of the vast Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park was mirror smooth. As always, Al Chestnut's camping discipline had got the two of us up, fed quickly, including cereal and cocoa heated over an open fire, packed up and into our canoe in less than an hour. Now we were paddling from the north arm into the east arm where we would later in the morning take on the infamous Bonfield portage into Dickson Lake.


We paddled silently, each thinking his own thoughts, mine about how much I would like to have stayed another hour in my sleeping bag. As I steered us around the headland, cutting close to shore, Al from the bow whispered a simple "Hssst." And there, not more than 50 feet away was a black bear, snout in the water drinking.


"Let me get my camera," I whispered, but Al's response was, "Never mind your camera, you're steering me right into that bear." Our exchange was enough to get the bear's attention and he turned and lumbered up from the shore into the woods.


Those were my thoughts as I stood staring at Len Rusin's attractive painting of a black bear wading into a lake just as ours had done.


I am no art critic. Much art I even find off-putting. We have, for example, a Dali painting in our family room that carries no meaning to me whatsoever. But wildlife art I find attractive for the memories it calls up for me, now in my dotage, of events like that one I just described.


And many of Len's paintings provide me exactly those wonderful moments of recall. That's why I'll be at the opening of his one-man show from 4-6 p.m. next Saturday at Partners in Art, 74 Webster Street in North Tonawanda. The show will continue there through November 27.


Consider some others.


His ruby-throated hummingbird hovering before a big orange day-lily blossom reminds me of my Alabama brother-in-law's porch where I sit entranced by the behavior of a half dozen of these feisty little birds. He and his wife have many of those sugared water hummingbird feeders hung around their house but that doesn't satisfy these tiny little soldiers. They are constantly at war with each other, chasing away their fellows in their bizarre attempt to establish an absolutely unnecessary pecking order.


When I visited my son in Colorado two years ago we toured the mountains but on our way back east from the high peaks we came out onto the flatlands. "Hold it," I called and Gerry pulled over to the roadside and backed up a few feet. There, standing quietly in the middle of a shallow puddle, was an American avocet, a beautiful big sandpiper with extra long legs and a long sharply-upcurved beak. Rusin's avocet painting captures that moment for me.


Rusin's Painging of Tundra Swans flying past the Golden Hills State Park Lighthouse



And the memories don't have to be exact. His swans flying in formation along the Lake Ontario shoreline remind me of my first sighting of trumpeter swans flying in just such a grouping along the Yellowstone River in Montana. As I look at the painting, I catch my breath, just as I did so long ago when I saw those beautiful birds.


Rusin's loon captures those times when, with a storm coming, from our campsite we would watch just such a loon rear up to begin its weird yodeling. In moments the squall would be on us and we'd head for our tents.


His red fox reminds me of the time when we were banding gulls on Little Galoo Island in Henderson Harbor. An equally beautiful Reynard bounded across the island, its coat sporting that same extra glow provided by its diet of eggs.


Len Rusin has plenty of credentials as an artist. Now retired after teaching art for 34 years in Niagara Falls schools, he has recently served as artist-in-residence at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and at Acadia National Park in Maine. In 2008 he was elected to membership in the International Guild of Realism. "A Quick Drink", his oil painting of an elk wading into a stream, won the Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation Habitat Stamp award for 2010.-- Gerry Rising