28th annual Southern Wildlife Festival
Russian artist born to be wild
Fondness of American fauna inspires immigrant to paint animals on gold
By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily
Wildlife was as rare as gold for a young artist growing up in Saratow, Russia, where even spotting a nut-gathering rodent was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
So for Svetlana Bellamy, moving to America 11 years ago was like landing at the end of the rainbow.
And considering her appreciation for the animals and plant life absent in her homeland, it seems a perfect marriage that the 42-year-old Russian immigrant paints many of her wildlife subjects on gold leaf.
North Alabamians will get to share in Bellamy’s wealth this weekend as she brings her lineup of paintings to the 28th annual Southern Wildlife Festival in the gymnasium of Calhoun Community College.
“In Europe, I saw a squirrel only one time, in the park,” Bellamy said from her home near Ithaca, N.Y.
“One time in my lifetime. That’s it. All the people stopped to look.”
“You just cannot see all this stuff in Europe,” she said of America’s abundance and wide range of wildlife.
Her favorite places to view American wildlife are Yellowstone National Park and Montana.
“America is the most beautiful thing, the nature and the wildlife,” she said.
Bellamy won’t be the only European making a first-time appearance at the Southern Wildlife Festival this year.
The art show and sale will also feature the pencil drawings of John Gibb, who hails from England. In all, 30 artists, including painters, carvers and photographers, will participate in the two-day art show and sale.
The show also features demonstrations with live birds of prey on Saturday and a hand-carved, working duck decoy competition and exhibition.
Like many professional artists, Bellamy began painting and drawing at an early age.
She was able to attend the Saratow School for Artistically Talented Children and furthered her education at the Saratow Art College, graduating with a diploma to teach painting.
Bellamy then entered a six-year program at the Academy of Art in Kiev.
During her first year there, her “Portrait of a Man” earned the honor of showing at the Academy Museum’s 90th anniversary exhibition.
Twice, her works have exhibited at the Russian Center of Science and Culture.
Syracuse University invited Bellamy to attend its master’s degree program for fine arts in the 1990s. She eventually met her husband there, and after marrying, they settled in Freeville, N.Y. Today, Bellamy works in oil, watercolor, pastel, charcoal and mosaics, as well as frescos and murals and wood panels. Her favorite medium, she said, is painting on gold leaf.
“It has to be exact,” she said. “You cannot erase it. You cannot cover it. The gold absorbs the oil, so it can easily stain. And you cannot put your hand on it, because it would absorb oil from skin.”
Painting on gold leaf, Bellamy said, requires the same painstaking skill as a jeweler who cuts diamonds and other precious stones.
There’s an historical appeal to painting on gold leaf, she said, noting artists in the middle ages painted religious icons on gold leaf, and the medium was used in ancient cultures ranging from China to France.
Gold’s greatest appeal, Bellamy said, is its light reflection, even through painted brush strokes.
Its popularity in ancient times was probably related to its ability to stand out in the low light of candle-lit rooms.
“It’s not too expensive to paint on,” she added. “If you’re covering a wall with it, yes, but not so for painting.”
Bellamy has gold leaf paintings as large as 4 by 5 feet but doesn’t have room in her vehicle to carry the large ones to this weekend’s art show. She will have seven or eight in a range of smaller sizes.
Beverly Basham, festival president, was a fan of Bellamy before she decided to attend this year’s show. Basham bought one of her paintings in August.
“I’ve always admired her work, and I couldn’t resist,” she said. “First, it was extremely well done and so different from what you typically see.
“The gold leaf just adds richness to the piece,” Basham said.
“You don’t think about painting on gold because gold is so precious. But this is such beautiful marriage of the luxury of gold and familiarity we have with painting.”