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University of Connecticut University Libraries

The Art of Rare Breeds:
A Visual Exploration
of Farm Animal Conservation

For the last year I have been pursuing images of Minor Breed farm animals in a project now known as "The Art of Rare Breeds: A Visual Exploration of Farm Animal Conservation." During the previous twelve months I have visited large operations, small farms, farm parks, and individual breeders with one purpose: to observe and capture some of the spirit, character, and individuality of rare breed farm animals.

To say that this has been an evolving project is an understatement. I must admit, when I first began the rare breeds project I did so out of a fascination with the phrase "rare breeds" itself, paired as it was with domesticated animals. I could understand the term "rare" as applied to elephants, say, or cheetahs, or even orchids. But farm animals? This merited investigation, so I naively began the quest for information about rare breeds. I first saw them as a curiosity, perhaps an oddity, collectible anyway and certainly precious. The more I have learned about this area of animal husbandry the more I have come to realize what is actually encompassed by the term "heritage breeds," and how wrong my initial assessments were.

Early on, Dr. Donald Bixby of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy offered many helpful suggestions; as a result my naivete grew to be an understanding of animal conservation as rooted in agricultural biodiversity, and the critical role that diversity plays in our future. Wide gene pools give species flexibility to adapt to change. Today agribusiness favors a high-yield, highly consistent animal, which produces high yields in confinement settings. As a result, corporate farms are populated with animals lacking genetic diversity. Characteristics, which are good for production now, however, may become undesirable if farming conditions change. In response, a movement to conserve disappearing species of domestic animals, and hence genetic diversity, began in the 1970's and continues today. I am deeply curious about these animals (both historically and functionally) and the groups of people who have dedicated themselves to conserving them.

As an illustrator this is a rich topic to pursue. It is one thing to draw and paint a subject based solely on its beautiful visual properties. Occasionally artists do that, myself included. However, as an illustrator I am strongly drawn to storytelling through text and images. Of course the story here is biodiversity, but it is also a story of commitment; the commitment of hardy souls conserving genetic diversity for generations yet to come. Most of my illustration work is based in humor; this is one serious topic - where is the humor in it? The humor I seek is the kind found in our daily experience - that which lightens up a tough experience, a difficult task, or a mundane workday. Humorous characteristics found in the personalities of both people and animals are undeniable and help make us who we are - individuals. This kind of humor transforms the rocky path of life into a passable road, and my experiences to date have demonstrated that heritage breeders often face a rocky path indeed.

The real thrill of the project has been meeting the animals and the people who are their dedicated stewards. Typically I visit the animals on site, take photographs, make sketches, and talk with the owner or hands - often both. From these visits have come a multitude of humorous insights and instances which have become artwork. Some of the highlights of the last year have included: returning a particularly pungent rental car to the Kansas City Airport, its front passenger seat licked clean by an overly friendly steer; losing part of my winter coat to a Fainting Goat's curious teeth; falling asleep to the bleating of Cotswold Sheep and waking up, naturally, to an especially energetic rooster; and wearing more manure in the name of art than I ever thought I would. And then there is being sunburned, insect ridden, and frostbitten, sometimes all in the same week. In short, every moment has been an absolute joy.

So where does this series end? I'm not sure. To this point I have taken hundred of photographs, created numerous sketches and completed 15 paintings. The opportunity to show the work created thus far at the recent ALBC National Conference was a most welcome venue, and I am currently working on a book for children which illuminates agricultural biodiversity issues using rare breed animals. It is my hope that the myriad tend results - a book, a CD-ROM, or further shows - will add to the education of others as I have been educated. That will be the truest measure of success.

To view some selected works
by Deibler click on the photo
to return to Deibler's Main Page
click Here