Author Archives: Beth Shepherd

Little Dancer (Redux)

Did she move? My visit to the Met March 25, 2023

In March 2023 I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and had the pleasure of seeing Edgar Degas’s The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (circa 1878-81; cast A.A. Herbrard, 1922 (Paris)). I have seen this sculpture a number of times and I am always struck by its uniqueness — the contrasting materiality of durable bronze and the fragility of the tattered tutu and silk hair ribbon. I was especially pleased this time at the attractiveness of the little dancer’s new tutu.

A few years before my last visit, Glen Peterson, conservator at the Met, had been charged with researching what dancers wore when the original sculpture was created to make the tutu more historically accurate. Peterson determined that the bouffant skirts worn by ballerinas of the day were knee-length and made of multiple layers of tarlatan, a starched open-weave cotton. He painstakingly hand-crafted the new longer tutu which was installed in 2018 (1).

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is not recognized as a sculptor but as an impressionist painter in oils and pastels. Nevertheless, he did undertake some sculpture in wax and clay of his favourite subjects: ballerinas, nudes, and horses. He exhibited La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans at the sixth Impressionist exhibition held in Paris in 1881. Like the Impressionist paintings of his peers, Degas’s work broke many conventions of classical art of the period. Even more controversial, the sculpture was modelled in wax and wore a real bodice, stockings, shoes, a tulle skirt, and a hair wig with a satin ribbon – materials not used in fine art. Everything but the tutu and ribbon was set in wax (2). The work received much criticism and the sculpture was not shown again during Degas’s lifetime.

Upon Degas’s death in 1917, La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans and other sculptural pieces were found in his studio. His heirs authorized a series of bronze casts to be made at the Paris foundry of A. A. Hébrard et Cie. It is not certain how many copies of La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans were made but they may be found in many gallery collections. The original wax sculpture is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Camille Laurens in her recent book Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, addresses the life of Degas’s subject, Marie van Goethem (1865-unknown) ― a young girl from a poor family living in Paris and training at the Paris Opera with hopes of a better life. While at the Opera, Marie was engaged to model for Degas. In late 19th century Paris it was common for young dancers and models to be subjected to sexual abuse by older male artists. Degas was known to be a celibate misogynist and therefore very unlikely to have forced himself sexually on his model; nevertheless, their relationship would have been fraught with gendered power imbalances (3).

Ballet in 19th century Paris was not the refined high-brow art form we know today. Girls as young as eight years old became ballerinas, working ten to twelve hours a day, six to seven days a week engaged in strenuous rehearsals, performances, and other related chores. After reaching “sexual maturity” at thirteen, girls were often paid to have sex with men waiting in the opera’s wings. The girls were nicknamed “les petits rats” because they were known to transmit STDs. Degas’s disdain for women, and in particular ballet dancers, is sculpted into Marie’s features to portray moral degeneracy rather than a youthful vibrancy. Audiences derided the ugliness of the pigmented beeswax and clothing and the subject herself (3).

In searching through the Paris Opera’s account books, Laurens found that in 1882, a year after the completion of Degas’s sculpture, Marie was docked in pay due to absence and eventually fired from her dancing post (possibly due to time spent modelling for Degas?) (3). After that, the real little dancer is lost to history.

I made two prints for the Expressive Movement: Dance, Rhythm and Flow Exhibition at the Connective Gallery in the Nepean Creative Arts Centre, March 4 to June 24, 2024. The first, Little Dancer, is a drypoint print after a photo I took of the sculpture at the Met in 2023. I printed it with black ink and collaged some pink Mizutama tissue covering the bodice and tutu. I wanted to bring her to life!

Little Dancer
Drypoint and collage
8×6 inches

At the same time that Degas was working on the Little Dancer sculpture, Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey were experimenting with photography to help understand animals and humans in motion. Marey, a physiologist, invented a camera system that allowed the capture of movement on a single plate called chronophotography (4). In Little Dancer Redux, I imagine Marie revived, leaving her static fourth position pose, and lifting her right leg up while extending both her arms outward. I represent each moving limb in three positions as if captured with chronophotography. To differentiate the imagined movements from the original print, I used a trace monotype technique and pink ink.

Little Dancer Redux
Drypoint, trace monotype, and collage
9 ½ x 7 ½ inches

It is my hope that by celebrating The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen we are paying tribute to this young person whose life history is lost but who lives in the minds of all that see her. To Marie van Goethem!


(1) The Met, Conserving Degas, YouTube video,

(2) Clare Vincent, “Edgar Degas (1834–1917): Bronze Sculpture.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–(October 2004). . .

(3) Priscilla Frank, “The Story Of Degas’ ‘Little Dancer’ Is Disturbing, But Not In The Way You Expect”, Huffpost, Nov 21, 2018, The article references Camille Laurens, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story behind Degas’s Masterpiece. Translated by Willard Wood, Other Press, 2020.

(4) Étienne-Jules Marey, Wikipedia,Étienne-Jules_Marey.

Print Pairings: Colour vs Black and White at the Shenkman Arts Centre

In the spring of 2023, the Ottawa School of Art Orleans extended a special invitation to the Ottawa-Gatineau Printmakers Connective to put on a group exhibition in their fabulous gallery at the Shenkman Arts Centre. OGPC worked with the OSAO gallery coordinator, Nadine Argo, to establish an interesting theme: Print Pairings: Colour vs Black and White (May 14-June 24, 2023). Participating artists were asked to provide a pair of prints – one in black and white and one in colour – that would demonstrate how they use colour or black and white to convey separate meanings, place different emphases, create distinct moods, or express diverse emotions around a related theme or image. Because the OSAO gallery has no rules about framing, this was an ideal opportunity for OGPC members to submit larger pieces without incurring the prohibitive costs of framing.

Figure 1: The Print Pairings Vernissage, May 28, 2023

My Submission: Planet Earth Series

A couple of years ago, I made a big woodcut on a piece of scrap 34 by 25-inch plywood. I cut a textured circle sitting positioned high on the wood sheet — a nod to the iconic Earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968. After making a proof of the woodcut, I just forgot about it – it was too big and there weren’t many opportunities for this topic. Then for Earth Day this year I pulled it out and used a photo of the plate as the background for a concrete poem acknowledging Earth Day 2023 entitled “Earth Day 1970-2013 We’ve come a long way, baby!” (Figure 2).

Figure 2: “Earth Day 1970-2013 We’ve come a long way, baby!”

For Print Pairings I used the plate as a tableau for reflecting on the climate wars taking place on our fragile planet. The interplay between the black & white and the coloured prints represents the global struggle between petrochemical and green-tech politico-economic behemoths duking it out. We now recognize the harms of our dependence on fossil fuels and climate change. As we struggle to reduce our global CO2 footprint, new technologies have their own negative consequences that result from mining of minerals, metals and rare earths required for green energy.  And despite a shift to “green” energy, petrochemical giants continue to extract oil, coal, and natural gas. 

Figure 3: Planet Earth pair hanging at Shenkman: Petro Planet on the left and Extracted Earth on the right

Petro Planet is a black-and-white relief print starkly reflecting on humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels. Humanity’s power to affect planetary systems accelerated after World War II with expansion of global production, especially in the petrochemical sector. Although many scientists, politicians, and people everywhere continue to express concern about the impacts on the fragile blue planet, global fossil fuel interests continue to extract oil, coal, and gas to fuel an overheating Earth. 

Extracted Earth is a colour relief print with collage elements reflecting on the negative impacts of extracting scarce or difficult-to-obtain materials needed for new green technologies. As pressure to limit CO2 rises, many nations are transitioning to a renewable energy infrastructure including solar panels, wind turbines, and battery-driven vehicles. Transition to green technology requires the extraction or recycling of often toxic metals, minerals, and rare-earth substances that severely impact workers and environments where they are mined, processed, and if applicable, recycled.

Migration Exhibition at La Fab Sur Mill

In 2022 members of the Ottawa-Gatineau Printmakers Connective began our project on Migration, which we all agreed was a timely and important subject. What surprised us all was the variety of perspectives we took: from the vast animal journeys; migrants fleeing from hostilities or immigrants seeking new possibilities; to more ethereal migrations.

The Hanging Team, Beth Shepherd, Madeleine Rousseau, Shealagh Pope, and Freida Hjartarson , at La Fab April 19th

I will quote here from the news release prepared by the La Fab Sur Mill Arts Centre where are exhibition will be showing from April 21 to June 4, 2023:

Migration has always been part of the human condition. Over history, people have moved to seek new opportunities such as a higher-paying job, a better social or cultural setting, or a chance at an education (Deidre Hierlihy: Margaret with jackrabbit (1937)). Human migration too often, however, is not by choice, but by necessity. As of May 2022, it is estimated that more than 100 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced as a result of conflict, persecution, human rights violations, and violence. Roughly 42 per cent of those displaced are children (Murray Dineen, The Littlest Migrant). The act of migration can be perilous. Migrants risk their lives, and some never reach safe haven. Many are not welcomed when they do arrive (Lynda Turner, Reverberations).

Migration is also an ongoing, defining pattern for many animal species. Migratory animals move in response to changing seasons or to use different habitats over their life cycle (Patricia Slighte, Aloft). Many of these migrations are awe-inspiring feats of endurance (Shealagh Pope, On the Move). However, changes to the landscape can threaten the ongoing existence of species that depend on movement for their survival (Beth Shepherd, Flow: Recruitment and Escapement).
Canadians living in inner cities are seeing their access to green space gradually diminish as more infrastructure is built where parks and trees used to be. The migration of green space further out of our ever-sprawling built environment is worrisome for the long-term sustainability of these urban neighbourhoods (Madeleine Rousseau, Vivre sans toi?). In addition to figurative works, the exhibition includes conceptual and abstract interpretations that explore how movement between different realms or media can be represented as migrations (Freida Hjartarson, Migration).

The artists participating in “Migration” raise timely and important political, economic, ecological, and social issues. This exhibition invites the viewer to consider their own relationship or history with migration. The exhibition also allows viewers to gain a better understanding of the distinctive characteristics and vast potential of print-based art and its role in fostering constructive dialogue around contemporary issues. 

Centre des arts La Fab sur Mill Arts Centre

This is a video of the hung show prepared by Richard Austin, Visual Arts director of La Fab Arts Centre. 

Typesetting “Elegy for the Silver Eel” As Concrete Poetry

I have recently become interested in concrete poetry – where the visual form augments or sometimes supplants the linguistic meaning. On doing further research I learned that concrete poetry is usually associated with the international Concrete Poetry Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The movement emerged from the work of Eugen Gomringer of Switzerland and the Brazilian Noigandres group, and quickly spread around the world. Although the Concrete Poetry Movement lost its momentum by the 1970s, its legacy and influence live on.

Typically, concrete poets work with the visual power of the page that results from the shape and placement of typographical elements vis-à-vis the whitespace. Applying the notion of concrete to any artform acknowledges its materiality and how that materiality informs its function and meaning. I felt this could be useful in drawing analogies that aid in understanding the materiality of the altered landscape, the loss of species, and the overarching politics of climate change.

This spring I had the opportunity to do some typesetting at the Carleton University Book Arts Lab as part of a creative writing workshop on climate change. In March and April, I typeset my poem “Elegy for the Silver Eel” in a visually expressive form.

Intrigued by duality of Concrete Poetry at the intersection of language and image, I typeset and printed:

  1. “Elegy for the Silver Eel” as a poem – the shaped text with a title on the top and author at the bottom right, in a literary fashion; and
  2. Elegy for the Silver Eel as an object of visual art, where I removed the typeset title author and hand-signed each print at the bottom in the manner of a fine art print.
Figure: Duality of Concrete Poetry

The font for both versions is Helvetic Italic which I thought contributed to the sense of flow. Once typeset, each version was printed using the Vandercook letterpress on 6-inch square artist tiles (Strathmore Bristol, vellum finish, 100 lb.). To read about my process, please click here.

Many thanks go to Nadia Bozak, professor in the English Dept., and Larry Thompson, Master Printer at the Book Arts Lab, Carleton University, for this opportunity.

Concrete Poetry 2023 Video

I made a video of a talk I gave at the University of Ottawa English Graduate Student Association Conference Looking Through the Anthropocene: Exploring Climate Change and Global Uncertainties, held March 10-12, 2023. 

Starting with Timothy Morton’s hyperobjects, I discuss concrete both as a ubiquitous building material accounting for around half of all human-made things in the world today, and as an innovative substance for turning creative ideas into reality, as it appeared to be in the early to mid 20th century. 

The latter would have no doubt inspired the use of the word by the Concrete Poetry Movement active in the 1950s and 1960s. By integrating image and language, these international poets turned poetry into functional objects. Although not critically appreciated in its time, concrete poetry has continued as a poetic form. I discuss my own discovery of concrete poetry and prose, and read three pieces I have written:

– “Horizon is” (2021). “Horizon is” is the soundtrack on my video Horizon Lost and Found that may be found on this website.

– “Elegy for the Silver Eel” (2022), which I wrote last year and presented at the River Institute, and

– “Ode to Ordovician Limestone” (2023), which I wrote this year for a creative writing course I am taking at Carleton University––which won first place in the university-wide annual Songwiting and Poetry Competition!.

Access the Youtube video here.

You are What You Eat Meets Taste the Waste

“You are what you eat” is a well-known adage that has been used by mothers and health food advocates for generations to advise everyone to eat healthy food to ensure a healthy body. The relationship between food and well-being first came into use in 1826 when French lawyer Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, in Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante: “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es” [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]. In 1863/4, Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach wrote: “Der Mensch ist, was er ißt”[Man is what he eats]. The expression “you are what you eat” came into general use in the English language when American nutritionist Victor Lindlahr published his 1942 book You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet. He also hosted a radio show of the same name that aired into the 1950s. (1)

Figure 1: You Are What You Eat Logo/ Album Cover, 1968

In the 1960s and 70s, you are what you eat took on new meaning in the hippy era when it became associated with macrobiotic food and return-to-the-land movements. It was also the ironic title of a little known 1968 counter-culture film and soundtrack produced by Barry Feinstein. (2) The film, You are what You Eat, definitely did not promote healthy eating or lifestyle, but did capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s California hippy scene with its psychedelic representation of sex, drugs and rock and roll. (3)

The logo for the film and album cover art shows an imaginative representation of the mouth of the mason jar and a protruding tongue. (4) In interviews quoted in the WFMU blog, cast member Carl Franzoni stated that it was his tongue that served as the model for the you are what you eat logo; and, he claims, his tongue was the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ famous tongue and lips logo (Figure 2), developed for the Stones’s 1972 European tour. (5) Unfortunately for Franzoni, his claimed influence on the famous Rolling Stones’ logo, as well as the film, have slipped into obscurity. Meanwhile, the adage “you are what you eat” remains popular and is still widely used in the diet and health food sectors. (6)

Figure 2: John Pasche’s initial design for the well-known lips and tongue logo of the Rolling Stones introduced in 1971 

Since 1970, the world’s population has more than doubled. Providing healthy food, or even not so healthy food, for over eight billion people, has its challenges. Food systems are responsible for more than a third of the greenhouse gases worldwide. Agriculture requires energy, fertilizers and land. Food processing, packaging and distribution systems, especially refrigeration, uses a lot of energy too.

Award-winning German documentary Taste the Waste (2011, directed by Valentin Thurn) claims that we live in a state of over-abundance as typified by grocery retailers that put too much blemish-free food in front of their customers. (8) More food than can possibly be consumed is being produced, and sent thousands of miles, only to be dumped in landfills as it passes the sell-by date. Hundreds of billions of dollars-worth of food is wasted every year. Nutritional experts and the general public are recognizing the importance of eating healthy food, especially increased quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables. Many consumers complain they can’t afford to buy fresh healthy produce at grocery store prices. Maybe high costs could be reduced if less food was procured and then thrown away.

Taste the Waste describes how wasting half our food production also has a significant impact on the world’s climate. When food decomposes at a garbage dump, it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with a short-term warming potential many times higher than carbon dioxide. This enlarges the already high carbon footprint of the global agro-food systems. systems.

Although taste the waste is not yet a food adage, maybe it should be. It can serve as a powerful metaphor for problems in our industrialized and globalized food production systems in which we all play a part. It seems to me that reducing waste is an important first step in providing more sustainable and healthy food at affordable prices while reducing our global carbon footprint.

Taste-the-Waste Diptych

In my mind, “taste the waste” brought the “you are what you eat” mason jar logo to mind. By replacing the mason jar with a garbage can, my “Taste the Waste” image was conceived. I did a quick sketch and turned it into a drypoint print using a scrap PVC gift card as a matrix. (9) I printed a test run of five prints using my little Open Press Project 3D printed press (Figures 3a and b).

Figure 3a: Printing on the Open Press Project mini printer and 3b: the first run of five drypoint prints

Here is my final product – Taste-the-Waste Diptych (figure 4). Enjoy! 

Figure 4: Beth Shepherd, Taste-the-Waste Diptych (2022), two drypoint prints, one hand-coloured

(1) Phrase Finder,, accessed 2022-11-13.
(2) You Are What You Eat,
(3) “You are what you eat,” WFMU’s Beware of the Blog, 2007,, accessed 2022-11-13.
(4) “You are what you eat,” WFMU’s Beware of the Blog, 2007,, accessed 2022-11-13.
(5) Tongue and lips logo, Wikipedia,
(6) You Are What You Eat appears in the title of a number of books, videos, blogs and television shows, such as a 2022 reality TV Series featuring Trisha Goddard,
(7) FAO, Food systems account for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, March 9, 2021,
(8) Taste the Waste, 2010,
(9) The gift-card conundrum: Convenience with an environmental cost, CBC News, Dec 19, 2019,

Just Another Derecho Day

Beth Shepherd, Just Another Derecho Day, 2022, Etching

This artist proof is my submission to the Ottawa-Gatineau Printmakers Connective Gallery Exhition called Climate Change — A Pressing Matter. The exhibition runs at the Nepean Creative Arts Center, 35 Stafford Rd., Ottawa, from October 20 to February 23, 2023. An edition of 10 have been submitted to the Saskatchewan Printmakers’ 2022 International Print Exchange (SKIPE).

The image depicts the aftermath of Ottawa’s May 2022 derecho when trees were toppled into the artist’s daughter’s pool, destroying the new fence and lawn furniture. I wonder whether living with more frequent extreme weather events will become yet another “new normal,” as signified by the awaiting chaise longue and cocktail beside the tree-strewn pool.  

Ottawa Hydro described the Derecho as Ottawa’s biggest storm yet. “With winds up to 190 km/h, the powerful derecho storm that devastated Ottawa on Saturday, May 21, left a trail of destruction like nothing Ottawa has ever seen or experienced before. From severe damage to property and Ottawa’s urban forest, the harm to our electrical infrastructure makes this storm our biggest yet; significantly worse than the 1998 Ice Storm and the 2018 tornadoes.” (B. Morgan, June 29, 2022,

Much of the city experienced power outages, ranging in length from hours to more than a week in some sections of the city. Stittsville and areas in Ottawa’s south were particularly hard hit in terms of damage. My daughter and her partner were watching the storm whip their backyard. All of a sudden two neighbouring trees came uprooted and toppled into their pool, crushing their newly constructed metal fencing and their lawn furniture.

As quick as it came, the storm was gone leaving in its wake so much destruction. In Just Another Derecho Day, I imagine a backyard pool with a fallen tree; a pool-side recliner and a cocktail sit ready for the homeowner. Will climate change make severe weather events more everyday – something we learn to take in stride? Of course, I am being ironic. As severe weather, fires, floods, heat domes, droughts, food and water shortages, pandemics, wars, mass migrations, loss of species, and myriad anthropogenic calamities overtake our lives, it will be harder – even for the privileged – to just sit by the pool.

A first step is considering our own emergency preparedness to cope with the inevitable. We must also demand that authorities invest in “hardening” the infrastructure. After the ice storm I was terrified of being without power. It was winter and we feared frozen pipes bursting. Afterwards we converted our wood fireplace to gas. Other storms generally have come in warm weather. Power outages mean food loss. In May, I was glad to have my natural gas barbecue to boil water and cook food. We are being encouraged to eliminate fossil fuels but in the case of emergencies it has been a life saver. As we become more dependent on “green energy,” governments and utilities have to ensure those systems are as robust as natural gas. 

Shooting Double-crested Cormorants in Ontario

Regressive hunting legislation and barbaric population management practices put cormorants in the cross-hairs

Beth Shepherd, Cormorant 1/1 (2022), Monotype

In June 2021 while kayaking along the eastern shore of the Ottawa River, I stopped to watch the elegant beauty of a flock of double-crested cormorants flying effortlessly above the river along the shoreline. Just a month later on July 31, 2020, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry announced a province-wide fall hunting season for cormorants from September 15th to December 31st with a daily bag limit is 15 birds under the authority of a small game licence. (1) I wondered why anyone would want to hunt cormorants which are not considered game animals.

I have created two prints to draw attention to the plight of the double-crested cormorant in Ontario in light of the new legislation. Cormorant 1/1 (2022) is a monotype of a bird with its back to the viewer looking out along the shoreline. Dead Cormorant 1/1 (2022) is a monotype with ink and collaged plastic. Using a stencil, the blank space signifies the absence of the dead cormorant surrounded by shotgun shells – the evidence of the carnage.

Beth Shepherd, Dead Cormorant 1/1 (2022), Monotype with collaged plastic (shoot gun shells)

They pieces are on display until October 23, 2022 as part of the Painterly Printmaking exhibition at the Connective Gallery at the Nepean Creative Arts Centre.

From a protected species to a target of wanton hunting

The population of cormorants has been growing in Ontario for decades and so has a call for management by property owners and the Ontario Federation for Hunters and Anglers (OFAH) (1). Cormorants are colony nesters and the sites of colonies can be alarming since their acidic waste and ungainly nests cause some die-back of trees at the water’s edge where they make their nests. Once near extinction before the ban of DDT and protected under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1997, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Act (Double-Crested Cormorants) was enacted in 2016 to permit the hunting and trapping of double-crested cormorants (2). Since then many environmental and animal advocacy voices have spoken up in protest on grounds that the population of this native species is not excessive and still in rebound from near-extinction; that the claim of decimating sport fish populations is false, and that in areas where the population is heaviest, alternative more humane ways of management could be used (3). Legal experts also advise that precedents set in the legislation — allowing shooting from boats and leaving dead carcasses — present dangers for both wildlife and humans in the affected areas (4).

A reminder of the larger cultural context of “pristine nature”

With the continued loss of habitat, it is no wonder that humans and cormorants are coming into conflict and rather than letting nature take its course, humans want to manage nature. This has been particularly poignant at Pelee Island National Park where Parks Canada has been undertaking culls of cormorants on Middle Island from 2008 to 2021 to preserve a Carolinian forest ecosystem (5 & 6). The culling occurs in the spring during breeding season with sharp-shooters aiming at the nesting cormorants reluctant to leave their eggs and chicks (7). See the video showing the inhuman methods of population management within what is supposed to be a bird sanctuary.

The debate is ongoing whether population management is indeed needed. If it is, can’t people charged on our behalf with protecting the environment find less regressive and violent ways than shooting and maiming birds on the nest? How we are treating double-crested cormorants calls to mind how colonizers treated indigenous peoples when governments first decided to set aside portions of “pristine nature” in perpetuity as conservation areas and parks.

I am ending this post with an image of the double-crested cormorant from John James Audubon’s Birds of America, printed between 1827 and 1838. Although beautiful, these works are tainted with past and present cultural concerns about racism and exclusion in conservation movements (8).

John James Audubon, Double-crested Cormorant, from The Birds of America


(2) Bill 205, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Act (Double-Crested Cormorants), 2016,

(3) For examples, Ontario Nature,; Nature Canada,; Animal Alliance of Canada,






Flow: The loss of the American Eel in the Ottawa River

In 2021 The Ottawa Riverkeeper made an appeal to help save the American eels that were facing extirpation from the Ottawa River Watershed. In addition to a donation I decided to make eels a subject of my practice. The image is monotype where the swirls of white in black ink capture the movement of eels caught in a net or weir.

Beth Shepherd, Eels Caught Up, Monotype

This spring, a group of Ottawa-Gatineau Printmakers Connective printmakers began work on a ‘Migration in Print’ project. Migration is timely as political, economic, and social conditions, exacerbated by climate change, disrupt long-standing animal movements and force ever more people to flee their homes. Since American Eels exhibit a reproductive pattern of migration inked to their spawning cycles, I decided my work would fit right in.

Wanting to do something for Culture Days (September 23 to October 16, 2022), three of us decided to make some videos taking a behind-the-scenes look at our creative processes in making new migration-themed works. Wanting to also put on an in-person Culture Days event, we approached Carleton University’s Book Arts Lab. Larry Thompson, generously provided space for an exhibition and an in-person event on October 14 (1-4pm). Here is the link to our Cultures Day Hub with descriptions for our three online and two in-person events.

The artwork I made for Culture Days is called Flow: Recruitment and Escapement.

Flow: Recruitment and Escapement, 244 X 91.5 cm, Mixed media collagraph print

Yellow eels enter freshwater habitats making their way upstream (“recruitment”) where they remain feeding and hibernating until they reach sexual maturity decades later. Sexually mature females, now blackish and silver, head downstream towards the ocean (“escapement”). To render the existential fragility of this species I employ the ephemeral qualities of Japanese mulberry paper.

In my video I talk about the plight of the American eel and present the behind-the-scenes steps in the production of Flow: Recruitment and Escapement.

Culture Days Video

Call of the Turtle and the Exotic Turtle Trade

In the spring of 2022, Cheryl Beillard, fellow printmaker and the new president of Art Pontiac, announced her vision for a special show to be held at the Stone School Gallery during the summer.  Combining science, the environment and art, Call of the Turtle is an exhibition aimed at drawing attention to the plight of the turtles and to protect local wetland habitats. 

Poster for Call of the T
urtle exhibition at Stone School Gallery July 29-August 21, 2022

Cheryl asked me if I ever featured turtles in my art projects, and I said I had. In the early summer of 2021, while on the grounds of the Britannia Water Filtration Plant, I observed lots of excitement when a couple of fairly large (8-10 inch long) painted turtles scurried across the lawn weaving their way among Canada Geese with their goslings and people of all ages enjoying the sunshine. Amazed at how fast the turtles moved, I guessed they were females ready to lay their eggs off to find nesting sites on the gravelly shoreline of the Ottawa River nearby.  

Although turtles weren’t my usual subject matter, I decided to make some prints.  I made a two-layer stencil of a turtle mimicking the turtle’s scutes. I inked a simple drypoint plate in bright colours and superimposed the inked turtle stencil and printed it on my brand new mini-etching press.  I printed the monotype in a small variable edition, which I called Turtle on the Move (monoprint, 8X10 inches). 

Beth Shepherd, Turtle on the Move (monoprint, 8X10 inches. The image shows a green turtle on a burnt orange ground.
Beth Shepherd, Turtle on the Move, Monoprint, 8X10 inches, 2021

I reused the turtle stencil to imprint turtles on eco-print paper I had made using a trace monotype technique. (Eco prints are prints made by transferring the pigments in plants, especially flowers, to paper using steam and a mordant like alum). I particularly like how Two Turtles on the Move (monotype on eco print, 11X14 inches) captures the impression of the animals scampering through wildflowers. 

Beth Shepherd, Two Turtles on the Move (monotype on eco print, 11X14 inches). The image is of two shadowy turtlers in dark blue moving through a landscape of wild flowers..
Beth Shepherd, Two Turtles on the Move, Monotype on eco print paper, 11X14 inches, 2021

When first thinking about my contribution to the Call of the Turtle exhibition, my first action was to check iNaturalist to see which of Ontario’s eight turtle species were located at Mud Lake near where I live in Ottawa. Mud Lake is home to only two native species — the Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) and the Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina). I was surprised to find a sighting of the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) – an “alien species” in this neck of the woods. On doing research, I learned that the sighting of the red-eared slider was most likely of an escaped pet. Native to the southeastern U.S., the red-eared slider does not successfully breed in the area because their offspring cannot survive the cold Ottawa winters; nevertheless, these robust turtles can compete for scarce habitat and resources and transmit diseases to our native turtle populations. 

The pet turtle trade has a long history. As a child I remember having a number of baby turtles that spent their short lives basking under the green and brown palm tree in their little plastic turtle bowls. Thanks to the exotic pet trade, baby turtles (red-eared sliders, painted turtles, and other species) became a craze in the 1950s. Sold in pet stores and through mail order promotions, as in the British advertisement, these little critters made their way around the world. (1) In the 1980s and 90s demand for pet turtles, red eared sliders in particular, exploded again in response to the comic franchise Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, four red-masked anthropomorphic crime-fighting turtle brothers trained in ninjutsu.(2)

A 1950s advertisement for a Turtle Bowl Kit and the cover of a 1984 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic
A 1950s advertisement for a Turtle Bowl Kit and the cover of a 1984 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic.

In my etching Alien Encounter, I imagine these two world-travelling aliens encountering each other in Mud Lake. 

Beth Shepherd, Alien Encounters, etching with hand colouring, 6 X 9 inches, 2022

With fond memories of my own turtle pets, in the 1990s I decided to buy my now-adult children a turtle too. I bought a spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera) at a local pet store. Brown and leathery with a sharp proboscis, we named the turtle Snort.  Snort lived in a large aquarium for a number of years and we even took him with us on vacations to our cottage. When he wasn’t amusing the kids, we left Snort in his dishpan vacation home in a shady spot on the back deck. One night, a heavy rain caused the dishpan to overflow, allowing Snort to make his great escape, as depicted in my second print, Snort-The Great Escape. With Calabogie Lake only a short distance away, I imagined him growing to a large size and nipping at the toes of unsuspecting swimmers.

Beth Shepherd, Snort: The Great Escape, etching with hand colouring, 6 X 9 inches, 2022. The image shows a spiny soft-shell turtle escaping from a dish pan and heading to a lake.
Beth Shepherd, Snort: The Great Escape, etching with hand colouring, 6 X 9 inches, 2022

These nostalgic stories aside, turtles are not suitable as pets and generally suffer greatly. They are also the source of zoonotic disease. People think of turtles as low maintenance amusements for their kids but they can live for 20-40 years and grow quite big. According to the World Animal Protection’s 2019 report called “Risky Business – The Unregulated Exotic Pet Trade in Canada,” 50,550 red-eared sliders and 22,169 painted turtles were identified as pets in Canada. “Exotic” pets are non-domesticated wild animals, that unlike domesticated animals, maintain their complex social, physical and behavioural needs. The report stresses that the basic needs of the captive animals are not being met and a high number die within one year of becoming a pet. Those that do survive often end up in shelters while others are released into the local environment. (3) For those released or as in the case of Snort, that escape into the wild, face the travails of being an alien creature, alone in an alien world.

The continued importation and illegal collection and trade of wild turtles is a major threat to turtle populations in Ontario and globally. Although many exotic animals are imported, the illegal collection and trade of wild turtles is among the major threats to turtle populations in Ontario. According to Ontario Turtle Conservation, too little attention has been given to poaching – the removal of turtles from the wild on a large scale, for profit. These turtles may be sold as pets in Canada but are often then illegally exported to other countries for sale. Poaching is having a negative impact on Ontario’s turtle species such as the spotted, wood, and Blanding’s turtles. (4)

(1) 1950s Madness: The ‘Turtle Bowl’,

(2) How Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Devastated the World’s Turtle Population,

Image at

(3) World Animal Protection, “Risky business – The unregulated exotic pet trade in Canada”,

(4) Ontario Turtle Conservation, Poaching Brochure,

Shoreline Lost and Found

Shoreline Lost and Found is a time-lapse video made with fifteen months of daily
photographs of the Ottawa River shoreline across Britannia Bay. Using the horizon as the through-line, the video integrates my personal anxieties as an artist, the visible variation in the daily weather, and the imperceptible changes in the climate, within a repetitive landscape composition.

The daily routine of picture-taking was an important part of my pandemic ritual but as we entered the second COVID summer, the lowered water levels, heat and smoke from forest fires were reminders that while we were held in suspension by the pandemic, climate change was advancing upon us.

The soundtrack for the video is a digital rendition of concrete prose I wrote incorporating the various meanings and uses of the term “horizon” in common speech and across various disciplines. In its visual form, the text turned on its side mimics an imaginary cross-section of the river. The individual lines of text are arranged to examine the use of the word horizon with the latter half more directly referring to climate change, conveying a growing sense of impending crises.

CLICK HERE to see my Youtube video.

Here is an image of the text. You can turn it to the left to read.

Littorally Speaking: A Coffee Table Book

As part of Culture Days, viewers are welcome to flip through an imagined coffee table book that takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the urban water system infrastructure in the Ottawa River littoral zone (shoreline areas between high and low water levels). Recalling childhood memories of oversized books filled with images of pristine nature and unspoilt landscapes, the video recreates the sensation of flipping through such a book. The scenic images depict the City of Ottawa’s water systems–the water purification plants and selected wastewater and stormwater infrastructural elements that interface with the Ottawa River.

You can get the effect of flipping through the pages of a coffee table book in the video version. To stop to read a page just pause the video, then restart when you are ready to proceed.


For those wanting a more static view, CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD PDF VERSION.

For the kids, download an Ottawa Water System Maze Puzzle HERE.