Ecologically, the past is always present if you know where and how to look. Paleontologist-biologist-artist Laura Cunningham spent 20 years exploring California's archives and relic lands to reconstruct exactly what life used to look like here over the past 10,000 years. Her beautiful images and her insights about long-period ecological change are collected in her new book, A STATE OF CHANGE: Forgotten Landscapes of California.
Like many regions, California is busy restoring portions of the natural environment to previous conditions -- native meadows, riparian woodlands, salt marshes, old-growth forests, along with the animals that used to populate them. But there is no static past to restore TO. With Cunningham's guidance we can choose to restore to a particular period: say, before the white invasion; or, during the Medieval Warm Period; or, before the human invasion; or, during the Ice Ages. With her inspiration, we can begin to envisage the ecological changes coming over the next 10,000 years.
Laura Cunningham is an artist-naturalist who has worked in the field of wildlife biology.
Trained in paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley, and in natural science illustration at UC Santa Cruz, Cunningham has brought her unique skills to a diverse set of scientific projects: working with the United States Geological Survey Biological Resource Division analyzing amphibian declines in the Sierra Nevada and amassing species inventories in Death Valley National Park; the California Department of Fish and Game restoring habitats of pupfish, tui chub, trout, Steelhead, monitoring Tule elk in the Owens Valley, and studying mountain lion predation; with California State University, Dominguez Hills, Cunningham worked in conservation biology and genetic studies involving Desert tortoises, Panamint alligator lizards, and Mojave fringe-toed lizards.
Cunnigham has been a scientific illustrator for the Museum of Paleontology at University of California, Berkeley and illustrated fossil invertebrates for the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. She has also produced mural exhibits for various museums and institutions, including scenes of fossil mammals at Badlands National Park, and murals depicting the history of life on Earth for the California State University Fresno Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Her work has also been exhibited at numerous art shows and museums around the country, including the Pacific Rim Wildlife Art Show in Seattle, the Oakland Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Carnegie Museum, and Safari Club International.
Currently, Cunningham is studying the historical ecology of the California deserts and Nevada Great Basin, and is working on paintings depicting Ice Age life.