It is quite amazing that songbirds and birds of prey have visual acuity up to 8 times greater than a human. Because of this incredible eyesight and the ability to interpret fine detail, a hawk can distinguish small prey from enormous distances. Perhaps that explains why the red-shouldered hawk I spot way up in the autumn treetops seems to be watching as my canoe glides quietly along the Sopchoppy River. I have joined my friend, George Weymouth, on this perfect late November day for an outing of exploration. Even though he has been a wildlife guide for nearly 50 years, almost half that time spent in Wakulla County, George is continually on the lookout for new areas to observe and study.
I have a dual purpose today. The first is to accompany George on our pleasant paddle up the scenic Sopchoppy River, but the other is to discover details of how he has evolved into the self-made man he is today. I especially want to talk in depth about his development and growth as a wildlife artist.
A Certified Green Guide extraordinaire who transcends many categories, George Weymouth is a naturalist, birding expert and wildlife guide, author, educator, flintknapper, bow hunter, and taxidermist as well as a gifted artist. His mother was an artist, so George came by his talents naturally. As a young boy growing up in Indiana, he uncovered his passion for birds one day as he watched the cedar waxwings. He was awed by the feathered beauty of birds which could be seen nearly anywhere he looked. In his early teens he was so inspired after reading about the inventor of the modern field guide, renowned ornithologist and wildlife artist, Roger Tory Peterson, that George had an instant lifetime hero.
Soon afterwards, a man named Dick Adams came to the university school that George attended to show a movie about John James Audubon. An image from that film imprinted itself on George and he was hooked. He joined the Junior Audubon Society and began to study birds in earnest. Dick Adams was an archeologist who had the largest privately owned skeletal collection of North American wildlife, primarily birds. He hired George to be his after-school assistant preparing specimens and cataloging bones.
As George progressed through high school, he excelled in both art and biology. But talk of possible scholarships ended abruptly when George’s family moved out to a farm and he transferred to a small county school. Marriage and children followed soon after graduation and so did the financial need to support his family. He worked a variety of jobs and, for a while, George was able to earn enough through the sale of his wildlife carvings. Then in 1959 upon the advice of his doctor, George moved to Florida to improve a childhood health condition. He settled near Naples where he first began work as a nature guide. A short while later, he moved to Sanibel Island and worked as a surveyor as the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge was being established. George was actually the first person to guide in the new wildlife refuge. In 1986, the legendary Roger Tory Peterson gave George a call, and for three days George had the special privilege and thrill of guiding his boyhood hero on a private tour through the wilds of the Everglades National Park.
It was while living on Sanibel that George painted his first picture, an acrylic rendering of a pileated woodpecker. Over the years he has studied the work of many wildlife artists including Guy Koliak, considered a founding father in the present-day wildlife art movement. Wildlife artists use the art of nature to connect us to the world, and the origins date back to the earliest of man who painted wildlife on the walls of caves. The highly regarded mark of a successful modern-day wildlife artist is the ability to depict scientifically accurate detail, yet capture the subject in pleasing artistic form. It is obvious that George has a sharp eye capable of seeing incredibly fine detail and the skill to painstakingly transfer what he sees onto his medium. Preparation to begin a work involves intense study of movement and angles, color, shape and light. Over time George has increased his expertise and perfected his style. The result is wildlife depictions so vibrant they seem almost alive.
I ask George about his interest in Native American and primitive arts. He tells me he is related to Will Rogers, the famous Cherokee-American cowboy, and although this has never been proven, he feels an inborn sense of belonging to the heritage and culture of Native American people. He has designed an extensive collection of over 2,000 arrowheads, projectile points, and artifacts drawn with astonishing accuracy and detail. George himself has mastered the art of flintknapping and has intimate knowledge of other primitive arts as well. You can see him holding demonstrations at the Stone Age and Primitive Arts Festival held each February at Ochlockonee State Park.
If you travel a little further south, plan to stop by the Carrabelle City Hall to experience a visual delight. There in the auditorium you will find George’s largest and most extensive work of art. The painting measures 8’ x 12’ and required a forklift to carry George high up to the top where he began his work on the large mural. It took George nearly 18 months to complete the painting which depicts the ecosystems of Tate’s Hell State Forest with over 50 species of detailed indigenous plants and wildlife.
I recently went to see another of George’s large works, “Florida’s First People”, a diorama he helped create that is on permanent display at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee. When I asked the receptionist for directions to the exhibit, she exclaimed, “Oh yes, that’s the best one – it’s my favorite!” George also has work on display at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center in Walton County, and has had his carvings shipped overseas for private collections and museums.
George is highly sought after for his skills as an expert taxidermist and the business has always been good. But taxidermy is a time consuming practice, and what George really wants to do as he enters his next quarter century, is devote more time to his artwork, especially his painting. And while George enjoys participating in local festivals and will continue to support community events through his big-hearted donations of art, he would like to concentrate more on showing in galleries and establishing an internet presence to share his art with wider audiences. Naturally, George wants to continue spending time in the great outdoors guiding and watching his flock of much-loved birds. He recently had eye surgery and now can see again with high definition vision – quite a good thing for this very special and gifted man who perhaps sees the world just a little more clearly than most.