Mark Twain Noe painting wildlife diorama

September 23, 2000

Mark Twain Noe painting wildlife diorama

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - A black rhinoceros charges out from the tall grass to protect the baby at its side. The grass is being painted behind and around the big animal by award-winning wildlife artist Mark Twain Noe.

Noe spends four to five hours most weekday nights, often into the wee hours, painting the background for the display of mounted African wildlife in the Charles T. Brightbill Environmental Center that opened this year behind James Buchanan High School.

Noe is volunteering his time and talent to the project. He started painting the background in August and expects to take another three to four months to finish it.

He's working with eight to 10 volunteers. Some can paint and some can't.

"I'm teaching them how to paint grass," he said.

The work is an awesome task, said Liz McClintick, director of the classroom museum of the Tuscarora Wildlife Education Project, the private, nonprofit group that raised the money to build the 3,000-square-foot Brightbill center.


McClintick said by the time Noe and his students complete the diorama, which is supposed to resemble Africa's Serengeti Plain, they will have painted hundreds of thousands of individual blades of tall grass.

Noe spent an entire evening painting the first blade to get the look he wanted, McClintick said. He used a sample native tall grass as a model.

The collection of mounts includes the head and shoulders of the adult rhino and a full mount of the baby. Also in the display are the heads of a wildebeest, zebra, impala, greater kudu, hartebeest, bontebok, Robert's gazelle, warthog, wild boar and eland, among others.

Adding realism to the display will be two rows of real grass in front to give it a sense of three-dimensional depth, McClintick said.

The wall to the right holds more African wildlife, including the imposing head of a cape buffalo. Noe said he will take a break before tackling that wall.

The opposite wall holds North American wildlife, including a scene of mountain sheep standing on a display reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains. The mountain was created by Ty Snider, a local taxidermist and TWEP member.

The background for the mountain scene was painted by Melissa Gayman Ball, a wildlife artist who took lessons from Noe, McClintick said.

Noe's work is a familiar sight in banks and other buildings around Franklin County, especially his Greencastle area scenes. In 1980 he was commissioned by the First National Bank of Greencastle for a series of 23 paintings reflecting the history of the area.

The National Wild Turkey Federation, a nationwide conservation and sportsmen's organization, named Noe Artist of the Year for his painting "Nature's Gold," which shows a flock of turkeys in late fall in a field near his home.

The federation has used a Noe painting for its fund-raising promotions every year since 1988.

He has twice been named Artist of the Year by Ducks Unlimited.

His paintings have appeared on magazine covers and calendars and have won regional and national shows, including the National Arts for the Parks award.

Charles T. Brightbill, a founder of TWEP, died at the age of 59 in 1994. He was a high school music teacher in Chambersburg, Pa. He lived in Mercersburg, was active in Boy Scouts, was a self-taught botanist and served as a nature interpreter at Cowan's Gap State Park.

He left a modest estate to the project, which was established in 1989. The rest of the money to build the wildlife center, about $200,000, came from corporate and private donations, fund-raisers and grants.

Snider is in charge of setting up the center, which has accumulated more than 150 bird, animal and reptile mounts, mostly from private collections, McClintick said.

"The idea behind the mounted specimens is to let students see what the animals look like," McClintick said. "We needed a building with enough space to display the animals properly with proper temperature controls."

The center operated in a classroom in James Buchanan High School until the new facility opened.

About 1,500 students take one class a year in the center.

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