Visitors out for a walk this summer through South Buffalo's Tifft Nature Preserve will encounter some unexpected new forms of wildlife.
To the beavers, sparrows and woodland creatures that call Tifft home, artist Roberley Bell has added a menagerie of unsettling fauna: concrete deer painted bright colors, white sculptures of birds roosting on branches of bright blue metal and an enormous yellow cage housing a single sapling.
Her project, "Locus Amoenus," is a collaboration of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's public art program and the Buffalo Museum of Science, which is responsible for maintaining and promoting the 264-acre refuge on the site of a former municipal garbage dump.
The work is designed to bring attention to conservationists' efforts to plant more than 2,000 new trees throughout the preserve in part to improve the habitat for migratory song birds, which could be heard chirping away during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
The project, said Albright-Knox public art curator Aaron Ott, was created "in the hopes that it will enlighten you to the vast work going on throughout the preserve itself."
"Each element here has some sort of response to the specific work that the science museum and the nature preserve are doing to stabilize this environment," he added.
David J. Spiering, an ecologist at the preserve, especially praised Bell's efforts to highlight the caging designed to protect the newly planted trees to protect it from deer and beavers who would otherwise destroy them. As part of the project, Bell painted those cages bright purple or blue, in an attempt to get visitors to look for the cages and saplings throughout the preserve and to think about the work of conservationists.
"I felt somewhat honored that the work I did for nature primarily was viewed in this completely different context," Spiering said. "I really was happy to see that other people view the work that we’re doing here all sorts of ways. I think it draws attention too: You can come to see the art, but maybe then you come and enjoy nature."
That's just what Jacob Benoit and Jessica Mason were doing on Thursday when they came upon the installation, which sits about a half mile into the preserve.
"It's just nice to come here right from downtown. We saw a couple deer just jumping around, and it's beautiful," said Benoit, who said he was visiting the preserve for the first time since he was a child. Mason, on her first visit, said she was impressed with the wildlife she encountered in a short visit, including Bell's unexpected additions.
"I didn't think to see all this," she said. "It's a nice little surprise."
For Buffalo Museum of Science Director Marisa Wigglesworth, who was flanked at the news conference by a group of Buffalo schoolchildren, the project is directed at continuing the museum's mission to improve Tifft for visitors -- both human and otherwise.
"We do have to work proactively here to protect and preserve our environment," she said, "and that’s the message we hope all visitors to Tifft leave with."