Famed Wildlife Artist Passes Away

March 20, 2007

The world has lost a premier wildlife artist. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has lost a good friend. Alabama artist Larry Chandler passed away on March 17, 2007, from complications of pneumonia. He was only 55 years old.

Larry was a most generous man, giving freely of his talent and his time. His “Elusive Ivory” painting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker became an iconic symbol of the search for this bird and the hope that it could be brought back from near-extinction. The image appeared on the Lab of Ornithology’s web site, T-shirts, and informational material.

The Lab’s senior graphic designer, Diane Tessaglia-Hymes, first came across the “Elusive Ivory” painting online and says, “It was the only one I found that was of an ivory-bill in flight, and which stuck me as being realistic and alive. Larry was always so generous in allowing us to use it—I know he was as excited about the rediscovery as the rest of us. His artwork really helps capture the magical quality of this bird.”

On his web site, Larry said of the ivory-bill rediscovery, "This event marks a milestone of importance in my career. I was honored Cornell thought enough of my rendition of the ivory-bill to embrace it in such a way...The ivory-bill has forever touched a spot in my heart. I hope and pray to one day just get a glimpse of this unbelievable bird."

Later, the woodpecker turned up again in Larry’s work. About the time of the ivory-bill rediscovery, he had already finished the artwork for the 2005 Arkansas duck stamp. He decided to add an ivory-bill to the image at the last minute, reasoning that the bird was part of the landscape and he wanted to include it. You can see his whimsical addition to the painting here.

Larry also created an illustration for a special version of the Arkansas license plate (left). The image was later used in a brochure about how to identify an ivory-bill.

He was also working on another ivory-bill painting, and showed his progress during an ivory-bill festival in Brinkley, Arkansas, in February 2006 (below).

Larry’s prodigious talent lay not only in the accurate depiction of his subject, but in the subtle play of light and mood that gives his work such presence. Look at a Larry Chandler painting and you get a palpable sense of place, as if you are peering through a window to a unique place, suspended in time.

Tim Gallagher, editor of the Lab's Living Bird  magazine, says, “One thing that strikes me immediately about Larry’s paintings is his attention to background details. He spent as much time on the surrounding habitat in a painting as he did on the main subject, and it shows. No piece of art I’ve ever seen captures the experience of being in a Big Woods bayou better than ‘Elusive Ivory.’”

Others have been singing Larry’s praises since he turned his attention to painting wild animals in their natural habitats. His designs began appearing on wildlife stamps and magazine covers in the early 90s. He has won numerous national awards for this art, some of which hangs in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. His paintings often focus on hunting dogs, ducks, and other wild birds, always with attention to details of the surrounding habitat.

Larry’s character was as outstanding as his art. One friend is quoted in the Huntsville Times saying, "He was a very compassionate, caring person, which is probably one reason he was such a great artist.” Larry often donated his work to conservation organizations to support a cause he believed in.

Larry is survived by his wife, Donna, and three sons. His only daughter Lara Lee was killed in a car accident in fall 2006.

We shall miss this true Southern gentleman, and treasure the wonderful works of art he left us.


Learn more about the artwork of Larry Chandler.