The work of two local artists with a love of nature can be found in the brushstrokes of the 2020 West Virginia Wildlife Calendar produced by the state Department of Natural Resources.

This is the sixth year a piece by Grandview resident Shelby Oreolot has been selected and the second year for Rupert resident Misty Murray-Walkup, both members of the Greenbrier Artists, a group of artists who gather weekly at Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall.

“It’s really exciting,” says Oreolt, whose oil painting of a baby skunk is featured for April. “You’re competing against a lot of great artists.”

Jessica Swecker, who oversees the contest for the DNR, said 134 artists from West Virginia and other states submitted up to three original wildlife paintings for the 2020 calendars.

She said the selection process includes DNR employees from throughout the state who narrow it down from the initial submissions before a second, more thorough inspection occurs.

“When we first do our selections, they (artists) can send a picture or a picture file through email, but in the next round, we ask for the original artwork because we want to make sure everything looks anatomically correct,” she says, adding DNR biologists help make the decisions.

Getting the details just right is something both Oreolt and Walkup work hard to do with each painting, as the women say they specialize in wildlife and realism.

“I’ve always loved animals and birds,” says Walkup, whose coyote was selected for January and red-tailed hawk for September. “I think (I like) just trying to capture that living thing and just the essence of it. Just trying to capture each one (animal) and what I think they’re going through at the moment.

“I’ve painted a lot of different things, but I keep coming back to wildlife.”

Oreolt and Walkup attribute their affinity for wildlife to their southern West Virginia roots.

“I grew up in the country and constantly saw wildlife,” Oreolt says. “My brothers were all hunters. I fished when I was a child and I still fish and hunt. There’s just something about wildlife that is just a beauty in West Virginia.”

Walkup, who draws inspiration from a game camera set up outside her home, adds, “I’m surrounded by woods. You can’t get a better place. You just can’t. Everywhere you look, there’s some little critter running somewhere.”

Both women have been painting since their school days, growing up — though Oreolt is older — on the western end of Greenbrier County.

"I've been painting since junior high," Oreolt says. "I did artwork for my teachers, maps and things like that and a background for the school play. I've done competitions since I was 16."

In fact, Walkup says Oreolt was a sort of role model for her when she was first getting started.

"I kind of grew up looking up to her," she says. "She gave me someone to aspire to. Someone local who loved to paint and taught herself to do it."

And Walkup has painted professionally for the past 25 years and now operates her own Laurel Creek Mountain Art business. 

"It's been a long process, but it's been fun," she says of learning. "I love it."

They both say they look forward to the competition for the 2021 calendar, with a looming deadline of Feb. 17.

"We're both excited for the new year," Walkup says. "It's a fun thing to do and a fun opportunity that the DNR puts out there."

Oreolt agrees, adding she hopes they're both selected for the next calendar, but says regardless of the competition, she simply loves painting.

"Of course I’ve been turned down some times I’ve entered and that’s OK," she says. "There’s a lot of good artists in West Virginia. I'm just going to keep on competing and painting. It’s rewarding. It just gives you a great feeling to push yourself. You’re going for the beauty that’s around you. I never paint anything I don’t like. I just love doing it."

• • •  

Each month of the West Virginia Wildlife Calendar includes information about the featured animal as well as seasonal tips such as reminders to renew fishing licenses, look for bats emerging from hibernation, best fishing times and other tidbits that might be useful to Mountain State residents and outdoor enthusiasts.

West Virginia Wildlife Calendars can be purchased at a variety of locations throughout the region including Tamarack and state park gift shops.

Visit www.wvdnr.gov/wildlife/wildlifecalendar.shtm for a full list of retailers or to order a copy online.

Anyone interested in submitting artwork for the 2021 calendar can do so by email at jessica.n.swecker@wv.gov or by mail to Calendar Art Contest, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 67 Elkins, WV 26241. Swecker can be reached by phone at 304-637-0245.

The deadline is Feb. 17.

— Email: mjames@register-herald.com

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