Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Carving Out Support for Conservation

By Lishka Arata, Senior Communications Coordinator

When Melinda Whipplesmith Plank reached out to Point Blue last spring to ask if we were interested in an artist collaboration that would support our conservation work, our immediate answer was an enthusiastic, “Yes!” 

Millie, as she prefers to be called, is a woodblock print artist based out of her studio and home on a working cattle ranch in the Siskiyou Mountains. She has been an artist in residence at Lassen Volcanic and Glacier National Parks. She is also a member of the Society of Animal Artists and the California Printmakers Association. 

Millie leading a woodblock printing station in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Credit: Lassen Volcanic NP.

Woodblock printing is a technique of creating an image on paper where the artist carves out a sketch from a block of wood, applies ink to the wood, and rolls or stamps the image onto paper. The technique has its roots in 7th century China and made its way through Japan and Europe before appearing in America around the Depression era. Learn more about this art form here, here, and here.

Millie in the field researching her concept for “Nursery Guardians” at Glenn Ranch, Petaluma. Credit: Lishka Arata

When asked to describe her work and her process, Millie says, “Using wood and copper, I create original, hand-pulled, limited edition prints, which celebrate biodiversity. I love printmaking because the possibilities are endless and the images have a more powerful presence as non-essential elements are removed to clearly convey a feeling. To me, prints create a visual haiku poem.

She has a strong land conservation ethic and owns and manages a cattle ranch that’s been passed down through her family for generations. Millie immediately connected with our working lands conservation work along with our overall mission to conserve birds, other wildlife, and ecosystems through science, partnership, and outreach.

She just completed her first of hopefully many projects with us: two woodblock prints that represent our climate-smart restoration work. The first, Nursery Guardians (shown below), depicts Western Kingbirds perched on caging that protects oak trees planted by Point Blue staff in partnership with Glenn Ranch in Petaluma. This is an extra special woodblock print because it represents a new iteration of climate-smart conservation. In a pioneering new approach, we have collected acorns from oaks that grow in different temperature ranges to design an oak landscape that will hopefully fare better in a hotter future while still providing all of the benefits to people, wildlife, and livestock that oaks currently do. These benefits include providing shade, food, hiding places from predators, clean air, erosion control, water retention, nesting habitat, a place for other plants and lichen to anchor, a place to contemplate, and so much more. See a work in progress post from Millie here.

Image of “Nursery Guardians” woodblock print by Melinda Whipplesmith Plank
Image of “Hidden Railway” woodblock print by Melinda Whipplesmith Plank

The second print, Hidden Railway (shown at right), shows the endangered Ridgway’s Rail characteristically skulking amongst the marsh reeds. Millie visited one of our wetland transition zone restorations at San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge with our staff and learned how planting a specific arrangement of native plants was helping to protect wildlife and human communities from rising seas and more extreme weather. The restored transition zone habitat between the drier upland habitat and the saltier, tidally influenced pickleweed marsh is a critical place for two federally endangered species, the Ridgway’s Rail and the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, to hide and take refuge from higher and higher tides. These marshy habitats also store carbon and act as an absorbent sponge that protects human infrastructure from flooding. See a video of the print process here.  

We are honored to be Mille’s fourth conservation-specific art endeavor. The others were with Siskiyou Land Trust, Smith River Alliance, and Scott River Watershed Council.  She will be donating 10% of sales in 2020 to Point Blue to support our conservation work and she’s donating an original print of each to us as well.

Point Blue Director of Institutional Relations Beverly Cherner with her very own “Hidden Railway” print!

Lastly and as a special added bonus for all of us, she will be offering an interactive workshop at our Annual Membership Meeting on Saturday, May 30th where attendees can make their very own woodblock prints! Make sure you RSVP when you see the invitation go out.

We are deeply grateful for and extremely excited about our collaboration with Millie to support art and conservation. Please visit her website to explore her process, her prints, and the special conservation prints she’s made highlighting and supporting Point Blue’s work.

Are you an artist that wants to collaborate with Point Blue? Get in touch at and let’s talk.