Gallery hosts artist and scientist for talk on the Great Marsh    

COURTESY PHOTO A painting of the Great Marsh by artist Carol Benally 

NEWBURYPORT – Artists, environmentalists and locals would agree that the North Shore’s Great Marsh, which extends from Cape Ann to New Hampshire, is a natural gem worth protecting and preserving.

With more than 20,000 acres of marsh, barrier beach, tidal river, estuary, mudflat, and upland islands, the Great Marsh is the largest continuous stretch of salt marsh in New England. The public is invited to a discussion about the state of this resource as it nurtures and inspires the community.

Artist Carol Benally and environmental steward Peter Phippen spearhead the conversation at the Paula Estey Gallery at 3 Harris St. in Newburyport as part of its ongoing First Thursday Salon series. This event will take place on July 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the gallery. Tickets are not needed for the event. Light refreshments will be served, and the talk begins at 7 p.m.

Phippen has served as coastal coordinator for the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission and the regional coordinator for the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary for the past 18 years. The Mass Bays Upper North Shore includes the communities of Amesbury, Salisbury, Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, Essex, Gloucester and Rockport. The Mass Bays program is dedicated to protecting, restoring and enhancing the estuarine ecosystems of Ipswich Bay, Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay. It is a cooperative venture of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sea level rise, restricted water flow, local development, invasive plants and species, and more extreme, frequent weather patterns all affect the ecosystem. Phippen will encourage a greater sense of stewardship for the area’s ecological health and its historic significance and will be showing slides with his talk.

Benally is an artist who has lived with her husband and family on a Navajo reservation in Arizona for more than 30 years, but returns each year to her beloved marsh to paint landscapes and soak up the scenery. Originally from Boston, she earned a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and also attended Montserrat College of Art in Beverly. She defines her own sense of the Navajo phrase, "Walk in Beauty" which is considered a way of life.

“In painting, I connect my spirit to the earth and the sky. I have been inspired by both the canyon and marshlands, the contrast between the red earth and green marshes. While painting both subjects, I strive for simplicity, beauty, and peacefulness,” she said.

During her stay in New England, Benally is also offering an en plein air oil painting class of the Great Marsh on Saturday at Joppa Flats. All levels are welcome to sign up by emailing or calling 978-346-4746. The class meets at the gallery at 9 a.m., then carpools to the location to create art until 4 p.m. with a break for lunch. The class costs $125 to participate.

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