Several years ago, I was walking through an airport half listening to a podcast about the Wandering Albatross. I learned it is a regal bird with a wingspan measuring 11 feet; it stays aloft in wind currents over the ocean for a month at a time. This species’ numbers are dwindling at the rate of one every five minutes on account of industrial line fishing. Right there in the airport, at Gate C15, I was brought to my knees, shocked by this bycatch carnage. Stunned, I wondered, what could I do about this? Quit my job, leave my studio and head out for civil disobedience? Throw myself in the path of industrial fishing factories? No, not very effective or realistic. I realized that I must respond to the current loss of species through my artistic practice. I am an artist, and art is a catalyst for change. 

"making pottery is how I understand the world..."

Funerary urns are traditionally used to hold ashes from cremation. They are a powerful icon representing death and loss, and have been used by Native American cultures, throughout most of Europe, the Mediterranean, Australia, and extensively in Asia. I am making burial urns, one for each endangered, threatened, extinct, or recovered species in the continental United States. The urns are made from porcelain clay and are sized to hold an average human’s ashes. Each urn has a meticulously carved surface portraying each species. The urns are not made for use, they are displayed empty as a sign of hope as, metaphorically, they are not yet in use.
Endangered Species Project

Porcelain was invented in China during the Han Dynasty in 220 AD, and porcelain carving techniques were mastered during the Song Dynasty in 960 AD. When I was in Jingdezhen, China, the porcelain capital of the world, I studied carving under Master Craftsman Chen Ming. She spoke no English, and I no Chinese. I sat directly next to her, carefully mimicking each movement of her tiny metal tools. The success or failure of each of my carving gestures was met with a grin or a grunt, and after several lessons, I received a convincing nod that I was making progress. From my relentless practice I am now carving urns with intense detail, portraying endangered species we rarely, if ever, see in person. The care and detail taken on each urn is a clear demonstration of my devotion to, and investment in, this project.

According to the United States Fish & Wildlife websites there are over 1100 endangered, threatened, extinct, and recovered species in the continental United States. It took almost a year of researching to create and understand these populations. The list starts of species are from the last 200 years. Starting in 1820, when we, as a culture, began to appreciate that we could cause extinction of a species. The list ends in 2020, when I began carving the urns. Each time I start a new urn, I study the species, whether it be a mammal, plant, reptile, fish, bird, or insect. How do they look at different stages of their life (egg, juvenile, adult)? What is their habitat (cave, swamp, desert)? How do they live (travel in herds, schools, grow in clusters, or are they a generally solitary)? Depending on the complexity of the species and its habitat, an urn can take between two and seven days to finish.

I am an artist and have no formal education in the sciences; none, zip, zilch. I barely have a layman’s understanding of the world of conservation. However, I believe that at the intersection of the arts and science, we can create a expansive space and an accessible process for the most important discussions facing us as humans – the sustainability of our planet and its flora and fauna. Surely this basic question underlies all other issues of social justice and cultural critique.

The intent of this project is to use art to effect change. Artworks such as “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso in 1937, changed how the public understood war. Barbara Kruger’s photography and text artworks, ‘Untitled (Your body is a battle ground)” from 1989 challenged the public to consider issues of choice and women’s right to autonomy. Sonya Clark’s unraveling of the Confederate Flag in 2016 addresses cultural symbols and racial injustice in America’s history.

Julia Galloway Endangered Species Project Urns

The Endangered Species Project blends the philosophical, the conceptual, and the physical. I am inspired by the bold uniqueness and craftsmanship in Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party; the intimacy, grace, and anguish of the poems of W.S Merwin; Greenpeace’s ferocious insistence that we acknowledge and witness the destruction of nature; and the undeniable and profound effect through scale and personal expression of the Names Project: AIDS Memorial Quilt. In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, warning us of our impact on the world around us. The first international celebration of Earth Day was in 1970. The Clean Water Act became law in 1972, and the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. We have known about our impact on the environment for a long time; the legislation of the early 1970s had an overwhelmingly positive effect on species and habitat. However, during my lifetime, we have not come much closer to solving these problems – in fact, we have made more.

I was raised by my mother, an early feminist, and I still believe in personal responsibility and service: the personal is political, and when private things become public, change can occur. I am working with Endangered Species; they are one part of the complicated multifaceted decline of the environment. My intent with the Endangered Species Project is to make the 1100 disappearing species undeniably visible, to say, “I see you” and, through this visibility, in the way that art can do so well, be a catalyst for change.