Sharon Bladholm is back in her studio on the city’s West Side, finishing up the work she started on a recent expedition in Peru.
“I learned that there’s still so much out there to be discovered,” she said.
As an artist interested in science, nature, conservation and biodiversity, Bladholm goes on expeditions to explore new wildlife throughout the world. And she draws what she sees.
“I’m someone that goes out into the field with these scientists and do as much work as I can on site,” Bladholm said. “I educate a large group of people through my art and through the vehicle of art about these issues of conservation, biodiversity. I think art can sometimes grab people more that just reading.”
Bladholm says she used water colors for about 95% of the work created from her trip to Peru.
“I would walk through the rainforest, gather seeds and plants … too many things to draw all at once. So I would draw what I could on sight and photograph other things because I couldn’t bring plants home,” she said.
Bladholm also taught a drawing workshop to young women and children in the village, having them create their own art.
What was supposed to be about a two-week tour ended up being much longer as Bladholm, like many Americans, found herself stuck overseas due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“When I planned the trip and even when I left, there was absolutely no virus in Peru,” she said.
Bladholm left Chicago on March 12, and said by the 16th everything had changed.
“The fourth day I was in Peru, President Vizcarra of Peru took a very hard-line approach and decided to close all borders and stop all road, river or air travel,” she said.
After several failed attempts to get a flight home, Bladholm reached out to the U.S. embassy. But first, she had to get out of the jungle she was staying in, with help from her hosts at the Grand Amazon Lodge.
“We did get out with an escort and two policemen and one guy from the ministry of tourism, that’s how shut down everything was,” she said. “With that police escort, we were able to go the hour and 15 minutes down the road and get to Iquitos and then check into a hotel where there were all people that were stranded.”
From there, Bladholm was able to get a flight from Iquitos to Lima — and eventually made it home.
“It was very frightening to think I could be stuck here for two months watching my life unravel,” she said.
Despite the hectic adventure home, Bladholm says she stands by her dedication to preserving these habitats and doing her part to create art and educate.
“With the crisis that we have, it’s really important to teach younger people too,” she said. “They’re going to be the future stewards of the Earth.”
Archives of Bladholm’s previous expeditions can be found here.
Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3
Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.