The Art of Learning


Ask second-graders at Onaga Elementary School in Yucca Valley about cattails, mountain lions and pond scum and you’ll probably hear things you didn’t know before. Their class lugged thermometers, magnifying glasses and periscopes to an oasis near their desert community to gather data for the project they would enter in the Children’s Art and Environmental Science Competition, part of this weekend’s Wildlife Art Festival.

Children, art lovers, artists and conservationists are birds of a feather when it comes to the annual wildlife festival at San Bernardino County Museum. Now in its 16th year, the festival, sponsored in part by the county Fish and Game Commission, has evolved to offer activities and competitions for schoolchildren as well as professional artists. The festival began in 1983 with an exhibit of the top 100 paintings from the Federal Duck Stamp Competition, the only showing of the paintings in the West.

Events now include the Junior Duck Stamp exhibit, the Children’s Art and Environmental Science Competition, a carving contest hosted by the Decoy and Wildlife Carving Assn., a wildlife art show, a live animal exhibit by the Wildlife Waystation (Saturday and Sunday only) and the Federal Duck Stamp exhibit.

Curator Saw Potential for Involving Children


The duck stamp contest, the only art competition that the U.S. government sponsors, has been around since 1950. Wildlife artists enter the prestigious contest with hopes of seeing their tiny detailed paintings on the next year’s stamp. The stamp is issued along with every hunting license sold in the United States, with the cash supporting wetland conservation and new habitats.

After the success of the museum’s first exhibit of Federal Duck Stamp entries in 1983, Maggie Foss, then curator of education at the museum, saw the potential for involving children, simultaneously teaching them about art and the environment.

“We wanted to challenge children as well as get them to think about conservation,” Foss said.

Retired from the museum but still coordinating the art and science competition, Foss said that about 1,200 kids from San Bernardino and Riverside counties are submitting art and science projects this year. About 15,000 children have participated in the festival since 1988.


For the kids, the competition has become a lesson in art, science and English. Entries have been pouring in for the “Fresh Water Habitats” theme in the form of scrapbooks from each class. Each child contributes a page to the scrapbook, documenting research with text and handmade pictures on the fresh water habitat of his or her choice.

The second-graders from Onaga Elementary didn’t have a lot of options for their research.

“We don’t have rivers and lakes,” said teacher Michelle Stoop, “but there are oases all over our desert area. Twentynine Palms is built around an oasis.”

To fulfill the contest requirements, Stoop, her second-graders and several chaperons ventured into oases in Pipe’s Canyon and Morongo Canyon Reserve. Pipe’s Canyon is an unsullied area that somehow escaped heavy impact from civilization and today is an important area of study.


“We were very excited to do this,” Stoop said. “It gave us an opportunity to go places we ordinarily wouldn’t have. . . . I didn’t even know Pipe’s Canyon existed.”

The finished product submitted by Onaga students shows the obvious influence of their trip. Neil Bost, 7, created a desert scene layered with clipped and colored cattails, water and sand, along with typical desert dwellers.

“My picture is about a red spotted toad eating a fly at an oasis in the desert,” he wrote.

Winners in each category, from kindergarten through sixth grade, including mentally challenged classes, will receive free bus transportation and admission to the San Bernardino County Museum’s spring show, “Dino to Rhinos.”


“The work they do sometimes takes my breath away,” Foss said. “Not only is it artistic, it also shows how thoughtful they are about the environment.”


Wildlife Art Festival, San Bernardino County Museum, 2024 Orange Tree Lane, Redlands (California Street exit off Interstate 10). Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. $6; seniors and students, $5; ages 5 to 12, $4; 4 and younger, free. (909) 387-2669.