Three local artists are volunteering their talents to decorate Bear Branch Nature Center's exhibits.
Last weekend, the artists -- Nancy Horn, Kellie Holoski and Crystal Hansen -- took visitors on a tour of the center and described their projects that bring nature indoors.
Throughout October, the artists will be at Bear Branch working on exhibits that depict the flora and fauna of Carroll County in paintings that range from puzzle pieces on the walls to backdrops for live and stuffed animals.
"When the center was built, it was like a big canvas, a blank wall, and we wanted to do things to get people interested in nature, because nature reaches into people's souls," said Melinda Byrd, the nature center's administrator. "Our mission is to turn people on to art in nature."
Like nature, the artists' work is rarely finished. There's a flower to add here, a spider web to put in there. A cloud can form over the center of the pond; a bird can fly into a marsh.
"I'm a realistic and detailed artist," said Ms. Horn of Westminster. "I like to make things you feel like you want to reach out and touch."
Ms. Horn did one of the center's first exhibits, a backdrop for the white-tailed deer scene. The two-sided screen depicts "what I'd want it to look like if I had a piece of land," Ms. Horn said.
The autumn woodland scene of a stream and barn at the end of a dirt road creates a natural outdoor scene for the deer, the raccoon in a tree and pheasants in the air.
Ms. Horn also is painting more than 50 plywood jigsaw puzzle pieces that hang on the wall of the main exhibit room. The pieces, each 2 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet, colorfully show Carroll's habitats -- woodland, wetland, meadow, farmland, suburban, city and various stages of forest.
The nature center not only depicts today's habitats, but also Carroll's history.
That's where Ms. Hansen comes in.
Ms. Hansen of New Windsor got involved in the nature center through two friends who helped build the center's planetarium. PTC She painted Bear Branch's mascot, Ursa Major, the bear.
A specialist in Native American themes, Ms. Hansen also painted the backdrop for the woodland period 2000 B.C. to 1608 A.D. in the main exhibit room.
"It had to be precise with the time of day, season, the people, their implements, clothing and homes," she said. "This has to be done right because you will have people coming in here who know this."
Her other projects include the wetland scene around the lobby aquarium, the puppet theater and a scene for the Native American exhibit.
Ms. Holoski, a graduate of Western Maryland College, worked for the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History drawing wasps and ladybugs for research publications before moving to Carroll County two years ago.
For the nature center, she painted the interactive insect project display that accompanies 9-year-old Jimmy Malachowski's insect collection.
The insect scenes are painted to connect with interweaving lettering and doors that hide the answers to several questions about insects.
Ms. Holoski also will paint the beehive exhibit to show how honeybees move in and out of the hive.
The three artists emphasized the research that goes into the paintings to show Carroll's natural habitats, including taking photographs to copy for scenes.
"The hands-on here is so much better than class," Ms. Holoski said.
The public is invited to visit Bear Branch, at 300 John Owings Road, on the grounds of Hashawha Environmental Center, and watch the artists work.
The women will be on the center from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on these dates:
* Wednesday, Thursday, Oct. 18 and Oct. 19, Ms. Holoski.
* Friday, Oct. 20 and Oct. 26, Ms. Hansen.
* Oct. 19, 20, 25 and 26, Ms. Horn.