- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2001

Paintings by Robert Lyn Nelson, considered the originator of the "modern marine art" movement, are displayed in the new exhibition "From Sea to Shining Sea: A Celebration of National Marine Sanctuaries."

Mr. Nelson's paintings bring the underwater world to viewers thorough his "two worlds" style, which depicts simultaneously life above and below the surface of the ocean.

"From Sea to Shining Sea" is also the name of the major piece of the exhibit, on view at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History through mid-October.

The painting captures the Northwest hunting grounds of the orca to the warm waters of Florida's manatee and other unusual marine life as he depicts a dreamlike image of the continent, from the Pacific Coast through the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

"I wanted to represent the underwater North America with this painting," Mr. Nelson says. "I know it is surreal, but I was trying to unite the coastlines and show all the animals that are indigenous to them. It brings awareness to the endangered animals."

The picture was shown in the American Pavilion at the 1998 world's fair in Lisbon, after being commissioned for the International Year of the Ocean.

"I'm trying to stay optimistic, show the incredible colors of a life, not the other side, the side that is being destroyed so quickly that is frightening. I'm trying to protect it by giving an optimistic view," says Mr. Nelson, who for the past 22 years has been an activist and a fund-raiser for nonprofit environmental groups.

Mr. Nelson, 46, has been a diver since he was 16. His experiences under the sea, which he calls "the lifeblood of our planet," have been his major inspiration. "I had a close encounter with a whale in 1977 on the Pacific Ocean, off the cost of Hawaii. I was so overwhelmed by the eye turning over to look at me, this huge eye, that I thought that it had to be painted," he says.

The debut of Mr. Nelson's paintings at the National Museum of Natural History on Tuesday included a presentation with the remarks by ocean explorer and conservationist Jean Michael Cousteau, an admirer of Mr. Nelson's work.

"In the art world we have leaders and followers. Robert is a leader who came up with a new concept and a new idea," Mr. Cousteau says.

A nationwide tour of the painting, sponsored by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, will begin this fall. The goal is to create greater public awareness of the role the marine sanctuaries have in preserving ocean resources.WHAT: "From Sea To Shining Sea: A Celebration of National Marine Sanctuaries"WHERE: Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, Constitution Avenue at Tenth Street NWWHEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, though Oct. 15TICKETS: FreePHONE: 202/357-2700

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