- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

The Corcoran Gallery of Art was brimming with rain-forest-like sights and sounds Monday night at the Nature Conservancy's 50th-anniversary celebration. Guests swarmed like ants near the palm-tree-covered buffet tables to sample salmon salad and daikon covered in peanut sauce as the sounds of trickling rain and live Peruvian flute and drum music flooded through the gallery's magnificent interior atrium.

The evening had an aura of Hollywood star power as well, with actress and honorary committee member Joanne Woodward on hand to honor the organization's crusade to protect the environment.

"We need to keep going with our efforts and speak up all over the world about the importance of nature conservancy," Miss Woodward said as she admired photographs by William Christenberry, Sally Mann and Lynn Davis in a special exhibition upstairs.

The Nature Conservancy asked a dozen noted American photographers to take pictures of a place, anywhere in the world, that was special to them. Their works are part of the anniversary celebration exhibition, "In Response to Place: Photographs From the Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places."

Miss Mann picked Calakmul, Mexico, where she took impossibly bright and dreamy pictures of temple steps, lakes and trees. She picked the site because of her love of Mexico, she said, but also because the temples, which are overgrown with trees and vines, show how nature ultimately triumphs over whatever man may create.

"It shows nature's primacy — how it finally takes over all of man's feeble attempts to build these huge megalithic structures," Miss Mann observed.

Weimaraner lover William Wegman took his pictures in Maine, where his dogs were captured sitting on seaweed or draped in it. Works by Annie Leibovitz, who focused on the Shawangunk Mountains in New York, also were featured, although the 51-year-old Vanity Fair superstar shutterbug is in the latter stages of pregnancy and was unable to attend.

Apart from the many committed environmental activists and nature lovers, a sizable turnout of social folk swelled the guest list, including Marlene and Fred Malek, Mandell and Mary Ourisman, Huda and Samia Farouki, Bill and Ann Nitze, Sylvia Ripley and Christopher Addison, Diana Walker, Hugh Newell Jacobsen and Cate Magennis Wyatt. Rep. John and Debbie Dingell were among those hosting private dinners afterward (at the Organization of American States), as were David and Maggie Cole, who received at their triple duplex Watergate penthouse.

Another dinner host, Louisa du Pont Copeland Duemling, was quick to praise the Nature Conservancy's outstanding efforts to protect "beauty and biodiversity" throughout the planet: "If the world were paved over and there were no birds and no plants, it would not be good for the human spirit."

The organization's record is impressive. In the past 50 years, the Nature Conservancy has protected 12.5 million acres of land in the United States and 80 million acres in the rest of the world.

Rather than focusing on the feats of the past, Nature Conservancy President and Chief Executive Officer Steven J. McCormick preferred looking ahead. Among places he would like to see the Nature Conservancy make a difference in coming years are Siberia, Africa — "before it's too late" — Australia, and parts of New Zealand.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who attended at the behest of his wife, Diane, made note of the capital's own preservation needs.

"We have the Anacostia River, and we have more open spaces than any other city in the country," Mr. Williams said. "These are the two most important areas of preservation in the city, and we have to do our best to maintain them."

For developing countries, however, preservation is met by extreme challenges,

"You have to face the need of a sustainable development and at the same time preserve nature," Brazilian Ambassador Rubens Barbosa said.

Mr. Barbosa added that in the past, the industrialized world did not respect the environment as much as Brazil does now. During the Industrial Revolution, he noted, little care was shown for nature.

"When I was in Nottingham, England, recently, I looked for the Sherwood Forest," he said, "but couldn't find it. It was all cut down."

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