Mary Kay Neumann Artwork

Musings about art, activism, artists, climate change from the studio of Mary Kay Neumann

The Ocean Conservancy Newsletter

I was recently honored by being interviewed by the Ocean Conservancy, one of my favorite organizations that works hard to help protect our Oceans. Having made provisions in my will to donate to them, they were interested in my story of my meeting a sunflower sea star. Here is the article that was just published. (This will download a PDF onto your computer)

Sadly, Sea Star Wasting Disease is still wreaking havoc with the stars. In some areas, the more common Ochre Sea Star, the 5 legged star most people are familiar with, has been making a comeback and are being found more readily along the West Coast. However, the Sunflower Sea Star has not been so lucky, and in some of the areas I used to visit and see hundreds of them in a day, they are still absent. It is still hoped that they will be able to rebound, but it isn’t likely they will ever be as abundant as they were prior to 2013 when the disease first began to decimate the population.

Let’s hope that the future brings us many more of these little ones pictured below, and that they survive until adulthood and thrive:

ABOVE:Now a rare sight, a young sunflower sea star  (Pycnopodia helianthoides)  is held by task force member Lenaïg Hemery during a dive at Alki Beach, West Seattle, in July 2015.

ABOVE:Now a rare sight, a young sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) is held by task force member Lenaïg Hemery during a dive at Alki Beach, West Seattle, in July 2015.

"The Flowers Are Burning" An Art/Science Collaborative Exhibit in NYC

"Silent Spring: Tidepools in Peril"  22x30 Collaborative Watercolor by Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann  Giclee print of this painting to be on exhibition at New York Hall of Science, Sept 16, 2017 - February 25, 2018.

"Silent Spring: Tidepools in Peril" 22x30 Collaborative Watercolor by Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann

Giclee print of this painting to be on exhibition at New York Hall of Science, Sept 16, 2017 - February 25, 2018.

My "Flowers are Burning" project with my beloved colleague, Helen Klebesadel has some exciting news! One of our collaborative paintings was juried into an international exhibition of artists and scientists collaborating on the theme of the Ocean.  Art Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI)  has organized the 19th International Exhibition, entitled: Science Inspires Art: OCEAN.  The museum hosting the exhibition is the New York Hall of Science. ASCI founder & director, Cynthia Pannucci created a wonderful introduction to the show:

OCEAN -- she remains enigmatic even though she was here eons before us. Historians and economists see her as a “super-highway” for transporting cultures and goods, fishermen made livelihoods from her bounty, and writers and poets have memorialized her merciless storms and other-worldly creatures. But most of us know ocean from personal experience -- her photo-worthy sunsets and buoyant waters, waves to play in and salty fresh air, seashells for collecting, and the sounds of sea birds.

Today’s ecologists know our global ocean from the life-sustaining services she provides us-- every second breath of oxygen we take, all the fresh water we require (hydrologic cycle), her regulation of our planet’s temperature and weather patterns, and her important food source of fish.

Unfortunately, for over a decade, scientists have also been reporting on changes that threaten ocean’s health: bleaching corals, ocean acidification, over-fishing, ocean plastics, and endangered marine species.

Based on new scientific information and your personal experiences, the international Open Call for this exhibition asked artists and scientists to help create a new public perception of ocean by sharing creative visions of our deep connections to her, the health issues she faces and/or possible solutions, and feelings she inspires in us.  

~ Cynthia Pannucci, ASCI Founder-Director


If you are going to be in New York City anytime during the next 6 months, we hope you will visit this exciting and important dialogue between the fields of art and science.  


Postcard for the exhibit:  Front & Back

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

"Whispers in the Dark " Mary Kay Neumann, Watercolor 22x30

"Whispers in the Dark" Mary Kay Neumann, Watercolor 22x30

I've been very busy working in my studio, listening incessantly to the soundtrack of "Hamilton". The story of our country fighting for freedom has been a balm to my soul, and I had the great privilege to see the musical live in Chicago last week. One of the questions in "Hamilton" is "who lives, who dies, who tells your story?"

Part of my story has just been told, as I have been selected as a featured artist in the online gallery Artsy Shark. It is an honor to be included. The core of my artistic story is this: to create artwork that shines a light on the crises of climate change and inspire people to become involved in a way that is meaningful to them. Can we let this crises become an opportunity for us to change in ways that benefit all of earth's creatures?

If you are interested in seeing me in awe of a sunflower sea star, scroll to the bottom of the article here!

Sea Star Wasting Disease: The Experts Speak

sunflower seastar

In preparation for my exhibition with Helen Klebesadel, The Flowers Are Burning, I was in contact with several marine biologists, aquarium researchers, and writers. Daniela Ginta, freelance writer for Planet Experts, generously offered to write an article about Seastar Wasting Syndrome (SSWS) for our exhibition. Here are some excerpts:

"Seastars have been part of the tidal landscape since the beginning of time. Tide in or out, seastars line rocks and seafloor to create a live painting that is constantly changing, only to reveal new facets of the rich marine life we often do not think enough about. And we do not think enough to understand the deep connection we have with ocean life.

"We are as healthy as our oceans are, and bound to thrive as part of our planet's complex ecosystem, as long as marine 'canaries' such as seastars, are alive and well.

"Yet as of June 2013, seastars have been subject to massive and mysterious die-offs. Described as 'Seastar Wasting Syndrome' the disease that killed millions of seastars of 20-plus species, has yet to be understood nor the exact cause found. A November 2014 study pointed to a virus which spreads within entire populations, called "Sea star associated denso-virus". Recent, abnormally warm water temperatures in some areas along the West Coast are likely stressing stars and perhaps making them more susceptible to the syndrome. That seems to be only part of the answer to why seastars are perishing. Scientists are still looking for answers.

"The disappearance of seastars influences other species as well. Fewer seastars allow for sea urchins (some of their prey) to mulitiply and, in turn, munch on their preferred food, which is sea kelp. The cascade of events does not stop there, as kelp helps many species: sea otters wrap themselves in kelp at night to prevent drifting off at sea, and they wrap their babies, too, while they dive for food. Also, kelp help fish, young and mature ones as well, find shelter from predators."

Jessica Schultz, Research Coordinator at Vancouver Aquarium, corresponded with me on several occasions. She indicated that "SSWS is different from other environmental problems, because we don't know for sure what the links are between human action and this illness. For instance, climate change has a clear relationship to greenhouse gas emissions and clear consequences such as rising sea levels and drought. With SSWS, there are so many unknowns it is difficult to identify what changes in human behavior will have any specific positive outcomes.

HOWEVER, the global ecosystem is highly interconnected, and to date, this is the largest ever recorded incidence of marine disease in terms of mortality and geographic extent. Since many seastars, particularly the sunflower and purple stars, are top predators in the invertebrate world, when that predator is removed or depleted, there are far-reaching changes in the marine community. In one study, urchin populations have increased, reducing kelp, which the urchins feed on.

Kelp provides food and shelter to spot prawns, which settle on kelp as juveniles, and as result we may see a decline in spot prawns, an important and popular fishery, with the sudden loss of so many seastars. There is no way to know all the connections ahead of time, but everything in the ocean is connected in some way. We all draw a number of resources from the oceans, whether we live on the coast or inland, and protecting those resources means caring for the ecosystem as a whole.

"When a large disturbance like this disease happens in nature, it is important to know how things were before the disturbance happened in order to understand the impact. People can help by supporting long-term ecosystem monitoring projects and the organizations that conduct them. Most importantly people should take action by endorsing government policies that support science."

This sentence bears repeating: people should take action by endorsing government policies that support science.

I spoke with Dr. Peter Raimondi, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of the University of California at Santa Cruz. I asked him his perspective on how people could get involved in helping the seastars. He spoke enthusiastically about the results of citizen scientists that have provided a huge amount of extremely valuable information. They have helped scientists document the extent of the disease up and down the coast of North America.

Melissa Miner, Research Specialist and colleague of Dr. Raimondi, also spent a great deal of time speaking with me. Melissa conducts research as part of MARINe (Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network) and witnessed first-hand the horror of watching the sea stars dying when the outbreak first occurred. She said it was like a horror show to see the devastation. Even as she described the difficulty of seeing this, she left me with hope. A high influx of healthy juvenile sea stars have been observed. It is unknown if these juveniles can survive the disease, but there is hope that the populations can replenish, leading to a possible recovery of the sea stars.

baby starfish



'Is it too much to ask, to live in a world where our human gifts go toward the benefit of all? Where our daily activities contribute to the healing of the biosphere and the well-being of other people?"

-Charles Eisenstein "The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible"


I wish to acknowledge all the experts who contributed their time to educating me about the problems of Sea Star Wasting Disease. Thank you to Peter Raimondi , Melissa Miner, and Jessica Schultz, for speaking with me, and providing clear answers to this very complex problem.  I especially want to deeply thank Daniela Ginta, science writer for Planet Experts, who answered my call for assistance in making Sea Star Wasting Syndrome understandable to the general public. She generously donated her time to write an article specifically for The Flowers Are Burning exhibition. We are all blessed to have such passionate, dedicated people who are working hard to save the sea stars.

The Flowers Are Burning: Incandescent Watercolors

"Burned By the Fire We Make" 22x30  Collaborative Watercolor by Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann

"Burned By the Fire We Make" 22x30

Collaborative Watercolor by Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann

I'm very excited to announce I am in the final throes of finishing work for an upcoming exhibition at the Overture Center for the Arts. This will be a collaborative exhibition with my friend and colleague, Helen Klebesadel. We have collaborated together for nearly 2 years in preparation for this show, and have discovered a unique new way of working. We have co-painted on several paintings, exchanging the works back and forth and advising each other along the way as we bring our shared vision to fruition. It has brought us both a great deal of joy to work in this way together and given us the opportunity to discuss in depth the underlying themes that run through our work. We both have individual paintings along with the shared pieces.  Whether overtly referencing encroaching storms, drought and fire, sea star wasting syndrome or merely hinting at them, they reflect our concerns about how climate changes are affecting the very subjects we paint.

"We are using the flower as metaphor, both evoking a sense of alarm at our need to address urgent environmental concerns and holding up the vision of possibility of rising from the ashes of restorative prairie burn. We invite our audience to engage with us in seeing both the danger and optimism. The synergy that was created in our shared art making is also a metaphor for the cooperation and creative collaboration we will all need as a community to make real and productive change for our shared future. We offer the energy of flowers that burn with power AND beauty."  -Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann, from our Artist Statement

We are in the process of developing a website that will contain more detailed information about our vision for change, as we move this project forward, engaging in the kind of art activism that we love. Stay tuned!


"Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire"

"Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire"  Mary Kay Neumann, Watercolor 30x22, UW Hospitals and Clinics

"Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" Mary Kay Neumann, Watercolor 30x22, UW Hospitals and Clinics

One of my paintings is going out into the world. UW Hospitals and Clinics recently purchased "Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire". I am proud to have one of my watercolors in their permanent collection. It fulfills an important artistic goal to have my work support and promote healing. It is always a bit sad to say farewell to a beloved painting, but I do so knowing a great many people will be able to "take refuge" in my art. With gratitude I send it forth.

The title is taken from a famous Jimi Hendrix song, and so it is fitting that I quote him today, a few days after the election that has brought great sadness to many people.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace". -Jimi Hendrix

"Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky" Emily Carr

"Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky"  Emily Carr, 1935 Oil on canvas, Vancouver Art Gallery   

"Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky" Emily Carr, 1935 Oil on canvas, Vancouver Art Gallery


I would rather be painting than writing. Yet I am filled with thoughts about art and artists that inspire me, and so wanted to honor this train of connection. Emily Carr has been on my mind.

Emily Carr is a well known painter in her native Canada, and yet, here in the US, I find so few people, even people well versed in art, have ever heard of her. She was a brave, strong, independent woman who was ahead of her time. She was a passionate spirit and sought to chronicle the beauty of her beloved Vancouver Island forests, that she witnessed disappearing under the ax of progress.  She discovered First Nation totem poles just as they began disappearing.  She found them neglected and abandoned, as was much of Native life and spirituality in Canada. Due to the dominant European values that had overtaken Canada, First Nation ways of life were forbidden and condemned by the people who had seized their lands outlawed their sacred traditions. I dedicate this entry to her wild courage, her feminist soul. She made paintings of ancient trees that, in her words, "go whiz-bang and whoop it up". Emily, in your words, you "make strong talk".


UPDATE: April 2015

I had the honor and pleasure of being able to view my very first Emily Carr painting in person. Oh words can convey the power and majesty of her strong, vibrant paintings. If you are ever in Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, please visit the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria for an amazing treat for your heart and soul.