Sean Murtha

AFC Conservation Artist of the Month for June, 2012

"There was never a time when I don't remember drawing. My interest in art evolved simultaneously with my interest in nature, especially birds, and such subject matter remains at the core of my work today. Just as plein-air work is the foundation for my landscape painting, so too is drawing birds from life for my bird paintings. Though photographs are a useful reference tool for details and fleeting effects, they can also be misleading; by relying on sketches done from life, I seek to capture more of the essence of a bird, or a landscape, than merely its appearance." - Sean Murtha

Sean Murtha's primary focus is on the birds and landscape of the Long Island Sound, a fragile body of water between Connecticut and Long Island, NY. It is a major route for shipping bound for New York City, a popular area for recreational boating and fishing, and is surrounded by densely populated communities. As a result, natural marsh and shoreline habitats have been under tremendous pressure, and constant environmental vigilance is required to protect the last remaining natural areas, to obtain more, and to reduce pollution from surrounding watershed areas. With his art, Sean hopes to share the wonder of his encounters with nature on and around the Sound, believing that such a response is more effective at energizing environmental action than art that is shocking or overly preachy. To this end he has donated art or the proceeds from their sale to local environmental groups raising money for projects that help improve the condition of the Long Island Sound. Such events have included "Migration Festival" at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, CT, and "Green Fair" in Westport, CT, as well as events for Connecticut Audubon.

The son of artistically inclined parents, Sean Murtha was encouraged at a young age to draw and paint. Inspired by the still-remaining pockets of field, forest and saltmarsh on the north shore of Long Island, NY, he settled early into the two areas of painting that would remain a lifelong interest- landscape and wildlife, especially birds. He studied painting at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, graduating with a BFA in 1990, and though his naturalistic paintings were somewhat out of step with the conceptual work of his peers, he remained committed to the practice of direct observation from life, with a focus on nature. For reference he often visited nearby wildlife preserves, zoos, and the American Museum of Natural History, where, in 1996, he was hired to work in the exhibition department, largely on the strength of his studies of their mounted specimens.

The next ten years at the AMNH were formative ones. Introduced to a wide variety of disciplines, he grew both as an artist and as a naturalist. His background in landscape painting put him in a position to benefit from the skills passed down through a long line of diorama artists, especially James Perry Wilson, who had mastered the unique perspective challenges of painting on a curved surface. Murtha was especially fortunate to have met and been mentored by the last living diorama painter from the AMNH's "golden age", Fred Scherer, who himself was a disciple of Wilson's. While employed by the AMNH, Murtha produced over a dozen diorama backgrounds, many in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. He continues to create dioramas and natural history murals, most recently for the Bruce Museum in Greenwich CT, Earthplace in Westport CT, and the restoration of historically significant dioramas at the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport NY. Museum work has also given him numerous illustration opportunities, including paleontological restoration.

Sean Murtha

2011 - Award of Excellence - Artists for Conservation

Sean Murtha's painting "Black Ducks Napping (above)"  received an "Award of Excellence" at the AFC 2011 "The Art of Conservation" Exhibit in Vancouver, BC!

Birds are the "people" in my paintings; the natural inhabitants of the landscapes I know and love. Through frequent observation in the field and sketching and painting from life, I strive to capture the essence of the bird and its habitat, and not merely it's appearance. 

2011 - Award of Excellence-Society of Animal Artists
Sean's painting "Sun and Spray" was awarded an "Award of Excellence" at the 51st annual exhibit of the SAA. "I am honored to have received this award and to be included among an esteemed group of artists who also won awards." Sean Murtha

His field and studio work focuses on the birds and landscape of the Long Island Sound and its environs. Having spent most of his life on either side of the sound, he is well acquainted with its moods and its wildlife. The great variety of habitat and the myriad birds that inhabit it or use it as a migration stopover provide endless inspiration. An avid kayaker, he often explores the rocky Connecticut shoreline with binoculars and sketching supplies, observing birds and finding unique places and perspectives for plein-air painting. He lives with his wife, Deirdre, and sons Brendan and Graham, in Norwalk, CT.

Sean is a member of the Connecticut Plein air Painters Society, the Society of Animal Artists, the Lyme Art Association and the Rowayton Art Association, as well as the New Haven Bird Club and the National Audubon Society. He has exhibited at Windham Fine Arts in Windham NY, The Blauvelt Museum in Oradell NJ, The Cape May Bird Observatory Gallery in Cape May NJ, Earthplace Nature Center in Westport, CT, the Bennington Arts Center in Bennington Vermont, the Greene Art Gallery in Guilford CT, the Noroton Gallery in Darien, CT, and the prestigious Birds in Art at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau WI.


Visit Sean Murtha's AFC site.


Previous Conservation Artists of the Month

(November, 2018)
(October, 2018)
(September, 2018)
(August, 2018)
(July, 2018)
(June, 2018)
(May, 2018)
(April, 2018)
(March, 2018)
(February, 2018)
(January, 2018)
(December, 2017)
(November, 2017)
(October, 2017)
(September, 2017)
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