The Voyage of the Artful Otter

17oct(oct 17)12:00 pm31(oct 31)4:00 pmThe Voyage of the Artful Otter


17 (Sunday) 12:00 pm - 31 (Sunday) 4:00 pm

Event Details

Opening Reception: October 17 | 2:00 PM 

In Summer 2021, eight accomplished wildlife artists sailed Lake Champlain aboard the Artful Otter, a 20-foot, refurbished wooden yawl. Uncovering secluded habitat, they depicted lakeside landscapes and wildlife in an innovative voyage as unique as the land itself. Artwork sales benefit environmental stewardship organizations. Click here for raffle information.

Led by Rob Mullen* (Vermont) with contributing artists, Cole Johnson* (New York), Patricia Pepin **(Quebec), John Pitcher** (Vermont), John Potter ***(Montana), Bonnie Rowell (Vermont), Beth Sightler (Vermont), and Sue Westin**** (Vermont) 

*SAA Signature Member, **SAA Distinguished Member, ***SAA Associate Member, ****SAA Master Artist

Accomplished artist Rob Mullen is a seasoned paddler… but he wasn’t a sailor. Rob embarked on a personal journey when he sought to weigh anchor on an artistic expedition. In summer 2021, Rob and a coalition of wildlife artists experienced Vermont’s Lake Champlain through an artist’s lens, with a sailor’s sense of resilience.

Rob has always been drawn to the water. He bought his first canoe with paper route money at the age of 11 and has operated 20 wilderness art expeditions, from Labrador to Alaska, that feed his work as an artist. He draws his original artistic inspiration from his time in college at the University of Vermont, where his Biology lab sketches led to illustrating for professors. He became a full-time artist upon graduation in 1978. 

With the support of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Burlington City Arts, the Vermont Wildlife Coalition, and other benefactors and mentors, Rob procured a 30-year-old, 20-foot Elver yawl. Her lines were perfect for Rob’s idea of a floating studio that could creep into places where wildlife disguise themselves; it was the ideal vessel from which to access singular lakeside landscapes and wildlife, discovering habitat where a larger sailboat couldn’t go to.  Rob and his wife Bonnie worked nonstop to refurbish the boat, and nine weeks later, she was stripped to bare wood, sanded, epoxied, painted, and outfitted. Rob and his team launched the “Artful Otter” in Burlington in early June of 2021. He invited other highly regarded animal artists aboard.

Prior to Samuel de Champlain’s travels with Algonquin guides in 1609, Vermont’s indigenous Abenaki called the 124-mile-long lake “Pe-ton-bowk,” which means “waters that lie between.” The Lake plays a pivotal role in the formation of the United States. It is notorious for dangerously changeable weather and short, choppy waves that, Rob learned, require a skipper’s steadfast attention. The former critical transport corridor now provides drinking water for 250,000 people and is a hub for recreation, tourism, and of course, wildlife.

Gaining confidence with the art of sailing and the peculiarities of a sprit-rigged yawl, Rob learned that with care and focus, he could handle 20-knot winds and 3-foot waves. Joined by leading wildlife artists and good friends along the way, Rob encountered violent thunderstorms, rough conditions, and brutal heat. Anchored on the southernmost state line on July 4, he painted the confluence with the lake and later listened to the fireworks in Whitehall while enjoying a cold beer.  

The Lake is now, as it always has been, incredible wildlife habitat and an environmental resource critical for the health of all life near it, human and wild. It also plays an ineffable role in the vitality and health of the human spirit through its inspirational beauty and majesty. The artists on the Voyage of the Artful Otter uncovered the wildlife habitat of hundreds of bird species, dozens of fish species, 500-million-year-old fossils and so much more in an innovative voyage as unique as the land itself. Sales of artwork in the HCA “Voyage of the Artful Otter” exhibition benefit environmental stewardship organizations.


Rob Mullen, Paint n Paddle Studio, West Bolton, Vermont*SAA Signature Member

Growing up in Vermont gave Rob a deep admiration for the wilderness, nature, and the water. In addition to his work as an artist, Rob is the Director of the Wilderness River Expedition Art Fellowship, a program for field art at The Center for Circumpolar Studies. For two decades Rob has led artist immersion expeditions from Labrador to Alaska, feeding his art with a focus on wildlife and conservation. He draws his original artistic inspiration from his time in college at the University of Vermont, where his Biology class lab sketches led to illustrating for professors. 

Cole Johnson, Cole Johnson Art, Deposit, New York* SAA Signature Member    

Hunting, fishing, and spending time in the woods have been Cole’s preferred activities for most of his life. Cole prefers to work in graphite powder, where the deepest contrast between black and white breathes life into the drawing and creates a distinct mood solely based upon tonal value. Favorite subjects include the species he is intimately acquainted with in the field – the white-tailed deer, trout, turkeys, hunting dogs and waterfowl. In addition to numerous local and regional shows, Cole continues to broaden his exposure nationally.

Patricia Pepin, Bromont, Quebec* SAA Distinguished Member

As a child, Patricia Pepin loved to roam in the woods and fields of Bromont, Quebec, observing the wilderness and drawing her many findings. She paints in oils and is interested in the traditions and techniques of her medium, with a focus on mastery of light and color in the context of conservation. Patricia exhibits paintings and prints at wildlife art shows and symposia. 

John Pitcher, Westin Pitcher Fine Art, Dorset, Vermont SAA Distinguished Member   

Seasoned artist John Charles Pitcher expresses his passion for birds and the natural world through his sketches and paintings.  His success in capturing the sense of a place and likeness of his subjects reveals not only his mastery of technique but also his passion and knowledge as a naturalist. As a Wilderness River Expedition Art Foundation artist crew member, Pitcher has canoed and painted the wilderness waters of the Missinaibi River, Ontario, the George River, Quebec and the migrating caribou herds of Lake Kamestastin in northern Labrador, Canada.

John Potter, Red Lodge, Montana* SAA Associate Member

A devoted student of the plein air approach to painting landscape, John carries his paints and canvas panels into the field to produce small oil studies, which are later used in the studio to complete his larger compositions. He was raised in the Upper Great Lakes country – on and off the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin – where he grew up with an abiding love for the natural world in the Great Northwoods. A solid and traditional education in the key elements of painting coupled with training in composition as a professional illustrator gives John’s work a signature style.

Bonnie Rowell, Bonnie’s Botanicals of Vermont, West Bolton, Vermont    

Bonnie has always loved walking in the woods, noting the flowers, leaves, moss, trees, lichen, pinecones… and so much more. A relative newcomer to the art of botanical plaster casting, she appreciates Vermont’s many interesting flowers, leaves, branches and pods, and their changes from season to season. Nature’s subtleties are sometimes overlooked as shadows of their former selves, but Bonnie has a vision of their deeper impression as she becomes absorbed in her painting.

Beth Sightler, Beth Sightler Studio, Burlington, Vermont

A watercolor artist with a career in human services, Beth Sightler is inspired by the beauty in the world – and the contrast. She loves the flow of what she calls the unruly medium of watercolors, and she says that sometimes she likes the discipline. Painting is an emotional and physical outlet for Beth, and she paints for her own joy. When she is not painting or working, Beth is exploring the Green Mountains of Vermont or sailing Lake Champlain. 

Sue Westin, Westin Pitcher Fine Art, Dorset, Vermont* SAA Master Artist

Sue Westin is a versatile artist who has painted a wide variety of subjects and has worked in several art mediums: oil, watercolor, stone, and theorem painting.  She is best known for her paintings of wildlife, particularly coastal birds and bison, but also portrays still life, landscapes, architectural scenes, marine scenes, domestic animals, figure and human portraiture. Sue considers life and art an intertwined adventure of the inner workings of the mind and spirit. Her life, and her art, are informed by experiences that occur in the everyday world as well as faraway places.


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