If Jim Wilson is really 107 years old, as he claims with a twinkle in his eye, that means he started creating North American Veterinary Community (NAVC) artwork when he was 82. More likely he was in his 40s.
Wilson, a Gainesville, Fla., wildlife artist, plays a major role in how visitors remember the NAVC conference. From the front cover of proceedings books to the annual poster to the T-shirts, coffee mugs and calendars sold at souvenir stands, his work is constantly on display.
He was introduced to NAVC in 1990 after he created a 20th anniversary Earth Day poster for the University of Florida. The artwork earned front-page coverage in the Gainesville Sun, and NAVC’s executive director at the time, Colin Burrows, “asked me to design a conference poster—an owl flying and a bunch of other wildlife,” Wilson recalled.
“They just never let me go,” he said, “so I’ve been doing proceedings books, posters, advertising, the yearly poster.”
Wilson draws his artistic inspiration not from TV, the Internet or books, but from photographs he takes during trips to wildlife areas.
Two years ago he spent a month in Africa, traveling to Botswana and Zambia, and he’ll return this July. He cruised the Amazon River, spied on Galapagos tortoises and saw what nature had to offer throughout South America, Costa Rica, Alaska, the lower 48 states—“wherever something interesting might be,” he noted.
His early interest was in owls, but he grew into drawing other birds, then mammals, “and as a result of working with NAVC I do more and more domestic animals,” he said.
His relationship with NAVC has changed over the years, especially with the direction he receives.
“In the early ’90s I would do preliminary sketches and bring one in and they would go over it and decide what they wanted to do,” Wilson said. “Slowly it morphed into they had no idea what was going to show up. And to this date they have no idea what’s going to show up.”
When the artwork will show up is a big unknown, too. For the annual poster, “I pretty much ignore the deadline,” he said.
“I think they’d like to have it in August, which means they probably get it sometime in November,” he said. “But nobody seems to fuss about it too much.”
Now in his 45th year as a wildlife artist, Wilson won’t be too visible during the NAVC conference. Instead of manning his booth in the Gaylord Palms convention center hallway, he likely will be in a back room producing customized clothing such as decorated scrub tops.
Using heated-transfer printing, he will help strip in a buyer’s name or clinic name, add one of his animal images to the pocket and adorn the back with one of his other creations.
When the conference is over he will retreat to his studio in Gainesville, where he estimated that 95 percent of the print work is done—cards, limited-edition prints, posters. He also does work for the Wildlife Society, the Sierra Club, the University of Florida and Santa Fe College.
About the only time Wilson the artist appears in public is during NAVC. He has an art gallery, but it’s open only briefly: the second weekend in December.
“No one feels like being in there every day,” he said of his staff. “We’re officially open two days a year. The rest of the year the doors are locked.”