Recipients of the Don and Virginia Ecklberry Endowment

Mike DiGiorgio and Gretchen Daiber - 2005

The first Eckelberry Endowment recipients were bird artist Mike DiGiorgio and wildlife sculptor Gretchen Daiber in 2005. Gretchen used her grant to further her goal of portraying the wildlife and habitat of the Cascade Mountains in bronze and stone. Her original plan to produce a permanent catalog, but opted instead to produce a website (


Mike DiGiorgio used his grant to further his studies of neotropical birds in Costa Rica. He credits this work with expanding his prospects in the field of bird illustration. Chosen to work with Robert Ridgely and Guy Tudor on the monumental Birds of South America vol.3 and also Birds of Brazil Vol 1&2.

“The expectation of absolute accuracy and excellence is paramount in both these projects. I doubt I would have been able to satisfy these requirements without the Eckelberry Grant and my trips to Central America,” Mike wrote.



Mike was also fortunate to have been mentored by Don Eckelberry. “He always stressed drawing from life, which conveys a feeling of intimate understanding of the subject, rather than copying photos which robs both artist and viewer of the experience of the actual living bird. “

Dorie Petrochko - 2007

The Endowment’s next recipient was Dorie Petrochko in 2007 who went to the Florida Everglades for a month of sketching flora and fauna for a portfolio of final paintings for her certificate as Natural Science Illustrator from the New York Botanical Garden. Dorie wrote: “This experience had a profound effect on my work and has helped launch my career as an artist and teacher o natural science illustration. I had made the classic mistakes of relying solely on photos and field skins for final paintings. I learned that sensitive observations in the field improve my interpretations immensely.” Dorie is now teaching others these skills at the Yale Peabody Museum’s West Campus in Connecticut.


Debby Cotter Kaspari - 2009 


Our fourth grantee was Debby Cotter Kaspari, a talented bird painter who chose to work in the Peruvian Amazon for three weeks in 2009. The field station had a canopy walk that enabled her to see some subjects at eye level rather than craning her neck with binoculars. “Many sketches from this trip became studio paintings which were then exhibited at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in a show ‘Drawing the Motmot: an artist’s view of tropical nature.’ Other work supported by the grant were several plates of owls, antbirds and nightjars for the Field Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. “I was able to find and sketch a Spectacled Owl whose facial pattern is hard to decipher from photos. As I watched him turn his head from side to side while perched on a forest vine, the pattern suddenly made sense to me. Back home in the studio I was able to draw on that field experience.”


Kandis Vermeer Phillips - 2010 


The fifth recipient of an Eckelberry grant was Kandis Vermeer Phillips in 2010 whose project was birds of prey used in falconry. Kandy wrote: “Although I am not a falconer, every fall and winter I go out in the field with falconers, enabling me to study their birds up close. I’ve not only learned about the history and management of a captive raptor practice, but a host of other things, too. This new knowledge has given me opportunities to write and illustrate articles for falconry journals. I’ve also participated in a number of educational out reach efforts to the general public, providing illustrated fact sheets on the importance of raptors in the environment, as well as illustrated a manual for the Georgia Falconry Association. On the fine art level, I’ve been working on portraits of falconers and their birds which has pushed me outside my comfort zone!” 


Kandy concluded: “The Fellowship gave me a confidence boost to get out of my studio with my nose in books, and outside to explore birds in a different way. I've met so many fine people in a wide range of settings, and have developed lasting friendships based on the love of these birds and the sport. Without the Fellowship, I would never have had these opportunities.”

Jayantha Jinasena - 2012

The sixth recipient was an illustrator from Sri Lanka, Jayantha Jinasena in 2012. While originally focused on sea snakes for a book project, his field work ended up studying crocodiles which coincided with the World Congress on these animals held Sri Lanka in 2013. He noticed that while “drawing the Mugger and Estuarine Crocodiles, they have many details which take a lot of time. But as they are very sluggish animals, it was easy to do a good study of them.” Jayantha exhibited his two paintings which opened up possibilities for collaboration and publication with several visiting scientists. He is continuing his work toward a book on Sri Lankan poisonous snakes.

Dale Dyer - 2014

The next recipient was Dale Dyer in 2014 who used the grant to travel to Belize for field studies for a book on Central American birds. He wrote that “Don Eckelberry was my early hero and remains a model for making powerful images based on field research. While I have studied the morphology of waterbirds such as the Agami Heron and Sungrebe from museum specimens, watching them forage in the dense vegetation overhanging the water, or retreating there for safety, helped me understand their character and now best to represent them. A bird painting must be based on real contact, and passionate inquiry about what they do and how they live. It is field observation that makes naturalist art meaningful.”


Alex Warnick - 2016

alex warnick

Painter Alex Warnick was the 2016 recipient, using her grant to fund field work in the Dominican Republic for a commissioned work on the endemic birds of Hispanola. The completed project is the book Alas y Colores.  She gained important field experience and supported the conservation of the birds she depicted. "By utilizing locals, money filtrates directly into the community and helps foster a positive dependence on the environment. As an artist with a passion for conservation, I was grateful for these first-hand lessons that were made possible through the help of the endowment," she says.

alas y colores 

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