In one painting, delicate bluebells emerge into the light from beneath the dead leaves and detritus of the forest floor.
Another shows a pine tree growing from a layer of rocks containing fossils, rock formations and dirt.
Elaine Wolfe paints the natural world that she sees in front of her. A trained scientist and educator, she has parlayed her fascination with plants, animals and landscapes into a career in art.
Wolfe has combined her two passions into one, painting landscapes, seascapes and nature scenes infused with scientific accuracy.
The Southside Art League member has two paintings on display at the Cool Creek Nature Center’s “Nature’s Inspirations” exhibition. “Bluebells” and “Guia” capture the beauty of the natural world while retaining the essence of biology, botany and geology.
“I truly believe that God made this world absolutely beautiful. My idea of art is to show the world’s beauty, not the ugliness. We see too much ugliness anyway,” she said. “I want people to see the beauty around.”
Wolfe had wanted to be a painter since she was a girl growing up in Indiana. But her mother would not allow her to pursue such a fickle and risky career. Instead, she went into biology.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Purdue University and a master’s degree in vertebrate zoology from the University of California-Los Angeles. Additional degrees have been obtained in education from Indiana University.
Her 38-year career as a high school and college educator earned her awards and recognition, including the Outstanding Biology Teacher award from the National Association of Biology Teachers in 2004.
“I’ve worn two hats most of my life, teaching biology forever and painting. I retired in 2005, now all I do is artwork,” she said.
While she has painted scenes of forests, grasslands and an occasional barn in Indiana, she also has traveled to six of the seven continents, capturing scenes of Italian cafes, the Spanish countryside and Tuscan villages.
Wolfe belongs to several area art organizations, including the Southside Art League, Hoosier Salon, Watercolor Society of Indiana and Hamilton County Artists Association.
She currently shows her paintings in the Center for Creative Arts Gallery in Zionsville, where she’s been a member for 36 years.
“Nature’s Inspirations” is ongoing through March 10 at the Cool Creek Nature Center, 2000 E. 151st St., Carmel. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and admission is free.
What led you to this type of painting?
I’ve sort of wedded my science to my art. It’s one of those things that you do what you love. I wanted to be an artist. My mother would not let me. She told me I’d never make a living as an artist, and she was right. So I became a scientist. As a result, I’m able to retire and do what I wanted to as a child.
Considering your background in biology, is most of your artwork focused on the natural world?
It is. I do predominantly landscapes, but living in Indiana, of course I have to do some Indiana barns.
I’m also known for seascapes and for European architecture. But the biology comes in. My trees look like trees, and my animals look like animals.
How have your travels influenced your artwork?
I’ve been on all the continents except for Antarctica.
I’ve been in Australia and petted dingoes and wallabies and held a koala. I have a friend who lives in Egypt, so I’ve been there, and started out on a tour in Istanbul, Turkey. I’ve been to Venezuela, and I have very good friends in Bermuda. The typical teacher, if you have time off, what do you do? Well, you travel and see the world. I’ve been all over the place. I would like to give a sense of time and place to my artwork, so that somebody feels like they’re experiencing the same feelings all over again.
Why did you choose the subjects for your two exhibited paintings?
“Guia” is the Greek word for Mother Earth. I taught all of the sciences in my teaching, and one of the sciences that I ended up doing very well in and winning a number of grants in had to do with geology and the earth.
You don’t see very many paintings where people show geological formations.
“Guia” is an interesting painting. What I was actually showing was life above the earth, with a great big green pine tree.
The background is a very warm sunset with bright reds and golds. Underneath the tree, you see the roots probing into the earth, and you see the layers and the strata of the rock formations. In one, I even put in fossils. It’s a very geological thing.
For “Bluebells,” I happened to be at Eagle Creek Park one morning when the bluebells were in bloom, and I took a photograph.