I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many of you (especially our flock members) by way of email and social networking. It’s a definite perk of doing what I do, and I am constantly inspired by the work you do to change the world for animals.
Today, I’m excited to share with you an interview with one such person, Beth Lily Redwood, a photographer and animal activist based in Overland Park, Kansas. Beth’s photographs of animals are stunning, but beyond that, they capture an innocence and sentience in the animals that is undeniable. That’s why I love her work so much; she brings true meaning to the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but with Beth, the words are those of encouragement to change the world for animals. I should note that, lucky for us, Beth has donated several holiday card packs, featuring her photographs, to the Our Hen House Etsy site. 100% of the proceeds go directly to our efforts to mainstream the movement to end the exploitation of animals, and thanks to our Barnyard Benefactors, all donations – including your Etsy orders – are being matched from now through December 31!
I very much enjoyed learning more about the impetus behind Beth’s advocacy, as well as the advocacy of her partner Daniel Redwood – whose recent CD, Songs for Animals, People and the Earth, is an incredible example of artistic activism.
Our Hen House: Beth, we are such big fans of you and your photography. Can you tell me how you speak up for animals through your work?
Beth Lily Redwood: As an animal rights advocate, my mission is to be a voice for the voiceless, to contribute to transforming consciousness about animals, and to help create a compassionate vegan world. Through photography, graphic design, digital art, and writing, I strive to awaken compassion, respect and appreciation for animals, particularly farmed animals.
When I look into the face of an animal, I feel great love. I see sacred beauty, grace, tender sweetness, and a soul. The light in their eyes shines with the same benevolent life force that gives me life. I see someone much like me who wants to be happy and to avoid pain, someone whose life matters as much to them as mine does to me, and I want with all my heart to share my perceptions through my photography and art. To quote photographer John Paul Caponigro, “Through the experience of art, the powers of perception and transformation can be awakened, in both those who create it and those who re-perceive it.”
Last year, an abomination of an “art” project, titled “The Story of Chickens – A Revolution,” was funded by Rocket Grants, which receives its funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The plan was to parade caged chickens around Lawrence, Kansas, then publicly butcher and eat them at “The Percolator” art gallery. Public outcry could not stop it; however it turned out to be illegal in the city of Lawrence, so the project was abruptly reconfigured to be an exhibition of local art related to chickens. As a graphic designer, photographer and digital artist, this was my chance to create artwork that highlighted the beauty and majesty of chickens. I have an altar in my home with a statue of Kwan Yin (the goddess of compassion) lovingly blessing a menagerie of miniature farm animals. For the art exhibit, I created three photographic composites. One was comprised of the statue as well as chickens and turkeys, which I titled, “The Mother of Compassion Blesses All Our Fellow Beings: May They Be Happy and Free From Suffering.” That artwork was later featured on the cover of United Poultry Concerns’ Poultry Press magazine, as well as in the National Museum of Animals and Society’s online exhibition, “Uncooped: Deconstructing the Domesticated Chicken.”
There are a few additional ways I’ve used the arts to speak up for animals. For many years I lived in Virginia Beach, where I created digital artwork featuring cats for an annual “Cat’s Meow” art exhibit. I’ve also written an essay titled “Finding My Good Heart” about becoming vegan that was published in The Missing Peace: The Hidden Power of Our Kinship with Animals, and which has been selected for the upcoming book, Turning Points in Compassion. “Eating as Though the Earth Matters” is the column about animal agriculture and the environment that I originated and wrote for a year for the Kansas Sierra Club. I was also the co-producer of my husband Daniel’s animal rights CD, Songs for Animals, People and the Earth. Currently, I am involved in graphic design work for Will Tuttle, including the “Prayer Circle for Animals” project, as well as Melanie Joy’s Carnism Awareness and Action Network. I’ve also contributed my photos and artwork to raise funds for animal advocacy groups and for various projects by Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary and Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.
OHH: I can always rely on you to submit photos to This Animal On This Day. Thank you! Can you talk about the power of highlighting one individual animal’s story?
BLR: A great wildlife photographer once told me that when we see a close-up, intimate portrait of an animal, we recognize ourselves. Highlighting one individual animal’s photo elevates that being in our consciousness and has the power to reach our emotional core, the heart of our compassion, in which we innately understand that all animals are worthy of respect and appreciation. To quote philosopher John O’Donohue, “To gaze into the face of another is to gaze into the depth and entirety of his [or her] life.”
It’s uplifting to share photos of our companion animals, and the proliferation of these kinds of photos on social media demonstrate our profound love, admiration and respect for these beings. By providing a platform that honors all animals — not just companion animals — OHH implicitly recognizes the equal value of all animals’ lives.
It’s unfathomable to contemplate the 10 billion farmed animals who are killed in the U.S. every year, or the 75 million of these precious, innocent beings who are slaughtered every day for no good reason. Yet the plight of one particular animal often evokes caring and concern in people, and the hope is that this understanding will lead to more compassionate behavior towards all animals.
As an enthusiastic fan and member of the Our Hen House flock, I am profoundly appreciative of the “This Animal On This Day” feature. It has given me a way to share my photos with people who can appreciate them and encouraged me to make animal photography an essential part of my advocacy.
OHH: Thank you, Beth! We adore your contributions to This Animal On This Day. Beyond being grateful to you for that, we are also delighted to offer your holiday cards here at Our Hen House — on our Etsy Shop. Can you tell us a little about your “Celebrate Life!” cards?
BLR: There’s a traditional holiday spirit of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All” that pervades the season. My goal in creating the “Celebrate Life!” cards that highlight the extraordinary beauty of farmed animals is to widen the circle of benevolence and compassion to include them. Life is precious to all beings. Let’s have these farmed animals, who are so often dismissed and maligned, and whose dead bodies show up on holiday plates, join in the celebration of life. Let peace begin with peace on our plates — with plant foods that are filled with light and not death. It’s a new vision of what holiday sentiments are about — a world in which all animals are celebrated, blessed, and protected from harm. The quote from Will Tuttle on the back of the card profoundly states, “To live, serve, and give thanks for this precious life arising through all of us is simply the expression of our own true nature: seeing all beings as unique and complete expressions of an infinite universal presence, to be honored, respected, learned from, and celebrated.” An inscription inside the card reads, “May all that is Good, Beautiful and True Bless Your Life in the Coming Year. Happy Holidays!”
The mission of Our Hen House is so completely aligned with my beliefs, that it felt right to share the cards with your audience and to hopefully bring in much needed funds for your most worthy work. I recently designed another version of the card to help raise funds for Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary that features the glorious faces of some of their residents. I’m a graphic designer by trade, and, for the past several years, I’ve used the holidays as a time to design an animal card that presents my personal vision of beauty and meaning.
OHH: Of all your photographs, do you have a favorite?
BLR: I have many favorite photos that pull on my heartstrings, partly because I remember their stories and the great gift of being with particular animals (some of whom have now passed on), and partly because the animals themselves are so spectacularly beautiful. For me, to be in the presence of the one animal out of millions whose destiny was to survive and become an ambassador for his/her species is something of a miracle.
I love the photo of Amelia and Felix, two adorable, friendly, rescued guinea hogs, who were enjoying a luscious mud bath at their home at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. They were being raised for slaughter in a cage in subzero conditions in a backyard in Maine when a conscientious animal control officer confiscated them. Their “owner” told the officer, “Give me a heads up so I can shoot them first,” yet they made it to safety. Sweet Amelia and Felix are now living side-by-side, surrounded by love, care, good food and a forever home.
My website, bethlilyredwood.com, contains hundreds of photos of rescued farmed animals living in sanctuaries, as well as photos and digital art of my other favorite subjects — cats, kittens, birds, raccoons, butterflies, and additional visitors to my backyard (a.k.a. “Redwood Haven”).
OHH: Not that I want to make you the spokesperson for your husband, Daniel Redwood, but since he is such a great guy, can you tell our readers a little about how he uses the arts to speak up for animals?
BLR: I’m happy to tell you about how Daniel uses music to be a voice for animals. A number of great people have written very articulate descriptions of the power of Daniel’s music to help our movement, so I’ll include a few of their words too.
Victoria Moran called Daniel “the troubadour of the animal rights movement.” Daniel is a vegan and longtime singer-songwriter who created the critically-acclaimed animal rights CD, Songs for Animals, People and the Earth. After many years without writing songs, he was so deeply moved by the beauty, sensitivity and intelligence of the farmed animals we met at sanctuaries that he started composing music on their behalf. He became a voice for the voiceless. Describing the music’s impact, Will Tuttle said: “With heart-touching lyrics and seasoned musicianship, Songs for Animals, People and the Earth are soulful anthems to an awakening consciousness of kindness for all living beings. Music has long been recognized for its power to stir feelings and galvanize social change, and this album goes a long way toward capturing and expressing the essence of the vegan movement’s ethos of compassion.”
Daniel’s experience as a singer-songwriter working with César Chávez and the United Farmworkers Movement, as well as the peace movement, showed him the vital role music with a message can play in furthering the cause of social justice. As he wrote the lyrics, Daniel drew great inspiration from thought leaders in the animal rights movement, including Will Tuttle, Melanie Joy, Richard Oppenlander, Jenny Brown, and others. Composing the music, Daniel included a variety of genres — from folk to blues to rock — in order to connect with many musical tastes. He recorded the CD at a state-of-the-art studio and worked with some of Kansas City’s finest musicians. We brought my photos of rescued animals to every recording session to always remind us of the larger purpose of the album.
Describing the power of the songs, Richard Oppenlander said: “Daniel Redwood masterfully synthesizes immensely beautiful music with the critically important message that we need to stop raising, slaughtering, and eating animals. Through these songs, Daniel conveys the painful reality of our current food choices as they involve animals in an artistic and inspiring manner that expresses vision and hope.”
The intention of Daniel’s music is to touch people’s hearts, share the vegan imperative, and strengthen a sense of community. He particularly wants to provide a kind of spiritual and emotional lift for all the animal rights activists who work as change agents day in and day out, as well as to reach people who may not previously have been open to the animal rights message. Elliot Katz, IDA founder and president emeritus, described the impact for animal rights advocates: “The album, its music, its words, the sound of gentleness and sensitivity of Daniel’s voice truly captures what the animal protection, rescue, sanctuary, vegan and rights movements are all about. His music and words not only inspire, but also heal the wounds, frustrations and pain each of us feel in our uphill efforts to make the world a more just and compassionate place for all our precious fellow beings.”
Daniel’s song “Sanctuary Song (Someone, Not Something)” was chosen by Victoria Moran and William Melton as the theme song for their proposed film, Miss Liberty, about a rescued cow and the people who help her along the way. Daniel sang at this year’s National Animal Rights Conference and at Chicago VeganMania, and his music was featured on Veganpalooza. His songs have been played on many animal-oriented radio shows, and he is a guest on Main Street Vegan radio.
Music has the power to change people and change the world. To quote author Judy Carman, “The universal language of music has the power to elevate global consciousness and to help create the gentle, nonviolent, vegan world we want to share with all living beings. This transformative and heartfelt album is surely one of the most powerful tools we have to open people’s hearts so that together we can sing a new song of peace for all and finally end the devastating war on animals.” To listen to and download Songs for Animals, People and the Earth, people can go to danielredwoodsongs.com.
OHH: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get further involved in changing the world for animals by way of the arts?
BLR: Ten years ago when I became vegan overnight, I did so because my eyes and heart were opened to the reality of animal suffering by the film Peaceable Kingdom, and I had a spiritual practice in which I prayed for the happiness and freedom from suffering for all sentient beings. In an instant, I knew that becoming vegan was the only path in alignment with my spiritual values. Veganism is a profound spiritual practice that calls forth the highest compassion, generosity, love, truth, and commitment. Yet it can be frustrating and depressing to align with a powerful spiritual ideal and then have no way to ground it in physical reality. I searched for a long time for ways to help animals, but was fortunate to find that grounding in photography, art and graphic design for animal advocacy groups and individuals.
Each of us possesses unique creative gifts at the heart of our individuality, and the journey of life is to awaken and share those gifts in service of something greater than ourselves. I believe that when we find what we love to do, that which brings us joy, then we’ve found our “soul’s calling.” For me, photographing and creating art based on the beauty of animals and nature uplifts my spirit. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting — a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.”
The good news is that we are not alone — we alone are not responsible for ending animal suffering — we are contributing our part to a much larger whole. It is the vision of a vegan world and the energetic connection I feel with all of the people who are holding and working toward that vision that inspires, motivates and sustains me to use whatever skills I have in service of ending the exploitation of animals. I encourage anyone who is drawn to artistic expression to create those works that bring you joy, uplift and have meaning for you, and then to add your voice to all of our efforts to change the world for animals.
OHH: Thank you so much, Beth, for all you do, and for sharing your wisdom and story today with Our Hen House.