IN THE COUNTRY
Bejat McCracken grew up on a small farm near Troy, Ohio, where strawberry festivals in the historic town square and along it’s riverfront left vivid impressions. These winding farm roads along marbled rock bottom streams and majestic trees lead to her family’s small self-sustaining farm, amidst the sea of local farmers and precious forests. "My childhood friend and I had treasure hunts where she had created these lovely tea stained with tattered and burned edges maps," she recalls. "On our outings we examined every insect, animal and flower in those woods. My interest in nature began there, with my nose three inches above the grass looking for signs that would lead me to an infamous treasure." Nearly 20 years later, that same interest would lead her into the rainforest of South America, particularly Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, on an environmental mission to enlighten others through her art. At an early age, Bejat's experiences on that Ohio farm also taught her of the fleeting gift that is nature. Her family moved to Houston when she was 10 years old.
IN THE CITY
Despite her awkwardness in the big city - or perhaps because of it - she immersed herself in her art, returning if only imaginatively to the forests and open spaces of the country she'd been forced to abandon. This same artistic withdrawal gave her focus, however, and she soon became affluent at winning art competitions. Within a few short years, she had co-founded the school's Visual Arts Club and was regularly exhibiting her work on campus. When it came time to think about college, she chose the esteemed University of Texas at Austin. "The environmental awareness and natural beauty of Austin had an enormous impact on my work," she says. "I produced numerous visual studies of the local landscape. Naturally, they coalesced around environmental issues." Upon graduation, she received many awards, which allowed her to initially travel throughout South America. This left her desperate to return and after eleven years in Austin, Bejat and her husband, Shawn sold their home and most of their belongings in preparation for an extended stay in the Amazon region of Ecuador. While living in Austin, Bejat opened her own gallery and studio in 2002, which she later closed in 2008, returning to the rainforest for a yearlong stay. This time when she returned to the States, she and her husband moved to San Marcos where they had their son, Forrest, in 2010 and currently reside.
IN THE JUNGLE
In fact, it was Bejat's growing commitment toward environmental conservation that brought her to South America on a prized travel fellowship. In a June 1998 letter, she recounts a segment of this first journey: "I have vivid memories of the Amazon, the Inca Trail, Zamora and Vilcabamba. In the primary-growth rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon's upper basin, my fiancé' and I collected more than 100 species of reptiles, amphibians, insects and arachnids to identify, draw, paint and photograph before releasing. The flora was incredible, and I relished painting orchids, bromeliads, heliconia and the incredible vast array of epiphytes. My goal is to return to the rainforest as soon as possible. The rate of destruction is rampant, and there is so much to discover before much of the rainforests are lost forever..." Bejat's artistic devotion is matched only by her passion for preserving what she observes in nature. She spends most of her time focusing on the Ecuadorian Amazon’s Yasuní National Park, which is an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site labeled as the most biodiverse place on EARTH. Since 1997 she has lived in the rainforest for over four years, spending much of her time at the remote Tiputini Biodiversity Station. In the years to come, she will never cease venturing to the Amazon basin to continue her work, inspiring environmental awareness among all those who appreciate environmental contemporary fine art.
Throughout her career, Bejat has earned many prestigious honors and awards for her work, including most recently, she has been chosen as Executive Director for the non-profit organization, Finding Species, www.findingspecies.org, where she has worked as their lead photographer for the past three years. While in college she received the distinguished University of Texas Art Merit Award (1997), the Travel Fellowship Award for her fine art research in South America (1997), numerous First Place Awards in both Drawing and Painting from the Texas Fine Arts Council (1995), Honors from the Austin Parks and Recreation Commission (1993), and various awards from State and local publications and organizations. An active member of many preservation societies, Bejat is also the artist, photographer, field assistant and secretary for TADPOLE, a non-profit organization dedicated to the research and study of amphibians and their distributions in the Amazon. Please visit www.tadpoleorg.org for more information. She has a proven track record of managing photography and art projects in the United States and abroad; managing national and international trip and project budgets of up to $40,000; managing up to 3 assistants; leading and accompanying numerous scientific expeditions in the US and abroad specializing in photo-documenting amphibians, reptiles, insects and orchids since 1997; running her own incorporated gallery in the eclectic South First Street (SoFo), South Austin, Texas for seven years (2002-2008) and handling all its financial and administrative affairs; working in remote field sites with no other logistical support; assisted in founding a research-based non-profit, TADPOLE, that has been in operation since 1999; ensuring the scientific quality of photographic work products for publication in scientific journals; publication of her scientific photographs in numerous scientific journals; publication of her scientific photographs in numerous scientific journals (including Science Magazine; all press release information for the PlosOne article, “Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador's Yasuní National Park”, labeling it as the most biodiverse on earth; Phyllomedusa, and American Museum Novitates) layman magazines (including the Austin Chronicle, National Fish and Wildlife Magazine, and the New York Times) and online websites and publications ( Save Americas Forests, National Wildlife Federation, The University of Texas, Plant Talk and the New York Times to list just a few); and developing and overseeing organizational projects and conferences. In addition, she has worked with children individually and in local schools to educate them about biodiversity through art in various ways like murals, presentations and private art lessons. Collectively, she has spent a total of five years in the field doing scientific and photography work. She has received many awards for her photographs from such organizations as National Wildlife Federation, NAAEE, Albert I. Pierce Foundation and others, with her work featured on their websites, publications, books, calendars and pamphlets. Bejat lives, photographs and paints in San Marcos, TX with her husband, Shawn, and their son, Forrest, until their upcoming departure to the Amazon.