Bateman sketch aids highway opponents

The Hamilton Spectator, Feb. 26, 03 By Paul Legall

Robert Bateman dashed off the pen and ink sketch in seconds as he autographed his new book.

The impromptu drawing shows a turkey vulture soaring over a sheer cliff that juts out of the Niagara Escarpment at Rattlesnake Point.

He titled the sketch in his new book, Birds, "the view from my studio." Then he donated it to Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE).

The group enlisted Bateman's help in its campaign to block a superhighway they say would cut a wide swath through the Niagara Escarpment and destroy farms, small communities and plant and animal life in the Niagara peninsula.

Known as the Mid-Peninsula Highway, the proposed road would form a 130-kilometre link between Burlington and Fort Erie and cost about $1.2 billion.

There are four proposed routes, all of which would cross the escarpment.

COPE had little trouble getting Bateman to endorse its cause. He lived near Mount Nemo in North Burlington for 26 years, a location which afforded his studio view of Rattlesnake Point, and he was intent on stopping any project that would threaten his former home.

As an honourary chairman of the citizens group, he described the proposed highway as a "horror story" and accused the Ontario government of "wiping out our natural and human heritage."

Bateman was away in Africa last night when his book with the pen sketch and his numbered print of a red fox were sold at a silent auction in Burlington to raise money for COPE.

The art auction - which also included works from Niagara artist Jason Potyok - was held during a public meeting co-sponsored by the City of Burlington and the citizens' group to discuss concerns about the environmental impact of the proposed highway.

Like Bateman, Potyok is protective of the Niagara Escarpment and draws artistic inspiration from the unique geographic feature, which is recognized by the United Nations.

For the auction, he donated paintings he did at Short Hills Provincial Park near Fonthill and Cave Springs Conservation Area in Beamsville.

"Without these conservation areas, I simply would not be an artist of any merit," Potyok said.

"These places (on the Escarpment) have brought me to life."

David Eckersley, who is co-chair of COPE, said having an artist and environmentalist of Bateman's stature on board has given his group a big morale boost and should generate some donations.

"It's terrific. He was one of the first to walk the Bruce Trail to scout out the route," said Eckersley.

"He was a charter member of the Niagara Escarpment Commission (which was set up in the 1970's to protect the escarpment).

"He's raised hundreds of thousands for the World Wildlife Fund.

"He has a special place in his heart for the Niagara Escarpment because of the time he lived there."

A former art teacher at Nelson high School in Burlington, Bateman gave his first art show in 1967 and went on to become one of the most popular and wealthiest nature artists in the world.

Now 72, he has lived on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia since 1985.

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