Who would paddle a canoe 459 miles above the Arctic Circle in remote, untamed Alaska just to see muskox in the wild? Safari Club International’s Artist of the Year, Linda Besse.
To ensure accuracy in her oil paintings, Besse has traveled to every U.S. state, 37 countries and all seven continents to see, hear and even smell the flora and fauna in her wildlife pieces.
Born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Besse spent most of her childhood in Rhode Island. Other than several drawings for high school biology, art had never captured her imagination; however, a deep appreciation of animals was her constant companion. Besse would often grab a picnic lunch and ride her bicycle into the country where shoe would sit and watch the birds, trees and plants around her. Those hours of observation have served her well in her career as a full-time professional artist.
A first semester geology course at Colgate University hooked Besse on the science and gave her a chance to be outside studying the natural world. For her Master of Science Degree, Besse headed west and completed her studies, specializing in geochemistry at Eastern Washington University. Not only did Besse find geology fascinating, it enabled her to roam the back-country of Nevada, Washington, Montana and Alaska. If those excursions meant Linda came across elk, wild horses, grizzly bears or moose, even better. Today, surrounded by deer, wild turkey, coyote, ruffed grouse and the occasional moose, black bear or mountain lion, Besse and her husband Jim make their home on 12 wooded acres in Mead, Washington.
It was on a trip to Hawaii with her husband when painting grabbed Besse’s attention. There, she saw an artist working outside and was intrigued. Once home, she bought art supplies and started painting. Since 1999, Besse has been a full-time artist. With her love of the animal kingdom, wildlife art is Besse’s main genre.
The sense of adventure to see and experience animals in their natural habitats came early to Besse. She remembers as a child listening to the African adventure stories of her great-uncle. Knowing several native dialects, he would spend months at a time in Africa, and into his seventies he was walking between camps with camel porters. On Besse’s second trip to Africa, she paddled a canoe 70 kilometers down the Zambezi River at Mana Pools, camping along the banks at night with her three companions and a guide. She chose that method of transportation not because she was adept at paddling (she had only been in a canoe once before), but because Besse knew that was the best way to really experience the wilderness and be “up close and personal” with the mammals and birds of the river. It is that devotion to authenticity that comes through in her original oil paintings.
SCI members who have attended Conventions and seen Besse’s paintings first-hand understand the sense of “being there” that is portrayed in her work. That is probably why SCI members on five continents have collected her work to hang in their homes and offices.
SCI members Tami and Pat Feenstra recall coming across Linda Besse at an SCI Convention several years ago. “It began a wonderful relationship for us with a truly gifted and exceptional painter and person. One thing that captures our attention in her artwork is each piece tells a story. Her subjects are in the middle of something…the slightest flip of a tail or the angle of a wing perfectly brings these animals to life. Her eye for detail, the way each subject moves and her gorgeous landscapes all attribute to the magnificence of her wildlife paintings. We feel incredibly fortunate to enjoy several pieces of Linda’s artwork in our homes. What treasures!”
After having met Besse at an SCI Convention and commissioning a painting from her, SCI member Jake Butts adds that the planning and execution are resoundingly positive. “Linda made every effort to understand exactly what I was hoping for, and the finished jaguar painting was spectacular. She was an absolute pleasure — personable, attentive and timely, which greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the process. By the end I felt I had made a friend, as well. I look forward to working with her again.”
Life members Ruth and Scott Swasey have been collecting Besse’s work for many years. “We bought our first piece at the 2011 SCI Convention auction,” notes Scott. Since then the Swaseys have acquired numerous other pieces at convention auctions, as well as direct purchases and commissions from Besse. Ruth adds, “We love the detail and imagery of Linda’s wildlife and western art pieces, which are a great compliment to our ranch home and trophy room. We look forward to seeing her at each SCI convention and picking out some new piece.” Scott also notes that Linda is a strong supporter of SCI and other hunting/conservation organizations.
Besse was awarded the SCI Foundation 2014 Conservation Artist of the Year designation and was named 2017 Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Artist of the Year. Her paintings, Outgunned and Wood Bison – A Reintroduction, have supported the good works of the Safari Club International Foundation and her conservation efforts have also supported the International Snow Leopard Trust and other international organizations. Besse is a Signature member in Oil Painters of America and the Society of Animal Artists and her award-winning paintings have garnered numerous ribbons and accolades.
Besse’s painting Stars and Stripes Forever is this year’s Featured Artist of the Year painting. It was one of her African trips that inspired the piece. When she saw the Selous sub-species of the plains zebra in Tanzania, their stunning head-to-hoof stripes captivated her. Besse decided a night scene would create the most interesting drama for this iconic African species. And while they cannot see in the dark, she envisioned the zebras’ rapt attention could only mean they heard something. Maybe the soft pad of a slowly moving paw somewhere in the grass? This original oil painting will be auctioned at the Friday Night Dinner Event.
The SCI Artist of the Year also has two paintings in the Day Auctions, two in the Miniature Auction and a large island booth with her new original oil paintings at the 2018 SCI Convention. And if you wonder who might sit in a thin hand-made willow blind in polar bear country surrounded by the day’s snow goose bag, would snorkel with Beluga whales in water barely above freezing or would stare down a grizzly bear at 40 feet, that would be artist Linda Besse.