When University of Georgia master’s student Henry Adams isn’t studying salamanders in Costa Rica, he’s drawing them.
So, when he recently found himself holed up in his metro Atlanta home, social distancing while going through salamander data he’d collected in Central America, he would take a break to draw the world around him. This time, instead of cold-blooded creatures, he drew springtime flowers and robins outside his windows, executed with a technical correctness that rivaled works in published scientific books.
The exercise of merging science and art gave him an idea: During a pandemic, could he use his talent to benefit others?
Within a few days, Adams turned a spark of a fundraiser into a fully formed campaign. With the advice of his parents who live in nearby Chamblee—his dad is also an artist and graphic designer—Adams launched an online fundraiser, “Neighborhood Comforts,” to benefit the nonprofit Direct Relief. But instead of selling prints of his work, Adams is selling the digital versions. For $5, donors can download the drawing of their choice, with 100% of the money going to support intensive-care unit infrastructure and personal protective gear for healthcare workers.
In the first 24 hours after launching, he raised $600.
“I think people would agree that nature is a great source of comfort in these challenging times, and there’s so much beauty we can see, even in our backyards,” says Adams. “So, I wanted the whole point of the project to try and appreciate what we have, for those of us who are staying home and doing what we can to assist with the pandemic.”
Without the ability to make prints—and also realizing that might even become problematic, given the spread of COVID-19—Adams says he settled on the idea of digital artwork because of the access it allowed. He chose to support Direct Relief after hours of research on nonprofits, looking for organizations that were transparent in their work and with a large percentage of donations going directly where it’s needed.
“I wanted to do something that was beneficial to the situation, but I didn’t have the infrastructure of full-time freelance artists, who have prints made,” he adds. “I wanted to effect change as immediately as possible, so I thought, how can I disseminate artwork quickly and as efficiently as possible? So, that’s when I came up with the idea of downloadable artwork.”
Adams began drawing when he was about 2. At first, he says, he and his father would go through books of birds and Adams would ask his father to draw them. Eventually, Adams began to draw them on his own.
He has been getting more serious and precise with his work in recent years, and these days his art infuses his work as a graduate student studying wildlife disease ecology. Now a student in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Adams also got his undergraduate degree from UGA, at the Odom School of Ecology. He draws the plants and animals he encounters in his research, including salamanders, which made their way onto his research posters last summer.
Each of the drawing on his website took about 10 hours to produce.
When he’s not in social isolation, Adams is studying the potential effects an emerging fungal disease has on salamanders in Costa Rica. Around the world, salamanders have been on the decline since the 1970s, due mainly to a fungal pathogen. A new species of fungus, discovered in 2013, has intensified their decline.
As an undergraduate, Adams learned about the issues plaguing salamanders and became interested in ecological issues in Costa Rica following a study abroad trip led by Warnell professor Sonia Hernandez. She pushed him to pursue a project there, and the result is Adams’ examination of salamanders in Costa Rica, which are not yet affected by the fungus but could face severe challenges if it’s introduced, given the country’s biodiversity and tourism.
“In the United States, we have a particular vested interest in this conservation issue,” says Adams. “We have almost 50% of the world’s species of salamanders. So, a lot of scientists are getting more knowledge built up about this fungus and how it might affect salamanders in the Americas.”
Last year, Adams spent about two months gathering data in Costa Rica. His plans this spring were always to analyze them, write up some results and complete a research paper or two.
Those plans are still happening—just with added social distancing.
“I’ve been taking a lot of socially distant walks and runs and have had the privilege of seeing my neighborhood through this time and watching springtime wash over it,” he says. “Being able to stay home and stay safe during this time is a privilege, and I wanted to get that across with the fundraiser.”