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This painting by Decatur artist Michael Schreck depicts the Battle of Gettysburg.
DAILY Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
This painting by Decatur artist Michael Schreck depicts the Battle of Gettysburg.

Lions, tigers & Robert E. Lee
Decatur artist blends African animals with American history

By Patrice Stewart
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2446

African animals and American history are an unlikely pairing of topics.

'Hunting and fishing are my inspiration,' says Michael Schreck. His mother, Ann Schreck, said he started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil.
DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders
"Hunting and fishing are my inspiration," says Michael Schreck. His mother, Ann Schreck, said he started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil.
But those are the interests of Michael Schreck, the Decatur artist whose "Retrospective" exhibit is on display through Nov. 5 at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.

Paintings of Custer's Last Stand, Robert E. Lee and Traveler, Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the 1863 Decision at Chancellorsville, and the legendary Fighting Joe Wheeler compete for attention with the African elephants, zebras, lions and leopards he saw on safaris.

As an artist, "I consider myself pretty diverse," said Schreck, 55. "But I'm a historian, too."

His paintings also feature scenes from Africa and the American West, as well as the Civil War and Gettysburg.

"Hunting and fishing are my inspiration," Schreck said, whether in Africa, the United States or Scotland. There's a self-portrait with a lion among other scenes featuring fly-fishing, canoeing and a decoy carver. And sometimes he adds a bit of nostalgia, such as a 1920s car.

Michael Schreck with paintings depicting real-life encounters while on hunting trips abroad.
DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders
Michael Schreck with paintings depicting real-life encounters while on hunting trips abroad.
This exhibit includes a few people and places you may know, too, because Schreck also paints portraits. You'll see Bill Wyker and son on a fishing trip to Alaska, area children on horseback, and a quail hunt on the old Wheeler Plantation.

Then there's a Sioux warrior, a Lobo wolf, a frontier lawman with a 'Wanted' sign, and an Alabama whitetail deer.

In 2000, his image of a quail, titled "A Close Call," was selected for the Quail Unlimited stamp. The print and stamp hang in this exhibit. Other work has been reproduced as prints for Ducks Unlimited and the Alabama Wildlife Federation and featured in books and wildlife periodicals.

He has traveled throughout Europe and to South America, as well as Africa. England and Scotland are his favorites and appear in some paintings, "but I haven't been to the Orient and the North and South poles," said Schreck.

Wherever he goes, he seeks the animals. One frame holds six of his animal studies: wild boar, red grouse, roe deer, pheasant, the Alpine chamois and the Cape Buffalo.

"I've hunted wild boar in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania," said Schreck. The Cape Buffalo is the most dangerous and vindictive animal in Africa, so he named its portrait "Approach with Extreme Caution."

The artist's mother, Ann Schreck of Decatur, designed jewelry and belts that are in a display case as part of this exhibit.

DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders
She and her husband, Ed, spent some time in Africa with their son in the 1990s and brought back a number of items, and her son gave her ivory and other materials to work with from his many trips to Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia since 1977.

"My mother is a true artist," he said, pointing to a zebra skin belt and necklaces made from ivory warthog tusks, porcupine quills, and the floating bones of lions and leopards.

When he moved on to other work, she explained how his talent as an artist developed.

"We realized Mike had a God-given talent when he was small," she said. "From the time he could hold a pencil, he was drawing, so we always saw to it that he had drawing and painting supplies."

"I hope people will bring their children and grandchildren to see this exhibit," she said, "because I'm a big believer in exposing children to real art."

She recalled his fascination as a child with a print of Custer's Last Stand in his uncle's home. "Mike would sit and study that for hours, and I still have stacks of Custer's Last Stand drawings and paintings. He's been doing them since he was 5 years old, and he's still doing them."

While the other children at vacation Bible school made woodburning pictures of other topics, "Mike came home with yet another version of Custer's Last Stand," she said.

The artist still is fascinated by the topic. Last week at the Carnegie he stood in front of his colorful painting titled "Valley of the Shadow," showing Custer leading his cavalry into battle. "In a few hours, they would all be dead," Schreck said.

The Schreck family moved to Decatur in 1959, and the artist graduated from Decatur High School. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of North Alabama, where his majors reflected his interests of art, history and political science.

His work is in private collections around the world and owned by museums such as the Anniston Museum of Natural History, the Owsley Brown Frazier Museum of Historical Arms in Louisville and the Fayville Museum of Western Art in Klamath Falls, Ore.

"The popularity of Michael's art and the fact that he is a local artist makes him a natural choice for the Carnegie, and we're excited about having his wildlife work on display," said Laura Phillips, Carnegie executive director.

How to go

What:Michael Schreck:Retrospective exhibit

Where:Carnegie Visual Arts Center, 207 Church St. N.E.

When:Through Nov. 13. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Admission:Free. Call 341-0562.

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