Out Leesburg Pike, near the Polyglycoat promise of "Tysons Auto Corner," there are lots of people who specialize in painting Cougars, Rabbits and Pintos. This month there's one more, but the beasts he paints come with neither carburetors nor capital letters.
Ed Bierly works in oil, watercolor and nonhuman dignity, and his subjects are the lions, eagles, leopards, elephants, geese and elk that comprise "Still Wild: Paintings of the Untame" at the National Wildlife Federation's outpost in Vienna. Bierly's paintings remind you of the original awe and respect inspired by such fauna before their names and more-aggressive attributes were cast in chrome by image-conscious Detroit.
No magazine spread on the newest Jaguar, however, can match the arrogant, majestic beauty of the African elephant spooked by human intruders in Bierly's "No Place to Hide."
"That was probably my scariest experience," Bierly says of the elephant, caught on canvas just as he has wheeled around to fix Bierly and his three companions with a look of baleful surprise. (This was in 1981, on one of Bierly's five trips to Africa.) "We were crouched in the brush, and they weren't supposed to see us.
"He walked very slowly toward us and stopped about 18 feet away," says Bierly, who'll forever remember the 15 minutes of stare-down that followed -- ended when the elephant's foraging companion moved on, and he did likewise. "What I didn't like is that whether I lived or died was in the hands of this elephant," Bierly smiles, pointing at the beast.
It's suddenly easy to see a wise and reproachful look in this elephant's eyes.
There are stories behind most of the paintings on exhibit here by Bierly, who is unlike many wildlife artists in that he doesn't specialize in any one species -- although his fondness for big cats is evident in such works as "Clouded Leopard," in which the tree-bound subject is distracted and seemingly amused by a small lizard.
There's also a good number of bird paintings -- including "Flight of Freedom," depicting the wintry Wisconsin morning in 1981 when Freedom, a female bald eagle, was released back into the wilds after recuperating from gunshot wounds at the University of Minnesota's Raptor Rehabilitation Center.
Ford may have had a better idea, but Bierly's is worth looking into. Pass up the 9 Percent Financing signs and see for yourself.
If you can get the Mustang started, of course. STILL WILD: PAINTINGS OF THE UNTAME -- At the National Wildlife Federation Gallery, 8925 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, 8 to 4:30 weekdays through September 1.