By Stephanie Baum
Margot, what inspired you to begin learning about frogs?
As part of my art, I was working on fabric collages, all including a Hebrew letter, with flora and fauna of the Grand Canyon. One of them, associated with the letter Beit, had frogs. At about the same time, my husband Martin gave me an article called The Sixth Extinction? by Elizabeth Kolbert in the May 25, 2009 issue of The New Yorker. In 2013, Kolbert published a book called The Sixth Extinction.
The first part of the article was about the disappearance of the Panamanian Golden Frog between two visits Kolbert made to Panama. The second part tied the fatal disease Chytrid Fungus, which was killing frogs throughout the world, to a similar deadly infection called White Nose Disease that was decimating bats in North America.
Frog ancestors are older than dinosaurs, or about 400 million years old, and have survived all kinds of natural disasters, including volcanoes, earthquakes, and floods. These sturdy little creatures are now being killed off by human carelessness. Two thousand of 6000 species are endangered, and several hundred species already have disappeared. Frogs are worthy of our care and attention because they are an integral part of the food web, and (like bats) eat ticks, mosquitoes, and other disease vectors. They also are important because they are really cool and have an inherent right to exist, and particularly because they are bio-indicators. They give us an idea of what will surely happen to us as well, if we don’t change our ways.
What was the impetus for your first book (Froggy Family’s First Frolic), and what was its message?
Having created many paintings of frogs, I had a class assignment to make a narrative painting. Always thinking bigger than my britches, from the age of two, I decided to make a book. The project far exceeded the timeframe for the class. The overt message of the bedtime story is that frog families are families, with worried mothers and misbehaving children, but love abounds. The back page gives information about the Red Eyed Tree Frog, threats to frogs, and a brief description of SAVE THE FROGS!
What groups do you visit to spread the message of the frog? What is their response?
Any groups of any ages that will have me are fair game. Depending on the age and type of group, I will get the message across using PowerPoint, stuffed froggy props, costumes, paper hopping frogs, and frog puppets. Often I bring my friend, magician-comedian Professor Rem, to schools to “warm up the crowd” and inject more humor. An adult or teen art group is more interested in the process of making the book.
How else do you get the word out about the importance of frogs and biodiversity?
At open studios, I give out SAVE THE FROGS! art contest posters to teachers, as well as my bookmark and card to people who like to stop to chat. SAVE THE FROGS! puts out a handy card with the information I use to answer common questions and I hand out to anyone who wants it. This is how the leader of Brownie Troop #63189 got in touch with me two years later; she remembered.
One project I am excited about is the Sinterklaas annual festival and parade on the first weekend of December, in Rhinebeck, NY. Every year, the organizers designate a new totem animal as the Honored Animal. They then make giant puppets, art, crafts, food, music, and theatrical events around that theme. In 2017, the animal was the elephant, which won in a very tight finish over the wolf, so if Froggy does not make it to the forefront this year, perhaps s/he will in the future.
In summer 2017, you joined an eco-tour to Ecuador, where you got to see and photograph many species of frogs. How has this helped your efforts to raise awareness?
When I returned home, I spent several months organizing my photos and notes to put together a weekly blog. In September, I started posting these on my website, frog-artist.com, and abstracting them in a newsletter mailing to my list of nearly 2000 recipients. It will end just before I set off on my second SAVE THE FROGS! eco-tour to Costa Rica.
About which aspect of your work with frogs are you most passionate?
Whatever I’m doing at a given moment is what I am most passionate about. Right now I am passionate talking to you. My passions are many, which can be a problem–where to put my energy at any given time? The basic result is that I do what is necessary at the time of need. In early December I was working with Kerry Kriger, PhD, founder of SAVE THE FROGS! to help judge their annual art contest. Then I had to get my costume and PowerPoint about frogs and the book to prepare for the Brownie troop.
As I am not yet getting back to my second book, Froggy Family’s Fine Feelings, which is well along except for the final oil paintings, clearly I am not most passionate about it right now. The time and financial costs of publishing and printing the first book were daunting, so I keep procrastinating. If only my fairy godparent would bring me an enthusiastic and talented agent! Or if only they would choose the frog for the Sinterklaas celebration! Then again, I have to be careful about what I wish for. It is so very comfortable to be here at home, but not too conducive to painting. As one of my wise patients said, “I can do anything, but I can’t do everything!”
How do you measure the success of your efforts?
Writers don’t necessarily know if anyone is engaged with what they have put out there, and love to hear back. These comments and results make me think I might indeed be helping the frogs.
“I had found your little travels very helpful in relieving stress! Nothing like a little frog in a magical place to soothe one’s anxiety … and written so nicely. I hope you have more to send. ––Judy
“This is a wonderful blog. It does what a good blog can do: instill a sense of wonder––and appreciation of the natural world. It inspires me.” ––Marilyn
“I’ve enjoyed every entry. Glad you have another adventure ahead … Hoping all is as shiny with you as it appears in your posts. Miss your mind and passions.” ––Katherine
“This is beautifully put together. Great job. Your creativity amazes me.” ––Judith
“I love reading these. You are so fortunate to have experienced all of this first hand … I am here nursing a very bad head cold, and wicked sore throat … Thank you for this e-mail to get my mind on something else. … Thanks Margot.” ––Jackie
“So sweet Margot!!! Frog replaced Bear as one of my totems when I became a grandmother ten years ago!! I have many toads in my organic potager garden.” ––Deeanne
“Definitely keep writing your travel blog, especially your experiences in Costa Rica! AND illustrate your new book!!!! How can I get a SIGNED copy of your first??????” ––Melvin
“I don’t have enough words to thank you for educating me on the importance of frogs in our world. At the beginning of your journey I was in ‘tourist’ mode; now I eagerly await each issue for an opportunity to learn more about the ecosystem and environment.” ––Lynne
And, it was fun when I was at the Memorial Art Gallery one day to hear that some teacher in some school had used the SAVE THE FROGS! art contest poster she had gotten at my studio to design a whole learning unit for her students.
What two or three things would be most beneficial to you in reaching the goal(s) of your work?
Simply put: energy, time and funding.
If my goal is to help frogs, the answer to this question is another question: In what way am I helping them now (aside from working as a psychiatrist to fund my froggy projects, and keeping up with the blog and frog reading, that is)? Given my strange brain, I seem to think that learning Spanish is a way to help them. Frog whisperers need to know the native language! Recently I have been quite obsessed with improving what was passable or decent Spanish this past summer to be able to speak much more fluently this coming summer. Who knows, maybe I can translate my Froggy books and have them published in Latin America! Or go into some schools down there to work with the children!
Also, as you may read more than once on the blog, I was in need of frequent pushing, pulling, and steadying up and down the steep and muddy trails in Ecuador. So, losing weight and getting in better shape seems to be a way to help the frogs as well. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for the fun and games of painting the pictures, and designing, publishing, and marketing a second book.
So, even one, let alone two or three, things beneficial to helping frogs? On that one, I’ll just have to:
Before you go…
If you enjoyed this post, you will love my free blog Ecuador Adventures and Frogs. The most recent installments are on top, so scroll down to the bottom to read from the beginning. Get new episodes delivered to your email box weekly by going to the blog and clicking on the tab on the left “Subscribe to my blog.” I would love to hear from you.
And: I have given away many Froggy Family’s First Frolic books to schools and doctor’s offices, and have sold even more. There are only two books left of the initial thousand, which means we will have to run another printing. If you would like to help fund this and the design and printing of the second book, Froggy Family’s Fine Feelings, please donate here.