The Disappearing Frogs Project
Through Saturday, March 4
Frank Gallery, Chapel Hill

The last mass extinction to hit Earth annihilated the dinosaurs. Sixty-five million years later, the human species—not a volcanic eruption, an ice age or asteroid—has instigated the planet’s sixth mass extinction. With 32 percent of the world’s frog population currently listed as endangered or extinct, the chief victims of this extinction are familiar creatures that live in many of our backyards.

Pam Hopkins and Terry Thirion created the Disappearing Frogs Project to alleviate some of humanity’s impact on these tailless amphibians through frog-inspired art. Proceeds from their current show at Chapel Hill’s Frank Gallery, on display through March 4, will support the Amphibian Survival Alliance, a worldwide collaborative effort to protect frogs, salamanders, newts, and toads.

Frogs’ survival has become threatened because their water-permeable skin allows toxins to enter their bodies. They are disappearing across the world because people are not taking adequate steps to protect them. Nevertheless, Thirion believes that showcasing frog art can shine a light on the phenomenon and get others involved.

“We’re hoping that people will take this on, doing it in their own towns, own cities, own countries,” Thirion says.

At the gallery, Hopkins and Thirion employ a wide range of mediums, from quilted patterns, mosaics, and recycled statues to microscopic images, watercolors, and ceramic tiles.

Some of the most eye-catching pieces are the work of Isabelle Guillare, a Canadian schoolteacher. After hearing about the project, she encouraged her ninth graders to make wire and papier-mâché frogs, which now occupy prime real estate atop podiums in the gallery.

Those looking to understand frog biology can gaze at images of frog cells taken by Melissa Pickett, a researcher at N.C. State’s Nascone-Yoder Lab. While these images may lack the sentimental appeal of those molded by high school kids in a classroom, their wild colors and theatrical shapes provided a striking illustration of how toxins have altered frogs on a cellular level.

A work by Jennifer Kincaid embodies the exhibit’s focus on the convergence of art and science. An urn, resembling an artifact unearthed on an archeological dig, has a darker meaning upon closer inspection: on its lid is a depiction of a six-fingered hand, a mutation increasingly common in frogs due to environmental pollution.

Doing one’s part to save the frogs does not require significant changes in lifestyle or a large outlay of cash. As Thirion says, “People can do something. They can look to reduce chemicals in their own backyard. If it’s not good for the frog, it’s not good for people to be exposed to it.”