Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Modern-day tapestries tell tales of endangered species

30 September, 2016 - 16:08 -- World Land Trust
Spectacled bear
English Lorax

Conservationist turned artist Dr Susy Paisley has launched a series of beautiful fabrics depicting scenes from endangered habitats she has come across in her work as a zoologist.

For every metre of cloth purchased from her business Newton Paisley, 100 square metres of wild habitat will be saved through collaboration with World Land Trust (WLT).

Susy made history as a zoologist by becoming the first person to conduct a radio-collar study on the Spectacled Bear, a creature as elusive in its cloud forest home as it is in local artwork and culture.

Spectacled Bears: the missing emblem

While tracking the bears through the Andean cloud forest, Susy began investigating local perception of these bears.  She found people conflated them with pumas, as if bears were the darker, night-time form of mountain lions. But she noticed that although cats were a recurrent symbol in Latin American iconography, bears were very rarely depicted. Susy theorised that this stemmed from one of the mother cultures in the area, Chavín de Huantar, whose principle deity was a bear almost too sacred to speak of or attempt to portray.

However, against convention, Susy has hidden an image of a Spectacled Bear in the ‘Madidi Clouds’ collection. All the species represented in the design were fauna and flora she used to observe whilst conducting her research. The image of the bear feeding on a Cecropia plant came from a photograph of an orphaned cub she had worked with.

Changing perspectives in the cloud forest

The contrast between illustrations of the small details of the forest and the shadow of the mountain horizon in ‘Madidi Clouds’ is to convey the changing perspectives within cloud forest. Susy recounts “You can wake up there and be able to see all of the precipitous slopes rolling into the distance, but then these huge clouds start bowling up the valley and you become so enshrouded by it you can barely see your hand on the end of your arm. But then suddenly one mountain will reveal itself like I’ve depicted in the design, and it’s like you’re looking up into the sky and there is a piece of mountain floating up there.”

“Suddenly a mountain will reveal itself like I’ve depicted in the design; it’s like you’re looking up into the sky and there is a piece of mountain floating up there.”
Susy Paisley

“Because you lose your vision beyond what’s right in front of you, you end up studying everything up close: the moss, lichens, ferns and the bugs. You end up studying the minute details, as if you have blinders on to the huge expansive mountain landscape.”

Tapestries of the natural world

Newton Paisley designs aim to tell narratives, highlighting the stories of threatened species and habitats. Susy explains “When you have curtains you live with them for thousands of hours and they may as well be worthy of contemplation as true representations of nature.”

The 'English Lorax' design is based on what Susy calls “one of the greatest conservation parables ever written: The Lorax by Dr Seuss”. She has replaced the imaginary creatures in the story with English wildlife to tell the story of ancient woodland disappearing in the UK, with humming fish represented by great crested newts, truffula trees by clover flowers, playful barballoots by red squirrels and the Lorax himself is the nightingale, pleading for the preservation of his wild home.

Conservation commitment

As a conservationist, Susy wanted the designs to do more than tell the stories of endangered species, but to actually make a practical contribution to saving their habitats.

Of her commitment that for every metre of cloth purchased, 100 square metres of wilderness will be protected by WLT, Susy has said “I’ve been very interested with WLT’s work for a number of years and have been supporting them personally. For a long time I wanted Newton Paisley to make more than just a PR contribution to conservation, I wanted to make a practical, monetary contribution. I had the idea of using areas - areas of fabric which represent natural landscapes to preserve areas of vulnerable habitats.”


More information

All of the collections described above can be found and purchased on the Newton Paisley website, here.


Submitted by John Reese on

Great initiative! It seems more and more people care for the nature and more importantly take actions to preserve it. Earth may not be doomed after all.

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