Boulder City artist Sharon Schafer is ready to embark on a new adventure when she heads to Africa next summer to lead a group of tourists through the country of Namibia.
Schafer has made a career out of wildlife. As one of the top wildlife artists in the country, she’s been able to integrate her biology background and her artistic side to carve a niche in the tourism industry.
Schafer is one of about 15 wildlife experts worldwide employed at WANT Expeditions, a travel agency that offers in-depth trips around the world. She’s also one of just six Americans on staff.
It’s the kind of job Schafer dreamed about.
“I love art. I love photography. I love wildlife and I love to travel,” she said.
Schafer earned her degree in wildlife biology from Humboldt State University in Northern California before coming to work as a biologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Southern Nevada more than 30 years ago.
Since then, she’s worked as a hike leader at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, and has led multiple trips through UNLV’s Continuing Education travel program where she’s visited the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and Antarctica.
And for the past 15 years, Schafer has worked as a professional photographer and artist, allowing her to combine her passion for nature with her love for art.
“That’s what kind of drew me away from being a scientist. I missed the art side of my life,” she said. “I feel more complete because I’m doing things for environmental education. I’m using my artwork to open eyes.”
Schafer has called Boulder City home since 2001, and has taken advantage of the many opportunities to photograph and draw pictures of some of the region’s native species.
She recently showed her work at the Alan Bible Visitor Center at Lake Mead National Recreation Area and, more notably, featured a display entitled “The Art of Nature: Images from the Wildlands of Southern Nevada” at the Nevada State Museum. Throughout the years, her artwork helped gain the attention of Jessica Pociask, owner of WANT Expeditions.
“Sharon is an absolutely incredible artist,” Pociask said. “She’s a professional jack of all trades. She’s extremely personable. She’s organized, she’s on the ball, and she’s traveled extensively herself. Sharon is the ideal person we look for in leading an expedition.”
For her upcoming summer job in Namibia, Schafer will serve as the lead artist and photographer where she’ll assist tourists in photography while sharing information about the region. She also will create watercolor sketches of wildlife, including elephants, lions, zebras and antelope.
She said the experience will be unique for tourists because it’s unlike the traditional safari tour.
“I think it’s going to bring a new dimension to the trip,” she said. “I’m there to help the clients make it a richer experience as opposed to being a standard trip where you pile on the bus, look at it and get back in. It’s definitely more of an expedition.”
Schafer has visited all seven continents, but is looking forward to her Namibia trip. Before she leaves, she’ll have to study up on the native culture and history of the country, located on the northwest border of South Africa. Though this won’t be her first time in Africa, Schafer said she’s excited to learn about a part of the continent that hasn’t been explored by many.
“I had always heard about the Kalahari (Desert). I mean, how cool is that?” she asked with a glowing smile. “To be able to go and see those red sand dunes that I’ve seen in pictures. I’m actually going to be there and be able to photograph it myself.”
In the meantime, Schafer will continue to work on her art, as well as improve the studio she has at home. Her interest in wildlife has taken her career on an unexpected turn, something she said she could never have experienced had she stayed on her original career path as a biologist.
“It didn’t feel complete when I was just doing the wildlife biology,” she said. “I needed the art side.”
Contact reporter Steven Slivka at email@example.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.