Jim Wright, who keeps this blog, writes a twice-monthly nature column for The South Bergenite. His latest column is on the late John R. Quinn:
Earlier this summer, the Meadowlands lost a true friend and advocate.
The former Ridgefield Park resident was 73 years old. I met him a couple of times about a decade ago, when I worked for a newspaper and he worked for the Meadowlands Commission, and I exchanged emails with him several times last fall when I was working on a book project about this region’s amazing environmental comeback.
In every instance, I was impressed by his abiding love for the region where he grew up. As a youngster, he had seen the region at its worst — from the rampant toxic dumping to the headlong filling of marshes. As an adult, he helped chronicle its recovery.
In his memorable 1997 book "Fields of Sun and Grass, an Artist's Journal of the New Jersey Meadowlands," the unassuming Quinn wrote that if the lessons learned here “are applied wherever and whenever they are desperately needed, we will, just perhaps, bequeath a livable planet to those whose lives are yet to be lived."
Soon after, Quinn began working for the Meadowlands Commission as a naturalist and artist. Fellow NJMC Naturalist Brett Bragin recalls John as one of the old-time, true died-in-the-wool, self-taught naturalists — with a couple of differences.
“John also did a lot of writing,” Bragin says. “And boy, could he draw! I remember standing out on the [Marsh Discovery Trail] Boardwalk with John once, and he was sketching some quick drawing. I can barely draw stick figures, and in 10 minutes he had this beautiful pen and ink illustration done.”
In fact, most of us see Quinn’s artwork dozens of times a day. How many artists can say that?
The reason: John did the final design for the distinctive Meadowlands license plate now seen on so many vehicles in our area. At first glance, it’s a pretty cool license plate. After all, how many other plates have diamondback terrapins and great egrets on them?
Making it even cooler is the fact that it has raised tens of thousands of dollars over the years for the Meadowlands Conservation Trust, the non-profit group that helps save marshes and other open space along the Hackensack River watershed. Last year alone, the plate generated $19,866 for the MCT.
For me, John’s license plate operates at the crossroads of art and design. Sure, it left plenty of room for the requisite large numerals and capital letters, but around its edges it managed to capture the essence of the Meadowlands: that distinctive terrapin and great egret, of course, but also Phragmites and a distant Laurel Hill and eastern spur of the New Jersey Turnpike.
Capturing the essence of the Meadowlands: Not a bad legacy.