Since her days as a young girl growing up in Brookfield, Georgia Velisaris had always dreamed of one day taking a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
"When I was at Gross [School], we learned a little bit about the Galapagos, and I wanted to go right when I learned about it at school," said Velisaris, a photographer and mixed-media artist who now lives in Chicago. "When you're little, you wonder, 'How am I going to get there some day?'"
Decades after first learning about the wildlife and history of the Galapagos Islands, in 2014, Velisaris' dream finally came true.
And, from now through the end of the year, visitors to the Brookfield Public Library, 3609 Grand Blvd., will have the chance to experience the Galapagos Islands through Velisaris' eyes and hear her story on the importance of ecological conservation as part of the library's rotating art exhibit.
On Friday, Nov. 1, the library will host an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m., where Velisaris will share stories from her trip and provide a personalized exhibit tour.
The exhibit will include a few original photographs from her trip along with 24 mixed-media mini-collages, including a piece created on a vinyl record inspired by Jacques Cousteau's trip to the Galapagos Islands in the 1970s and John Denver's song, "Calypso," written in tribute to Cousteau's trip.
Christy Eyre, partnerships and public relations librarian with the Brookfield Public Library, said inviting Velisaris to showcase her work at the library's three-year-old rotating art exhibit was a no-brainer.
"We were more than happy to have her, because a lot of people will know her and come in to see her art," she said, noting Velisaris has also hosted art workshops at the library over the years.
So, how did the Brookfield native end up in the dream destination of her childhood?
When friends who own a hiking trip company out of Portland, Oregon, reached out to Velisaris to see if she would be interested in a hiking tour of the Galapagos, Velisaris says she was the first person to sign up.
Upon the group's arrival in Ecuador, Velisaris said they first flew to San Cristobal, the easternmost island in the Galapagos archipelago and the oldest geological island. The islands are located about 550 miles west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. From there, they spent 10 days traveling to several different islands by boat, staying overnight on the islands.
"It was very cool," she said.
As a tourist, Velisaris said she was in awe of the natural beauty in the Galapagos Islands, and as an artist, she took hundreds of pictures to document her trip. But in her heart, Velisaris said what made the biggest impact on her was learning of the threats of extinction of both the islands and their inhabitants, most notably the giant tortoise.
"There are so many animals out there that aren't anywhere else in the world, and [with the art], I wanted to make people aware that we have to keep those animals around," she said. "If we don't take care of our oceans, if we don't take care of our environment, if we don't take care of animals, people, all the things that live in this world -- it's bad news."
Arriving back home, Velisaris got to work, creating dozens of mixed-media pieces based on her photography from the islands, using several different types of media, including painting with acrylics and oils and drawing with colored pencils, to create image transfers from her photographs and design mini collages of the animals and landscapes of the Galapagos.
Velisaris hopes local residents visit the exhibit to learn about how to care for and appreciate animals and the environment.
"We have to be aware, and we have to help humans and animals and make sure our environment is not being destroyed to where we're all going to be in trouble," she said.
Additionally, Velisaris said she's happy to have the chance to showcase her artwork in her hometown -- a place she says is perfect to share her work because of the village being home to the Brookfield Zoo.
"Folks in Brookfield are so lucky to have the zoo," she said. "I think my talk will give residents insight as well. It kind of fits with what Brookfield is all about."
Following the exhibit, any of Velisaris' pieces which sell at art shows will have 20 percent of proceeds earmarked for the Galapagos Conservatory, a Virginia-based organization dedicated to the long-term protection of the Galapagos Islands.
For more information on Velisaris and her artwork, visit her website, clix2pix.com.