Harvill: Work supports conservation efforts

by Susan Peterson

Kitty Harvill’s artwork tells a powerful visual story. This book illustrator, artist, blogger and conservationist is a resident of the 501 area – but only for part of the year. When not in Arkansas, she and her husband, Christoph Hrdina, reside in Brazil, where they work to support nature conservation projects.

More than a decade ago, Kitty’s creative spirit was reawakened with a new purpose – to share her artistic interpretation of the amazing creatures she had been photographing in Brazil. Together with her husband, a former international banker turned eco-tourism entrepreneur and naturalist in Brazil, they now partner with prominent biologists in a private reserve where they work to raise awareness of endangered species and severely threatened areas of the planet, such as the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.


Kitty began illustrating books in 1995 and has since completed 11. Her credentials are impressive. She holds a bachelor of fine arts degree (cum laude) in painting from Southern Methodist University, including a semester of study in Paris. She also has her master’s in art therapy from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an associate of arts degree in illustration from Ray College, Chicago. She works in a variety of mediums, including watercolor, pastel, oil and acrylic. Her children’s books are often done as a collage.

Most recently, Kitty illustrated two picture books – “Bye Bye BIG” and “The Wishing Foxes” – released this year by Plum Street Publishers in Little Rock. She is working on her 12th book, a 48-page children’s picture book sponsored by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture about the first Brazilian bird discovery in 100 years – the Bicudinho-do-brejo/Marsh Antwren (1995). 

She has twice paired her talent with Arkansas author Darcy Pattison. Their book, “Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub” (2014) was chosen by The Brazilian Ministry of Culture to use in a special project. It was translated – “Abayomi, um Encontro Feliz” – and 3,000 copies were printed and distributed free of charge to schools in areas where the puma is threatened.

Kitty is also a leader to an online army of artists who want to do art for a cause. The ABUN FaceBook group (Artists & Biologists Unite for Nature) is comprised of nearly 600 like-minded artists from around the world. Biologists and their organizations upload reference photos of endangered animals onto the site. The ABUN artist members (including several in the 501 area) then post their paintings to the site. Each project is finalized with a full-size banner displaying all of the paintings for that endangered species. The artwork is then used for environmental education, marketing or promotional purposes.

This tall, lanky painter with a broad smile has evolved into a warrior who fights for the humane treatment of all animals and preservation of their habitat. She realizes that picture books can tell compelling stories that will help to educate new generations so they will make appropriate decisions in the coming decades. She also knows that the beauty of her artwork is worth more than a dollar amount if it helps to enlighten the minds of those in charge of corporate policies and purse strings, and she has donated many pieces of artwork to various causes both in Arkansas and Brazil. Rainforest Trust used proceeds from her donated print “Lonely Lobo” to purchase 28 acres for maned wolf habitat in Bolivia.

It is evident that Kitty is now professionally fulfilled in a way that she never was during her early career working in the advertising industry in Little Rock. Her books can be found in libraries around the world. Her artwork is now housed in private homes, museums and corporate collections for future generations to enjoy. But her true legacy will be achieved if today’s endangered species – the Spix’s macaw, the maned wolf, northern brown howler monkeys and so many others – can be kept from being eradicated by man’s poor decisions and greed.