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The Fuertes Library

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The old Lab of Ornithology was a humble block building which subsequently grew to include a string of offices housed in mobile homes in the woods. I doubt that anyone who worked in the old buildings misses the good old days, when the organization’s needs and staff outgrew the original structure. I was eager to see the new building, and it didn’t disappoint. One of the things I was most impressed with was the loving, careful reconstruction of the jewel of the old Lab: the wood-paneled library, adorned with Fuertes paintings. The paintings all appear as they originally did, though it seemed to me the ceiling might have been raised considerably. It’s still warm and intimate and exquisite, and a local artisan contributed handmade chairs with a nodding heron design to finish it off.

Here are some of the panels in the library. I adore this old man turkey, and the winter pastels of the landscape around him. There’s such a mood in this piece. And there's a victorious peregrine with bufflehead buffet. Fuertes did terrific upside-down dead birds, probably because he had one right in front of him to draw from.
A magnificent tryptich of snowy owl, king eider, and Canada goose.

The same owl, with scaup and scoters.

An autumnal gem: a strutting ruffed grouse in glowing sugar maple and white pine woodland. Don’t’ you want to walk with him? Look at the perspective and handling of his tail. I love this piece. I can hear his soft footfalls in the leaves and smell the curing forest litter, hear the calls of migrating jays and feel the melancholy of autumn seeping in.

More panels, these of puddle ducks and a red-shouldered hawk, in situ. You can see a little peek through to the fabulous Wild Birds Unlimited shop just beyond. They sold quite a few copies of Letters from Eden during the show and talks!

The whole works. What a room.

Half of my show, spitting distance from Louis’ work. Happy sigh.

When I was a baby bird artist in the mid-80’s, I gave a talk in the old Fuertes Library, awed that I was surrounded by my hero’s work. I was no less humbled this time, especially by hanging my simple watercolors in a room immediately adjoining the library. Though the Letters from Eden show comprises over 60 paintings (with another bunch still waiting to be framed), we had to cherry-pick the ones we most wanted to hang, and in the end had room for about half of them. In hanging the show, Charles Eldermire and I had to balance our desire to show all the work with the realities of the space. The system involves clips and wires, such that the paintings are suspended from molding near the ceiling, so there was a lot of scurrying up and down a ladder on Charles’ part; it was like a two-day Stairmaster marathon for him. My role was mostly that of fussy arbiter. We were in sync, though, and the hanging went smoothly, even though it took a lot longer than either of us anticipated. There was an international symposium of migration biologists meeting at the same time, so we could work only at night, after the meetings were over. Here's one wall of paintings.
And the second one. We struggled to get the important things up, without overcrowding things. It makes me happy to think that, at least until mid-July, the same air molecules will be circulating over Fuertes' work and mine; that people will be able, perhaps, to see the influence of the master in a student he never knew. If staring holes in book plates can teach a kid how to paint birds, I learned. Here's my favorite plate from Forbush and May's A Natural History of Birds Of Eastern and Central North America. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for that first Fuertes book. It was $3.95 well spent. I remember trying so hard to write straight as I made it all mine.
Come see me at the Scioto Bird Club's one-day bird festival on Saturday, May 3, from 7-noon at the Mound City Group Visitor's Center in Chillicothe, Ohio. I'll be giving my Letters from Eden talk at 10:30 AM and leading a bird walk at 9 AM, as well as signing books. I know at least one blogreader who's coming!


Very cool Julie! I love that library at the lab. I saw it when I visited last year. I too have that Forbush book and I'm glad we share a favorite plate. Congrats on your show!

I am so pleased that you are showing. And giving a talk. What I could see of your work is wonderful. The audience and visitors are in for a treat seeing your work and then getting to hear you talk about your passions!

Wow, wow, wow!!!

Dear Beckie,

I realized as I posted them that the picture of my show hanging up is pretty unsatisfying--you can't see any of the paintings. If you'd like to see my stuff, go to

and go to Portfolio. There you'll find some extensive online galleries of birds, mammals, plants, reptiles and insects.

I love seeing your own precious book. What a treasure to still have it.

The "you are there" visit is also wonderful. Maybe I can take a road trip some day.

Posted by Dallas D May 1, 2008 at 7:14 PM

I'm really looking forward to Saturday!
I did a happy dance when I found out you were coming to Chillicothe!

What a beautiful library and how cool that your show was right there with your hero's work. Gives me chill bumps! :c)

Wonderful stuff; vibrant and alive, even on a 2-dimensional canvas! (...but you left out Fuertes' great depiction of 2 Pileateds flailing at one another on a tree trunk).
Makes me wonder why Fuertes has never grabbed the attention of the populace and become a household name the way Audubon did, even granting that Audubon was first.

That's a great one, Cyberthrush, but it's not in my book--it's in the larger, thicker, light-green volume that I believe is titled simply "Birds of North America." The plates in that one are earlier, and to my eye, not as strong as the ones in Forbush and May. I believe that book is also marred by Rex Brasher black-and-white wash paintings, bleh. Never been a Brasher fan--those creepy almond eyes he put on every bird!

Joy, looking forward to meeting you! Everybody check out jbecca's blog, as it's really lovely.

Thanks so much for giving us a guided tour of Cornell and the wonderful art works. It is nice to peak through the window at such riches!

Hi: Just a PS - the show looks like it looked much better in these pics with the library lights up. I was not aware that the lights were turned down when I went to see the show, and I was dismayed at how dimly lit it was (d'oh!) - so if anyone does make it out to Ithaca to the Lab of O, please ask the staff to turn up the lights (not sure if the dimmer switch is available to the hoi poloi).

Otherwise the show was lovely and held its own very nicely, I thought, in those magnificent surroundings. The accessible view and intimate scale of many of the paintings was a nice contrast.
It was so nice to see your work live and in person, Julie. It conveys a texture and life to the paintings that transcends the printed page or cyber images.

If other birders or blog readers have been thinking or meaning to go to the Lab and/or Ithaca, this is good reason to make the trip.

The store was closed when I was there (grrr)for some vague non specific reason (beautiful spring day??)so I will just have to go back I guess. Oh and the Dairy Bar. Need I say more?

Neat pics and artwork, Julie. I have to admit I giggled with glee at your little-girl cute handwriting. Neato.

"Strange...most of them are free." I read this on your blog banner and was entranced. Of course you are right; most of what ought to bring us joy is free but people as a whole are not very good at seeing such things for how they really are.
This blog is a treasure, and full of that joy you mentioned. I just found you but will certainly be back to read more.


The library is full of creativity and beauty! Wow. I understand why you are so in love with it.

I like the way you identified the book as you own. Very cute!


What a beautiful library! So warm and full of art as well as knowledge.
Too bad I'm way too far to go visit you :(

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