On November 7, I drove with my little dog Pip to Wausau, Wisconsin, to see this year’s Birds in Art display at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. This is one of my favorite annual events, and this year I also got to spend time visiting with a dear friend, Troy Walters. Troy used to be on the staff at Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River where, for a while, he and I taught an annual birding Elderhostel together. I hadn't seen him since my Big Year in 2013, so it was fun catching up.
Seeing the Birds in Art exhibit was also a bit like catching up with old friends. This juried exhibit includes one roomful of art by the year’s Featured Artist, who this year was Alan Woollett, from Kent, England. I first saw his work in 2011, and it’s been richly fun to recognize his paintings most years after that. The one that was used on the cover of this year’s exhibit catalog is a stunning portrait of four Atlantic Puffins. The original, about 9 by 27 inches, took my breath away. Because of the dimensions, half of the painting is reproduced on the front to back covers of the catalog, and half as front endpapers.
The title page illustration details Woollett’s arresting Secretary Bird (shown at the top of this post). I purchase the catalog every year. It’s always gorgeous, but this year’s may be the most beautiful one ever.
By now I’m familiar with the work of a lot of the artists in the Birds in Art exhibit, and it’s fun to see the same names from year to year. Except for the featured artist’s display, the exhibit includes just one work of art, which must have been produced in the past year, by each artist. Many artists have been selected more than once, and a handful are true perennials. Lars Jonsson of Sweden has had something included every single year since 1982. Larry Barth of Pennsylvania has had a piece in the exhibit every year since 1980. Robert Bateman of British Columbia goes even further back, his paintings displayed every year since 1977. And two artists have been in every single Birds in Art exhibit since its inception in 1976. Guy Coheleach, who now lives in Florida, painted a stunning Great Horned Owl in a snowstorm for this year’s entry. Maynard Reece was born in 1920. His gorgeous painting this year of a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers was titled “Into the Sunset.” He wrote in his artist’s comments, “At ninety-nine years old, I believe painting has kept me alive as I, too, head into the sunset.”
One painting that arrested my attention was from a newcomer artist, Cathy Weiss of Washington, whose three Lappet-faced Vultures were magnificent, their eyes wild alive and expressive. I’ll be looking for her work in future years.
I started going to the Birds in Art exhibit in the late 70s, though I skipped most of the 80s when my children were little. The annual catalogs include beautiful reproductions of each artwork in that year’s exhibit. I have the catalog for every year going back to 1989, and wish I had a complete set. These books may spend most of their time on a shelf, but every now and then I pull them down to be inspired all over again.
As I recall, the exhibit usually closes by early November, but this year it won't close until December 1. The Woodson Art Museum is open every day except Mondays and major holidays, and admission is always free. It’s well worth a visit before this year's Birds in Art exhibit ends.