In celebration of Earth Day, a look at a treasure in The Special Collections Library that reminds us of the richness and beauty of the inhabitants of this planet.
Artist Rex Brasher (1869 -1960) produced 875 watercolors depicting 1,200 species and sub-species of North American birds. He recorded more than twice as many birds as the more well-known John James Audubon. Brasher’s father was a naturalist and bird taxidermist in New York and eight year old Brasher set a goal of painting all the species and sub-species identified in the American Ornithologists’ Union’s Check-list of North American Birds. He began painting seriously when he was sixteen and pursued his goal for forty-seven years.
Brasher tried to make his paintings as lifelike as possible by showing birds in natural activities and habitats. He included associated plants whenever possible. Brasher visited every state, sometimes walking the countryside for months while making sketches. He was able to record several birds that are now extinct. Over the years, Brasher funded his work through temporary jobs such as farm work and construction and also by betting on horses.
After Brasher completed his series of paintings in 1924, he discovered that it would be too expensive to print all his works in color. Instead, he hired the Meriden Gravure Company to produce black-and-white reproductions and then hand-colored the prints himself at his home in Connecticut using an airbrush and stencil technique that he developed. The labor intensive process took four years to finish. With text written by his niece, the final collection, Birds & Trees of North America, was produced in a limited edition of 100 sets of 12 volumes and included almost 90,000 hand-colored reproductions.
The Special Collections Library holds a set of 11 of these beauty filled volumes.
Happy Earth Day!