Roger Tory Peterson was a renowned birder, naturalist, and prolific bird artist. He is most recognized for changing the face of birding with his books on field identification. These books were revolutionary in their time as they brought science from the volumes of large reference works into an easy-to-carry, handheld reference guide for use in the field. The hobby of birding grew in leaps and bounds due to these wonderful works. It was Peterson who worked tirelessly at painting the numerous plates for the birding field guides.
The 1961 version of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide To Birds East Of The Rockies was my very first bird book. I grew up with Peterson Field Guides. And in the 1960s, as new field guides by other authors came out, it was the Peterson Field Guides that were the standard by which all new works were measured.
I got a chance to go visit the Roger Tory Peterson Institute located in Jamestown, NY this summer. It is a beautiful building.
Visiting this place took me back to my childhood days as a very young birder. I remember studying all the “arrows” to the most prominent field identification marks. I also recall memorizing all the different silhouettes of bird species inside the book’s cover. That taught me the basics of using shape as an important tool in species identification. I had a nostalgic moment upon encountering bird silhouettes on one of the walls of the museum.
Here is one of my favorite pieces of Peterson art on display at RTPI in Jamestown, NY–white gyrfalcons.
The Roger Tory Peterson Institute holds about 65% of his original art work. It was always Peterson’s intent that all his works would go to the Institute. He even penned his thoughts on this in a fall issue of Birdwatchers Digest in 1994. But sometimes our intentions in life do not turn out as planned. For whatever reason behind it all, over 500 items (art, photos, and some early equipment as well as some John James Audubon originals) are going to be auctioned off this Saturday, September 8, 2012 in New York City at Arader Galleries. The auctioneers will be Guernsey’s. Bidders can register as absentees if they cannot be there in person. Additionally, online bidding will be handled through www.liveauctioneers.com.
To me this whole thing is saddening that all of it is not going to one place for us to enjoy. That is the selfish part of me wishing for something I can’t have. What can we do? Well, for those who can, it would be great if you participated in the auction, bought one or more of the lots, and then donated them to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, NY. But many of you are like me–trying to stretch every dollar possible. What if you cannot afford any of the art lots available? My suggestion is to use this opportunity to make a donation of any size to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute to help them preserve the fabulous works they already have.
I will end this sobering blog post with a quote on the back of Roger Tory Peterson’s headstone:
“Birds cannot speak for themselves. I must speak for them.” –Roger Tory Peterson