By Darla McCammon
Most of us have heard of John James Audubon, the famous wildlife bird artist. Another artist, lesser known but rivaling and often surpassing Audubon in talent, was Roger Tory Peterson.
Peterson wrote over 20 books with his “Field Guide to The Birds” becoming one of the most popular and authoritative books ever written with fantastically authentic illustrations teaching us how to identify the various birds. His work was striking in accuracy and his field guides pointed out distinguishing characteristics of our feathered friends that made field identification much simpler than had been possible before. Look at the brilliant blue jays in this photo and you can almost see them jump off the page. In his field guide the jay is marked to point out the crest at the top of his head, a distinguishing feature that helps us correctly identify this bird.
Peterson was born in Jamestown, N.Y., in August 1908. He was an early environmentalist, an ornithologist, an artist and an educator. His father, Charles, was Swedish and arrived in America as an infant. At the age of 10, Charles had to work in the mills due to the death of his immigrant father. Charles grew up and met Henrietta Badar, a teacher from Germany. They married, moved to Jamestown and Peterson supported his family, which by now included Roger, with a job working in a furniture factory.
Peterson began publishing articles and developed a reputation for accuracy along with realism in his depictions of birds. In 1934, the first ever modern field guide was published by Peterson and achieved overwhelming success with his first printing of 2,000 copies. His “Guide to the Birds” sold out the first week. Its success continued through six editions.
Peterson did not limit himself to birds but created an entire field guide series encompassing a variety of subjects, even rocks, reptiles and minerals. His Peterson Identification System became the benchmark for all outdoor wildlife enthusiasts and increased the ability of naturalists to correctly note and label their sightings.
There were nearly 500 different species of birds in his field guide. Incredible detail was included in which plumage, certain behavior and exquisite illustrations helped improve the accuracy of work in the field. Amazingly for such a scholarly work, it also appealed to, and was very popular with, the general public.
I have a wonderful copy of Peterson’s field guide I received as a gift from my husband in 1976. I have particularly enjoyed the “My Life List” pages in which I have carefully recorded every bird we have seen and identified using the field guide. Inside the front cover reads: “Since the 1934 first edition of ‘Field Guide to the Birds,’ Roger Tory Peterson has traveled to every continent and all 50 states. Among his awards is the Brewster Medal, the John Burroughs Medal, the Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire Gold Medal and the Gold Medal of the New York Zoological Society. Later he received literally every American award for natural science, ornithology and conservation, along with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- The Warsaw City Hall Gallery will have works by Bondar and Watters on display through August.
- The North Webster Library will display a Robert Hudson exhibit through Aug. 31.
- The Gallery at Rua in Warsaw will display Steve Sult’s “Sitting on the Fence” collection now through Sept. 18.
- The Lakeland Art Gallery will have pastel artworks by Marcy Mitchell on display through August.
- The Fine Arts Festival sponsored by Churubusco Library will take place from 2 to 7 p.m. Aug. 24.