- Historic Sites
A portfolio of paintings of American birds from the brush of a great Connecticut artist and naturalist
August 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 5
Rex Brasher, 86 years old and living in quiet retirement in Gaylordsville, Connecticut, is the only man who is known to have painted all the birds oi North America. This prodigious I eat was accomplished alter a lifetime spent tramping by loot over a large part oi the country, sketchbook in hand, slipping along the seaboard in a small sloop, lying motionless and observant in meadows and fields, hiding on river banks, crouching beneath thorn bushes—and developing the patience of Job. It has resulted in a collection of paintings of 1,120 distinct species and subspecies of American birds painted from life, a collection famous among ornithologists lor its accuracy and beauty.
Not since Audubon has any man attempted a project ol such scope—and the number ol known species has more than doubled since Audubon published his Birds of America. The late president ol the Audubon Society, Dr. T. Gilbert Pearson, called Drashcr’s birds “the most beautiful things I have ever seen. … When you’ve seen a llrasher bird, you have seen the bird itself, lifelike in natural attitudes.” Audubon himself painted partially from life, but more often lrom dead specimens brought to his studio, and he emphasi/ed the artistic beauty of his work over the exactness of the reproduction. Brasher has attempted to blend artistry with the closest adherence to nature. Retreating at intervals to a Connecticut hamlet he called “Chickadee Valley,” he spent close to thirty years of painstaking effort belore he was content to let the public see his work. The first publication of the paintings was as prodigious as the execution. They were published in 1929 in twelve volumes under the title Birds and Trees of America. The plates were not printed in color but Hrasher hand-colored each of the yoo paintings in each set of the books, which sold for as much as $12,000 per set.
Today the Brasher Collection is housed in the Harkness Memorial State Park at Waterford, Connecticut. This portfolio represents the first time, since the original hand-colored publication, that any of them have been reproduced in color.