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Bird paintings on display at University Libraries

by Suzanne Zack - March 26, 2007

Original watercolor paintings by noted artist and ornithologist David Allen Sibley are on view at the University Libraries through May 11, in an exhibit titled David Sibley’s Birds of New England, and Beyond.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Sibley will speak on “Birds and Bird Guides,” on April 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, as part of UConn’s Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series on Nature and the Environment.

The exhibit brings together paintings from Sibley’s guides and from the syndicated New York Times Special Features column that he produced in collaboration with Chris Elphick, an assistant professor in UConn’s ecology and evolutionary biology department, and Barny Dunning of Purdue University.

Some 40 paintings are included in the exhibit, in addition to some of Sibley’s hand-drawn sketches done while in the field.

The works are on view in both the Dodd Center Gallery and Babbidge Library’s Gallery on the Plaza.

From the age of seven, Sibley has been drawing birds, first by tracing pictures from books, then by sketching from life, and finally by drawing on his extensive knowledge of field identification to produce the thousands of paintings that illustrate his field guides and other works.

The son of ornithologist Fred Sibley, a former curator of birds at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, Sibley spent much of his teenage years birding along the Connecticut coast, while also traveling the country on research expeditions.

When in junior high school, he planned a field guide to all the living things of Connecticut, and by his 20’s had decided to produce a guide to the birds of North America.

After two decades of traveling back and forth across the continent, studying and sketching birds, The Sibley Guide to Birds came out just in time for fall migration in 2000.

It immediately appeared on The New York Times best-seller list, and has since become the leading field guide to North American birds.

It has been followed by the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior; Sibley’s Birding Basics; and two regional guides.

Collectively the books have sold approximately one million copies.

Working primarily in opaque watercolors, or gouache, he creates each painting by consulting an extensive collection of file folders, each filled with magazine clippings, photographs, ornithological research articles, and his own notes and sketches from many years in the field.

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