Every May, bird lovers from throughout the country as well as some foreign nations come to Lake Erie’s southern shore to witness the migration of songbirds and other species.
Located at the intersection of two major migratory flyways, the region provides an excellent stopover habitat for songbirds as they travel north from Central America and the Caribbean. The birds congregate along the forested lakeshore to build up energy to cross the expanse of the Great Lake to their breeding grounds.
The annual migration and the local festival that celebrates it as the Biggest Week in American Birding are the inspiration for the Toledo Museum of Art’s new exhibition, “For the Birds.”
Curated by Paula Reich, curatorial projects and publications manager, the exhibition opens to the public April 13 and continues through Sept. 2 in Gallery 18.
Birds have appeared in works of art throughout human history, starting with prehistoric cave paintings. Artists have continued to be fascinated by these feathered creatures, depicting them for their symbolic significance, as scientific specimens, for their expressive qualities, and simply for their beauty.
“For the Birds” features The Garden of Eden, a 17th-century oil painting by Isaak van Oosten (Flemish, 1613–1631) that contains at least 45 species of birds, and an assembly of prints and books from the museum’s permanent collections, supplemented by key loans from local collectors.
Included are hand-colored etchings by American artist John James Audubon (1785–1851), hand-colored lithographs by British naturalist John Gould (1804–1881), etchings by the impressionist painter and sporting artist Frank W. Benson (1862–1951), Japanese wood block prints by Ohara Koson (1877–1945) and books by Raoul Dufy (French, 1877–1953) and Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973).
Audubon is represented by nine prints, four from the museum’s collection and five on loan from local collectors.
“Audubon sketched birds from childhood,” Reich said. “In the 1820s and 1830s, he traveled America with the intention of sketching every species of bird and painted them life-sized, often in dramatic poses against backgrounds of their typical habitats—both innovations in ornithological illustration at the time. He concluded with 435 paintings of 489 species. The paintings were made into etchings with hand-coloring and issued in sets to subscribers.”
Japanese watercolors and prints in the exhibition show a reverence for nature, and often evoke symbolic associations, while the books by modern artists depict in a spontaneous, expressive way and are inspired by centuries of nature history texts and illustrations, Reich said.
The exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Toledo Museum of Art members and local collectors who have loaned works for the show.
“For the Birds” also is supported in part through the sustainable grant program of the Ohio Arts Council with an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Admission to the exhibition and to the museum is free. Museum parking is free for members and $5 for nonmembers.
The Toledo Museum of Art is located at 2445 Monroe St. at Scottwood, just west of the downtown business district. For information, call 800-644-6862, or visit www.toledomuseum.org.
The Toledo Museum of Arts’ “For the Birds” exhibition, which opens April 13, features approximately 45 works, including hand-colored prints by popular American artist John James Audubon and Japanese wood block prints, including “Eagle in Flight Against a Snowy Sky,” by Koson Ohara (1877-1945) a gift to the museum from Hubert D. Bennett. (Photo courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art)