The documentary film by the same name, which follows artist Todd McGrain's effort to place bronze memorials to each of the five birds, is directed by Deborah Dickson, whose previous films have been nominated three times for Oscars, and is produced by Muffie Meyer, whose previous directing credits include the original Grey Gardens documentary and several Emmy award-winning documentaries.
The 12th annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival will have a “sneak preview” screening of The Lost Bird Project on Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 10:30am in the town of Chilmark, MA. A Q&A with sculptor Todd McGrain will be held afterwards. Tickets can be purchased here.
The screening of the film on the island is significant because in 1908, the state of Massachusetts established a preserve on Martha’s Vineyard in an effort to save the Heath Hen, one of the five extinct birds McGrain memorializes in his sculpture project. Despite the protection, the species continued to decline. The last Heath Hen, a male, was seen in the wild on March 11, 1932 on the preserve.
The film follows McGrain through his effort to install a bronze sculpture of the Heath Hen in the Manuel Correllus State Forest on the island, memorializing the location where the last Heath Hen was seen in the wild 80 years prior.
A short video of the Heath Hen memorial dedication ceremony is below.
Directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Deborah Dickson and produced by Muffie Meyer, who directed the original documentary, Grey Gardens (with the Maysles & Ellen Hovde), The Lost Bird Project is a documentary about the stories of five birds driven to extinction in modern times and sculptor Todd McGrain’s project to memorialize them. From the tropical swamps of Florida to the rocky coasts of Newfoundland, the film follows McGrain as he searches for the locations where the birds were last seen in the wild and negotiates for permission to install his large bronze sculptures there. The film is an elegy to the five birds and a thoughtful and sometimes humorous look at the artist and his mission. The Lost Bird Project is a film about public art, extinction and memory.
Once, flocks of over 1 billion passenger pigeons darkened the skies for days. By 1900, a 14-year-old boy shot the last one. How did this happen?
Screening times for the documentary at the festival will be posted along with news about other special events that are being coordinated around this film later in February.
On Jan. 20, Christie’s will auction a rare first edition of John James Audubon’s ‘The Birds of America’. The last time an addition of this seminal work of ornithological art came to auction was in 2010. That edition sold for 11.5 million dollars. This new offering is expected to bring an even higher price and in doing so will set a record for the highest sum ever paid for a book. Perhaps this landmark sale will be an opportunity to reflect not only on the monetary value of Audubon’s work but also on its profound importance to art, cultural and natural history.
As part of my research for the Lost Bird Project, I was graciously given access to the Audubon double folio housed in the rare books library at Cornell University. I arrived at the library with high expectations supported by a long interest in Audubon’s work and what I felt was a solid understanding of its significance. As the book was laid out and opened, I realized that I was not at all prepared for its profound beauty. Not only are the individual images much larger and more colorful than I had expected, they are also more handcrafted. Loose brush marks rest fluidly within the intricate black printing. These marks, made by professional colorists, are at the same time gestural and assured with an ease that only comes with great mastery. The book as a whole is a marvel. Leather binding with gold leaf trim offers the prints a context of grandeur and authority.
With white protective gloves and synchronized movements, Curator David Corson and his assistant Evan Earle folded back the pages. It was difficult to allow prints to be passed by without affording each a full inspection. I had, however, come to see six particular birds and we knew we needed to stay on task. The Great Auk, Labrador Duck, Heath Hen, Carolina Parakeet, Passenger Pigeon and the Eskimo Curlew were all depicted by Audubon. Today these birds are extinct.
Though Audubon was aware of and concerned about the plight of many species, his images are expressively optimistic, the sentiments well suited for his era. Audubon’s was a time of perceived abundance and natural richness. My task as an artist working today is different. My challenge is to find an appropriate way to depict birds that will never be seen, a representation that suits birds that only exist in history and in art.
As the pages were turned, I begin to notice that the backs of many of the images are stained with a mirror shadow of the print upon which they rest. These ghost images are often quite soft and would have been difficult to identify if not adjacent to the original prints that created them. The black ink of each print is slowly bleeding onto the sheet above. Through weight and time a new print is being formed. These impressions may only be soft recollections of the original, but in this softness I saw a tender companionship. I began to recognize these ghost images as poetic equivalents to the relationship between memories and the events that inspire them. Perhaps the elemental, subtle silhouette is the best form to depict a creature lost but not forgotten? I am honored to have had this chance to be inspired by this remarkable book and I am glad to know that it is secure in the Cornell collection.
Along with many Audubon enthusiasts, I will watch with interest as the bids rise at the upcoming auction. It will be news when Christie’s announces that they have sold Audubon’s ‘The Birds of America’ for a record-breaking sum. The true value of this book, however, will remain its ability to inspire appreciation for the birds of America, including those we have lost to the tragedy of extinction.