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Extinct Bird Project

Paintings by Alberto Rey, from top, left: Bachman’s Warbler (Vermivora bachmanii), Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), Dusky Seaside Sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens). All are of specimens from the collections of Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, Jamestown, New York.


The Extinct Bird Project is on view at Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, 311 Curtis Street, Jamestown, through December 14. Visit extinctbirdsproject.com for more information.


Have you ever seen a Bachman’s warbler? A Black mamo? A Carolina parakeet? Most likely not, because these bird species have been extinct since 1988, 1910, and 1918, respectively. Dead and stuffed, they are lying in drawers at Roger Tory Peterson Institute, along with fifteen or so other individuals from extinct species. The RTPI keeps hundreds of bird skins to be used in research and conservation. Artist Alberto Rey saw the RTPI’s collection of extinct skins for the first time in 2015; to him, they seemed enveloped in “a tremendous veil of sadness,” and “seemed to be a perfect metaphor and reflection of the brutality that led to each species elimination. These birds, which had been killed, gutted, stuffed and laid out on a shelf, were a better reflection of their tragic story than those specimens that had been perched on a branch creating an aesthetic but artificial depiction alluding to them being alive.”


Rey decided to create a body of work from the birds he saw at RTPI and some others from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Rey’s The Extinct Bird Project exists as eighteen paintings, now on view at RTPI, and a 208-page book, done in collaboration with designer Jason Dilworth and illustrated with the paintings and photography.


In each painting, Rey uses a burnt-out match as a practical guide to scale—as well as a metaphor of loss—and presents the birds in a horizontal format. The sad helplessness of the small, beautifully rendered creatures is poignant and disturbing, perfectly expressing the emotions the artist felt upon viewing them for the first time.


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